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Thereís Always Room for Celli, er, Cello
By Laurel Hermann and Collin Quick
September 27, 2003
Why is it that humans feel the need to brand and stereotype every person with their eyes? It's not something many people like to do, but there I was: judging Matt Fish at my very first Matt Nathanson concert. Since Matt Nathanson and Fish perform together, it's easy to find yourself comparing the two of them. Nathanson is very entertaining, and funny to say the least. Watching him perform brings a sense of joy to your day. So when you look over to see Matt Fish, many might seem quite surprised. Fish seemed very serious, very reserved, and most of all, very passionate about the cello. So my initial fear is this guy is going to be into only classical music and won't have much of anything to say to Collin and me, two kids who are completely in a different generation than these musicians. But Fish puts my fears to rest in the very first question by trash-talking another college he had performed at. Question by question Fish won my adoration and while I can easily say I like watching Matt Nathanson perform, Fish seems to have a new place for musicians in my mind: talented and intelligent. So without further ado: A Matt Fish Interview.
Laurel:† Howís the tour going?
Matt Fish:†††††††† Oh, it's going great.† It's really going well.† To be honest with you, some unnamed colleges have sort of dropped the ball as far as sound and professionalism and it gets you down because you've been traveling all day out in the country for a month at a time and your not at home and when they don't have that stuff and they put you in a cafeteria and expect ten people to come, that's sort of the worst of it.† I mean, some of these shows have been amazing.† We played at Augustana last night in Rock Island, IL and it was fantastic.† The room we played in was great.† It's been going great and Matt's been playing really well and I think we've been playing better and better together, so the tour is going great.
Laurel:† What made you pick up the cello?
Matt:†††† It was totally forced. (Laughs)† It's funny, you know.† It was the day that you chose instruments in grade school.† They were like "you can play recorder."† And you know all the girls played the flute, all the super nerdy guys played the violin and the less nerdy guy would play like the trombone or something.† It was horrible.† And the deal was, I looked at the drums and wanted to play the drums but my mom would hate it, she would just say no.† I also wanted to play the saxophone.† I tried that in college later and I sucked at it so I'm glad I didn't pick up the saxophone. I also didn't want to be in band, so that's another reason why I didn't pick up the saxophone, because the band direct was sort of a schlub, and the orchestra director was great.† And the other reason is they needed cello players, so it was sort of forced.† They were like "try this".† I was like "what about the bass?" cause I wanted to do something jazz related so I wanted to play the upright bass and they were like "Oh no, we don't have any of those.† You can't play that."† And it was just cooler and I take to strings much more easily than wind instruments. And the violin was just dorky and the viola was just a smaller violin, so what's the difference?†
Laurel:† Is this where you imagined yourself with the cello?† Is this what you wanted to do?
Matt:†††† I picked up the cello when I was in 4th grade when I was ten years old.† And probably by the end of high school I thought about it because teachers were giving me that "you should keep doing this" vibe and older folks would tell you to keep up the cello so that was really encouraging.† I almost didn't make the decision; I was the reluctant cellist in a way.† I was interviewed my senior year in high school and the last quote I said was something about "what if I hate the cello?"† Like did I have something more to discover about it or did I just not like it, but ultimately, the way it was chosen for me was a process of elimination and something I could never say no to.†
Laurel:† We were thinking on the way up here today, what a funny word cello is and how it's spelled so weird.
Matt:†††† Yeah! (Laughs)† There's always room for cello.† Ok, so the whole thing is the Italians fault.† The word is a modification.† Itís like, you know how violin has an ďinĒ at the end, but imagine the word violin with an ďonĒ on the end and then attached to cello, and thatís what the real name of the cello is, a violonícello.† And so when you write it, technically you should write it as violonícello.† But who does that?† And since itís an Italian word, thatís why the ďcĒ sound like a ďchĒ and then if you had two or more, the proper plural of cello is celli, which is ridiculous.†
Laurel:† Have you ever used the word celli?
