EXPERIMENTAL DUO MAKES MUSIC AND MEETS PRESIDENT AT HYSTERICAL PARTY
Drew Daniel and Martin Schmidt make beautiful music together — as a couple and as Matmos — for ten years this October. After spending most of 2001 playing with Björk, they’re trying to have some kind of vacation. We caught up with them, about twenty minutes outside of Hollywood, in a modest shack where they’re busy piecing together their next cut-and-paste masterpiece.
Drew: This record is the argument record. We’re arguing more than we…
Martin: You stupid pig-mother-fucker!
Drew: We’re arguing more than we ever have, you selfish bitch! I think there’s always a pendulum swing with us. After “Quasi Objects”, we didn’t want to do that one object per song thing, so we made “The West”. After “The West”, we wanted to avoid anything that had to do with rock or real instruments, so we made “A Chance to Cut”, which was very cold and technologically-oriented, but very poppy. After that, we did this improv-noise record that’s like Martin fisting a bucket of oatmeal. We’re kind of at this point of swinging away from the poppiness of “A Chance to Cut”, and what’s weirdly happening is that it’s turning into sort of medieval folk or Southern gospel music.
Martin: We have a song that’s entirely hurdy-gurdy, oboe and violin.
Drew: Bassoon, not oboe.
Drew: Bassoon, which in Italian is called il faggotto, the faggot, ‘cause it looks like a piece of wood.
Martin: Like a bundle of sticks.
Drew: The worry is that we’re going to produce some kind of Riverdance atrocity.
Jop: Is most of your time together spent playing music?
Drew: Yeah, sadly. I wish that we spent more time doing other things, and we did at the start of our relationship. But now, there’s so many like: Oh, you’re supposed to do this remix, you gotta be ready for this festival…
Martin: We are being punished by success.
Drew: Yeah. Not that we are hugely successful, but we’re successful enough that it’s very difficult to be two people. It’s bad on a relationship because you need enough time to just respond to each other and listen and waste time together and just go get lost in some weird neighborhood.
Martin: In short, I come home from work and…
Drew: …start work. The band has taken over everything now. We got rid of our bed because we wanted to work with preparing pianos, and for that you need a grand, so we got this baby grand. We bought it on ebay. And we got rid of our bed. Now we sleep on the floor.
Jop: So you dedicated your…
Drew: …our whole apartment.
Jop: Your sexual life…
Drew: Yeah, everything.
Jop: Your private life. Everything to music?
Drew: Uh-huh. And it’s making us crazy, and I think we gotta destroy that piano really soon and get it out of our lives…
Danny: Is that why you were dragging a piano through the desert?
Martin: Well, we bought another piano to destroy.
Drew: I don’t know if there is a why. The ability to play the piano is kind of basic musical skill that we lack. We couldn’t sit down and play “Happy Birthday” so there’s a kind of aggression against it. It’s sort of a shibboleth, sort of what you’ve got to be able to play to pass as a citizen of the republic of music. Only when we play instruments, we deliberately forget or avoid the way they’re meant to be played.
Danny: Like dragging a piano behind a truck…
Drew: A lot of our ideas are leaps in the dark. We don’t know what they are going to generate, but they are appealing as hunches.
Martin: In fact, the piano drag was a miserable failure.
Drew: Well, it was a partial success. We recorded a few seconds of this really gorgeous drone.
Martin: There’s one bit that worked. It makes an amazing recording that sounds a lot like a covered wagon.
Drew: In a way, it’s more like a Doctor Kevorkian sort of thing, ‘cause this piano, two thirds of it’s hammers were non-functional. We’re sort of helping it into the next world.
Martin: Yeah, it was definitely a mercy killing.
Drew: Doing violence to pianos is sort of like playing “Blue Suede Shoes”, I mean, it’s got a very long heritage. Is this too bandy for Butt?
Martin: Can we talk about sex again?
Jop: Maybe we should go to dick sizes and all that?
Drew: I gotta say I’m a bit ashamed of those photographs Ryan took of us ‘cause I was really scared, and it was kind of cold in that hotel room.
Martin: It was not cold.
Drew: I’m a grower, not a shower. So everyone that sees these naked pictures of me is gonna be like, “Oh yeah, Drew, he’s that guy with that small dick.” And I swear—if I’m turned on, it’s not small.
