Live from the Sonoma Beer Garden Stage
Sonoma, CA, 95476
Watch & Listen
It was in the basement that Matt Jaffe found his parents' copy of 'My Aim Is True.' He'd recently been given a turntable as a gift, and in short order he proceeded to use it so much he nearly wore out the grooves of the Elvis Costello vinyl. If that sounds unusual for a teenager today, that's because Matt Jaffe is an unusual teenager. And with 'Blast Off,' his first official EP, he's got an exceptional debut to show for it.
The roots of Jaffe's quick rise go back to an encounter with Jerry Harrison, the famed Talking Heads keyboardist.
"If I had to name one group that I would call the bedrock of my influence, it would be Talking Heads, along with David Byrne's solo stuff" says Jaffe. "I have to credit my parents for turning me on to a lot of that stuff. For my birthday they'd give me compilation CDs like 'Talking Heads' Greatest Hits.'"
Jaffe was playing a solo set at a local Bay Area open mic night a few years ago when Harrison discovered the young songwriter's undeniable energy and talent.
"After seeing me a couple times, he suggested that I bring some demos to him," remembers Jaffe. "I brought him a bunch of songs, and then he suggested I do some more demos with him, and we cut a record's worth of material."
The sessions proved to be an exceptional learning experience for the high schooler, who had never before set foot in a studio, but he could sense himself maturing and evolving as an artist throughout the process, moving away from the singer/songwriter approach that had guided him as a solo artist in favor of a more raw, electric sound.
"After producing those songs with Jerry and LA studio musicians, I realized it would behoove me to form a band with guys my own age that I could play live with," says Jaffe, "and that encouraged me to write in a different way."
Adopting the moniker Matt Jaffe & The Distractions, he put together an electrifying young band influenced by new wave and punk rock, pulling cult hero producer Matthew King Kaufman—the Beserkley Records founder who helmed releases for The Modern Lovers' Jonathan Richman and Greg Kihn among others—out of semi-retirement to help shape the new band material that would form the core of 'Blast Off.'
"When we were recording it, there was a level of impulsiveness in the studio that was appealing," says Jaffe. "We were serious about it, of course, and wanted to create something that would be enduring, but there was also a levity that I appreciated. Some of the songs we literally did in one take, so you're hearing a live band in the studio, not the product of Pro Tools and soundproofing or whatever the latest gadget and gizmo the sound engineer happens to have."
The EP—a preview of Jaffe's upcoming full-length debut—kicks off with "Stoned On Easter," a tongue-in-cheek, driving rocker that sets the tone for the collection, with Jaffe singing "Chocolate fingers always on the hunt / God is just a publicity stunt / Pardon me if I've been too blunt."
"Last year, Easter and 4/20 fell on the same day," explains Jaffe. "It's meant to be an objective absurdist view on how Christian and marijuana culture would look if they overlapped. They seem sort of far-flung from one another, but I think there are elements of devotion in both of those cultures that perhaps reflect one another."
"Write A Song" is a rockabilly-influenced track that nods to Johnny Cash and draws on Jaffe's disillusionment with leaving the Bay Area (he's since returned), while "Blast Off" takes a punk rock page straight out of Joe Strummer's book, and "I Wanna Be Cruel" reaches back to the 60's with touches of George Harrison and The Beatles, though it was actually inspired by a Dylan quote.
"I think it was at his famous San Francisco press conference, Dylan was asked what he wanted his songs to do to people," explains Jaffe. "He said he wanted the music to 'needle them,' which I thought was an appropriate balance of sadistic and comic intent. 'I Wanna Be Cruel' is intended to strike that same sort of balance. I wanted it to have some genuine malice, but an undercurrent of irony and a good-natured wink to it, as well."
Lead single "Put Your Finger In The Socket" blends that same sense of defiance and humor into an infectious anthem of opposites, as Jaffe sings, "Because you dress in colors / I'm gonna dress in black / Because you love the summer / I'm taking the wintertime back / Because you hate your family / I am writing mine / Because I need a signal / You won't give me a sign."
"It was based on a poem that I wrote in Spanish, which was just about doing the opposite of someone, whether it's dressing the opposite of them or having opposite beliefs. Since my Spanish speaking is pretty nascent and the verses are a direct translation of the poem, they come across as very simplistic. But the song's about being disenchanted with a relationship and trying to be as much of a contrarian as possible, and since the catalyst for that behavior is so petty and simplistic, I wanted the lyrics to reflect it."
Jaffe proves that less is more with his songwriting, distilling sophisticated concepts into exhilarating musical adrenaline rushes and melding influences that belie his young age. The music doesn't simply reflect what's come before him, though, but rather utilizes his deep understanding of some of popular music's most vital scenes to cue his vibrant, utterly modern take on them. When it comes to crafting nervy, memorable, thrilling rock and roll, there's no doubt Matt Jaffe's aim is true.