Snapshot with Matt L. Roar
Poor Lil Poems. We Should Cut Them Some Slack.
Matt L. Roar is a writer and musician from San Fransisco who lives in Brooklyn. He is the author of the chapbooks Probability of Dependent Events and The Shredders, as well as the publisher behind Recreation League. Recreation League has published chapbooks by Geraldine Kim, Emily Brandt, and a volume of poems dedicated to basketball.
Matt records music under the moniker of Golden West Service. Recently Golden West Service released a split 7″ with Wanda and Wonder. The release of this split 7″ inspired me to catch up with Matt via email to learn more about the band. We discuss the origins of Golden West Service, the different approaches to writing song lyrics versus poetry, and playing live shows with poets. Coldfront Magazine is also lucky enough to debut the brand new video for Golden West Service’s new single, “Rental Car.” Sit back, listen, read, and enjoy!
SK: Hi Matt! Let’s start at the beginning. What are the origins of Golden West Service and how long have you been together? Also, I’m curious about the band’s name?
MLR: Thanks Steven! I’ve been doing Golden West Service since 2008. It started as a means for me to release 4-track recordings I was making at home. I wanted it to be completely self-sustaining. After many years in hardcore bands I wanted to make softer, more emotionally complex music, but with the same short attention span and low-fi accessibility that attracted me to punk and hardcore. I was inspired by artists like Little Wings, The Microphones, and OM, whose performances and recordings felt like one component of a larger art project. Rather than thinking of it as “a band” I try to think of it as a vessel I can put all my poetry, music, and art, into. I’ve always tried to keep a rotating cast of musicians. Probably around 15-20 of my friends have performed as a part of GWS over the years. Right now I’m collaborating my buddy Ben Robey from Ninjasonik and my friend Forrest Lewinger from Wanda and Wonder. I really enjoy spending time w/them and communicating with them musically. I have to shout out Dylan Thomas (real name) though, because he was my one and only drummer for many years and helped me record a bunch of stuff.
Oh, and the name: Dylan and I both became friends through freight train graffiti. We loved painting freight trains together. There were these beautiful light blue trains with the logo, Golden West Service, on them. They were our favorite to paint because of the color scheme, the beautifully simple logo, and the romantic name.
SK: Matt, you’re also a poet and editor of the small press Recreation League. Listening to the lyrics on the split 7” with Wanda and Wonder and your previous Golden West Service EP (2009) there seems to be a distinction in style. Can you talk a little bit about the different processes concerning writing song lyrics verses writing a poem?
MLR: Yeah totally. With music I tend to write a melody on guitar and I’ll sort of freestyle over it, singing a mix of fake words and real words and la la las until it feels right. It sort of just comes out and I’m unlikely to change things drastically. I might slowly tweak a line over the years. I don’t think as critically about my lyrics as I do about poetry. Like in certain schools of poetry it’s really important to obscure emotional content and to avoid directness. With music I don’t police myself. If it feels good it stays. When I’m writing for the page I’m more likely to go back and edit, revise, seek feedback, and be critical. In a song, I think the music, melody, and voice can carry a lot of the emotional weight, and it somehow feels ok to be more direct and clunky. Lyrics can function as a placeholder, or bounce against the music in interesting ways. Whereas written poetry is all alone. It needs to function by itself. There’s a lot more pressure on it to perform. Poor lil poems. We should cut them some slack.
SK: Golden West Service and Wanda and Wonder recently released a fantastic split 7”. Can you talk a little bit about this?
MLR: I’ve really loved Forrest’s music for a long time and I wanted to collaborate w/him. We had played a few shows together and started talking about doing some kind of split release. We have very different styles, with Forrest having more beats/sampling/electronic influenced music, and me having a more garage/indie/punk vibe. But both of us sing like larks and embrace a certain DIY ethos/aesthetic.
