An Interview With Matmos

Michael McKinney speaks to the experimental/electronic duo about the importance of albums as works of art, creating complete albums out of a washing machine and plastic, the difference between music...
By    December 19, 2023

Image via Farrah Skeiky

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Michael McKinney understands the cultural importance of Kreayshawn’s “Gucci Gucci.”

If you look through Matmos’s discography, it won’t be long before you find something a bit unusual. The Baltimore experimental-music duo, a.k.a. Drew Daniel and M.C. Schmidt, have a long history with music that’s provocative in form and sound alike, with conceits that feel a bit like dares or inside jokes. What happens if you ask ninety-nine musicians to play anything they want at 99 BPM? What if you use nothing but a washing machine? What about plastic? Throughout their career, Matmos have used the album as a way to dive deep into one particular idea. The specifics change from record to record, and from performance to performance, but that deep-dive ethos acts as a taut throughline through their work.

If this sounds conceptual to a fault, you might be right. Their music yelps, squeals, and squawks; it pops, fizzles, and runs into the red; it calls attention to itself only to recede into the background before mutating yet again. The group freely admits that their music isn’t for everyone, but they maintain that the project has populist underpinnings. Their work shares DNA with hip-hop turntablists of the ‘80s, sound artists of the ‘50s, and a million corners of the contemporary avant-garde; if it’s disorienting, that’s because it’s pulling from so many timelines at once. If anything, Matmos’s work carries a kind of radical humility: Why, their discography repeatedly asks, can’t this be music?

This should hardly come as a surprise. Daniel found his way towards music via four-track collagery, and, as a high-schooler, Schmidt played synthesizer in a band that valorized Throbbing Gristle and Pere Ubu. Their music has always been, in one form or another, about collagery. The duo’s latest record, Return to Archive, is among their most daring why-nots yet. Here, they look to Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, a 75-year-old label that was established in order to catalog no less than every sound in the world. That kind of scope necessitates a bit of zooming in, so Daniel and Schmidt opted to focus upon the record label’s nature recordings and their educational and scientific work. The result is remarkable and thoroughly uncanny: A car-crash of frogs and field recordings, a twisting of unidentifiable voices, surgeries, and old-school recording equipment. Return to Archive is the sound of Matmos twisting up “non-musical recordings” until they sound entirely new, melting down vinyl records and turning voice boxes inside out.

In mid-November, we got a chance to catch up with the experimental-music duo, going wide and weird. We touched on the politics of noise music, Ronald Reagan deep-fakes, making clubs go whisper-quiet, the sound of haircuts, and lots more.

​​(This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.)

M.C. Schmidt: [holds a chunk of glass up to the camera]

Drew Daniel: Wow, Martin. You look psychedelic.

M.C. Schmidt: It’s a piece from a car headlight. I found it on the street. [laughs]

Drew Daniel: Did you find that last night in that parking lot?

M.C. Schmidt: No, I’ve had this for a couple months.

Drew Daniel: Last night was fun. Our friend, Obie Feldi, made a piece for four cars. We reached out to a bunch of people, and a crowd of, like, 50 people showed up in the parking lot of a CVS. Obie had made four different files for four different cars. They all started around the same time, so it was a multi-channel environment.

M.C. Schmidt: If you open the doors, every car has speakers that extend from its side, so if you make four stereo pieces and sync-start them, you get a mobile octophonic system.

That’s fun. How was it?

M.C. Schmidt: Honestly, I thought we needed to have compressed the hell out of it. It needed to be louder; we should have done more tests. It was cool, because one of my favorite things about multi-channel stuff is that it creates this sound-field in the air, especially if you do simple stuff, like the same recording shifted in time slightly.

Drew Daniel: It’s a psycho-acoustic smear. Sometimes, on LSD, I’d feel like the world was a multi-track piece of music. I was on one fader, and other parts of the world were on other faders. It gets offset in time, like you’re a little ahead of or behind the world. Immersive multi-channel music can replicate that. Everything starts to disaggregate, like the threads of a sweater getting pulled.

