Album Cover Out-take.
One day, in twenty years maybe, I’ll be eating canned peaches in my tiny studio apartment and I’ll get an incoming telepathic mind-skype request. On the other end will be some fresh young music blogger, or more likely some fresh young robo-blogger, asking me to share my recollections of the fabled Posthumous Release recording sessions. Even though I’ve been secretly waiting everyday for this call, I’ll say wistfully: “I haven’t thought about that album in a long long time…”
Maybe by then the ironically titled Posthumous Release will be apt following Mat’s tragic death in some kind of boating accident. Following his death, his old records will get a huge boost in Spotify streams and some all knowing algorithm will calculate how to maximize profits following Mat’s death by releasing some sort of complimentary retrospective on the making of the album.
This ultra efficient robo-blogger will strip mine my precious memories for juicy pull quotes, cram them into an e-book (regular books will be illegal by then) and sell it at Global Apparel (that’s what American Apparel will be called in the future when all sovereign states collapse into one global empire).
Maybe they’ll create an audiobook and hire some young actor to narrate it in order to prove his hip-cred. My point is that someone will be making big $$$ off of MY MEMORIES. You think I’m going to sit idly by while some “journalist” makes out like a bandit with all that crazy e-book money?
Well they aren’t going to pull a fast one on me. Partly in honor of the much much delayed vinyl release of Posthumous Release. Today I’ll strike a blow for justice and liberty by sharing some of my disjointed and choice memories of Mat Cothran and the now mythic sessions for his magnum opus, Posthumous Release.
I don’t remember being this much taller than Mat.
Mat the Stranger
“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover” is bad advice. It should be “Do Judge a Book by Its Cover” or maybe just “Judge a Book By Its Cover.” To save time maybe we could contract it even further to the acronym “JABBIC.” But in reality that would probably just take up more time because we’d always have to explain what that meant. But I digress.
What I’m trying to say is that, despite that popular aphorism, I find that cover art is a remarkably accurate gauge the quality of the content within. If someone has the good taste to create good music, it only makes sense that some of their good taste would bleed over to their taste in art. The opposite is true. If someone makes bad music, they probably have bad taste in art. We could point to thousands of exceptions to this rule. But let’s not.
One fine day I was perusing bandcamp’s “pop” tag with the goal of discovering some new non-blog mediated music. In a sea of “my first Adobe Illustrator lesson” album covers, there was one that stood out like a bruised and bloodied thumb.
Dedicated “Mat heads” will recognize this photograph as the cover for Disgraceland, one of the early EPs from Mat’s Elvis Depressedly project. I downloaded the record and was supremely satisfied to find that the photo was the perfect visual analog to the music within. Grainy and mysterious. Morbid and Sweet, Somber and maniacally joyful all at once.
Disgraceland was my introduction to the sprawling discography of Mat Cothran and his many projects. Projects that range from the obscure (Teen Porn, Gremlins, Wrassle Mania) to his (relatively) high profile projects Elvis Depressedly and Coma Cinema, the latter of which had made a real dent in the blogosphere following the release of the album Blue Suicide, managing to score enviable accolades from heavyweight blogs like Pitchfork and The Needledrop.
After listening to all of Mat’s music that I could get my hands on, I became convinced that he was one of the most prolific, adventurous, and just consistently good songwriters active today. You’ll agree.
Like most people enamored with Mat’s music, I eventually discovered his fantastic blog Summer Time in Hell. The blog is mostly Mat responding to questions from his legions of dedicated fans with answers that can alternate between goofy, angry, thoughtful, spiteful, petty, hopeful, wistful, sometimes within the span of a single paragraph.
By far the most frequently asked question was about the long delayed follow-up to Blue Suicide, which at the time had the working title School Shootings. According to Mat, the album was entirely written and sequenced but the equipment he had used to record Blue Suicide was broken. Unlike his other project Elvis Depressedly, whose albums often revel in and celebrate resourceful recording techniques, Mat felt that the Coma Cinema moniker implied a certain level of fidelity that was financially out of his grasp.