Matt:†††† I personally, except for right now, have never used the word celli.† But orchestra conductors would use the word.† They would be like ďcelliĒ and you would look around and be like ďwho are you talking to?Ē† Itís so dumb, I hate that word.† Other than that, I dig the way the word cello looks.† It looks symmetrical and itís so round and sort of mellow and I just dig it.†
Laurel:† What type of music did you listen to while growing up?
Matt:†††† Total rock all the way.† Classical bored the hell out of me.† I listened to jazz a lot to in high school.† I started with, you know, Men at Work was my first tape and I loved Sting and The Police, they were so great and then when I wanted to listen to cello players who played alternative stuff, I listened to a guy named Hank Roberts who plays a alternative rock kinda cello who plays with Bill Frisell, this great jazz guitarist and thereís a string quartet with this guy named Mark Summer in it and I learned a lot from those people who were trying to incorporate more jazz and rock, but there were no real examples of it in music.† And the violin was never really used in music besides country stuff, and the cello you would just never really see.† And then Metallica.† I loved Metallica up until the ďBlackĒ record because Bob Rock produced that (laughs).† So the funny thing is, there is weird ass cello quartet from like Denmark or something, I donít know.† But it was these four guys and their first record was all Metallica covers and I was like ďYes, this is so sweet!Ē† So I mainly listened to rock.† But in like the seventh or eighth grade I went up to my parents and was like ďwhatís the deal with jazz?Ē† And my mom was a choir director and my dad a Lutheran pastor so my mom conducted the choir and both my parents are really good singers so we came from a singing music family, but it was mainly churchy stuff and I hate that.† But some of the Bach hymns were really, really cool.† So I asked my mom ďwhat about jazz, do you listen to that?Ē and she was like ďNo, we canít understand thatĒ so I was like ďcoolĒ (laughs).† So I tried to learn jazz and that was the way I got into playing rock cello because I tried to play jazz cello first and learned how to improvise at that point. Iíve always played rock instruments like the electric guitar and acoustic guitar and I played in bands all though out high school and when I got to college I realized that I have all these skills on the cello and that I was much better at that than I was at the bass or the guitar, so thatís why I listen to rock music all the time.††††
Laurel:† What was it like playing at Disney World?
Matt:†††† Um, Disney World was really cool.† The only thing is, they are fascists there.† Collin, you wouldnít make it there because you have facial hair, well so do I now.† Laurel you wouldnít make it either cause of the multiple ear piercings.† Your hair canít come down past the collar.† They literally give you a full book and they tell you what you can and canít wear.† Women have to wear heels but they canít be past a certain length.† It was just fascist.† That said, they knew how to put on a show.† It was something about them that was unreal.† If they do a show, itís like ďOk, lets do 3 shows, and weíll have fireworks at the last two and weíll do them 5 nights a weekĒ and theyíll get everyone out there.† There was a 4th of July show and they just brought out like a million boy scouts and they were holding flags and everything was choreographed and we rehearsed in the middle of the night for these shows because they would be out on the stage where the public was so it was an insane sort of dedication to put on the best show possible.† And you could tell and you can still tell but they are still fascists and those two things go together (laughs).† You look at the Britney Spears show, and that is probably put on by somebody who worked at Disney.† Its like ďwow, that really amazing, you did an amazing job with the pyrotechnics and the video screens and the jumbo-tron and shitĒ, but ultimately itís like sheís barely singing.†