As far as my tracks go, I ditched AWP when it was in Seattle and recorded a bunch at my old friend Phil Jones’ house for a few days. My buddy Aaron O’neill plays drums on the recording and I’m really appreciative of that. He’s an incredible musician who I’ve played with since we were in 6th grade! He plays drums in a bunch of rad HxC bands like Shook Ones and Devotion, and is on that Macklemore hit, “Downtown.” I’m proud that he’s on this record, and I’m really happy with how the songs turned out. Some of the unreleased songs have soft jazzy parts and then like, grindcore blast beats. I’d bet Aaron is one of very few drummers on earth who have a deep understanding of these types of music and can play all that stuff so well.
SK: A lot of your upcoming shows also feature readings from poets. I believe you have already played a few shows that include poets. Why did you want to play shows with poets? How has the reception been so far?
MLR: I guess I want to perform w/poets because I want to perform with people I love. That’s my community. I wish the music and poetry worlds didn’t feel so separate. They can both benefit from each other. Some poetry readings could stand to loosen up. Some rock shows could benefit from some thoughtfulness. Maybe I’m being negative. I love both spaces. Break down the walls! The reception has been really positive overall. Our record release party had readings from Chris Cheney, Emily Brandt, and Emily Toder and we’re performing with a bunch of poets on our mini-tour this spring. It’s been lots of fun and it’s been cool to see how audiences respond.
SK: You recorded a music video for “1983.” Can you talk a little bit about this single and the making of the music video?
MLR: Sean Cain made that video with us on my roof on a cold February day. I spraypainted all the lyrics to the song on my neighbors building. My landlord found out and locked the roof access forevermore. But it was worth it. The song is about high school love and summertime and the warm, sad, familiar, feeling of wishing you were somewhere else. I remember being a kid and always wishing it was summer. I also remember summer being a very lonely and strange time. I couldn’t wait to get back to school and be around human beings besides my little brother. Even shitty teachers and mean jocks made life more exciting.
SK: I recently watched Golden West Service’s new video for “Rental Car.” One of the things that I was struck by was a sense of place. Although I’ve only known you in Brooklyn with a skateboard and/or a basketball, I seem to always picture you as Californian with a surfboard and because of this perhaps, I project a certain laid-back West Coast sensibility onto your music. The new video is filmed in Brooklyn and has made me look at Golden West Service with a different perspective. This is a rather ramshackle way of asking you how place fits into or affects your music compositions?
MLR: I feel like surfing and skateboarding, which are synonymous with California, have a huge influence on my music and writing. It’s strange. After a long day of surfing, I’ll often fall asleep having these dreams that synthesize surfing with playing music. Like I’ll be playing a song and trying not to fall off into the whitewater. Maybe it’s the fact that both are about physical movement, rhythm, and beauty. I try to hang on to that West Coast summer time vibe, but New York definitely changes you. Maybe it’s the seasons that remind you of the rapid passing of time, or the fact that everybody here hustles, but I think that there’s a certain urgency that you feel here. California lulls you to sleep, and New York does the opposite. I suppose my music reflects that. Like, I used to do acoustic performances w/a drummer playing brushes, and now I’m using samples and 808 beats when I perform. I love Brooklyn because there’s space to be whoever you want here. I feel more free to experiment with different sounds and aesthetics.
SK: After tour is over, do you have plans to release an ep or full length?
MLR: I hope to put out a full length this summer. It’s tentatively titled See.
Be sure to catch GWS at
Matt L. Roar is a writer and musician from San Francisco, currently living in Brooklyn. His writing has appeared in The Ampersand Review, Tinfish, Sink Review, Jellyfish, GlitterPony, No Dear, The Surfer’s Journal, WAX, and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbooks, The Shredders (Mondo Bummer) an Probability of Dependent Events, (Beard of Bees). He is the publisher of Recreation League and is a Special Education teacher. His music can be found here: www.recreationleague.bandcamp.com
Steven Karl is the author of Dork Swagger (Coconut Books) and
Sister (forthcoming from Noemi Press in early May.) Recent poetry and non-fiction has appeared in Breaking The Lines (Flying Guillotine Press), Pinwheel, Jellyfish, Entropy, Real Pants, The Volta, and The First Time I Heard My Bloody Valentine. He lives in Miami and teaches at Florida International University.