At the time, my band TV Girl just finishing the recording sessions for our Lonely Women EP, and so had access to some very nice recording gear that we had borrowed from some production minded friends in Los Angeles. Mat needed gear. We had it. The opportunity to weasel my way into the life of one of my favorite artists and bask in his reflected glory had presented itself. Amazingly, a few emails and a phone call was all it took to establish that Me (Brad) and Jason (TV Girl drummer) would be producing the new Coma Cinema album!
Mat the Stranger
Mat is no celebrity. Still, it’s strange meeting someone that you’ve come to know so intimately through their art. Here he was, in the back of my corolla, stinky from flight-induced terror sweats, entrusting Jason and I, total strangers, with the sacred task of transferring his music, his pain and his life’s work, into a recorded and archivable document for his many acolytes to digest and study. I can only imagine how scary that must have been. But he seemed to be in good spirits, albeit a little unhinged from a healthy dose mid-flight cocktails.
We got acquainted over Mat’s first In and Out Burger. We talked about the record. We promised to try not to fuck up his carefully crafted vision. He in turn promised to record as hard and fast as we were willing to. And we would have to be both hard and fast. We had exactly a week to arrange and record everything. Would we be up to the task? Or would the siren song of Los Angeles’s hollow decadence get the best of us?
Mat indulging in some “holo pleasures”
Mat and Rachel
By some stroke of divine fate, Mat’s good friend Rachel lived in the same neighborhood as Jason and I. Rachel is an immensely talented musician who has been a part of numerous cool projects (Happy Trendy, Kiss Kiss Fantastic, and most recently the fantastic R.L. Kelly). Mat and Rachel have known each other for a long time, and even collaborated together in a gloriously ungooglable project called Teen Porn.
When Rachel came over to my apartment to see Mat, they greeted each other like old friends, which they were. The only thing that was strange was that they had never met in person.
Once I asked him,
“Isn’t it strange that you had never met one of your best friends in person before.”
“Not really,” he said. “When you connect with someone, what difference does meeting in person make.”
Fascinating. And I guess he was right. These two were beacons of joy that beamed with the glow of pure friendship. For Mat’s entire stay, they were basically inseparable except for brief stretches where Rachel had to go teach the children of America. #coolteacher
Rachel was an essential presence during the recording of the album. She lent her vocal and trumpet talents to several of the albums’ “dopest” cuts, but perhaps her most crucial role was as Mat’s spiritual advisor, radiating an aura of pure warmth and acceptance that kept Mat’s panic attacks and waking fever dreams at a manageable level.
After witnessing their working relationship, my advice to anyone making an album is to have a “Rachel” there. Putting together an album requires about 1 million decisions to be made on a whim with no reliable way to gauge whether those decisions are “right” or even “good.” That kind of pressure can drive one to the brink of madness. You need someone like Rachel to assure you that everything you say and do is an act of pure genius.
We also managed to corral this duo to sing on the chorus of “She Smokes in Bed,” the first single off of TV Girl’s Lonely Women EP which we were recording around the same time. (Note: Adding high profile features is a tried and true music industry strategy to increase a songs potential audience and commercial appeal. Even though you can hardly hear them buried in the mix, the celeb factor added by Mat and Rachel sent sales of “She Smokes” through the roof. That song is currently #4 on the Hot 100 and we are currently all rich and famous. End Note)
Mat the Boss
For someone who may have a reputation of being hard to work with, Mat was pretty easy to work with. He had a definitive visions for the way the record should sound from the very start, which took a lot of the decision making pressure of Jason and I. Mat claimed that he could already hear the record in his head. All we had to do was crack his head open like a ripe melon and transfer those sounds onto digital tape. How hard could it be?
Kevin Smith said that the secret to being a good film director is to act like you know what you’re doing even when you don’t. When someone asks you a question, have an answer ready to go even when you have no idea what you’re talking about. Creative projects are so stressful and chaotic, you need someone to at least put forth the appearance of order.
