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Where Is My Mind?: Mose Giganticus' Matt Garfield

- by Bill McThrill

It’s not often that you find a keytar in the world of metal, but Mose Giganticus is certainly not a gimmicky metal outfit trying to make it to LA. With their album Gift Horse recently released on street cred heavy hometown metal indie label Relapse Records and a hefty touring schedule planned for at least the next year, Mose Giganticus may be a hard local act to track down. But we were able to catch Mose Giganticus’ mastermind Matt Garfield in between legs of tours. You can also tonight at the M Room before he hits the road again. First, check out our interview with Garfield where we talk about adventures on tour in a veggie oil powered bus, concept albums, why it’s better to have a shitty job sometimes and much, much more. 

The Deli: You have a background in engineering and technology, which are also things that have been prevalent in your music. How have both played roles in shaping your music?

Matt Garfield: You're correct. I have a Master's Degree in electrical engineering from Drexel University. However, I wouldn't say that my engineering background has shaped my music, quite to the contrary in fact. My interest in music lead to my degrees. In high school, I developed both my interest in music and technology, and as a result, I began looking for ways to pursue these interests in college. I didn't want to go for a degree in music per se, because I was worried it may take the fun out music by formalizing it in too rigid a format. Rather, I wanted to enroll in a program focused on "music technology"- such as designing music electronics like sequencers, digital studios and synthesizers. What I found was that these positions were mostly filled by electrical engineers that happened to be interested in music, so I followed that path.

TD: After exceeding so well in engineering, why did you decide to stick with music?

MG: After 7 ½ years at Drexel University, I was going further down the path of an engineer and getting further away from music. I was a grad student on a PhD track and a research assistant in the Wireless Systems Lab which was becoming increasingly demanding. I found myself so committed to the projects I was working on (some involuntarily), that I was sleeping under my desk in the lab and sometimes wouldn't go home for days on end. Meanwhile, I was still trying to keep some semblance of musicianship in my life, and I loved touring, which was getting increasingly difficult given my commitments at the lab. One day I decided I was not happy. After all of the research and design work I had done, I still only felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when composing or performing music. So rather than stick it out another 4 years for my PhD and risk losing all ties to my musical background, I decided that once I completed my Master's Degree, I would put 100% of my effort into music and see what would come of it. For the previous 13 years, music had always been a distraction from what I was "supposed to be doing", and yet, I was so passionate about it that I managed to maintain an active role and pursue musical goals by squeezing every bit of spare time out of my schedule. I wondered what I may be able to accomplish if I finally had the chance to give it all of my time and attention. So here I am, 3 years later.

TD: The Invisible Hand was contained a futuristic theme of technology gone wrong, and Commander! was a homage to the great inventor Nikola Tesla. Was their any specific theme that went into shaping the songs on Gift Horse?

MG: Yes, I always prefer to work on albums with a concept. Gift Horse is about the division between the Judeo-Christian figures of the Old Testament God and the angel Lucifer, who later became synonymous with Satan. It's about the opposition between these forces. The lyrics are written from the perspective of these characters directly addressing one another with humanity as the audience. Each side has an argument against the other and lays out his case leading up to the Battle of Armageddon. The final track is spoken through the voice of humanity after the war between heaven and hell. It's worth noting that I'm not a religious person, nor am I taking sides in this battle. I simply found it an interesting and inspiring topic to explore musically.

TD: For Gift Horse you unveiled a sound that's heavier than what has been on your previous albums. What influenced the new direction?

MG: The direction of the music I've written for Gift Horse is a direct reflection of what I've grown to appreciate in the music I listen to. It's a reaction to what I've found to be powerful and interesting in music. I enjoy music that feels "weighty", both in its composition and subject matter. That's what has inspired me lately.

TD: How did working with Relapse Records come about and how has it been? How has it been different from working with the other labels, and how has it been different in respect to organizing tours?

MG: When I was writing and recording Gift Horse, I intended the record to be released on my previous label, Slanty Shanty Records. But as the album was nearing completion, I was realizing how far the sound of Mose Giganticus had evolved since 2008's Commander! EP. I felt like the dark, heavy songs on Gift Horse may be better suited to a label that has a reputation for heavy music. A friend of mine came through the studio one day to hear how things were going, and I asked if he would mind introducing these tracks to his friends at Relapse. About a week later I got an email from Relapse and our relationship grew from there.

Relapse has been fantastic to work with. They've been very helpful and supportive of Mose from the onset of our relationship. Valiant Death Records was also supportive, but had extremely limited resources and was run by a single, overworked person. Relapse has a staff employing specialized roles and a vast network of contacts in the music industry. The work flow is like moving from a kinked garden hose to a waterfall.

As far as organizing tours, Relapse has been working to get us opening slots for other tours and helped us out with contacts in cities we haven't been to before - but that's above and beyond what I expect from them. What people often forget is that a record label is not the same as a booking agency, and getting signed to a label doesn't suddenly mean show offers start raining from the sky. It helps to have the credibility of a great label behind your band when booking a tour, but it's not a secret password to never have to hustle to book a tour ever again, and it's not the label's responsibility to be booking your tours for you. If anything, it's a great reason to work HARDER on booking your own tours!

TD: You have toured as far as Alaska on a vegetable oil powered bus. What contributed to this decision, and are their any adventure or mishaps involving it that you can share?

