Behind the Beat: The Importance of Being Earnest

Matt Krefting likes to sing in the car. A lot. His daily commuting activities, loudly accompanying his car stereo, served as inspiration for the avant-gardist's first solo album, a foray into a new realm of songs and performance.

Most musicians follow the familiar archetype: create some accessible, straight-ahead music, build a following, and then, once comfortable, begin to experiment, going farther and farther afield, sometimes to the dismay and alienation of said followers. For Krefting, Valley musical gadabout and purveyor of all things experimental, the process has worked in reverse. As a Hampshire student, he found critical success in early "quiet music" project Son of Earth—an experimental anti-folk combo and integral part of what Wired Magazine dubbed the "New Weird America" scene. He proceeded to add over a dozen other outre projects to his resume, including the short-lived but much-loved Believers.

Then along came Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, helmsman of internationally revered and Easthampton-based Ecstatic Peace Records. "At one of the Flywheel Record Fairs, Thurston was like, 'You should do an Ecstatic Peace record,' and I said okay," recalls Krefting. "I had been doing these readings where I would do some a cappella singing afterwards and he had seen some of those and was a fan of Believers. His initial concept was that I would do some electronic stuff, sing some songs, but that it would be the most fucked-up record ever. I was like, 'Okay, I'll try that.'"

It didn't turn out that way. After spending time in Moore's basement "playing guitars together and scraping stuff around," Krefting felt that the results were fine, but that something wasn't quite right. "It was really [Ecstatic Peace's] Andrew Kesin who pushed me into the covers thing," he says. "We were talking about the record and he asked me if I was thinking that the album was going to be all covers. That hadn't really occurred to me until right then, but I said yes and ran with it."

As a self-described "non-musician," Krefting needed some assistance to realize his new vision. Kesin hooked him up with jack-of-all-trades John "Towns" Townsend. "We would just hang out in Towns' attic, drinking beer, listening to records," he says. "I would give him a song, he would learn it instantly and we would come up with arrangements. We called it the Munroe Lab, for the street he lives on. It was a really concise, concerted thing."

Krefting chose a handful of old favorites by the likes of John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Rick Danko, Bill Fay and others to record. "I remember the first time I heard every single one of these songs," he says. "It was important to me that I could see myself somewhere in the song, and that it represents me in a certain way. I wanted songs that would sort of put myself out there, you know? There's a lot of songs that I really love."

Presentation was a part of the deliberations for Krefting: "I never thought about covering the songs directly. I didn't want to do literal interpretations, but I also didn't preoccupy myself with radically reinterpreting them. [Jerry] Garcia's 'To Lay Me Down' is the only one with real spacey, far-out departures. In arrangement, they're all pretty similar to what the original was."

After working through the tunes, the next task was to find some musicians to assist in the recordings. "I put out an APB to everyone I knew, basically, asking who could do this project," Krefting says. "I emailed two bass players, two drummers, everybody I knew who might be into this kind of stuff; pretty much everybody said yes, and we had this kind of motley crew coming in and out of Bank Row Studio up in Greenfield."

Those who contributed to the making of I Couldn't Love You More include Townsend, Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, Sunburned Hand of the Man members Phil Franklin, John Moloney, Ron Schneiderman and Rob Thomas, Krefting's wife Jamie Jo Oltmans and old pals Josh Burkett, John Shaw and Lynn Meyers. The album was recorded by Bank Row wiz Justin Pizzoferatto.

According to Krefting, the resultant product demonstrates a different, but not incompatible, side of him: "It never really felt like a departure for me until it was totally done, and I went, 'Wow, this is totally different than anything I've ever done.' But I still felt the same about it, that it was part of me. … My personality, and everyone's who I was playing with on the project—that's what I really wanted to be able to come through, and I can hear it right away."

Krefting is interested to see how the public—including the experimental music community of his past and present—will react to his latest turn. "In an ideal world, I would hope and think that people would realize that it's coming from the same place as all my other stuff," he says. "As long as it's a reflection of me and where I'm at, I don't know that the emotional content changes that much. And if you can hear that, then it works. It works for me anyway. I have second-guessed it, at points. I listened to Richard Thompson's song and my version side-to-side and I'm just like, 'I'm a charlatan.' But that was at three a.m., and it was a lonely night on the couch."

Is he concerned that people might think, because of his background, that he is approaching this set of songs with sarcasm? "I have a hard time thinking that anyone would think it too sarcastic," says Krefting. "If anything, I think they're going to find it too earnest. That's my only real concern with this. That's why I'm going to swing back a little bit with the tour, to show that I do have a sense of humor about myself."

To this end, Krefting hopes to bring a sense of theater to the series of live shows lined up to celebrate the album's release: "This is going to be a big band. I'm viewing this as my Plastic Ono Band, and it keeps getting bigger. We might have up to three drummers. I've got crazy people coming from all kinds of geographical areas. It could be a train wreck, but I'm trying to orchestrate it so that the train wreck works to our benefit. I want it to be less concise, drastically different than the record. Now that I've done the record, I feel like I can do this stuff, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I'll keep doing this stuff. I get pretty impatient pretty fast. I'm always looking for the next frontier."

I Couldn't Love You More comes out this June on Ecstatic Peace! Records. For more information and show listings, visit: http://www.mattkrefting.com.

Author: Matthew Dube

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