Lo-fi provocateur, songwriting pioneer, truth-teller, Elvis Depressedly, aka
Mathew Lee Cothran, together with his group, are getting ready to release Depressedelica, a new album so unflinching in its delivery of bad news that we just had to address this with the man himself.
We were fortunate to speak to Matthew about his search for authenticity, Bob Dylan, his ever devoted fanbase and what working with an indie record label has has done for his career.
Throughout the years your music has brilliantly melded melancholy with comedy. Are you ever afraid your audience will end up focusing on one and missing the point about the other?
I used to be! Very afraid, constantly paranoid about being misinterpreted, and then it became a game to me. How can I say something horrendously bleak but wrap it up pretty and neat as if it’s something joyful? Or the opposite approach how can I hide tremendous joy and love behind images that are grotesque, and that was the way I wrote for a while.
I think getting older made me want to just be more true to who I was. You get lonelier with every year I feel, every birthday matters less and friends fade off, die off, especially in a life like mine where you are constantly going or constantly waiting. There isn’t much to hold on to. Now I feel like my songs thematically are reaching out, trying to connect the real me with the real whoever is listening.
Your lyrics are usually incredibly direct. (I’m thinking of I can’t wait for you to die, Mickey yr fuck up, Cop Poet etc.). How hard has been to remain this honest with your words?
The examples you cite are interesting because I feel I could have been more direct in each. In “I Can’t wait for you to die” I could have said “I can’t wait until I die”, it would have meant the same thing. I could have said “Mathew” not “Mickey”, and in Cop Poet I could have tried to be less pretty about the need for vengeance against police. I think I write a lot out of fear, and I think that’s been the thing I’ve tried to overcome the most post “Loss Memory” which was my last record as Coma Cinema. I think the whole world could use less fear rhetoric and more real conversation. I’m still learning how to express that idea though.
On your new single, Jane, don’t you know me, you continue experimenting with new sounds. You’re using pitch-shift vocals, drum machines. (And is that a sample of someone yelling “Hey”?) How important has it been to work with new textures and sounds?
I think it’s the most important thing. This project is most well known for it’s least thought out aesthetics and that’s just sort of how working class art works. The art of the people belongs to the people, their interpretations are what give it life.
Personally I want to make music like the music I admire most, and I want to explore those sounds that really strike me and make me feel something emotionally. The “hey” samples in Jane are a big part of that. I love the way the-dream, or the way DC Talk in the late 80s would produce these fantastic, enormous songs. The idea that a big crowd is singing a long and jamming it’s powerful. I wanted the song to feel like a big gospel number, a “come to jesus” moment or something like that, and I think the elements of producers that are reaching for this huge audience of everyone are the best ways to get there.
The title of you new album, Depressedelica, made me chuckle. And, I am hoping that was an appropriate reaction. Is it right to assume by the title that: a. you’ve been waiting to make this kind of record for a long time and that b. you have been on a Primal Scream kick recently?
I love, love, love Primal Scream. It’s absolutely an homage. “Big Jet Plane”, “Keep your Dreams”, are some of the all-time great songs. I did want it to be funny, and there’s a song on the album “Primal Sigh” that is supposed to be funny too, even though it’s a song about a suicide attempt.
Because it isn’t the drama your mind goes to at that moment, it’s a song or a moment, it’s “the apple juice in the hall”, it’s “richard corey”. I think going to that brink and back just taught me a lot about existence and what really stays with us on a soul level.
Your fans are tremendously dedicated to your music and your words. Is there any burden that comes with having such a faithful following?
I just don’t want to disappoint them, because they have given me so much, and never turned their back on me. I’m flawed as anyone, probably a lot more. I have the best audience in the world and they mean a lot to me. I hope that everyone who hears this album will hear me in it and my love for music, which is directly tied to my love for the people who support mine. Music needs ears to be, to reach someone the way my favorite albums have reached others is a soul-affirming grace.