That’s how Mat was. Even though the songs were all written, they still had to be composed. All the parts: bass, synths, drums, harmonies, guitar solos, and everything else had to be written and recorded on the fly without any second guessing because there was simply no time to do it any other way. But Mat had perfect confidence, or at least the illusion thereof, which put Jason and I at ease, free from the burden of having to fill in someone else’s vision with our own ideas.
Mat the Musician
Mat likes to say that he is not a great musician, but it didn’t look that way to me. He pretty much nailed all the vocals, guitar, synth, piano, and bass in very few takes. Just listen to the slinky bassline on “Bailey Jay.” He originally was pretty insistent on playing drums on the tracks. If I can claim one personal triumph, it would be convincing Mat to cede drumming duty to Jason, a true percussion wizard. A true star.
Think about that for a second. 11 songs ended up on Posthumous. We had 7 days to write, record, and mix the record. That means that we we’re averaging over 1 completed song a day.
He works and acts like a studio veteran. Because he is. He’s been recording music for 10 years.
Mat the Wildman
Andy Warhol had a theory that people are most talented at their secondary passions. His reasoning was that people are so invested in their primary passions that they lack the necessary objectivity and self-awareness that is required to be truly great at something.
It’s an interesting theory and it may explain why Mat is so great at music. As much as he cares about music, his true passion lies with the traditional live fast die young rock and roll lifestyle.
For example. For most smokers, one cigarette at a time is plenty. But some troubled souls just lust for more.
Half of people in the US drink. Of those that do, most are satisfied with the standard fare. Beer, wine, or liquor mixed with Soda or Juice. But Mat is blessed and cursed with an insatiable thirst for richer, darker, and deeper flavors that frighten and disgust the rest of us. Here is Mat enjoying/suffering through an unnamed and unnamably foul concoction of cheap whiskey, old sweet and sour mix, red wine, and soy sauce. It’s a combination of flavors that very few will ever experience, and happily so! But for Mat, choking down toxic cocktails is simply a sacrifice one must make in order to chip away at the great transcendent truths the lie just past the brink of self-destruction
Mat creates cocktails, but not in the way a professional mixologist might. He doesn’t think of new drinks based on how the flavors of the various ingredients will interact and compliment each other. For Mat, cocktails are born of dreams, and like dreams, they possess their own logic that is strange yet oddly familiar.
One of these fantasy cocktails was the Yee-haw! One part whiskey whiskey, one part Yoohoo. The drink that Mat had mentioned throughout the week was finally dragged from the depths of his psyche into reality on his last night in LA when we went to a party at my friend’s house. It was a hit.
A Rare Glimpse of a Yee-haw! in the wild. Made for two.
Mat the Magician
Mat creates music by wrestling ancient melodies away from angels and imperfectly translating them to something that can be heard by human ears. Sometimes this supernatural connection allows Mat to pull off stunts that appear to an observer as pure magic, even though to him they are perfectly normal.
One night, Rachel drove Mat and I to to see Monster Rally at a nearby record shop. We struck up a conversation with a blonde girl named Becky outside the venue and invited her to come and drink and hang out at my apartment. Becky said sure and that she would meet us there. We got back to my apartment and Mat made his foul, unnamable drink (see above). We soon realized that, though we had given Becky the address, we had neglected to give her the apartment number or exchange phone numbers. We figured that poor Becky had probably showed up at my apartment gate and left in a shroud of confusion and tears, unfairly jilted by her new “friends.”
As if suddenly possessed by demons, Mat jumped up and grabbed the intercom phone and staged a mock conversation with the imaginary Becky. At least that’s what I thought he was doing until blonde Becky walked through the apartment door a minute later. Was it dumb luck that Mat had picked up the intercom at the exact moment that poor Becky was walking by? Or was it…something else? Something magic.