Martin: You know, the only embarrassing thing in the whole interview is what you just said.
Danny: You wrote in your email that you used Butt as jerk-off material while touring with Björk.
Drew: Oh yeah.
Martin: What did you jerk off to in Butt?
Jop: Yeah, what did you jerk off to?
Martin: The pictures of Jeremy…
Jop: Jeremy Scott?
Drew: I did not jerk off to pictures of Jeremy Scott. No! Though, he’s certainly an attractive guy…
Martin: It’s too bad the reading audience won’t be able to catch that: “He’s certainly…an attractive guy.”
Drew: Come on, he’s a friend. It’s like when somebody’s a friend you kind of, you know…
Martin: That’s the problem with you and me pretty much now.
Danny: When someone’s a friend you can’t jerk off to them in a magazine?
Martin: I beg to differ.
Drew: Yeah? It hasn’t been a problem. We haven’t had too many friends that were actually incorporated into pornographic material.
Martin: And how sad that is.
Drew: Though our friend Mike was in this porno film that I have jerked off to.
Martin: Man, you can barely see the image anymore, I’ve played that thing so many times.
Drew: But I’ve had sex with him in real life too, so it’s not like a, you know…
Martin: But I haven’t. Drew gets all the trim.
Drew: I am more of a slut than Martin. It’s true.
Martin: That’s another way of putting it.
Drew: Martin’s tastes are really picky, and I’m a little more, sort of…
Martin: If it rises, ride it.
Drew: I can kind of adjust to fit the parameters of the situation, let’s just say.
Martin: Yeah, I think that’s dictionary definition of slut. When I met Drew he was dancing on the bar in his underwear, go-go dancing.
Jop: You were a go-go dancer?
Drew: Yeah, I used to be hot when I was 18. I can show you pictures, I can prove it. Now you know you’re an old gay hag when you start trying out stuff like that.
Martin: I used to be hot—I did!
Drew: No, really. You have to believe me.
Martin: He was fuckin’ hot. I’ll vouch for it. And you still are!
Drew: Oh, no. You don’t need to lie to me.
Danny: Would you go all the way? We’ve seen guys waving their cocks in front of our faces…
Martin: In the Montreal sense, you certainly didn’t go all the way.
Drew: Yeah, I wasn’t a lap dancer. I sold my underwear to customers from time to time. But it wasn’t one of these sort of trolls and cute boys bars. It wasn’t a stripper bar, it was a club full of freaks where the people on the dance floor were definitely as weird and almost as naked as I was up there.
Danny: Will you tour again when the new Matmos album is finished?
Drew: I hope not.
Martin: There is some discussion of not doing that.
Martin: Originally, we were going to tour the world next summer, now we’re thinkin’ maybe we should have a life instead of a band.
Drew: I don’t want us to get on a treadmill where every year you put out an album then you tour. You’re just a delivery system and I don’t want to be that.
Martin: It’s supposed to be our hobby.
Drew: And also I feel myself slipping away, like dangerously, from academia and it’s also important to me. You can only cut yourself into so many little subcategories, and I’m already doing that by being half-gradstudent, half-music. I mean, I don’t want to be a crappy academic, but I also don’t want to pull the plug on Matmos for the sake of something that might not happen anyway. Academia is certainly not a sure thing. It’s a pretty terrible job market. We’ll just have to decide if we have it in us. We have to come up with something truly fresh and worthy before I would want to tour again, you know?
Danny: I saw you guys play a great show at the Black Cat in Washington DC.
Martin: Which one was the Black Cat?
Drew: It’s like an indie-rock club. We played it with the Rachels, we were opening for them. Richard Chartier came to the show. He’s a queer digital sound guy. He had a piece in the last Whitney Biennial. It’s very, very extreme sound design. His work is almost entirely silent, and then every couple minutes there’ll be this insane low frequency. We’ve had crazy nights out with him. We were in Montreal, and we got really drunk and savored the experience of four dollar lap dances in the gay bars of Montreal.
Martin: Damn, that was like—
Martin: Have you ever been there?
Drew: Montreal is really raunchy.
Danny: What will they do for four dollars?
