Self is one of the best new things I've heard all year. The band's debut disc, Subliminal Plastic Motives, grabbed me instantly the first time I heard it. Featuring some of the cleanest, smoothest, most strangely hummable pop I've ever heard, this CD has almost continuously stayed in my disc player since I received it.
Self is an amazing band simply because of the songs, but I was even more impressed when I found out that the man writing the music is only 22 years old...and a native of Tennessee. I don't believe I've ever heard anyone put out a debut disc that is quite this good. Get hold of a copy and see for yourself.
We were fortunate enough to be able to speak with Matt Mahaffey, the man who writes the songs, plays most of the instruments, and acts as producer on Subliminal Plastic Motives. Matt was born in Kingsport, Tennessee but now lives in Murfreesboro.
What would you prefer to be doing most of the time?
Recording. Or hang out with my girlfriend. That's always fun. There's not much to do here, so you're either at the movies or somewhere listening to music or recording. I just record all the time...
What do you think is the biggest problem in the world?
Teenage pregnancy. Either that or everybody having guns. That's pretty dangerous, you know. You really can't smart off to anyone because they could just shoot you.
If you only had one hour left to live, how would you spend that hour?
Oh wow. Uh...gee. I don't know. I thought about it when Kurt Cobain died...what he did with his last hour. I assume that he probably just listened to all his records and then shot himself. But I don't plan on shooting myself anytime soon so...if I had one hour, geez...what would I do? I've never thought about that. I would probably sit down and listen to some good records and get really drunk...drink a lot of beer.
What sort of hobbies do you have?
I play frisbee golf. Have you ever played that? You go out in the middle of the forest and they have this big frisbee golf course. You have to throw your frisbee through the trees and they have this little basket made out of metal, and you try to hit it into the basket. It's really cool. You get to frolic out in the middle of the woods... Other than that, I'm a homebody. I sit at home and watch movies and make sounds on my sampler, basically. That's what I do with my free time.
Is television a good thing or a bad thing?
You know, I wouldn't know because I don't even have cable. I have a friend who tapes "The Simpsons" for me and I watch that. I do get Channel 3, though, which is Fox so...whenever I can I watch "The Simpsons." Every time I go to someone's house and it's on, I get mesmerized by it. I'll sit there and I'll watch it forever and then I really don't learn anything from it. Except for the Discovery Channel. The Discovery Channel is great. If I could order basic cable and just get the Discovery Channel and "The Simpsons" then I would probably watch t.v. but I don't think t.v. does much of anything. It's all talk shows and commercials...paid advertisements. I hate it.
Do you generally like or dislike people?
I generally like people if they're friendly or if they offer an interesting story. But there's plenty of people in the world that I've met that I could live without but I think I'm a people person. I like meeting people.
Describe what you would like your life to be like.
Hmmm. Let's see here. I don't know, I'm pretty happy right now. I would like a bigger home studio than I have and maybe...that's a tough one. What would I like my life to be like? I don't know. I kinda like it. I think I'm pretty content. I'd like huge pectoral muscles, though. That would be good.
Do you remember your dreams?
My dreams have soundtracks now. I woke up singing an Oasis song this morning. Of the British invasion bands, I like Blur...they're my favorite right now. I heard it on the radio or something as I was driving home last night and I went to bed...it's happened several times in the last month, I'll just wake up and I'll be singing something... But I used to have scary dreams. I still do occasionally, but I usually remember all of them. I had a dream the other night about a bulldozer. I was at this old house that I used to live at when I was growing up in Kingsport and I was trying to hide behind the water meter and I was thinking that it didn't see me, but it ended up just plowing right through me...picking me up. I tried to grab hold of this old tire swing that we had in our yard and I couldn't get it. It was always filled with water and it was real slick. I guess in everyone's dreams you're always trying to reach something and you never can get to it. In all my dreams, I'm always trying to reach something and I never get to it.
It's just like real life...frustration.