Mat the Showman
Like Lewis and Clark before him, Mat’s expedition into the Western territories was fraught with unknown dangers, rich with exotic pleasures, and weighed down by historical significance. As a rock n’ roller and a rambler by semi-profession, Mat’s great shame in life was never having ventured West of that great Mississippi River to perform, either as part of a musical ensemble or just to enact the performance that is his very existence.
Mat came to California band-less, a fact would have prevented lesser musicians from playing a show with a band. Mat, ignited by the curious alchemy of fate and opportunity, managed to cobble together a traditional power trio out of his guardian angel, Rachel, and some other guy who I forgot the name of but who, perhaps not insignificantly, donned a lumberjack style hat much in the style of what explorers like Lewis and Clark might have worn during their expedition.
After a single practice, Coma Cinema made their West Coast debut in someone’s living room in Atwater. Like the Native American’s watching Lewis and Clark roll into their village, the bewildered crowd seemed ignorant of the significance of what they were witnessing.
Mat the Monk
Inedia is pseudoscientific lifestyle based on the belief that human beings can survive without food. Practitioners believe that humans can subsist entirely on sunlight and nutrients in the air. This belief has its origins in traditional Catholic mythology, which claimed that certain saints survived for extended periods of time eating only the Eucharist. I knew this guy in college who swore that Inedia was real. Hearing his theories on these so-called “Breathanarians” made me think that he was something of an idiot. But after hanging out with Mat for a week, I don’t know what to believe anymore.
I didn’t see Mat eat a single thing during his stay. He seemed indifferent and sometimes downright hostile to the idea of dining. Maybe it was the abnormally nutritious California sun, but the lack of food did not affect Mat’s enthusiasm or energy in the slightest.
Every morning at 7 o’clock, Mat would leave the apartment to hit the local bar for an early morning bloody mary (another possible source of nutrients) and go for a walk until about 11 when Jason and I were ready to record. One morning he walked all the way from Los Feliz to downtown LA and back all before noon. It was only after this trek that Mat let his mortality show. This is how I found him.
Mat and Noel
Noel Thrasher is an important and somewhat mysterious figure in the mythology of Mat. An ex-girlfriend, a childhood friend, a visiting angel? Thrasher’s relationship to Mat is unclear to me. Some have gone as far to theorize that Thrasher is less a person than a fictional personification of the pure artistic muse (although there is overwhelming evidence of her existence in the form of the recently released An Introduction to Noel Thrasher, a fantastic collection of Noel’s primitively recorded lullabies curated and presented by Mat himself).
Some of Mat’s most beautiful recordings have been covers or re-imaginings of her songs. Two of my favorite Elvis Depressedly tracks, “Cry Babies” and “Warm Wolves Milking Mary” both began as Thrasher tunes.
Before the aforementioned Introduction to Noel Thrasher, Mat’s renditions of her songs had been the only publicly available evidence of Thrasher’s talents. If I can pat myself on the back personally for something during the making of Posthumous Release it would be my insistence on attempting another one of Thrasher’s songs. Mat seemed receptive towards the opportunity to spread her music to a wider audience and set to figuring out one of her tunes on the piano. And as soon as I heard him singing what would go onto become “Posthumous Release,” I knew that it had to go on the record. It fit right in with the fragile and haunting mood of the rest of the music, and would serve as a perfect closing track,
Covered from all angles by all angels
Mat the Undead
We blazed through the recording seshes and finished tracking with a day to spare, giving us just one day to mix the album before sending it out to get mastered and then Mat was going to fly out in the morning, hopefully dying in a fiery crash on the way back in order to give the title Posthumous Release an additional layer of bleak irony (not to mention boosting sales a la all dead musicians). Unfortunately Mat survived. But I’m kind of glad that he’s alive, still out there somewhere, drinking an invented cocktail and cursing the tyranny of the universe or prank calling small time real estate moguls in the middle of the night, threatening to murder them in their sleep. Bless you Mat. And bless you, gentle readers, for listening to Posthumous Release. Jason and I felt very blessed to have participating in such an amazing project. Ta.
The Whole Crew