Collaborating as often as they do, Chaz Bundick (Toro y Moi) and Jared and Jonathan Mattson (The Mattson 2) seem especially glowing while speaking of their latest project. As a record, Chaz Bundick Meets The Mattson 2 is quite unlike previous releases for both artists, one that takes the listener across a cosmic seesaw, showing glimpses of jazz and psych, seemingly only stopping to pivot. We reached the three via phone late last month to better understand the importance of the collaboration, improvisation, and this style of exploration.
Aquarium Drunkard: It seems like you guys had a lot of fun making this record. Where would you say the jumping off point was from other projects you work on?
Chaz: The main difference for me – I got the chance to make something that wasn’t Toro, and I could really just express who I am, outside of pop music. That was the biggest opportunity I saw, in trying to make a record like this – cause I love jazz, and psych rock, but I never really felt comfortable making it, like it wasn’t for a pop audience. This record, I felt I got to share more of my musicianship. And I’m sure it’s probably the opposite for the Mattsons.
Jonathan: I like that. I feel like that for the Mattsons, too — we have a great audience and stuff, they understand our music. But it’s instrumental, well most of it’s instrumental, and I feel like working with Chaz, it helped us really solidify our ideas more and not rely so much on our improvisational elements. But the improv that we do feature on the album is some of the most innovative ways we’ve done it. For me, I think he just helped us solidify our ideas more and make it more fine-tuned, and make it more accessible to our audience and a different audience as well.
Jared: A cohesive unit, which this was, is not one voice – it’s a complete collective voice, and there couldn’t be one without the other. We were all devoted and on site, and so it was this cool experience where we were writing in real time and jamming in the studio — it was this collective voice that we were following. And Jonathan and I, we’ve never used engineering ability as an instrument or a compositional tool, and I feel that’s a major aspect of Chaz’s work – he uses the post-production, and engineering, and all that mixing and stuff – I view that as his instrument and his sound. It was amazing to be able to use the post-production aspect of Chaz’s talent with our improvisational style.
AD: Can you talk a bit about the length of time it took to make this record?
Jonathan: It was over a course of time but it would probably only add up to be a week or so.
Chaz: Yeah, it was a while after we talked, and they sent the sessions, maybe like a month, two months, and it took another two recording sessions over the course of several more months – probably about a year to really come up with the idea, and then finish it.
AD: What’s the trick to keeping the enthusiasm going, when it’s spread out and the time you have to spend on it is sparse?
Chaz: Really, it’s just one of those things that requires patience and tolerance at the same time – and at the same time you can get really impatient and want to finish it, but also get sick of it over the course of a year, until it comes out. You sorta just have to trust your judgement about what it is that you think will last. I feel like the people that are making it are the first people that get to test the product to see if it’s going to stand the test of time. After we got the first sessions in, we listened to the first balances for a few months, and it was like, “Alright, we see where this going. I see where this could come out. This is too weird. This is too catchy, too poppy or something.” And you just work with it, sometimes you would come back to something that you’ve been sitting on for a few months and say, “let’s do it over.” You’re not necessarily married to it.
Jared: With scheduling, that helps with the consistency of the sound of the record and the pieces – we would pretty much record a handful of songs each session. So those songs would have a consistency, the next group of songs would have their own vibe. And what you want on a record isn’t always consistent anyways, so it kind of created a narrative of its own based on the type of schedule we made for it.
AD: Jumping off from that, is this a project that you want to continue exploring, or does this feel like a conclusion of something that was really great?
Chaz: I can definitely see us making more music. It’s a no brainer. Whether it be us using each other’s skills in a different method or fully another collaborative effort – we’re also just friends, it’s not even like that official kind of business thing, we flow nicely.
Jonathan: I think that’s why it was a success in the first place, I mean, us and Chaz we can collaborate with really whoever we want, but we chose each other because we had the same inspiration of music, but the main part is that we got along so well, and we like each others company – and that makes a huge difference in a band. And I’m with Chaz on the continuing to work together, I think it was one of the best, seamless relationships we’ve had so far in our career.