You're stuck in traffic or something's not going right. But that's what all mine are about. The same plot, you know. Just different things happening within it. Name someone that has been very influential to you and explain how or why. I would say as of late, making records now, Prince has been very influential. I don't know him personally or what kind of person he is. I've read a lot about his life. When he was 18 he was producing his first record and he was writing all these songs and doing it the way he wanted to do it. Gaining a lot of artistic and creative freedom. To be able to have the longevity that he's had, that's amazing to me. He's put out tons and tons of records. I don't really love his new stuff that much, but I'm still supportive of it. He's kind of an idol of mine. I wouldn't have tried to produce my own record unless he had done that.
You did an excellent job on the CD. It sounds great.
I didn't want it to be too sparkling and brilliant. I wanted it to be very indie-ish. I didn't want it to sound like a computer geek sat down and made a record.
Do you keep up with the news?
[Laughter] Rarely. If it's very interesting, I do. A lot of news makes me laugh. I don't have a television, I do read the paper a lot. There's a song on the record, "Big Important Nothing," which is about the Lisa Marie and Michael Jackson thing they had with Oprah or whoever it was. They interviewed them and they were like, "Do you guys have sex?" Stuff like that. I was like, "Gee...this is so hilarious." I was laughing the whole time. We were finishing up record and I was playing around with the piano piece that I was goofing off with and I wrote lyrics over it and it ended up being that song, and it was about their interview. I thought it was just such a joke, for them to go on national television and say all this crap that didn't mean anything. Just like tabloids, but it's live...
What is the biggest thing you've killed?
[Laughter] I killed a squirrel. I stepped on its head. No, actually I'm sorry, I did not kill that squirrel. My friend Brian killed a squirrel by stepping on its head. I had to finish killing it because he stepped on its head. It was really cold. It was winter and he was leaving my house, he was like "I'll see you later, Matt" and he walked outside and a squirrel ran right under his foot. He stepped right on its head and it flipped all the way out into the yard over the snow. There was snow everywhere. There was this trail of blood, so I just followed it and I killed the squirrel.
Were you a happy child?
Yeah, I was. I had great parents who were totally supportive of music at an early age. Every Christmas I would get, like, a JC Penney drum kit, you know. I'd always trash 'em, but I remember one time having two of 'em. I had this big double Muppet drum set, it was really cool. I grew up in Kingsport, where there's a lot of farmland. Behind our house we had big thick woods. We had a cave back there, so I was always hanging out in the woods. You just wake up, go to school, come home, and then go play in the woods all day.
What is your biggest problem at this time?
I would say learning how to balance taxes and pay bills on time. I need to get an accountant, but I can't afford it.
Do you take anything seriously?
Of course! I take my relationship with my family very seriously and my relationship with my girlfriend. And music I take extremely seriously until it comes to the lyrics. Lyrically, when I'm writing a song, you're gonna basically talk about what's been in your head for that week or that day or whatever. Whatever's on your mind is basically gonna come out so if something's really bugging me I feel I need to write a song about it. I'm really serious from the production standpoint of the song.
What bothers you?
Since the record just came out and everything, what's on my mind now is that the public can be fickle. It's impossible to say what people are gonna say about this record. I slaved over it, so it's like my life right now. People can just blow it off. They can just say it sucks, or it sounds like this, or something...
You've already succeeded though.
Yeah, I'm happy with it. I've read some really funny reviews where they've compared me to people I've never even heard. It's hilarious. I thought that I would be really pissed off if I didn't agree with one of them, and I'm not at all because I'm happy with what I did. You never know what's gonna happen, and that's kind of scarey.
What makes you feel good?
Writing a great song and just having a good time. That makes me feel good. It's productive, you know.
Are all people equal?
No. Yes, they are. I think they are. I don't know. You're dealt in life what you choose to deal with. A lot of my friends from back home in Kingsport, as we were growing up in high school, we were like "Let's get out of this town. Let's go somewhere and make something of ourselves." I felt trapped there. I left and came up here and pursued my career writing songs. A friend of mine back home who would share these thoughts with me, all he does now is sit around and do drugs all the time...heavy drugs. He's had the choice to leave, and he was just like me...we were the same person. Now I'm making money, not a lot of money but I'm supporting myself...and he's not. He's still living with his parents and stuff. To me that's a good example of being equal and doing something with your life. It's hard for me to say. I have no world views or anything about people's lives...
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