Mat Kerekes: "This is my Contribution to the Big Picture."
Interview by Nina Schirmer
With no plans of releasing an album, solo artist and Citizen vocalist, Mat Kerekes put together a few demos which unexpectedly turned into something much bigger. Kerekes then went into the studio with producer Will Yip (Circa Survive, Tigers Jaw, Basement, Title Fight) and created his raw, emotional storybook-like album, Luna & The Wild Blue Everything, releasing several music videos alongside it that continued to bring the album to life. In his words, Luna & The Wild Blue Everything, released in August of 2016, is his contribution to the big picture, something larger than himself.
Putting the finishing touches on the very personal and live-sounding album, Will Yip connected Kerekes to singer-songwriter Anthony Green, who not only is featured on the track, "Direction" from Luna & The Wild Blue Everything, but also took Kerekes out on tour to round out the summer. At the final date of the Pixie Queen tour, I had an idea of what to expect after reading a few show reviews and figuring out what the set lists for each artist might be, but I was definitely taken aback by every performance that night. I have been listening to Kerekes’ music for quite some time now and I never really thought I would be able to hear his songs such as “2 A.M.,” “Wisteria,” and “Heart of Gold” live, making this a very unreal yet amazing experience added to the list of shows I will never forget.
Before the show that night, I was able to share some laughs and talk with Kerekes about the new album, his songwriting process, some exciting new things that will be coming in the near future, and much more.
The Prelude Press: So we’re here at the final date of your tour with Anthony Green! How was this tour for you and what was it like playing your new songs and even bringing out some older songs to play such as "2 A.M." and "Wisteria?"
Mat Kerekes: The tour was great! Everyone on the tour was awesome. It was fun to play new songs and even playing the old songs kind of feels new because I never really do solo shows. It feels pretty good, the crowds have been good, and yeah the shows are cool.
You recently released your new album, Luna & The Wild Blue Everything. You’ve said that this album is sort of a “coming of age” album for you and described it as a children’s storybook showing where you were and where you are now. What parts of the album would you say really highlight that for you?
It’s not really like a storybook, it’s just the vibe. I guess it could be a storybook because every song is a story. The whole album really highlights it. I’ve tried new things when it comes to writing and switching up lyric styles. Instead of being more straight forward with things you kind of just beat around the bush and maybe just say different things when you mean something else. Every song isn’t really about one topic per se, but it’ll be like eighty percent about something and then twenty percent about random shit that could go along with it that could be thrown in there too. There’s no one part that highlights it as a whole or individually, that’s just what it is.
In your music video for “The Clubs/The People’s Attention” is that storybook concept of the album reflected throughout the animation and style of the video?
Yeah, I edit videos and stuff and I was trying to think of a video idea and everything I thought of I knew I couldn’t do so I hit up this guy from Toledo, his name is Chance, and he actually did Secret Space’s videos and they’re on this tour. I asked him if he does animation and he said, “I can but I never have.” And I was like, “Okay well but can you try?” And he said yeah, so I sent him the album art before it was released and said, “If you can make it look kind of like this just do whatever you want, I don’t care.” Then he hit me with that and I was like, “Oh shit.”
Yeah it looks really cool!
Yeah! It was his first time ever doing animation so it was pretty nuts. I was really impressed and I’m definitely stoked on the video. I think it looks cool. I just gave him the album art and told him I like the light blue color, I think it looks nice and he said, “alright” then bam he hit me with that so it was pretty cool.
Did you come up for the storyline for it too or was that him?
No, that was all him. I sent him the lyrics and the album art and that was all I did. The rest was in his hands. It surprised me for sure.
It definitely looks really great! I watched it a bunch of times and I was fascinated by it and tried to figure out what the storyline was. Are there any hidden meanings to it?
I don’t know. I actually watched it a few times trying to decipher it as well and I almost texted him and was like, “what’s the storyline behind this?” But I kind of think that there’s a certain element in mystery that makes things better so I decided not to have him give it away so you can decipher it in your own way and make it more special.
What is the background for the name of the album?
Wild Blue Yonder means sky, so I wanted the concept of one person in the midst of everything. So Luna & The Wild Blue Everything is the moon and the sky, but it’s really the moon and everything. It’s one thing amongst everything else, one person’s story. I know bands tend to do this - and I’ve even done this - but when you release a record and your band is doing something and it seems like there is hype around you and it seems like that’s all there is. You get so excited and you almost get conceited because I’m doing this and people care, but in reality you’re just a speck in this big picture so this is my contribution to the big picture.
Throughout the recording process for the album, you worked with Will Yip. What were some of your goals that you set when it came to the overall sound and flow of the album?
I didn’t plan on doing this album. I was just sending demos to our manager Evange, and she kind of threw it out there. I wanted the vibe to be live almost, because the demos sound so shitty, but in the coolest way though. There were times before I went to record with Will and I thought, “Maybe I should release these demos?” I liked the vibe of it so much, but I mean I’m glad I went to record with Will and he got the best out of me like he always does. It sounds great, it sounds real and that’s all I really wanted. I didn’t want crazy effects. I just kind of wanted it to sound like we’re jamming. He does a great job and I trust him with his ideas.
"It sounds great, it sounds real and that’s all I really wanted."
