Recently we have reviewed and recorded some amazing folk-rock artists like Matt Turk, Fred Gillen Jr., and John McCutcheon who are all making relevant, beautiful, memorable music right now. Well, add Matt Keating to that list as his new album This Perfect Crime hits a perfect note with us. It’s the work of an experienced and accomplished musician, this is his eleventh album, and it showcases an artist with a gentle touch and wisdom of age. Built on exceptional songwriting and decorated with distinctive instrumentation, This Perfect Crime is the work of a master musical craftsman (and some friends) who have insightful, personal things to say about life, love and the weight of memory.
Matt Keating never pushes anything on the listener. His music stands alone in it’s own place and time, and it is effortless for listener to take the journey. And journey is the key word here as Matt Keating’s music moves you. It tells a story. It speaks of growth and change. It has vision and perspective. Gentle at times, then thoroughly engaging and present at others, his music works as a whole and in the details. Particularly notable is his ability to captivate you with his guitar work without having the usual crutches of glitter and staging “telling” you that it’s time for a solo. It’s all part of the greater idea that he is communicating, and his ability to craft songs of such ease, complexity and excellence is virtually unparalleled.
What this artist does so uniquely and so phenomenally is to present a whole concept in a song. It’s not just a catchy sequence of notes or a bold lyrical idea, but an original thought that requires a whole song to fully describe it. Matt Keating refines and refines this thought, adding to it with each passing phrase, then profoundly focusing it with his singular guitar expressionism. This is the mark of true excellence in songwriting and it’s here merged with unique technical skills, and combined under the direction of a master craftsman into this remarkable collection of songs.
RUST Magazine was so curious about the person behind the music we reached out to Matt to tell us a little about each song. Here he is, in his own words:
RUST: Matt, what can you tell us about this moment in your life? What do you think the most vivid memory of this time will be?
MK: This is what I guess people talk about when say, “middle aged”. I mean, I’m 51 and that technically assumes I’ll live to 102, but it wasn’t until recently, with my daughters approaching graduation from high school, that I really started to feel my age. Maybe I’ve been in denial until now, that if i do enough yoga and drink enough kombucha i’ll never feel old. The quickly adapting and changing technology makes me feel silly when i complain about having to update my iPhone 4 after i “just” got it 3 years ago. Witnessing the evolution from recorded music being a purchased product to an unlimited free streaming service is certainly interesting as well. Things are moving very quickly… I’ve been reading a lot about Kurtzweils theory of the coming Singularity (the point at which computer intelligence surpasses human intelligence) If you’d told me when i was 10 years old that in the future music would be free and you had to pay for water i wouldn’t have believed you. I think my most vivid memory will definitely be of my daughter just being here around the house. I can sense her leaving home soon and I’m trying to really take in her presence as much as possible these days.
RUST: How do you think this affected your songwriting for This Perfect Crime?
MK: Well… the Perfect Crime that i’m speaking of in that particular song from which the album title comes from is the feeling that I’ve somehow “gotten away” with something by continuing to write, record, perform and share my music with the world. It’s something that all along the way everyone tells you you’ll never be able to continue to do… that you WILL give up eventually unless you become a rock star or something. But if you never stop, you wake up one day in your 50’s with a body of work. I also feel like I’ve never been a better musician in my life. I keep learning new things. Just the other day i read that there’s nothing like music to keep the mind young and prevent dementia. That said, what are we talking about?
RUST: Was there an overall vision or idea for this album, or was it more like a collection of disparate ideas?
MK: I never enter into an album with a preconceived idea of what it’s going to be. I usually just pick the strongest songs and performances. I will say that with this one, when I did write the song This Perfect Crime, i sensed an overall theme – that everybody has some kind of “crime” they feel they harbor… mine is the perceived “crime” of self-expression and being yourself in a world that in E.E. Cummings words “is doing its best, night and day to make you everybody else”. I then noticed that many of the songs seem to point to a crime… whether it be overt of symbolic.
RUST: Can you tell us about a few of the people that helped you in the journey to making This Perfect Crime?
MK: This is the third record i’ve done with my long time good friend and bass player Jason Mercer who co-produces and plays on the album. I think he did an exceptional job of creating the right atmosphere for natural performances and then mixing a lot of instruments in a way that makes them all make sense together. There’s some fabulous musicians on this record. The wonderful Tony Scherr and Allen Devine provide a lot of the beautiful solo’s that i don’t do. Greg Wieczorek provides a beautiful groove with his drumming. Claudia Chopek is a genius at coming up with gorgeous string arrangements and performing them. Dave Sewelson has some nice horns on there. I’ve recently begun a collaboration with a great musician and songwriter Steve Mayone who co-writes The Only Thing with me.