How’s school been going for the two of you?

M.C. Schmidt: For me, it’s quite unique. I haven’t done anything like this for ten-plus years. It’s not a class; I meet with individual students for an hour each week. It’s an old-school position in the composition department [at Peabody]. [With the exception of] the electronic-music department, which has been hot shit since the ’70s, the rest of the school is very much an old-school classical-music conservatory. When they conceived of this department, they dealt with electronic-music people—correctly—as composers. My role is to say to these students, “What have you written this week? You need to produce more! Show me the composition you’ve made.” So every week, I basically go, “Okay, let’s hear what you’ve got.”

Drew Daniel: I’m teaching a Shakespeare lecture, and I’m also teaching a graduate seminar on bodies on stage in early modern drama. We’re reading a lot of disability studies and pre-modern critical race studies. It spans from medieval drama to restoration drama: 14th century to 17th century. I’m about to be on sabbatical next semester, for eight months. There’ll be a lot of space there to figure out what comes next, and that’ll be exciting. I feel very lucky that I get to go write a book for a while, or make a record.

M.C. Schmidt: Or make a book about records!

Drew Daniel: I want to write a book about the concepts of albums: The history of the premise of the relation of parts to a whole, and of the contract with the listener. “I need 40 minutes of your time, and in return, you’ll get this.” It’s like that trade meme: “I offer this and you receive that.” Every album is, in some sense, a demand for time and a promise of pleasure and enjoyment. That’s not special to albums; novels and films do that, too. But the album creates certain ways of listening, and I think it’s historical. It’s changed a lot over time, but it’s sort of dissolving now. That’s what I want to try and write a book about, so if anyone reads this and gets there first and does a better job, thank you.

That’s interesting, especially in light of how so many tracks are disseminated in 15-second snippets. People are always predicting the death of the album, but it’s still kicking, in one way or another.

Drew Daniel: I think the need to protect something, or to feel a sense of emergency—for some people, it’s boomer nostalgia for an old story about a constellation of—often white—artists who were supposed to have innovated. There’s usually a bad guy, right? If the album’s good, that’s a way of saying that teen pop is bad, or that hip-hop is bad, or whatever. Now, the question is of platforms—are playlists better for us than albums? Do they liberate listeners to make albums combinatorially out of everything that’s ever been made? Is YouTube a better place for albums, now, than the artist’s own sense of what the right order is? Fan culture has been doing this, of course; people have their take on what they think an album should have been. That’s the fantasy, right? “No skips.”

It’s the idea that the artist has a holistic vision; they’re going to guide you from A to B to C to D [to E] to F, and it’s the right order. If you’ve made a lot of records, patterns start to show up. Martin and I are a little bit addicted to a kind of peppy side-A and freaked-out side-B. That’s the story we seem to want to tell.

M.C. Schmidt: I will say, this is always Drew’s idea. You do it every time. I’m like, “Okay, sweetie, that’s fine.”

Drew Daniel: It’s a flex if you’re like, “The nine-minute drone piece is the first song.” Maybe we don’t have the stones to do it that way. Right at the end of making this record, we realized that it had a diurnal shape. There’s a good-morning start, and then there’s a going-to-sleep at the end. I don’t know if it’s post-COVID, but I feel like the similarity of days starts to loom large at certain points in your life; it’s like you’re inside this calendar flip. Making an album that acknowledges that arc felt organic. Just as we can divide art into units and call them “albums,” we also agree about a day. Some weird influencers are like, “I found a way to have like 1.7 days within a single day”; they offset their natural clock from the sun in some sort of productivity hack.

M.C. Schmidt: It sounds like a shortcut-to-insanity hack to me.

Drew Daniel: You used to live like a vampire, Martin, before you and I were together, right? You slept all day and were up all night making music.