You’ve had a very prolific career. You’ve released a lot of your early music on your own and have worked with Run for Cover Records in recent years. What’s the practical difference in receiving the backing of a label?
A lot of labels aren’t doing artists any favors but Run For Cover is different. To put it in perspective, they expected this album years ago but they never stopped funding, they never questioned anything they were just constantly encouraging. They understand mental health, they understand life. They’ve gone through hell themselves the last few years. We all have experienced losses and successes and we’ve grown strong like a family through it. I can say with authority that without Run For Cover this project would have been over a long time ago, and right now I don’t see it ending any time soon.
It’s more than money or organization which they have been helpful with, it’s that they are supportive and kind that matters the most. They don’t turn their back on people when shit gets difficult, they don’t see me or any other artist as a commodity as so many other “independent” labels do.
I’d love to see an Elvis Depressedly documentary a la Don’t Look Back (D.A. Pennebaker’s movie about Bob Dylan). What would an apt opening and closing scene be for it? That’s a funny thought.
It’d probably open with my mother, pregnant and stoned, playing records for me. I don’t know how it’d close, I’d assume with my death, for the sake of the director of this never-to-be-made movie, I hope it’s a blaze of glory.
Let’s play pretend. If you were to be commissioned to write music for any of the world’s religions, which one would you like it to be?
I’ve written too much gospel already.
Does writing new music require solitude on your part?
Yes, but I have learned how to be alone in any situation. Inner space is infinite and I travel there often.
Do you tend to listen to more somber music when you’re in the process of songwriting? Or, would we be shocked of your musical influences on Depressedelica?
I listen to a lot of jazz music, blue note style ballads, ECM Records prog tinged jazz, stuff like that. It’s my favorite music. There’s probably no better song that “mirrors” by freddie hubbard. “Depressedelica” was more about the music I grew up on than what I’m into now. Bands like The Church, The Waterboys, The Replacements, wild west bands that meant everything they did and said. Too much of the music is the individual now, the “Century of Self” is pervasive. I don’t want any song I write to just be me. I want to be propelled on the energy of every great song before me
Sure, the world can sometimes be a depressing place. Do you find it especially dismal in 2019, or will we look back on it as a relatively good period for mankind?
It is a bad time. The world is chaotic and festering with evil ideologies, unchecked greed, terminal capitalism, the spiral is vast and painfully slow going. Some days I want to be an accelerationist, I wonder what would happen if we just took the wheel and swerved off the cliff, and hope for the righteous, honest, loving nature of the world to survive, but that’s playing the game of the bastards and demons.
I don’t know how we come out of this as humanity. I have a song about it on the new record, called “peace on earth”. I read the Zhuangzhi a lot while recording this album. The world was tumultuous beyond our understanding back then, and I think we’re headed into a dark age. There is a lot of wisdom available on how to survive dark ages.
The lo fi sound and aesthetic has garnered a lot of attention recently. Are you, in ways, bothered to be associated with it?
None of it bothers me. I wish some of the rich people who have obviously been influenced by my work would do more to put me on but generally, their upbringing is fundamentally different than mine, I wouldn’t expect a rich person to have a sense of community or respect for the thousands of moments that lead to their success. I try to honor the artists who gave me a shot because it’s not the industry folks, the managers, the agents, the labels, that make us it’s other artists, be it influence or advice, or just a good word or telling someone who looks up to you “this song is great, keep going”.
I think some of these kids get shit on unnecessarily, like Clairo, who is very talented and I think miscategorized in the whole lo-fi bedroom pop thing. Talent is talent, and privilege is a privilege. I think a lot of artists have tremendous class privilege and when they take from the working class artists they haven’t been raised to share, they don’t know the power they have to put somebody on and change not just an artist’s life but the lives of those who need that working artists music in their life.
There are few styles and topics your music hasn’t touched on over the years. Where to next, Mat?
I want to make my “When I paint my Masterpiece”