Drew: Whatever you want, yeah.
Martin: We walked into this place. No cover. Fucking my taste really clearly—just these cute boys, like go-go dancing on the stage. Beer: three dollars. You know, they make tasty beer in Canada.
Drew: There had to be a catch.
Martin: So Drew goes off to the bathroom and he comes back, and he’s like, “I know how they are making their money.” There’s lap dancing in back. And we’re like, “Ooh! Lap dancing! Find out how much”—it’s six Canadian dollars.
Drew: Which is four US dollars.
Martin: For the length of a song. You get on when…
Drew: …one song’s over. When Kenny Rogers is over…
Martin: …when “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” comes on.
Drew: I had the transcendentally-depressing experience of receiving a lap dance to the Foreigner classic, “I Want To Know What Love Is”.
Danny: Did he show you?
Drew: They had hard dicks, and there were definitely people sucking go-go boy dick.
Martin: To me, it’s like a sex club.
Drew: I definitely got my grind on and grabbed ass. They didn’t make out with you, but it was a free-for-all. It was definitely not like Showgirls-style no touching.
Jop: They crawl all over you.
Drew: But the Foreigner thing kind of made it especially raunchy and/or deeply depressing. But it was just funny to see Richard Chartier in that environment because his music is so deeply abstract and formal.
Martin: He was lovin’ it.
Drew: I really like his art, but I have a big argument with him about what he’s doing because he says he’s aspiring to a music that has no signifier, that doesn’t convey anything, that is purely formal, that is not about anything and I have a real problem with that. I mean, it was one thing to be Malevich and do a black square ninety years ago, but if people are still aspiring to convey nothing…
Martin: I’m creating the black hit of space, time stops when you put it on…
Drew: Killer song.
Martin: The Human League when they were good.
Drew: It’s on the album, “Travelogue”. That’s what people should be bumping in their electroclash clubs, but they’re not!
Jop: We didn’t get to Björk yet.
Martin: What about Björk?
Drew: What’s Björk really like?
Martin: Well, her favorite color is purple, she likes chocolate ice cream…
Drew: Björk doesn’t really like Italian food very much.
Martin: Is that so?
Drew: No, she doesn’t. She gets a bit disappointed when everyone’s like, “Pizza!” She’s not into pizza.
Danny: Is Björk a faghag?
Drew: You know, not really. Björk is modest about sexual things in a way that struck me as quite Icelandic, and not faghaggy at all.
I mean, she has some friends that are super-gay, some like stylist friends and outrageous drag queeny types. But Björk doesn’t have that kind of potty-mouth thing that I think is definitely part of the faghag, you know, identity.
Martin: It’s part of the two of us evidently.
Drew: Yeah. I could tell sometimes that we were embarrassing her a little bit with our frankness—which is strange because some of her lyrics are very direct about sexual stuff.
Jop: She surrounds herself with a lot of fashion people, doesn’t she?
Drew: Yeah. I mean, she’s weird, she’s somebody who wants to introduce this painter to this fashion designer to this musician. I don’t think she sees the boundaries or worries about them.
Danny: Was the tour gruelling?
Drew: It was a year of being a professional musician. I took a year off from my dissertation, Martin took a year off from work and we were just musicians for a living. I really liked it as a challenge—like get ready to perform in front of, you know, thirty thousand people. It was like really scary. Really, really scary. But that part was fun. What I didn’t like about it was the way that it transforms your day and your identity into something that’s about music, you know?
Martin: It makes music into work.
Drew: She came to our house, and worked with us there. She sort of gave us this like crash course in real music.
Martin: In songwriting…
Jop: In San Francisco?
Drew: Yeah. Thank god. We learned about how each other worked, and what was feasible, and what needed to be done separately. She saw that our computers crash, and kind of forgave us for that, and wanted to incorporate us into the process precisely because so much of her team is like bulletproof. She wants to have a certain rough thing that I guess we brought. Then, we spent six months in Manhattan taking all the old Björk songs, reprogramming them, kind of deciding how much of the old sounds we wanted to keep and how much we wanted to replace.
Martin: We sort of remade them.