M.C. Schmidt: Yeah. I lived for at least 10 years where I went to sleep at 5:30 or 6:00 and got up at—whenever I wanted, man. I’d get up at 2 in the afternoon.

Drew Daniel: It’s a beautiful skin-care regimen: no sun at all.

M.C. Schmidt: I mean, that’s why I look like this and I’m 72 years old.

My understanding, Drew, is that you found your way towards music as a kind of collagery. Is that correct?

Drew Daniel: Yeah. I’m not trained in any instrument. I had a few piano lessons as a kid, but it petered out. I started collaging with a pause button on a tape recorder: I’d make little collages of records that I had as a kid. There’s a label called Power Records which would have stories about Superman and Spider-Man, and I’d make pause-button edits of that. I didn’t see myself as a musician. I just liked noises, and I liked making things out of noises. Martin had a lot more musical chops. You played synth in a few bands, didn’t you?

M.C. Schmidt: I had piano lessons in fifth and sixth grade. At the end of the day, I wanted to have sex with this drummer I knew in high school. He was never going to have sex with me, and he never did. But, in that incredibly horny 17-year-old way, I was like, “I can play the keyboards!” I took it really seriously. I’m not saying I studied keyboard; I just believed really hard that I could play. Everyone in his band was really good, even as teenagers. They had a Korg MS-20, which is an amazing synthesizer. This is 1980, 1981.

Drew Daniel: That’s used on Human League records.

M.C. Schmidt: Yeah. We used it to great effect on Supreme Balloon; it’s the horn on—what’s that song called, Drew?

Drew Daniel: “Rainbow Flag.”

Didn’t you destroy an MS-20 by leaving it out in the rain?

M.C. Schmidt: That very one. The [band] gave it to me; they were like, “I don’t know what this f*cking thing is.” They were a guitar-bass-drums kind of band. I was so f*cked up on speed for so long: It was like, “We keep the synthesizer in the backyard, man.” One time, it rained for, you know, three days. It was like, “Oh, shoot, the synth is still out there.”

Did I come to music through collagery? Not really. If I did, it was because we didn’t know how to play music. That [band gambit] didn’t work out so well, but I remained friends with that guy to this day. We never made love, but there’s a lot of love between us. He plays on many Matmos records. But, anyway, we formed another band with a bunch of other kids in high school who were more like me: They didn’t know how to play music at all. The band was called The Suburban Commandos. We were influenced by Throbbing Gristle, Pere Ubu, Crass, and Cabaret Voltaire. We’d just [imitates industrial music]. We played, like, three shows. The climax for The Suburban Commandos was when we paid to play in a club in San Francisco in the Tenderloin—a place where teenagers from the suburbs should not have been. Our show was at, like, 7:00 PM. There probably wasn’t anyone there, and we’d paid $100 to play. I don’t know who we expected to come.

Drew Daniel: Music started popping off for me when I got a four-track and was asked to make beats for a hip-hop crew in my hometown. They were called King G & The J Krew. It was Jason Noble, who would go on to be in Rachel’s and Rodan, but this is when he was rapping, as M.C. Diogenes. I was making beats as Deadly D. I had a delay pedal that I would tap by hand to trigger samples, and that’d get sent to a four-track. “Collaging” sounds very arty; it’s true, though. It came from reading William S. Burroughs and The Soft Machine‘s descriptions of tape experiments. I said, “I want to do what William Burroughs is doing.” That was from interviews with Throbbing Gristle, where they’d talk about Burroughs.

M.C. Schmidt: The other people in The Suburban Commandos—this is seven years before Drew—were like, “We’re like Brion Gysin. We’re like William S. Burroughs.” They were much smarter than I was. I don’t know how I ended up being the one who still does this stuff. They all had that exact same set of influences that Drew did.

