I met Matthew Mehlan at Roulette in SoHo on the third night of the concert series he arranged there. Matthew’s band Skeletons is an experimental pop group who combine many musical styles in textures in their 2008 release Money. Matthew has been making experimental music under many monikers over the last decade.

Could you tell me a little more about the Roulette event tonight?
Well Roulette is a space that’s been around a long time, for about 30 years, that puts on experimental music concerts. It’s a not-for-profit. It’s one of the oldest in the city of it’s kind, it’s like strictly experimental music. It’s across all different genres, it just has to be experimental in nature. It moved into {the SoHo} space a couple years ago. These last two weeks, myself and Doron Sadja, we went to school together, we’ve known each other a long time and have been making music together a long time, we both each curated three nights. My three nights are about getting people together to make music that is new. It’s all people that I totally love. The music that they make and the people, in general. I’ve been in New York about four and a half years. They’re people that, in those years, that we’ve done a lot of stuff with, a lot of shows, sort of a scene of people. We play a lot of shows together but we never make any music together. Since I had the chance three nights in a row to do something I wanted to get all of those people together in one room, as many as possible each night, and make some music together in different combinations. Without it being just a total jam session. It’s a little more set up than that. So that we have different count groups of people playing with each other at different times, and then also I ask different people to bring in pieces that they write for whatever ensemble that ended up playing that night. On Tuesday we did a piece by Sam Hillmer from Zs and we did a piece of mine and then we did one all full out group improv with all eight people that were there—nine people. Last night we did a piece of mine again and a piece of Jason McMahon’s who’s one of the guitarists in Skeletons. Both nights were totally incredible. Totally way different from each other though, couldn’t have been more different. Even though it’s like totally the exact same premise. Even people from some of the same bands, like last night we had Ben from Zs, Ben Greenburg the guitar player, and on Tuesday we had Sam from Zs, but the two nights were just so different. It was crazy. It’s with guys from Exceptor, they played on Tuesday, Zs, Skeletons, Extra Life, Little Women, Mike Pride plays with Dynamite Club, and a ton of other bands. Okkyung Lee played last night, an amazing cello player. She’s part of Roulette’s scene, she plays at Roullete a lot. I was also trying to get some people I knew from Oberlin that came to New York or went somewhere else that just are straight-up performance majors…I wanted to bring all these different people together.

How do you define yourself as an artist? What are your aspirations as a musician?
I just want to make music that is totally honest and true to myself, that I think pushes some thing, whether it be in me, or in other people. Whether it be the most avant-garde, scene vibe, whatever, pushing that to an opposite extreme, like into being so straight and status quo and pushing that in another way…

Experimental music can be really difficult for music fans to access. How does the audience factor into what you do?
I think I probably make it for other people more…I make it for myself because I feel like I have to. I don’t even think about it, there’s just some drive that comes out of somewhere to make something, and that’s been true since I was thirteen, or something, and got my guitar. Or when I got a four-track recorder, or whatever, started a band, did anything, was in the talent show in elementary school, dancing to “Shimmy Shimmy Shake” or whatever that song is from the “Cocktail” soundtrack. I don’t know what it is. The audience is super important, it’s all about communicating. I don’t believe in the idea that…if there are experimental musicians that are saying that it’s strictly about them, making music for them, I think that’s rarer than people who are making music to communicate something. So sometimes that communication is more f---ed up than others, but it doesn’t make it any less valid to me. And so I think that if you get into real music business, or whatever, and “popular” music, it’s definitely not about the audience for them, it’s about the money. It’s about making something that they can sell. It’s fake, in other words, not all of it, but a lot of it is. That’s just a basic difference between performers, entertainers and artists. I don’t have the confidence to say that I’m either one of those, honestly. But I think there’s a big difference. There’s a big difference between music that communicates and music that’s fashionable. Theres a big difference between fashion and music; a lot of the music that you think is music is actually just fashion. You know what I’m saying?

I think Skeletons makes pop music. We make unpopular pop music. What we’re doing here, I would call it experimental music. We’re experimenting by seeing what will happen by bringing these people together. “Experimental music” is just as vague as “pop.” People say, “experimental pop musicians” or “experimental…”, whatever. It’s really so weird to think about all those kind of things.

Where do you think your tendency to combine dozens of styles and genres comes from?
There’s just too much music. There’s just too much good music to ignore something.

Why do you attempt to bring it all together?
It’s like what I feel. It’s like, if something happens, it’s mostly about things happening naturally. When you really connect with music, whether it’s a genre of music, “genre,” or an artist, that will affect you somehow. Art should affect you. It just gets put into your body, the same way food goes in and affects you and comes out. And that’s what happens with music. On tour we had a joke about how people are just food tubes, that food slides through us or whatever, but I think that’s true with almost everything. When we hear something from one person, when one friend of ours, or a co-worker or a colleague or a family member says something says…you know. I read that kids, some statistic,that kids with ADHD, if you put them on a diet without any corn syrup it’ll help with their attention deficit. And that may or may not be true. But if someone tells you that, you take it and you go tell someone else. That happens all the time, if you’re thinking about it. If you care about it. With music, that’s like the easiest thing in the world to do. Because half of being a fan of music is wanting to be in some grouping, some community of people that are interested in music, is sharing the music. Especially now. That’s basically what it’s all about. People make a blog to share music they like. You just take it and you send it to someone else, so it’s constantly going in and coming out.

