Mathieu Santos Image credit: Meg Farmer

Interview: Mathieu Santos

Published on August 16th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams

In our week-before-last’s NewTube, we described Mathieu Santos’ vaguely “Daytripper”-aping single “I Can Hear the Trains Coming” as coming across “rather like Chad VanGaalen on helium crossed with Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips”.

Having spent some time with parent album Massachusetts 2010, we’d like to chuck lashings of Panda Bear, Brian Wilson and High Llamas into the mix – which, by now, should sound really quite appealing.

Rest assured, then, that it is. Bassist of deceptively gorgeous Syracuse six-piece Ra Ra Riot by day, Santos is flying solo for the first time with Massachusetts 2010 and it is more than enough of a departure from his band’s sound to suggest that a bright future now awaits him on two different fronts.

Rocksucker caught up with Santos to discuss the ins and outs of his exciting new venture, learning in the process that his impressive falsetto extends to producing a very passable (if unwitting) impression of a female vocal…

When you started writing these songs during sessions for [last year’s Ra Ra Riot album] The Orchard, were they intended to be songs for the band to use or did you want it to be a solo project right from the beginning?

At the time, most of my ideas were in very rough states and, though I had shared a few of them with the band, I wasn’t expecting any of them to make it onto the album. I wasn’t sure they’d be right for the band, and I also had no interest in taking more creative control in that context. And while I wasn’t necessarily intending to start a solo project, I knew that I wanted to be able to explore the ideas more on my own, and to have my own space to think and grow a little bit.

Any plans to take this album on tour? What would be your live set-up if you did – get a backing band together? Would you come to the UK?

I think it’d be a ton of fun to play some shows behind the album but Ra Ra Riot is always so busy, so I haven’t really thought too much about when that could happen. My first priority was to just make the recordings and see where those would go. But if I find myself with some downtime soon, maybe after Ra Ra Riot records our next album this winter, it’d be great to put a little band together and play some shows, for sure! And I’d love to play in the UK – if I could find some way to get over there, I’d take the opportunity in a second.

Do you play all of the instruments on the album? What did you use to record it?

Yes, aside from the saxophone, which Wes [Miles, Ra Ra Riot lead singer] played, I do! That was one of the most fun aspects of the project for me, getting to mess around on all the instruments and build up the songs. Andrew Maury, Ra Ra Riot’s sound guy (and co-producer for The Orchard), is a really skilled engineer and owns a bunch of gear. He set up a sweet little studio in Wes’s parents’ house, where we recorded just about everything in just a few days. A few of the tracks that were used in the final recordings were actually taken straight from demos I’d recorded on my computer at home.

“(I Just) Need to Know” has a very Pet Sounds feel to it. Are you a big Beach Boys fan?

I am indeed! How can you not be? Brian Wilson is the greatest.

Who does the female vocal on “Silly Thoughts”?

I’ve actually been asked this before and, since I did all the vocals on the album, I can only assume it’s me! Maybe Andrew did more recording without my knowing, or maybe I just kind of sound like a girl sometimes, which I think is probably the case.

You seem to have a penchant for very sudden endings, not least on “The Bay/Where to Find Her”…

Yeah, ending songs is a tough thing! Though really abrupt endings can seem like an easy out, to me, they are so so powerful – they’re really unnerving and frightening. They just leave everything hanging there, with no real conclusions – the songs are here, and then they’re gone, and you haven’t had time to prepare for the ending, to expect it. That’s really exciting to me! I think it forces you to give something back emotionally, where you find yourself having to fill the space. The Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, Philip Glass’s “The Grid”, and I think a few Sunn O))) songs all use this to great effect.

Any activity with Ra Ra Riot on the horizon? Or indeed any other kind of activity?

Aside from a bunch of touring this fall, we’ve just started working on a whole bunch of new songs that’ll eventually turn into our third album, which is really exciting. We’ve just started talking with some different producers and we’re hoping to be in the studio by the end of the year. And we’ve been talking about trying a different approach this time around – to allow a lot of the creative processes to happen in the studio, and to maybe leave things a bit undercooked that we would have over-thought and re-arranged into the ground before we’d gotten into the studio in the past. So we’re all pretty excited! It’s always good to shake things up and I think everyone is feeling the excitement from that.

Are there any up-and-coming artists that you’d like to give a shout out to?

Yes! Givers, with whom we were lucky enough to tour a lot last fall and a bit this year as well, are amazing. Such a great, affirmative live experience. Their first album just came out relatively recently. And Delicate Steve, who’ll be touring with us this coming fall, is incredible. We’re all so excited to be able to see him every night. His album’s called Wondervisions, and also came out earlier this year.

Finally, could you name – off the top of your head and as of this very moment – three albums that you hold dear? (Rocksucker says: the original phrasing of this question ended with “…top three albums of all time” but this was reconsidered in the wake of a semantic issue raised by Michael from The Dead Trees.)

Hmm! An impossible question, but let’s see: Pet Sounds and The White Album would definitely have to be on there – and for the third spot, I’ll say Perverted By Language, by The Fall.

You can buy Mathieu Santos’ debut album Massachusetts 2010 at barsuk.com

For a list of Ra Ra Riot’s forthcoming North American tour dates, please visit rarariot.com/shows.php

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About the Author

Editor of Rocksucker and the website's founder, Jonny is passionate about the music he listens to, both good and bad, as well as interviewing his favourite musicians.