Drew Daniel: The flip side of Burrough’s artiness and Throbbing Gristle was hip-hop: Art of Noise, breakdancing, rhythmic pop music that was often made out of chopped-up noises. A side of what we do is still taking the idea of collage—the idea, frankly, of the late-’50s and early-’60s avant-garde—and dealing with their implications. But we’re always looking over our shoulder at the breakdancing rhythms of the early ’80s. That DNA is inside the rhythmic shapes that we make. I wouldn’t want to act like we’re only this high-cultural thing; collages [are] everybody’s lingua franca. What is your feed if not a multi-person collage?

With the hip-hop side, would you say that’s more of an active interest, or is it something you can’t get away from?

Drew Daniel: I love JPEGMAFIA, Armand Hammer, DJ Screw—there’s plenty of hip-hop I listen to and enjoy. But I don’t think of it first and foremost with Matmos. In certain ways, the subtraction of the voice is crucial. We just don’t foreground the voice very often, which made making this record kind of interesting: Suddenly, there’s all these voices of authority. Messing with vinyl records of old white guys being voices of authority is itself very hip-hop: Think about the “This is a journey into sound” voice on “Pump Up the Volume.”

I’m curious about exploring is the “high-art”/”low-art” thing: “We’re a collage group, but that’s the water we all swim in.” At Matmos’s genesis, did you place yourself at a particular side of that dichotomy?

Drew Daniel: We were just having fun. I don’t feel like we were thinking about it in those terms.

M.C. Schmidt: We’d tried both things in an ignorant-of-how-the-world-actually-works way. We made a thing that was more noise, and we sent it to RRR[ecords], and then we made much more beat-oriented dance-music things, and we sent that to some people, too. Very predictably, nobody was interested. Nobody wants a fresh nobody who’s done nothing from nowhere, unless it’s unbelievable hot shit, and even then, how do you market somebody who’s never done anything? We were discouraged, but that was great, in a way, because we were like, “Okay, let’s combine these things.” We were f*cking around to make ourselves happy, and we started making, like, noise-collage techno.

Drew Daniel: Yeah. After failed attempts to make a rave track for a rave compilation, and after failed attempts to make a noise cut-up album, it was like, “What if the chocolate and the peanut butter went together?” What if the textures were noise, but the grammar of it was the rhythmic shapes of pop music and what was happening with dancefloor-oriented music? It was only then, when we were being pretty selfish about pleasing ourselves, that we made what became our first album. We released that ourselves, on a vanity label; it was, “We like this. Let’s see if other people respond to it.” In hindsight, I’d say it was kind of arrogant. It’s 80 minutes of music, and there’s a 20-minute song that’s just a rhythmic collage.

M.C. Schmidt: It’s amazing, the speed of this shit in the past few decades. Back then, the CD was sort of new. People were excited to make an album that was 70 minutes long. There’s a thin line between making a long album and not editing enough.

Drew Daniel: We made some songs together, and then got a Marshall scholarship to go to Oxford; I went away to school for two years. While I was away, I was going to raves in England and seeing what was happening in club music. I came back and started graduate school in ’96 or so. We still really liked the songs we’d made two or three years prior, and we collaged them together with new things that we made. That became the first Matmos album. That album is long, in some ways, because it’s us trying out a lot of ideas. The gear was changing a lot, too: Suddenly, we were able to edit audio on the computer. This added a capacity that didn’t exist in the four-track or reel-to-reel eras. It was a strange time. That came out in ’97, Martin, right?

M.C. Schmidt: God, I don’t know. I would have said sooner, but I have a terrible memory.

I’m seeing In Lo-Fidelity in ‘93 and Matmos in ‘99.

M.C. Schmidt: In Lo-Fidelity is what we sent to RRR.

Drew Daniel: That’s the one where they said, “It’s too silly.”

M.C. Schmidt: Noise music had no room for that, then.