What do you make of that landscape?
One possible detriment to it could be that people are pushing to make something immediately understandable. That on the first listen, it’s that whole vibe. I feel like in the eighties it was a thing, when pop music really got profitable, “you got 20 seconds to make someone love this song.” It’s like, what are you going to do? You can’t have a 20 second intro. And I think that’s happening now even more. Maybe before it was radio, you need to have a hit that the radio station will know is a hit and they’ll put it on. But now, you sort of have to, I feel like people are pushing toward making all their songs that immediate thing. From the get-go, there’s not going to be any intro or whatever. I think that’s too bad because I think there’s so much music that cannot be listened to in that way. There’s so much music that can’t even really be listened to while you have a website open. It’s not really the proper way to listen to it, to go to someone’s MySpace page and listen to a song while you’re reading some crap. It’s not an ideal listening situation at all, and I think that’s a shame. On the other hand, I think it’s really exciting to share music. It’s nice to have a blog to put up some old songs you really love and have people hear ‘em. I think it has affected some of my favorite bands. I feel like that’s been a thing, where they have to make something even more immediate.

Do you think that immediate success stunts artistic growth in the long run?
The thing about Interpol, not to single them out, I know there’s people that like it, but they’re very fashionable, it’s a fashion thing. It works in the way that every season, there’s new stuff and it just gets cycled out. This is the new stuff. The old stuff is done.

It moves so quickly. And that happens all the time now. Bands will be huge, and then two years later, they’re on tour and nobody’s at their show. I think that’s really sad because there’s no way for them to be nurtured and actually develop as an artist, and do something different and actually have a career where they put out at least five records. Let alone ten records. Everybody always talks about, and this is across the board, everybody talks about now is different than the past.

When you think about the sixties, it’s the same way. When you listen to the old classic rock station you realize there’s a million one-hit wonder bands. The thing was that they actually had success by being a one-hit wonder, they probably made a bunch of money. Today that can happen to someone and they won’t make any money until Apple puts it in the commercial, or whatever.

Are there any artists that you feel a special kinship with?
Tonight, last night, and the night before is like a really good example…these are my favorite bands and they’re my friends, too. Zs, Extra Life, Little Women, Exceptor, I think they’re all incredible bands doing really new, weird shit that’s really special and different. I think they’re really great bands out. Animal Collective is a great band. It blows my mind that they have two sold out shows at the Bowery Ballroom for thirty bucks apiece. I think the new record is great; it’s just a really different kind of record. The first three listens of it—this is what I think is true of a lot of records—great records but that are more fitting for now and that vibe of the way that the world populizes something, but they’re great the first three listens, they’re like, incredible. After that they start to get annoying, to me. There isn’t enough of something that takes it to that transcendent level, you figure out the cues, you figure out the tricks, the climaxes, the techniques that bands use. I personally loved them like, Here Comes the Indian. We opened for them on the first Skeletons tour, they’re super nice dudes.

All these bands are progressing in the way they choose to. Which I would do too. And what I’m going to do anyway. But I do think you can always hear the different avenues that modern bands could’ve taken. And sometimes the avenues that they don’t take are the ones that are more exciting to me. That’s what I feel like happens a lot. It happens a lot for me. There’s a lot of avenues that I’d like to go down that I don’t have the resources to, or the time. Nobody’s handing us any money to make a record. It hasn’t happened.

What’s the Skeletons recording process like?
It’s been different every time we’ve made a record because when Skeletons started I made records by myself and called them Skeletons and asked my friends to play on them. And then I booked a tour and I asked my friend to go on tour. And that was like the first band. We never even played shows. I played shows in high school with my high school band, but it wasn’t the same as being on the road or whatever. Then for a period of time, those people in the band were living in different parts of the country so it had to work in a way that fit that way of working. So what that meant a lot of times is that I would record with them there when they were there and then someone else when they were there then I would mix it and give it the finishing touches. With money we were able to get into a studio up in Times Square, this incredible studio. Tony in the band had worked there for a period of time so his old boss sort of gave us the midnight hours when they were free. So, it would be like, tonight if I just got off of work, I would go home and eat dinner and then I would get on the train and go to Times Square and we would record till five or six in the morning and then go home, take a shower, maybe not sleep because if you sleep you’re f---ed, go to work…that’s just the way we rolled. With that studio, Tony and I had both worked in studios, and we’ve learned recording techniques so we’re both really comfortable with that stuff. On the last record, Tony did a lot of the engineering for it and we mixed it together, the four of us. We did everything the four of us, almost. It was basically always the four of us in the studio, and that was it.

The ones before that had more electronic stuff, it was just different. It was mostly about the environment, what kind of space you can get into to make a record, and what kind of tools you have available.

What do you want to communicate with your art? What’s your ultimate goal?
I have very specific things that I want to communicate. That’s the reason I do it. That’s the whole reason to sing, to make pop songs. There’s a very particular type of music in my brain that I want to play that isn’t pop music and that has to do with strictly, like, energy and texture and sound, dynamics of real instruments and real life sound and not electronic stuff. Almost like stuff you could create electronically, stuff that isn’t created electronically.

Technology’s going to be involved no matter what. Whether you’re using old technology or new technology it’s going to end up on your computer.

In general, I just want to be able to make music and make the kind of music that I like to make. And I would like to people to participate in it. I’d like to communicate things to people and play shows for people and have energy between the band, the music that’s being made and the people watching it and I’d like to play with as many people as I can and make as many records as I can until I’m old, until I can’t do it anymore. That’s it.

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