Jared: I think that’s what’s cool about the “Meets” project. Like Chocolat & Akito, our friends from Japan, Ray Barbee, but after we did the Ray Barbee Meets The Mattson 2 record, for our own debut record, we still had Ray play on a few tracks – is it’s not an end of the concept. It’s just the starting point for moving in different directions but being part of the same movement type of thing. And helping each other out, maybe Chaz says, “I want you to play lead guitar on this,” or we’re like, “can you check this out and add some synth to this,” or stuff like that. We have no limitations on anything.
AD: Where would you say your desire to collaborate began? And how do you chart yourself from that point to here?
Jared: I think we started out wanting to play with tons of people, and in high school, for whatever reason, people who we were familiar with moved away, or they would get involved with other things, or stop playing music, so we kind of got to this point where we realized that in order to do music we should be self-sufficient with what we’re doing, so we eventually formed a duo and started playing as a duo, and this was before I had my loop pedal, and I remember seeing this show of Ray Barbee, playing a solo set, and he had this loop station, and it blew my mind, I was like wow – so Ray really inspired me to get the loop pedal, and that really helped to solidify what made The Mattson 2 in a live context. It gives you the power to do what you want with music and not have to rely on a bass player or a keyboard player.
Jonathan: The idea of collaboration, as a means to inspire me, to get me on another level of inspiration – and to also collaborate with someone where you can’t do what they do, so they’re bringing their thing to your world, and you create something new that you couldn’t create without each other – finding an important balance when working with someone where you have no skill set in their area.
AD: Chaz, you have mentioned in the past that you think of this as kind of compartmentalization; you could take something you were thinking of, and you could say – I think this will belong in this box, with this sound, or this group. How do you that approach and apply it towards a a new sound or group?
Chaz: The whole idea of compartmentalizing didn’t even apply to this project. It was more like, it’s already a thing of its own because I’m collaborating with twins, so I feel like I was just going free range – we had some playlists that we listened to – there was a mix of contemporary stuff and older stuff – once we had those references down, we just filled in the gaps between them. It was really open, there was no point in the sessions where we thought it was too jazzy, or too clean. I think the essence of our collaboration shows through all the songs. That was the unifying thing between all of the songs.
AD: Were there any songs on that mix or other influences that maybe you don’t think show so clearly on the record; more attitude than audial?
Jared: This is something I never thought of, but during the recording process we were doing this song called “Don’t Blame Yourself” and towards the middle it has this classical movement to the chords and the bass line and stuff, and Chaz said that it reminded him of early Radiohead, and it kind of took on this darker tone after hearing that, especially in my playing, but that was something people might not recognize.
Jonathan: I think that, subconsciously too, something that was amazing was during the whole recording session, Chaz had this projector set-up in his living room, and it would project onto the full wall, with all these visuals – he made some, he pulled some things that he got inspired by – and that would be in the kitchen/living room where we’d take breaks – when one of us would walk out, we couldn’t help but see this screen of visuals. I think that helped subconsciously with our mindsets.
Jared: And very good smells in the studio. Something we’d never really experienced before. Like the smells and the sage.
Chaz: Yeah, I gotta have all of my smells.
AD: For the Mattsons, how do you manage the numerous collaborators you’ve worked with, and then approach this project?
Jonathan: For me, and probably for Chaz and Jared too, it’s super intuitive, I just trust my intuition, and if I know we’re gonna be working with someone on a project, we’ll be writing something, and the elements of that song could really fit well with this Chocolat & Akito record we’re doing, or maybe we have a different song that was already recorded, and when we’d start a relationship with someone like Chaz and we’d have this song lying dormant, we’d say, oh, this song could be really amazing for this new project. So for me it’s all about intuition. I don’t have little archives – I wish I was more organized, I wish I had little folders of sound of clips and stuff that are in different categories of people that we’re collaborating, but for me its intuitive.
