Sometimes retro sounds, well, retro. But in the case of 19-year-old rocker Matt Jaffe and his band the Distractions, his particular mix of Elvis Costello and Talking Heads meets The Clash (there’s a little Connor Oberst in there too) feels like an historically-aware breath of fresh air. A lot of it comes from Jaffe’s kinetic on-stage energy, which he has managed to translate onto the recorded versions of his songs, available on April 21st as an EP titled Blast Off.
Let’s put it this way, the only thing sharper than that diamond-cuttingly-sharp coif are his lyrics and riffs. Check out this exclusive premiere of the track “Write a Song” and this interview where Jaffe explains it all.
Tell me how you got into music and writing songs?
So my first music experience was playing classical violin, which I started doing when I was five. But around 10, I started playing guitar, mainly as a way to stop practicing violin, and partially because it makes a lot more sense writing songs on guitar. I don’t know if there is a specific instance that compelled me to start songwriting but definitely the band Talking Heads – their concert film Stop Making Sense – and their records had a huge effect on me wanting to create music
So what it a coincidence that Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads “discovered” you or did you reach out to him?
Yeah I wrote a letter to him after I realized we lived in the same community. Both of us are just north of San Francisco – so definitely not an entire coincidence. I guess it makes sense that he was the first person who ended up producing some of my songs because, stylistically, I think there are a lot of parallels between what he’s done in the past and what I’m trying to do.
There’s a big music community in this area but a lot of it is very divergent from what I’m interested in. There is a huge contingent that is much more interested in Grateful Dead and jam band kind of stuff. That’s not to say they haven’t been supportive but just artistically, it’s not the direction I’m interested in. It’s partially a coincidence that I got to talk to Jerry from Talking Heads but I think artistically, it makes a lot of sense that he’s the person I ended up connecting with.
Your look definitely connects with your sound.
Yeah. Certainly British, new wave, punk rock from the late ‘70s is certainly a hotbed of my influence – Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Graham Parker. Like musical genres, style is secondary to the music for me. I consider it because I definitely appreciate when people put on a show. There is a whole school of thought that you just stumble onto stage, and you’re like, “I’m on stage, let me play a song”. I definitely prefer to think of it as putting on a show, not being theatrical or dramatic about it but being aware that we are on stage and performing, Dressing in a way that announces our presence is a good thing.
Your first EP comes out next week. What can you tell us about it?
Most of this EP was recorded by the producer Matthew King Kaufman. His work that I know best was with Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers. I thought he was a good fit to a lively recording environment kind of sound. A fear that I’d had in the past was that there is too much ironing out our the raw sound, trying to overproduce—Matthew leans the other way in trying to maintain the idiosyncrasies that a young, live band would have. Four of the tracks on the EP are with him and a fifth—a song called “Blast Off”—is a demo that I just did in my room.
We’re premiering “Write a Song About Me” song—whats’ that one about?
I guess in a way it was inspired by a stylistic idea rather than lyrical content. I knew I wanted to do something with a specific kind of punk, energetic vibe to it. There are some Johnny Cash songs, some Bright Eyes songs that capture that sound. In a way, that’s what inspired the song – to have that very energetic but sort of country-western combined feel. In terms, of the lyrics, over the years, a number of people asked to have a song written about them, which I think, is the worst way to have a song written about you. I thought this song could sort of be about someone but also be an insult to the person.
So it’s your Carly Simon moment?
Ha, yeah, in a manner of speaking.