There are a bunch of songs on this album that are instrumentally pretty upbeat whereas a lot of Citizen songs are heavier and more intense. What inspired you to explore the different and more upbeat acoustic style for this album?
There’s a certain feeling you get when you listen to certain songs. When I’m listening to lighter music, I like the feeling of bittersweetness, like a happy but sad - it’s bittersweet. Citizen’s not like that and I think that’s something I really wanted to capture with something on the side. As for upbeat, all of the the older songs were slow, I was young, they’re corny and when you’re young things that don’t really matter that much matter a lot. In high school if someone said I was stupid, I would flip out, and now people say bad shit about everyone, but I think the maturity kind of translates into the songs as well. I wanted to try something new. I didn’t want to just do acoustic because it gets boring after a while. I played everything on the record besides violin, and Will played drums for one song and tambourine.
You definitely captured a lot of emotion with this album and even with songs you’ve done in the past, especially with Citizen. I feel like that makes people think, and that the songs provide people with a lot of food for thought which is really cool.
Good, that’s the point! You don’t want to listen to something and hear a catchy hook with shitty lyrics and be over it within a few days.
Exactly, you want something that means something.
Yeah, you want something that’s going to stick. I always find that my favorite music is something that I didn’t like at first. I’d listen to it and not really be that into it just because it didn’t really grab me. The records that I really like are the records that I didn’t like at first and then the records that I used to love, I immediately liked and now I don’t ever care to listen to them anymore. It’s kind of funny how that works.
Is there ever a creative conflict between your solo project and Citizen? When you write a song how do you differentiate a Mat Kerekes song and a Citizen song?
There’s no conflict really. There have been times where I’ve went to write a Citizen song and then when I finished it I realized it’s not a Citizen song. “2 A. M.” was supposed to be a Citizen song but they said, “no” and I was like, “alright I’ll just keep it then!” I feel like I’ve gone through that problem enough times to not have that happen anymore. I know what’s going to be a Citizen song so it’s not going to be a big deal.
So you don’t automatically have that mindset of who you’re writing for?
Yeah I just go for it and then about twenty-five percent of the way through I’ll know.
How does the songwriting process start out for you? There’s so many different ways to write songs. It could either just come to you or you can start by picking up a guitar. What’s the most common thing that happens for you?
Usually it’s just me and an acoustic. That’s how all of the songs are written. If Nick writes a song for Citizen, I know that’s how his songs are written. A thing that usually happens a lot to me is that I’ll be doing something that doesn’t involve music at all and I’ll think of a vocal melody so I’ll pull out the voice memos in my phone and [pretends to sing into phone and laughs]. If you went through the voice memos, I would be so embarrassed. I know a few people that do that too, my brother especially.
Then I’ll write a guitar line to it but I mean, it all depends on the vibe. Sometimes I’ll pick up the guitar and write a guitar line and then I won’t think of anything. If you sit and force something to come out, it never ends up good. So if I have a guitar line I think is neat and I can’t think of a vocal melody I’ll usually just voice memo it. Then over the course of however long, I’ll listen to it and if nothing else pops in my head then I won’t end up using it. I never force it but if something comes and I think it’s cool then I know I might use it.
As a frontman, what is it like going from performing to rowdier crowds with mosh pits and crowd surfing when you play with Citizen, to a much more toned down crowd because of the different style of music? What is that experience like for you?
With Citizen I don’t play an instrument, so if the crowd isn’t popping off then it’s kind of uncomfortable in a way. But for this, I’m playing guitar so if no one gives a shit then I don’t give a shit because I’m still doing something the whole time. I think the energy of a Citizen show is really cool, but good energy at these shows is just people nodding their heads and hearing people sing along. That translates to Citizen as well. As long as people are nodding their heads I think it’s a good show. If people are just standing there staring at us like a circus sideshow freak act then well that sucks, but as long as I see heads nodding then I know it’s good. I don’t really care if people are stage diving or anything as long as I’m feeling it and everyone else is catching the vibes too then it’s totally cool.
Following this tour, what are the next steps you’ll be taking with your solo project? Can we expect more releases?
I have plans - but nothing is set in stone - to do a winter split release with someone else and it’s pretty cool. But it’s not set in stone. It is, but it’s not [laughs]. I don’t know how to explain it.
So it’s an idea floating around?
Yeah, we talk a lot about it and we still do but there’s no actual plans. He told me he’s writing for it, and I’m writing for it, and he said he was recording this time, then I’m going to be recording. We haven’t actually talked about anything else besides that. We had to miss the first week of this tour because the drummer for Citizen, Jake, was getting married so we went to that and I think in January we are going to make up for those dates but nothing is set in stone yet once again. I think next year there’s some Citizen stuff going on so I’m gonna kick it into Citizen gear pretty hard.
I heard there’s some rumors of a new album coming!
I don’t know! I can’t give away any details.
Can we be expecting anymore acoustic releases from you and your brother?
He plays in a band called The Flats and we just recorded a new release with The Flats. I tracked it and then Will Yip is mixing and mastering it. The songs are awesome too. Straight up so sick. Oh, and for the January dates we need to make up, The Flats are going to open for those.
Nice! So you’ll be doing shows with him.
Yeah! We’re all gonna pack into one van and just go for it. It’ll be cool.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today! Anything else you would like to add?
Umm…. No [laughs].