On the other hand, there were some amazing jazz artists that came.† Like Bob James, the guy who did the theme to the Taxi TV series.† Heís this jazz pianist and he was great.† The Billy Taylor Trio came.† Heís this guy who is usually featured on the CBS Sunday morning show and did a lot of the jazz profiles and has played with a lot of the heavy hitters and that was really cool.† And believe it or not, do you remember this band called The Captain and Tennille?† They had this song called Love Will Keep Us Together.† And it turned out that they are actually married and this guy, The Captain, still wears his captain hat (laughs).† But the thing is he sucks.† He plays the piano but he canít play.† His wife is really, really talented so she sang big band stuff.† So we were backing up this big band singer and she didnít do the cheesy pop hits, so she was cool.† And then there were the horrible people.† Like Marie Osmond, enough said there.† But what was great about that summer was the fact that you were paid full time to play music 5 days a week, and sometimes 6 days a week. It was 3 shows a day with rehearsals in the afternoon and sometimes at night like I said before.†† So you were doing it everyday and thatís when I realized that thatís the kind of pace that I need to play music.† That was the biggest thing about that summer.† I was down there for a summer and then we went back for the 25th anniversary.† They closed the park and they brought in the press and they brought in these Moulin Rouge dancers from France, the ones that wear nothing and they would be doing high kicks and we would be trying to play (laughs).† It was the shit.† I loved playing with dancers.† I would play with dancers any day of the week.†
Thatís the thing too.† Disney is so hypocritical.† Itís like working with the Marines and the Christians.† Those were the sort of people that set the sort of tone, the cultural tone.† And yet, they had these dancers being as sexy as they could possibly be without going over some arbitrary line.† They really were a confusing bunch.††††††††††††††††
Collin:†† How did you meet Matt Nathanson?
Matt:†††† We played in the same venues in San Francisco in the same music scene out there. I was in a band and he was playing one night, it was a long time ago, and it was for his second record and he needed a cellist and he heard us play and he asked ďhey can you play on this record?Ē So that was in 1996.†
Collin:†† Since you've been touring with Matt, has your friendship with him grown?
Matt:†††† Yeah definitely.† Itís really intense constantly traveling with people so your always in each others space and you have to negotiate that really well and I think that it would be really, really hard to tour with someone that you are not friends with. It gets to the point where, you know like The Eagles each take their own limo to shows, itís like only when you get super big can you afford not to be friends and tour, but in the real world you have to friends and work together.††
Collin:†† Did you know that you wanted to play with Matt right away, or did it take some convincing?
Matt:†††† Well, we started really slow.† It was never really a question because I would always say yes to sessions and so I played on his first two records and then after that, I would really only play on like one song here and one song there when he did live shows.† It was a very natural thing to have happen and he was a cool guy, he was a friend of mine and he was in the scene, so of course Iíll go out and do it and money was never a question.† And when the opportunity came to take it to the next step and go out on tour and do it every night, that was a no brainer because we were doing it every night.† When we were opening for John Mayer in 2001, we both had day jobs and had to fly out for certain shows and fly back to be at work the next day.† So thatís the reality of it, its tough, but you just have to put your priorities in the right place†††
Collin:†† What was your first show with Matt like?
Matt:†††† I donít remember the first show, but I do remember some of the earlier ones.† We played at this place called Bimboís and I was nervous because we would be opening up for really big names like Fiona Apple, Duncan Sheik, David Gray and thatís where we got started.† Matt would be going around doing his regular gigs and when he would do bigger one, he wanted to dress it up a little bit so he would bring in the cello.† So thatís the earliest types of gigs that I remember.† When there were big gigs, I was always on them and it was fun from the start, thatís the other cool part about it.†††
Collin:†† What's your favorite song to play?
Matt:†††† I think Answering Machine and I donít know why.† I never tire of it. Iím trying to think of other songs but Answering Machine just pops up, like an old friend.† Iím so happy to be playing and the fact that people sing with it adds to it. Maybe itís because of the Lutheran thing, the whole choir thing with everyone singing, you know what I mean? Itís a real group effort at that point. And thereís a cello solo so that helps (laughs).
Collin:†† Does the fact that Matt plays a 12 string guitar add an element more than a standard 6 string would?