Jared: I agree with all of that. I think there are two approaches to this collaboration, at least, and one of them was, “let’s sit in a room and jam and see what happens,” that’s the purely collective thing. And then there’s the Duke Ellington vibe, where Duke Ellington would write with certain musicians in mind – we didn’t write complete songs for this record, but there were certain songs that we’d write, knowing that we’d have a certain person play on it. So your writing style morphs into this other zone, when you know, once you present this to Chaz, he’ll probably do something completely different with it and we’ll see what happens. On a song like “Disco Kid” where the nuts and bolts were there, but let’s show it to Chaz and see what happens.
AD: How are you going to approach taking this collaboration live?
Chaz: I was just making a playlist of the live set – we picked out a few covers, and we definitely are looking to make it a show for everyone, Toro fans and Mattson fans, so it’s not gonna be too crazy instrumental, or too poppy for The Mattson fans, it’ll be a nice balance. Definitely gonna add some more vocals to the set. I think really, the way we jam is really amazing, so I think it’ll be fun to do that every night – with Toro it’s not really that open.
Jared: Everything Chaz said is right on. Instrumentally it’s gonna be a lot more live and organic, I’ll probably play guitar most of the time and Chaz will play bass, or where I could play bass and Chaz can play keyboards, and Jonathan’s on drums, so it’s more of an organic vibe than the record, but people will recognize the music.
Jonathan: It’s funny too because when Jared and I play our improvisational way, and play with a sort of level of virtuosity, and play with a virtuosic technique and stuff, people really dig it – but when we played our set with Chaz, that show was a long time ago in Oakland, people were almost more impressed with our performance at that show, because we’re not doing stuff as complicated, so the way they heard it was that we’d reached this other level. So we want to capture that level of jamming out and the level of structure as well.
AD: You guys talk a lot about jamming, but it’s seemingly beyond a jazz approach… I’m not asking if there’s a particular Grateful Dead show you’d point to, but do you see a more traditional jamband influence in your sound?
Chaz: I’m not such a Grateful Dead guy, but I do like “Shakedown Street“. Honestly, when I heard that, I was hooked on it, and I went and wrote “Buffalo.” I was like, yeah, that’s what’s up.
Jonathan: I think we’re jamming in the definition sense, real time improvisation and composing on the spot, it’s a hallmark of jazz anyway. Historians and people in hindsight like to say musicians knew exactly what they were doing at this exact point in time. Then you talk to the jazz musicians like Ed Blackwell, he’s talking about when he would play with Don Cherry – he’d say “we didn’t know what the hell we were doing at all!” Sonically, I was pretty inspired by the Quicksilver Messenger Service, they have this very jazzy record called Happy Trails, it’s phenomenal, it gets very dark, and gets very Pink Floydish, musique concréte. We added elements of musique concréte in the record, like field recordings, which is the first time we ever experimented with that stuff.
AD: Some artists will jam live, but within a structure, so they still have a setlist for the night and say that during this song at this point in the night, they’ll explore and jam. So there’s an element of constriction that sometimes aides or impedes the artist – do you have an idea about how you’ll approach the parts of your sets where you’ll be creating a new composition?
Jonathan: To me, there’s two schools of jazz musicians, free improvisationists like Bill Dixon and people like that, and there are others ones that improvise, but improvise over chords, or use scales – you have to practice those scales, so is it really improvisation? And other people say that you need to play in a way where we’re not referencing any of our pedagogy. I feel the way we improvise is more in the realm of Chico Hamilton – he would have his band know the structure, and there would be vamps, where you keep repeating a certain set of chords, and people would express themselves subconsciously and improvisational over those chords and I feel that’s kind what we do. There’s maybe one song where we get completely out there and do unhinged, non-planned stuff. But for the most part, we do the improvisational approach where there is a structure and you rehearse it, and then once you get to show, you use what you rehearsed to create something new on the spot. That’s how I play the drums. When we play as The Mattson 2, and we play our songs, I could never tell you exactly what I did, but it’s based on a structure, it’s based on a series of patterns, but I could never redo exactly what I did on the recording without sitting down for hours and hours and transcribing what I did – which is actually what I had to do for the music video for “Star Stuff.” I didn’t memorize anything I did, and Harry the director said, “ok, we gotta capture these fills” and I didn’t even remember what we did. It was completely improvised – but I had the structure in mind. words / b kramer