Drew Daniel: It was grim! It was about fascism and torture—it was Whitehouse, it was power-electronics and power-fantasy music. That’s an ongoing conversation with us. I think Martin is more prone to humor [than I am]. I think this refusal to take oneself too seriously—it’s a strategy, it’s a stance. Some people are annoyed by it: They think our music is smug, or that we’re somehow making fun of the music, or making fun of them for listening to it. I don’t see it that way. I think humor was part of what made us unsuitable for a world of power electronics. And that’s fine.

I make noise records with John Wiese sometimes, and to me, there’s tremendous comedy in them. I think they’re funny, but I don’t know if people who listen to them would get humor from them. They might feel like, “Oh, this is so hard, and this is so aggro.”

Martin—who was it that said, “A general cynicism will hold you back in life?”

M.C. Schmidt: My typing teacher.

Drew Daniel: Well, f*ck you, typing teacher!

What was the genesis for Return to Archive? Why Folkways, and why now?

Drew Daniel: It’s our friend, Jonathan Williger. He used to work at Thrill Jockey, and we knew each other from the beginnings of our relationship with the label. He’s now at Folkways, and he said, “We’ve got this 75th anniversary coming up; would you be interested in making a record out of Folkways material?” He was very open about it. We felt like it wasn’t appealing if we were going to remix music—taking Lead Belly and making it techno, or something. But we were very interested in “What if we worked with the non-musical and scientific recordings?” He gave us the carte blanche; he gave us this huge Dropbox folder filled with all these records.

M.C. Schmidt: It is a very large list: Folders and folders. Folkways has 4,000 albums.

Drew Daniel: There was an initial period where we felt kind of overwhelmed. But you can use titles to orient yourself: We knew we’d want to hear “Sounds of the Office,” or “Sounds of Medicine.” But, sometimes, the title doesn’t really tell you anything—what does “The Compleat In Fidelytie” mean? Turns out it has an amazing 20-minute track of the wind in the trees, and it’s completely beautiful. It wasn’t always driven by language, or—let’s be honest—gimmickry around like outrageous titles. A record like “Speech After [the] Removal of the Larynx”: that’s a poem; that’s already incredible. Some of these records really don’t promise all that much. And then, at the level of sound, you’re like, “That’s really weird,” or, frequently, “That’s really harsh.” “Ionosphere” was the one that blew our minds the most.

M.C. Schmidt: We used that record a lot on my long collage on Side B: “Return to Archive.”

Drew Daniel: That’s bacon-fry level Merzbow; it’s stab-in-the-face noise.

M.C. Schmidt: And the original Folkways record—it’s not anything else.

Drew Daniel: It’s totally bananas. It was funny: we made some early tracks that were more rhythmically oriented, and Martin said, “This isn’t working.” I was hurt at first, but he was right. We had to get some ideas out of our system and keep working with the sounds to foreground the records themselves. It had to be more than a flex: “Look, I have a sampler.” In some ways, what we wound up doing reminds me of people like Negativland. It was funny to cut up voices of authority here. A lot of early collage culture was all about that. There’s these wonderful pieces by Douglas Kahn, where he made Ronald Reagan say really stupid, weird, and surreal shit.

M.C. Schmidt: “Snap a clamp on the poison meat.”

Early deep-fakes.

Drew Daniel: Exactly.

M.C. Schmidt: Just sheer editing.

Drew Daniel: Having that voice say, “Music or noise?” is very on-the-nose. But, because so much of the Smithsonian Folkways catalog was about science education, that felt right. It was, like, “Let’s really do it. Let’s f*ck with that guy’s voice.” That piece made us laugh; the more we made it, the more we would laugh about it. Especially that blood-curdling scream in the middle. We were like, “Can we do this? Is this the most annoying record we’ve ever made?”

It has a phenomenon we call “The Interrupting Cow”: You know, where the cow goes “Moo” when somebody tries to say something. Something that maybe holds our music back for some people is that it really doesn’t help a dinner party. It’s not cool in the sense that it’s just there, and it’s going to hold a tempo and be chill. We have this interrupting-cow urge to make something obnoxious, or to take everything away and make it really quiet all of a sudden. I love that feeling, but I know it comes at a cost. Some people will say, “Well, here’s where I get off the train.”

