Name: Matt Bachmann
Current Release: Dream Logic on June 18 via Orindal Records and We Be Friends
If you enjoyed this interview with Matt Bachmann, continue the journey at his website mattwbachmann.com
My favourite song dealing with death is Charlie Haden’s version of the old folk song, “Wayfaring Stranger.” Charlie Haden grew up singing on his family’s radio show but lost his ability to sing at the age of 15 after contracting polio. This song was the first recording of him singing since his childhood (he made it at age 61) and it gives me goosebumps. His voice is so fragile and soaked in emotion, matching the perfectly lush and melodramatic string arrangement. The recording touches on something that I don’t really understand but I know is a part of my DNA. I know the song’s about death but I don’t really think consciously about death while I’m listening; it's more transportive to some “I-don’t-know-where” place.
I think I believe in a sort of reincarnation but in a more literal sense; like our bodies decompose into the soil and maybe that matter eventually becomes mushrooms or something (don’t quote me on the science) -- and our consciousness is also composted into different forms of consciousness-- maybe as that mushroom. I like the idea of some sort of energetic compost. But also, I don’t know and I enjoy not knowing.
When I was 22, I was living and teaching music north of Seattle on the San Juan islands. It was this kinda potent year of being lonely while dealing with some feelings that were actually too big for me to even feel at the time. My dad was deteriorating pretty quickly from ALS and I was fresh out of college not really sure what I was doing. I did a lot of walking around the island and listening to my iPod. I got really into that Flaming Lips song “Waitin’ for a Superman.” When I throw it on today, I’m immediately transported to walking on the side of the road on a light rainy day. It still makes me tear up-- “Is it getting heavy? Well I thought it was already as heavy as can be.” It’s just one of those songs that gets at that feeling of “too-much-ness” that I was feeling.
Listening to and playing music is a form of caring for myself and showing myself some love. Like many, I can be hard on myself and in the process, not allow myself to feel what I’m feeling at a given moment. Music can be that arm around my shoulder that softens me, slows me down and allows me to take the time and space to feel what is present in my life. It can give voice to things I didn’t know were there and it can express things in a way words can’t. I think during the most difficult stretches of my life, it’s been helpful to continue the rituals and activities that bring me the most joy; to not force them, but to know that they’re there and to remind myself-- “oh yeah, this thing makes me feel alive.”
I think that my mortality subconsciously influences my desire to play music. Playing music is a spiritual pursuit and I think death points us towards the spiritual as a way of making meaning of life.
A song from Dream Logic dealing with death is “My Dad and his Boat.” I wrote this song really quickly for a song-a-week project I was doing with some friends and as a result, it turned out quite raw. There wasn’t any motivation or conscious thought that influenced me to write the song-- I was just strumming the chords and singing the line “My dad and his boat,” over and over. I think the song felt more like an old folk song than “me” when I was first strumming around and that helped the words and vibe flow more easily-- I wasn’t too precious about it because I didn’t think much of it and as a result, more of my subconscious flowed out.
It’s about a weekend I spent with my grandma on my dad’s side. She has dementia and would tell me the same stories over and over. I really loved listening to her repeat these stories and hearing how they stayed the same and how they changed. My aunt would tell me that half of the things my grandma said were lies but it didn’t bother me. On my last day with her, we were sitting on the beach when we spotted this sailboat. For her, the sailboat sparked a memory of my dad and a sailboat he owned as a child and how he used to sail all the time. Every time she saw the boat, she’d tell this story about my dad sailing and by the end of the afternoon, she had probably told it to me ten times. Hearing this story over and over and not knowing if it was true brought on this deep sadness of how little I know about my dad outside of his role as a father-- how I’d only known him as a child and adolescent and never got the chance to relate to him as an adult; how little of his history I was aware of. The song captures a sadness I wasn’t even aware of. When I hear it now, it kinda reminds me of Charlie Haden’s version of “Wayfaring Stranger.” Both have these motifs of crossing bodies of water and the general vibe kinda reminds me of that song (though I’m curious if anyone else would feel that way). I was probably unconsciously trying to write that song.
I don’t think that I’d want to dictate my funeral or any mourning/celebration of my life after I die. I believe that those rituals are more for the living than the dead. If I were to die peacefully, I imagine it would be something like slipping off into sleep-- like awaiting a dream. I would want to listen to something that I could get lost in; something repetitive, beautiful to my ears, and long. If I were to die peacefully tomorrow, I think I’d like to be listening to R.J. Miller’s “3:05 AM.” It’s a song that I’ve listened to hundreds of times, yet always offers something new. It has this curious, inquisitive-yet-knowing tone that I imagine would provide a great bridge into the unknown.