MG: The decision to tour to Alaska was kind of a crack-pot, half-joking idea. I decided to do it simply because it was a challenge, and a ridiculous one at that. The decision to do it in a vegetable oil powered bus was a financial necessity. After I had decided I was going to book a tour to Alaska, I began working out the logistics of the trip. Based on the resources I had available (time and money), it seemed impossible. But I figured out that if The Emotron and I pooled our resources and invested everything we had up front into a veg oil bus, we would have almost no expenses along the way. We could dumpster food and fuel while always sleeping in the bus. It was a huge gamble, but it worked out.

That being said, every tour in this bus is an adventure and almost always involves a mishap. People focus on the fact that it runs on waste vegetable oil as the identifying characteristic of the bus, but in reality, its identity is a 10 year old shitty bus with 300,000 miles on it that has been through hell and back. Over the years, I've asked a lot from this bus, and it has delivered, but as with any vehicle taking this much punishment, there are engine failures and breakdowns along the way. Pulling over to fix a leaking fuel line or pulling half the engine apart to replace a warped idler pulley and a shredded belt are just part of tour. Most of the time I can fix it, some times we have to put it into a shop half way across the country, and sometimes we get stranded. It's simply the reality of touring most of the year and putting hundreds of thousands of miles on a vehicle.

TD. To earn money for your music and touring, you have worked as a dog walker, worked in a fish cannery while in Alaska, and have participated in medical studies. Why utilize such alternative means, and are there any stories you can share of experiences that stand out?

MG: I've worked those interesting, assorted jobs because they fit my tour schedule. It's not very attractive to tell an employer that your "real job" is being on tour, and you'll only be able to work in short bursts every few months. When I know I'll be off tour for a while, I dig up a job anywhere I can. Sometimes I get lucky and score a well-paying medical research study, sometimes I have to work 20 hour days on an assembly line in an Alaskan salmon cannery. It just depends on what's available. But the advantage is to always be able to walk away and go on tour. I've had many friends end their touring career by getting sucked into a "good job", so the shittier the job, the easier it is to leave.

TD: The Emotron has been a constant touring companion of yours over the past couple of years. Is he always such a unique character, and what are some of the most random moments that the two of you have been through together?

MG: Kyle (The Emotron) is certainly unique. I enjoy his form of expression and his art, but that's not WHY I like Kyle. At the root of it all, we're good friends. We had a passing acquaintance when our earlier bands played together in 2002, and in 2006, I looked him up to see what he was up to. We emailed back and forth for a while and decided to book a tour together in 2007 without really knowing what the other person's solo project was like beyond a glance at the Myspace page. We toured together for a few weeks in mid-2007 and just really hit it off on a personal level. In late 2007, I asked him to join me on the Alaskan tour in 2008, and that galvanized our friendship. We were both completely dedicated to a common goal and managed to achieve it against a slew of obstacles (both physical and financial). We lived together both at home and on the road for about 2 years, and as such have been through countless adventures and debacles - but I'm not going to boil that down into one or two zany situations. The only thing I'm surprised we've managed to avoid so far is being arrested together - though we've come close many times.

TD: Mose Giganticus has seen a lot of different members playing alongside you, and has seen a number of different lineup variations. Who are some players that have stood out for you, and what is your ideal lineup?

MG: At the time of this writing, Mose Giganticus has seen 23 members, and I just started training the 24th today. I deeply appreciate the time, effort, and talent that each member, current and past, has contributed to keeping Mose going. As such, I don't want to cheapen anyone's contribution by ranking them or choosing favorites. For the rest of this tour year, I'll be working with Dan Eppihimer on drums and various combinations of Joe Smiley, Scott Reigel, Zac Hobbs and Jeff Newell on guitar.

TD: Who are some bands that you have enjoyed playing with from Philly and on a national scale?

MG: We just got off a short tour with City of Ships from Florida and they were great to get to play with every night. We have a tour coming up opening for Tub Ring from Chicago, IL which I'm really looking forward to. As for some of the other bands we've played with across the country, I've enjoyed The Tanks, Johnny X and the Groadies, Horseburner, The Bastards of Fate, Hull, and a ton more that I won't remember until after I submit this. Locally, I've been digging Grass, Wormrider, Monolith, and again, more I'll remember later...

TD: You have been on a lot of tours since your first one with Abiku. What moments and places stand out from your time on the road?

MG: I remember really liking Seattle. It didn't hurt that the first weekly paper I saw had a headline about Krist Novoselic running for public office. My entire journey to Kenai, Alaska and back had a deep impact on me because of how remote and wild it became. On our way through northern Canada, we had to stop several times to let a herd of buffalo or mountain goats cross the road. I'm not saying I'd like to live there, but the Great White North certainly counts as a place that stands out in my touring experience. The Badlands National Park in South Dakota and Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky both made strong impressions on me. But other than the scenery, geographical oddities or a really cool venue, it's the people that I remember most from town to town. Making good friends in a town is what will make it stand out in my memory more than just about anything else.

TD: Now that Gift Horse has been released, and you’ve wrapped up another tour, what's next for Mose Giganticus?

MG: What's next is more touring! I recently wrapped up another “leg” of tour, but not the tour itself by a long shot. We'll be touring until mid-November this year, and then we'll be back out again in spring of 2011, and keeping on the road until mid-November again. I'll likely be working on some new material along the way, but I plan to focus on touring for many months to come.

TD: What is your favorite thing to order at the deli?

MG: I'll have a hoagie with turkey, sharp provolone, mayo and the spiciest mustard in the house - NO veggies - also a bag of kettle cooked chips and an iced tea (preferably unsweetened) to wash it all down. Thanks for the interview!

(Photo by Geoff Hall)

 

 

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Mose Giganticus
Gift Horse