When “Music or Noise” came on, I started laughing out loud. It was a moment of, “Oh, this is Matmos doing a meta-joke about their discography.”

Drew Daniel: I love that. Our hope is that there’s a musical reward to our assemblages, but it’s always possible that somebody might opt out. We played a show on the beach in Italy: We were amplifying the sound of shaving our heads. Martin was shaving my head, and my hair was falling onto the mixer. You know that sound when you shave your head? It’s a really specific sound, it’s very tactile, and it makes your skull vibrate. I think it’s beautiful. We’re playing at this party—there’s old people in folding chairs on the beach, listening to us shave our heads. People start yelling something at us, and we don’t know what they’re yelling. We asked our Italian friend—the soundman—what they were saying. “Dov’è la musica?” “Where’s the music?” [laughs]

Did they know what they’d signed up for?

Drew Daniel: No, but I think it was free.

M.C. Schmidt: This is the beauty of a country that actually supports art: There’s stuff going on all the time. Recently—this was also in Italy—we were walking on the beach, and it was filled with kids from the local rock academy. They were, like, 13, and they were playing the rock songs they’d learned. That’s what was going on on the beach that day, and it was beautiful. Another day, it was Matmos shaving their heads. [laughs] I liked that the Italians were, like, “What is this bullshit? Do something musical!” Imagine this kind of shit in the United States. They’d set our car on fire, or make sure we never did anything again because we’re perverted, or something. These ladies were, like, “I’m gonna go somewhere else.”

Drew Daniel: It’s strange, art that asks you to pay attention to something that you might not think is worth paying attention to. It can be incredibly captivating, or, in somebody’s mind, it might be bullshit. I saw Keiji Haino play one of the most incredible performances I’ve ever seen. He got everybody in the club to be silent, they turned off the air conditioning, and he just played a tambourine. It’s literally just a tambourine.

M.C. Schmidt: It was completely compelling.

Drew Daniel: It had amazing energy, timing, and focus. If you told somebody, “I’m just gonna play tambourine tonight,” they’d be like, “What is this self-indulgent bullshit?” But sometimes, [there’s value in] radically reducing what you pay attention to. In a way, that’s what it was like for us to make a whole album out of a washing machine. It might seem restrictive to say, “We’re only [using the] washing machine,” but it was incredibly fun and joyous. With the Folkways material, we could have spent five years making 20 albums out of that stuff. Having to do it for the 75th anniversary put a gun to our heads, and it made us work faster. I think the record is raw, in certain ways, because of that. We wouldn’t have put it out if we didn’t believe in it, but it was done with a focus. That helped us avoid clutter, which we have a problem with sometimes. If you look around the room I’m in, the hoarder-house vibe is a bit of an issue. I like to think of songs as hoarder houses.

When you were putting this together, were you looking towards any particular compositional approaches?

Drew Daniel: Different songs have different partners. “Lend Me Your Ears” is one of the weirdest songs on the record. Every 30 seconds, it’s changing its mind; that one was hard to make. “Music or Noise” went through a whole lot of changes. If I can say anything is “classic Matmos,” then “Mud-Dauber Wasp” felt intuitive: make a whole song out of a wasp. It also evolved a lot; we worked at a bunch of different tempos, and then we decided on an extremely fast—189 BPM—gabber ending. If you think about whale music versus hummingbird music, and just the tempo that a being might have, this felt like wasp timing. It felt weird to be that fast; that’s not normal for Matmos, and it’s not comfortable. But, at half-time, it’s a hip-hop tempo. It’s boom-bap. [laughs] Buzz-bop.

How did this record surprise you?