Matt:†††† I think so, absolutely.† Except the fucking thing goes out of tune all the time.† And if you try to play a cello which has no frets and the guitar goes out of tune, your reference is gone.† The 12 string is much cooler and a lot of people canít play it with as much strength and power that Matt plays with, because itís a much bigger instrument and requires more force and he plays it and hits it really hard, so itís a sound that you never hear.† Normally you hear folksy sort of things with really high rings and played really lightly with the fingers, but Matt pounds the shit out of it.† I think itís a great addition.† We just sound checked and we did Answering Machine to try some stuff out and we did it yesterday without the 12 string because it was getting fixed. You can tell in the songs too. You can hear the 12 string and cello and itís like a package and it just makes everything complete.† You feel really happy at the end of a day.
Collin:†† What's it like knowing that you have appeared on over 20 different CD's?
Matt:†††† It makes me feel fucking good (laughs).† It actually feels like a very, very small number because I look at these people that I want to aspire to be like, like this cellist Jane Scarpantoni who has played with everybody.† She just went on tour with Lou Reed.† I mean, the Beastie Boys had a cello on one of their records and sheís worked with Nirvana and just some of the hugest people and you look on her site and your like ďoh my god, sheís played on hundreds of records and done hundreds of string arrangements and Iím just way behindĒ, or at least thatís how I feel.† But thatís one way to look at it and the other hand itís like ďhey, Iíve been on over 20 different records.† Thatís really cool.Ē† And on each of those records its like ďlets add the pretty cello in the balladĒ and thatís ok but I just want to do so much more with it.† Like, thereís this band called Cursive that has a cello in it and the cello player is doing other shit and that completes the record.†††
Laurel:† What's it like touring with other bands?
Matt:†††† Itís the best.† Itís a really, really fun addition.† I mean, we get sick of hearing ourselves at a certain point.† We play every night and at a certain point it just feels good to go out and watch another band play their set.† Train are the nicest guys.† They are all so cool and youíre hanging out with musicians who are really good and sometimes youíre in the middle of nowhere.† And the O.A.R. guys are really cool.†††††
Laurel:† What's your best road story?
Matt:†††† I donít know if I have a best road story.
Laurel:† Tell us something that meant a lot to you then.
Matt:†††† Itís funny; itís usually the people that come out.† Sometimes itís a personal thing.† Like my parents came out to a show and they hadnít seen us and we were Indianapolis and they live there so that was great.† Last night, an ex-girlfriend from high school came out to see the show. Itís surprisingly like a regular job. †We have to stick to a schedule.† We get up, get in the van, we go.† We really donít go out much unless the three of us, Jeremy, our road manager, Matt and I go out and eat together.† And we should do that more.† I met Charlie, the bass player for Train, for dinner and that was amazing but it wasnít a big blowout party.† We are not at that point yet.† There really arenít a lot of standout stories.† Iíll try to remember one.†
Collin:†† What happened on the Train tour?† I heard there were some pranks pulled between you guys.
Matt:†††† (Laughs) Hella funny.† The Train crew and the band are funny guys and they were telling us the entire night and the day before the last day of the tour that they were going to get us.† So they fashioned a giant cock and balls out of tape and put it on my chair and they did the same and to Matt and put it in front of his monitors.† And the very last night we were doing our set and we knew something was going to happen.† Matt was singing ďWingsĒ and descending from right above him was this gigantic dildo, like this 3 foot dildo that no one could possibly use, it was like a sleeping buddy, it was so disgusting.† It was funny though.† And they had rigged it with a fishing line and it went over to the sound guy so he could lower it down and because of the curtains around it, we couldnít see it and the crowd couldnít see it until it came down right on Mattís head.† So to get them back, We dressed up Matt like an angel, because they have the song ďCalling All Angles,Ē and he goes out on stage in his underwear and wore his shirt like a girl by pulling the bottom of it through the neck and we made angel wings out of tin foil and he went out and danced around.† We actually have a shot of that.†††
Laurel:† What do you make of your fan diversity?