Drew: What’s so weird about working with Björk is that I could work for two years on a Matmos record that a couple thousand people could hear. And I also might work intensively, but for a much shorter period, maybe a month, on a Björk record that millions of people will hear. It’s an incredible opportunity, but it’s also a much more gun-to-your-head situation. All along I really feel like it’s baffling how far we’ve gone considering the limitations of our musical abilities. I always feel like at some point we are going to get denounced as charlatans. We have been asked to go and teach a sound art seminar at Harvard, and I just feel like the time is ripe for someone in the audience to get up and say…
Martin: “So aren’t you actually talentless and full of shit?”
Danny: Did you spend any time in Iceland?
Martin: It was dark all the time.
Jop: You went in the winter?
Drew: Yeah. We met the prime minister.
Martin: The president.
Drew: Oh, the president—that’s right. We met the French prime minister and the Icelandic president.
Martin: The whole Björk thing was like being in a cover band.
Drew: A Björk cover band.
Martin: …with Björk.
Drew: We would do a full Matmos set, tear it down, run off stage, change our clothes…
Martin: …into our fabulous Björk outfits!
Drew: Drink some champagne, run back onstage and play an hour and forty-five minute Björk set.
Jop: Oh my god! That’s so long!
Martin: It was more like your evening with Matmos and Björk. We were on the stage for three-and-a-half hours.
Danny: Did you party like rockstars?
Drew: We finished the tour in Iceland, so we ended with this like really rugged all-night drinking and deejaying session that was me and Lesser deejaying in this bar, and the deejay booth was right next to the bar, and it was like free shots all night. So we got into this metal thing—‘cause Lesser’s really into heavy metal and so is Matthew Barney and he was there too. So it turned into this sort of heavymetal-and-shots kind of four a.m. blowout which climaxed when Lesser’s laptop sort of fried. We lifted it up and realized that it was sitting inch-deep in a puddle of whiskey. The Who style trash your instruments thing, but with a laptop. That was fun.
Danny: Did you get laid a lot?
Drew: Hell no! But when we did it came through like gangbusters.
Drew: Yeah, once.
Martin: …is the answer.
Drew: We deflowered a fan. A Matmos fan who we thought maybe had never…like we were having sex with him and he started to really shake, like a lot, like a leaf. And when it was over: Oh, had you never done it with a guy before? And he was like…
Martin: I’ve never done it at all before.
Jop: Oh my god!
Martin: He seemed to be having a good time.
Drew: We were all really wasted.
Martin: That boy could suck the chrome off a trailer hitch. No problem. I think he’d been practicing at home or something.
Drew: He was Matmos-sexual, he had only had sex with Matmos. And now he’s a friend. I think queerness is cool that way, a lot of these boundaries get a lot more stretched out. Like there’s friends and fuck buddies, and friends you have sex with, and there’s a sort of quasi-family thing that happens, you know? It’s all a little more loose.
Martin: We tend to attract straight, geeky, sweet boys who come up to us after shows and say, “Me and my girlfriend…really love your music.” Literally. We’ve had more than five people say those very words. Like, let’s just make it clear that you will not suck my cock tonight.
Drew: They must know that we’re like total perverts or something.
Danny: You’ve made soundtracks to porn movies, no?
Drew: They were just sex party videotapes, shot at a sex party by the participants.
Martin: Uncut, unedited, Dutch, fisting videos. Like camera on a tripod in the room, guys fucking at the other end of the room, fist-fucking.
Drew: It was more or less the same set of people, but it was carved up into a film called “Screw Gang” and a film called “Fistful Thinking”. We had to do all new music and we had to do the moans, for as long as we could, without laughing.
Drew: Ah…yeah…oh yeah! And it is really hard to do that and not laugh. So we finally had to sit with our backs to each other, just holding the mike and just going for it.
Martin: We tried our best.
Drew: We thought that we were supposed to sync it to the action really carefully, so I took notes. Like I would write, “Okay, at the thirteenth minute the guy with the face mask comes in and gives poppers to the guy in the sling.”
Martin: We had little themes…
Drew: Like let’s have a synthesizer flourish right when they come and, you know, like all this shit. We didn’t even understand that they were gonna just take the five minutes that they like and loop that in the scene. They didn’t care.
Jop: Yeah, but what do you do with porn music?
Drew: Well, we were told: Don’t be too interesting.