RUST: Is there anybody in particular that you want to thank for helping you in this chapter of your life and career?
MK: Oh man… so many. There are all my friends who provide such wonderful conversation from where so many songs spring from. My wife Emily who i’ve been with for over 20 years. My daughter Greta who is a fabulous singer and songwriter and inspires me all the time. My parents used to resist this path I’ve chosen, but recently came to accept it, and now have even become very encouraging and inspiring.
RUST: Thanks Matt, what can you tell us about the individual songs?
When They’ve Thrown You Away
MK: I once heard a woman talking about how she was born in “the buckle of the bible belt” and it struck me. Then when i was on tour once in that area we stayed at a Days Inn and checked in late at night and the woman who checked us in had her boyfriend in the back office and something fishy was going on. I’d just seen the movie MONSTER, and i think it all just came together in my head.
Nothing To Figure Out
MK: My wife and daughter were flying to Portland, OR where she is from. We live in New York City. They woke up super early for the flight. When I woke up I picked up the guitar and started playing and picturing their flight path. It’s one i’ve taken with them many times before. I also started thinking about the the path of love and the difficulties of relationships and it really coming down to if your partner figures into your life still, then there’s really nothing to figure out about it.
MK: It started to be about all the powerful women i’ve known in my life who have inspired me, and how oftentimes Motherhood, though it can be an incredibly wonderful experience, can oftentimes hinder personal growth and how hard it sometimes can be for women to balance that in their own lives. It’s partly about my own wife and mother.
This Perfect Crime
MK: After my last album came out i started to wonder if I should keep making these records. I was worrying that maybe i wasn’t keeping with changing times and technology and am a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to musical expression. But then it occurred to me that i keep going no matter what happens and that each album almost feels like a “perfect crime” in that it’s something i “get away with” doing in spite of all the difficult circumstances.
MK: This is about a group of friends i get together with on a regular basis and how we all support each other even when we feel like it’s “five minutes past way too late” for us. There are a lot of artists growing older in my community.
Hell If I Know
MK: About going forward in life even though I have no idea what’s going to happen.
The Only Thing
MK: It’s about going forward in relationships even though we have no idea of what’s going to happen.
MK: This is the cover of a Joan Armatrading song that I’ve always loved. It was New Years Day 2013 and people were cracking jokes about how it was going to be an unlucky year. I decided that I wanted it to be a lucky year so I started singing it. I have a home studio and just recorded it live. I’d been experimenting with different guitar tunings mixed with ukelele and came up with this.
MK: About a European tour I did in 2010 that started in the UK. Everything was going wrong.., the flight’s electrical system went down on the plane and had to fly back to JFK for another one. I couldn’t even find a good cup of coffee. But I did find that 3 cups of tea sort of came close to a good cappucino… almost!
This Must Be Love
MK: This is about my wife… how you know someone is your true love when everything about them can annoy you sometimes, but you love them anyway.
Before The War
MK: The lead up to every war is always hysterical and rushed.
If I Get A Say
MK: A very personal tune to me. It came out in about 5 minutes… all at once. I’d found my piano on the street (a 1913 Sohmer upright). I was sitting at it and telling my wife and daughter how it was my favorite thing in the world and I found it on the street for free. Then I realized the chair I was sitting on I found for free, then realized my cat, my wife and daughter all were free and that everything meaningful in this world really is something separate from the market economy, leading up the pure experience of just being alive… and that I truly love this world and if it were up to me I’d keep having tomorrows although I know it’s really not up to me…that it’s up to something i don’t understand that I keep calling God even though I’m not really religious… it was just a word to express the force of nature that provides these things to us… that’s why I keep changing it’s gender. I was really afraid all of my hard core atheist friends would think I’d gone all religious or something but then realized it would be more radical to keep it like that since it made me feel vulnerable to that. After I sang it, my daughter Greta told me she loved it and that I should record it, so I did, right there and then. Then she made a little video of it and I put it up on Youtube and a lot of friends liked it so I added it to the album at the last minute.
RUST: Thanks so much Matt. Readers who want more info can check you out here: http://www.mattkeating.com/