M.C. Schmidt: Definitely for how noisy it is. That was definitely my intention. Drew and I conflict so much during these processes; I never know if I’m going to get away with it. But, in our 30th year, I think I’m starting to wear him down. He’ll do the dumb thing I want to do. Fortunately, I think the world was ready for a record this noisy. The response, so far, has been good, and I’m a little surprised. [laughs]

Drew Daniel: Yeah. I thought this record was going to be the one where everybody turns on us, and says, “This is bullshit.” Instead, people have been pretty cool about meeting it where it is. It’s noisy in places, and it’s quite raw. Martin’s got a 13-minute collage of gunshots, buses, and trucks. It’s not giving you riffs; it’s not making a zone for stress relief. It’s pretty direct, and it’s noisy.

Trusting that our audience can be cool with that is better than making something that feels inorganic. We didn’t want to make slick music out of these old things; it wasn’t going to be electroswing. We can have humor about the moment of these recordings without being condescending about them, and we can have tenderness, too. I love the accents; I love the voices. I love the heavily New-York accent at the end of “Injection Basic Sound.” There’s something so situated about those voices. I don’t know where Charles Bogert—the narrator of “Sounds of North American Frogs”—is from, but his voice is one of the great weird American voices. When Albro T. Gaul says, “This is the way a Japanese beetle sounds to a rose”—these moments seem worth celebrating. It doesn’t need to always be chopped and screwed and run through a million plugins. They’re enough.

I don’t know the name of the physician on “Speech After the Removal of the Larynx.” It’s odd; all the medical materials seem to come from doctors in the Netherlands, but that voice is extremely Brooklyn. We don’t know the name of the narrator on the “Sounds of Science” and “Sounds of Frequency.”

That was a weird one, where the record was released by Bell Labs. The Nokia Corporation has IP control over the Bell Labs archives. So we sampled a 300 hertz tone, but because it was Bell Labs, which is now owned by Nokia, the Smithsonian lawyers had to call the Nokia lawyers and ask if we have the right to make sounds out of what is literally, booooooo. It’s a test tone. In this thoroughly modern world, you need all the permissions. That was weird, to do a heavily sampling-oriented project that’s completely legit. For us, our attitude is, “A pirate’s life for me.” We haven’t really sweated it. But with the Smithsonian, it’s the government, so they have to come correct.

M.C. Schmidt: The fact is: We don’t make very much money at this. At the end of the day, we make some money: Wildly more than I ever thought we were going to. But God knows we couldn’t live on the amount of money we make from Matmos—not even in Baltimore.

Drew Daniel: I have a bougie job at Hopkins as a Shakespeare professor, and that pays the bills. That’s nice, because I love doing it, and I believe in what I’m doing. But it also means that, if we make a Matmos record, it’s not to surf a trend or to make rent. That’s not to judge professional musicians; there’s all kinds of ways to survive. It just means that we can really do this because it’s fun. That’s part of why we’re still doing it 30 years later: we haven’t burned it out because we haven’t asked it to bear more than it plausibly can under capitalism. We got made fun of, sometimes, when we started out. People would flex about how they were more legit in the music industry, and that we were just hobbyists. I don’t really see “hobbyist” as an insult. A lot of creativity happens in a raw and amateurish way, and we’re a part of that continuum. I don’t need to pretend to be a professional. I’m not a professional. That’s okay. There’s extremely valid and valuable skills that only emerge from that kind of commitment. Ours is more slow-cooked; it’s three decades of dawdling.

In a PBS special earlier this year, you mentioned that you see “noise music, in a sense, as the folk music of this century.” Tell me about that.

M.C. Schmidt: I don’t know if I can cash it out that intensely. I think electronic music is now something that isn’t rarefied at all.

Drew Daniel: The tools are so accessible; it is the folk music of now. Almost anybody can get a cracked FruityLoops. There’s apps on your phone.