Martin: He was like, “The action is the sex. Do not distract from the action.”
Jop: Which music always does for me.
Martin: Yeah, I never—you always turn it down.
Drew: We had some fun. We embedded some really nasty stuff into some of the music. Kind of as a fun little, you know, esoteric little secret for ourselves. I looped a voice from a documentary where a holocaust survivor is describing the nightmares that he has and his voice is going, “I’m dying, I’m dying.” I flipped it backwards and I have it get louder and louder and louder throughout this one sequence. “.gniyd m’I, gniyd m’I”
It sounds really kind of hot, but it’s actually like this completely appalling thing.
Jop: How many films did you do?
Drew: Yeah. We did one vanilla porn movie called “Hot to Trot” which I actually thought was hot—like I’ve jerked off to “Hot to Trot”.
Martin: Well, those fisting movies, I’m sorry, I mean—obviously it’s not my taste—but it’s more like The Guinness Book of World Records than anything else. They’re not having sex…
Drew: They don’t have hard-ons. They don’t have orgasms.
Martin: Yeah. It’s like, the goal is how big of a fuckin’ thing can you ram up your butt? It’s like they’re putting butt plugs in this guy’s butt that are like this big around.
For the reader, the shape that I’m describing is a circle, roughly…
Drew: …dinner plate size.
Martin: Roughly dinner-plate size.
Drew: Yeah, they stick a drill bit into a butt plug and shove the butt plug up this guy’s ass and turn on the drill. And you could hear that his sphincter muscles are tightening so much that it’s stripping the gears of the power drill. Like the power drill is like crying out in protest. We love that sound so much that we stuck it on the illegal CD we’re releasing of these soundtracks. It’s like one of the noises in between the songs.
Danny: And you’re actually going to release it?
Drew: Under another name, on this Canadian mail order label that’s like only for super-IDM nerds.
Jop: And it’s called?
Drew: “Vague Terrain Recordings Presents: A Viable Alternative to Actual Sexual Contact”. Between all the porno songs there’s snippets of onset dialog. Like these two guys are, you know, down on their knees in front of this third guy’s dick and the director’s going, “Fight for it. Fight for the cock.” I mean, this is like the least sexy thing in the world, this guy’s voice. During a very difficult fisting scene, the director—trying to sort of, you know, bring back the fighting spirit in the cast—is telling the bottom, “You’re fighting a battle you’re gonna lose, son.” We felt really sorry for a friend of ours that does lighting for fisting because, you know, movie lights are really hot and they bring up the temperature like crazy…
Martin: …and if you’re fisting all day, under hot lights…
Drew: You’re trawling somebody’s guts out. So it’s like shit and Crisco frying under these hot lights for maybe eight hours, so the smell is just, you know…
Drew: It’s just—well, you can imagine.
Jop: But also the incest—intest?
Danny: The incestines!
Martin: That’s something else.
Jop: Intestines. They can fall out, right?
Drew: Well, you can prolapse your rectum. The thing that fisters seem to really want is this thing called “the rosebud.” Which is when you’ve loosened up a sphincter to the point that it starts to just slightly prolapse. So what you’re seeing is the circular blossom of intestine, kind of winking out at you from the asshole. The fister dudes really like that. In this one movie they actually—and this is kind of a brilliant dissolve—they dissolve from this guy’s prolapsed rectum to the wallpaper which has this floral rose pattern, and it’s like this fisting dude in-joke about roses.
Danny: Sounds like they turn it into a kind of pussy.
Drew: Uh-huh. Yeah, it’s weird the way the word “pussy” is coming back with gay men.
Jop: Pussy boy.
Drew: Yeah. I was in a sex club and this guy was kind of like offering up his friend to everybody around, and he was like pulling his friend’s butt cheeks apart and going, “Come on, let’s get this bitch pregnant!”
It was like appropriating kind of misogynist, straight stuff. It seems very playful and light-hearted ‘cause everyone’s a man, but it’s just sort of weird, you know? I’m not sure what to make of it. I guess it gets some people really hard to get treated like that. I don’t think she got pregnant, though.
Martin: It’s disturbing how you aren’t looking at anybody when you’re talking.
Drew: This is what I do when I’m alone.