Matt:†††† We were actually talking about that a few days ago.† Itís something about the Matt fans that attracts honesty and I think thatís the bottom line.† Somehow older adults lose the scent and canít really tell and younger kids canít tell whatís what and thatís why they are attracted to Britney and whatnot.† But thereís this undercurrent of honesty and you know that someone is playing real songs, good songs and we are putting our hearts into it.† I also think thatís what the common thread is.† And I think Matt fans are the best in general because these are some of the best people.† I mean, I have met other bands who just hate their fans.† There are fans that are just obnoxious and rude.† Itís interesting because O.A.R. have great fans who are very loyal but they tend to be a party crowd and it threw us for a loop.† When we walked out, the fans were ready to go and it was sort of a drunk party situation and Matt was able to work with the crowd because of the way he is and we were still able to put our all in the songs, so that was cool.† I also think itís about relating to a bunch of different people and with Matt talking in between songs, it helps bridge the gaps between us and those different types of people.†
Laurel:† Do you worry that will disappear when you guys get bigger?
Matt:†††† Iíve often wondered about it, not so much worried about it.† When youíre playing huge arenaís its harder to tell a story.† They donít want to hear stories, they want to hear music.† One of the biggest differences will be when we add more musicians like bass, drums, keys, that sort of thing and that will change the dynamics of the show.† So the stories will have to be shortened.† I donít know how thatís going to happen, but itís possible.††††††††
Collin:†† Do you have any say in the set lists or does Matt usually take control of that?
Matt:†††† Sometimes we get requests from people ahead of time.† Lately Mattís been putting it together but usually for each tour we get into a sort of pattern.† Sometimes I come out first and rock right away.† If we are opening, we know itís shorter so we come out right away with the faster songs.† If itís a longer headlining tour, like tonight, Iíll come out on like the third song and then take a short break in the middle and that gives you a variety. And once you do that, you find that there are only a few songs that fit into each position.† And a lot of the times Matt will just call it.† I donít have a set list in front of me; I have no idea what we are going to do.† But itís cool.† And the set lists are also influenced by tapers.† Tapers are cool.† I love listening back to older shows because I hear myself and I think I can get better by listening to my performance and evaluating it.
Laurel:† All right before we go, what do you think of the great state of Illinois?
Matt:†††† (Laughs) Well, being an Iowan, I have a special place for the state of Illinois because, I was thinking of this, there really is no rivalry between Midwest states, we are kinda the sort of semi-pathetic losers.† I mean, if you rank states, Iowa is way down there.† I mean, Illinois has Chicago, but besides that, it has nothing else.† I went to school in Indiana so it was the same deal.† So I feel that we all have to stay together.† Only Michigan can stand on its own and think they are the shit.† I think Wisconsin is great but they call themselves cheese heads which is ridiculous.† Illinois tends to get lost in the shuffle because Minnesota has the Fargo movie and the fucking wrestling governor guy and Wisconsin has the cheese and beer and the Laverne and Shirley vibe.† Iowa is sort of this mythical place, kind of like it doesnít really exist. Itís like Idaho?† Ohio?† No, no Iowa. Illinois is sort of the anchor of the Midwest.† And the fact that Lincoln was from here too.† Did you know that Lincoln was a Republican?†
I think Illinois is a little too flat.† At least eastern Iowa is a little hilly and southern Indiana has the hills, but coming to Illinois, itís too flat.† I mean, at least Wisconsin has something going on. Minnesota has the lakes. Nebraska?† I mean, thatís like going to hell.† But as far as Illinois goes, I could live here.† I mean, we left the hotel this morning and there were cornfields on either side and there were these yellow flowers that were growing where they were rotating the crops and you know how the Midwest sky is mostly grey all the time, but when they open up it looks like God coming down on his elevator, its amazing.† You see that and everything is gilded and the tops of the corn are brown and then everything is sort of lit up and you think the Midwest is beautiful and then you turn the corner and thereís a gas station and a strip mall and itís all over.†