M.C. Schmidt: Folk music and protest music are linked, but not identical. I feel like noise music is a cultural reaction. “Noise music” and “folk music” are such vague terms. There’s a very low bar, training-wise, to do either. One could be very sad about the lack of musical training in the United States these days—I think it used to be much more normal for everyone to play guitar or piano. But [that’s because] there wasn’t anything else to do—let’s face it. Without TV, the internet, or media of all kinds, weeknights are very long, dark, and slow. This is why people learned to play the piano: so they didn’t go insane with boredom, assuming they weren’t working so hard that they fell asleep the minute they weren’t working anymore. In our modern world, people still must make music of some kind. It’s not going to be on the piano or the guitar; it’s going to be on what’s at hand, which is your telephone and your laptop. I think we have achieved a more complicated consciousness of the world, and a type of person will react to the world with [Zoom audio cuts out]. Zoom rejects that noise.

Drew Daniel: It’s a bacon-fry sizzle.

M.C. Schmidt: Yeah. People might react to the world with brutal abstraction: “I’m cutting everything out. I’m white-noising everything.” Or—and this is where you get into the wrinkles in the word “noise” as a descriptor of music—I think of things like Negativland, and John Oswald, and DJ Paypal. People who regurgitate the contemporary media-world back on to the world are making a form of noise music; it doesn’t have to be literal white noise. All these things are forms of protest music against the world: Against the parts of the world that we have no choice about. This has been happening, step by step by step, starting with elevator music that you don’t want to hear, and the music in Home Depot that you don’t want to hear, and the fact that the the cash register talks to you, and that there’s seven cash registers next to each other talking at the same time. The world just makes you want to scream. This is a kind of protest against that. Somebody tie the “folk music” and “noise music” into a theory and make me look smart.

Would you put your work in that continuum?

M.C. Schmidt: It’s a cousin. With this new record, we’re engaging with literal noise. Those Folkways records were so noisy that we had to.

Drew Daniel: Our approach is often rhythmic; there’s riffs and basslines and hi-hats. We like to do end-runs around different genres;, but we don’t have any particular loyalties. [As a result,] our relation to music is often pretty ramshackle. It’s our best attempt at a pastiche: Something that might sound like rock music, or Hawaiian music, or country music, or early music, or techno. We’ve been on indie rock labels. We often play shows with noise people; we’ve been on bills with Sudden Infant and Negativland. There’s something a little fugitive about what we do.

In terms of live presentation, noise has been a big part of what we do; there’s often a lot of improvising, and a lot of restricting things down to just one sound source and seeing what we get from that. I don’t want to put on airs and pretend that our past body of work is noise as that tends to be understood. We don’t sound like Merzbow. But in a broader continuum, the foregrounding of texture over pitches—that’s core to what we’ve always done. That’s always keeping a window open towards noise.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Drew Daniel: We’re going to go to Oxford and perform next week. When Martin and I had just gotten together, I went to Oxford, and he would visit me, so this is a nice return to a place that was important to both of us at the start of the band.

M.C. Schmidt: It’s insane: I still have some clothes that I bought there. I still have a black tweed coat, which I’ve never seen again—I’m glad I bought it. There was an amazing store there that was just, like, mountains of Harris Tweed coats and nothing else. It was called The Unicorn.

Drew Daniel: Some weird old French lady ran it.

M.C. Schmidt: We went back not that much longer after—10 years or so. We ran into somebody, and they said, “Japanese people came and they bought all of them.” They bought the entire store.

Drew Daniel: Then we’re going to Huddersfield, and we’re playing in a trio with Jennifer Walshe. After that, we come home, and we’re going to DJ on a bill with William Basinski. We’ve been friends with him for many years, because we were in an opera together with ANOHNI, Willem Dafoe, and Marina Abramović. Next year, we have a wide-open set of questions about whether we’re going to tour this album in the US. We’re working on a new record right now; that’s really molten, and it’s changing a lot. But it’s been fun to work on so far. I don’t want to say too much, because it’s too early to commit.

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