Originally formed in Philadelphia (hence the PA), Matt Pond PA is a New York band with a unique sound featuring expansive melodies, shiny choruses and poignant string arrangements, all held together with the always-genial voice and reflective prose of the band’s leader, Matt Pond.

At once uplifting and heart wrenching, Matt Pond PA songs have a way of reminding the listener to notice the beauty in the things often overlooked, which serves as a kind of metaphor for the band itself.

To say that Matt Pond PA have a cult following would be an understatement. While they might not be quite mainstream, they’ve enjoyed features on the musically-revered TV show The OC and a long-running Starbucks commercial. Attend any of their shows and you’ll find troves of fans, many who have followed them for a decade or more. And this year, the band funded their new album, The State of Gold, via an entirely crowd-sourced Pledge campaign that far surpassed its initial goal.

Matt Pond PA are a band that makes music for the joy of the art, heart that comes through in all ten studio albums to date. The State of Gold is magic number ten, and it finds Matt Pond PA exploring wilder places, both musically and lyrically, than ever before. NPR’s First Listen called Matt Pond an "old-fashioned troubadour above all", a title he embraces. Pond wrote The State Of Gold in fits of inspiration throughout 2014, following a battle with writer’s block that had him questioning his place in the music world. The new album introduces sleeker production chops and more assertive percussion with synthetic undercurrents that highlight the characteristic simplicity of the songs. However, TSOG is still very much a MPPA album at its core, delving into the space between hope and hopelessness, a place that Matt Pond traverses like no other.

Laura Stevenson is finally learning not to worry. After more than a year of national and worldwide touring following the release of her critically acclaimed album Wheel, both headlining, and alongside such varied acts as Against Me!, The Go-Go’s, Kevin Devine, Tim Kasher of Cursive, and The Gaslight Anthem, the songwriter made the move from her between-tour home base of Brooklyn, to upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley. There, she rented a nineteenth- century Victorian, a former brothel in a cement-mining town-turned hippie-enclave, and converted the attic into a makeshift studio. It was in this space that she and her band went to work arranging and demoing the eleven songs she had written that would make up Cocksure, Stevenson’s fourth album. The record features musicians Mike Campbell, Alex Billig and Peter Naddeo, who in various incarnations have performed with her for over seven years, as well as newcomer Samantha Niss, a long-time Hudson Valley resident and the veritable go-to drummer of the region.

Where 2013’s Wheel was full of lingering uncertainty, harkening to Stevenson’s folk and country leanings, Cocksure is a straightforward, to the point, emboldened rock and roll album. Although some existential dread still peaks through the cracks, Stevenson treats themes as heavy-hearted as sudden and tragic death, self-imposed exile in small windowless rooms, and that back-of-your- mind anxiety that the road you’re on may not be the right one, as their own signs of life; a life that is brightly colored by those realities.

With influences ranging from The Lemonheads, Liz Phair, and The Replacements, to early Weezer and the Smoking Popes, Cocksure maintains Stevenson’s unique vulnerability, and steadfast devotion to a solid and honest melody. In the writing process, she challenged herself to be true to whatever was going to come out of her, with many of the tracks featuring melodies that were purely stream of consciousness. “I felt like over-working it would suck some of the spirit out of the songs… this record needed that spontaneity. Spending so much time editing and second guessing yourself takes all the life out of it.”

This sense of spontaneity was maintained in the way Cocksure was recorded. In May of 2015, Stevenson and her band traveled city-bound to Room 17, a studio located in her old neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. “It’s this very positive and amazing space, and Joe Rogers, the engineer, was so enthusiastic about what we were doing. Everyone was comfortable enough to just really play and not get caught up in anything else.” All the main instrumentation on Cocksure was performed live, no clicks/no punches, under the watchful eyes of Rogers and producer Jeff Rosenstock, Stevenson’s long-time friend and collaborator. “Jeff was the perfect person for the job. All of his Bomb The Music Industry! and solo recordings have this energy to them, they’re like living things. I wanted to capture some of the magic he has.” The album was later mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley (Joyce Manor, Deafheaven, Tony Molina) at Atomic Garden Studios in Palo Alto, CA.

Self-assurance is a new hat for Stevenson, and on Cocksure she confronts her usual tendencies toward self-deprecation head-on. “It’s freeing to stop being so hard on yourself, and to quiet down all of the outside noise,” she says. “Once you’re able to do that, you can actually write what you should be writing.”

Shawn Alpay learned his first instrument at age ten. He chose the cello because it wasn't too big and it wasn't too small, and that suited him fine. He played in orchestras throughout high school and college, but departed the classical world soon after to pursue the potential of writing songs in one's own voice.

For several years, Alpay led a large orchestral rock outfit called The Definite Articles. They recorded their only full-length at Tiny Telephone in San Francisco. The group disbanded, but Alpay hung around the studio immersing himself in the craft of audio engineering. He soon rose to the position of house engineer and producer there, and his own creative output drifted off.

Then his mom unexpectedly passed, and the sharpness of those emotions got him to push through his self-doubt and to start writing again. The stage name of Completions serves as a continuing reminder that revision can serve too much like a shield; it's more important to finish an imperfect creation than to let it die on the vine. With that in mind, Alpay once again hunkered down at Tiny Telephone to record.

Completions, the self-titled EP, was released on October 9th, 2015. While the material touches on several personal stories and specific experiences, it also speaks broadly of empathy, the shared experience that binds us all together. On Completions, six original songs are accompanied by a Joni Mitchell cover. Sorting through his mom's things, Alpay found a handwritten collection of lyrics and chords from Blue. He crafted "A Case Of You" into something of a goodbye to her.

As a band of one, Alpay sings over a plucked cello onstage, invoking the idiom of quiet and thoughtful projects like Jose Gonzalez, Andrew Bird, and Sufjan Stevens. In addition to pursuing his own project, Alpay is a cellist in several others, including matt pond PA, How To Dress Well, and Emily Jane White. He is still house engineer and producer at Tiny Telephone.

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