Just a few weeks ago Self Against City's first album, Telling Secrets to Strangers, was released but the project has been brewing for quite some time. Completely written by lead singer and guitarist Jonathan Michael and guitarist, vocalist, and keyboard player Jack Matranga, calling the project a labor of love is not exaggerating one bit.
If there is one thing that came through loud and clear as I spoke on the phone with Jack, it was his love and passion for not only music, but the history of music and the performance of it. The band has seen its share of ups and downs, two members left just as they were getting ready to record the album, but they've also had breaks as well. They were discovered by Drive-thru records after uploading two demos to Pure Volume.
I sat down and talked to Jack Matranga not more than twenty-four hours after they had finished an incredibly crazy week shooting a video. They were at their first stop of a tour, they've been to launch for quite some time and we talked about the new album, Telling Secrets to Strangers, the new video, the fans, and of course, the music.
Tell me a little bit about Self Against City's history and how you formed?
Sure. It's actually a really, really long story. The band formed in Sacramento through a couple of other projects that was going on. Our original bass player and our singer, Jonathon [Michael] were in a band together, right outside of Sacramento actually, and they had a friend who was a drummer in a band about an hour north of here. Myself and Jeff [LaTour]were in a band together as well. We met through a radio DJ and we ended up just combining forces.
We were going strong for a couple of years, and Chris and Patrick, our original rhythm section, ended up quitting right when we finished with the album – that was pretty random. We ended up replacing them with a friend of ours from Florida named Blake, who is now playing bass, and a drummer from Sacramento who was in a local band for about four or five years that we looked up to. It was actually pretty random that we ended up getting Justin, their drummer, right when they broke up.
We brought him up four days before we left for tour, he actually only had three days. We played the set a total of five times before we left for the tour. So he had three days to learn to play seven different songs. It was nuts! But we now have a final line-up.
Wow! That's nice to hear. I don't know. It's kind of difficult for me, being in the band, to be able to form an unbiased opinion. We're just a rock 'n' roll band.
We listen to everything so our influences range from old rock 'n' roll, old do-wop stuff to old country, modern rock 'n' roll. I do mean everything. We try to take from everything we love and put it into our band. I guess the best way for me to describe it is just good ol' rock 'n' roll.
You and Jonathon are credited with all of the writing; do the other members have any input in the eventual sound of a given song or the album?
This time it was a little weird. As we were leading up to the recording of the album, the other members leaving the band and the writing process, so Jonathon and I took over on that. We ended up writing and demo-ing the songs ourselves. Every now and then we would have the other two come in to the band room and they would jam around with us. But for the most part Jonathan and I wrote what is Telling Secrets to Strangers.
Now that we have new members the sound is obviously going to change a little bit in what I think is going to be an amazing way. The heads that we have together working on a common goal, which is our next record, will be something I'm very very looking forward to. Everyone wanting to be here, and everyone wanting to be involved in songwriting, it's going to be an incredible experience to write with our new lineup, eventually.
So you think future albums will be more collaborative?
Exactly! We're going to have five heads instead of just two.
You talked about sound influences, but who are some of your songwriting influences? Or are they the same?
Obviously I'm a huge, huge, huge fan or The Beatles. They are, in my opinion, the greatest band that ever formed. Whatever they touched turned to gold, or I guess platinum (laughs). Bands that have made themselves last, bands that have achieved greatness, I look up to those bands because they've obviously done something right if they can write a song that kids can love and 45 year-olds can love… for forty years. Bands like The Beatles, Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, ELO, even dating further back to The Everly Brothers, and further back, the Supremes, those bands have done something right. And even further back, Beethoven and Mozart wrote things that have put a mark on history itself.
We like to look at bands and musicians and individuals who have done that. Trying to figure out what they've done to achieve that is a very difficult task. I'm sure we're far from learning how to do it. I feel like, why not strive for greatness. Why not take influence from bands and individuals who have achieved greatness.
You say in your bio that you were picked up by Drive-Thru as a direct result of posting two of your songs on-line. Does the internet continue to be a marketing tool for you?
It's funny you ask that because we've been bashing our heads together non-stop these last few months trying to figure out if the internet is going to continue to be such an amazing tool. It is unstoppable right now. You can access any band in the world from your chair in your bedroom.
As of right now, obviously sites like Myspace and Pure Volume allow people to hear music from bands they would have otherwise never heard of. At this time I would say the internet is untouchable in doing that. Whether or not it's going to continue to be the tool for discovering new music is something we've been pondering for awhile.
We're trying to figure out what's going to be next. Record stores are shutting down right and left, so what's going to be the next thing. Is it going to be individual songs that you have to purchase from iTunes or something like that or is it going to be completely different? So, we try to keep our heads on straight as far as the internet goes. There's no relying on the internet for us. You know what I mean? We don't rely on Myspace to get our fans. We don't rely on Pure Volume for people to hear our songs.
It's an amazing tool if you use it properly, but there is nothing like live music. We all feel the best way to promote your music and show people what you're all about is to get out there and play shows. I believe that live music is finally coming back, especially with the decline in record stores and record sales.
I believe that kids are going to start going to rock 'n' roll shows. If you look back to the '60s and '70s bands that were not that big comparatively now, could still play in front of thousands of people, because people dug live music. I'm hoping, and I do believe, that is back on its way up.
So, as far a getting our name out there, that's what we're going for, just tour, tour, tour. Although the internet does help immensely, there's nothing like personal interaction, and people like to see you play the songs.
And the fans are responding well to the songs? You're probably in the hardest place right now, with your very first record just recently released, not everyone at the show has heard the music.
Exactly! You know, we've been playing some of these songs live for months now and in the past week and a half, since the record has come out, the ratio of the number of kids in the audience who are singing along… it's finally happening. It's awesome to see that and know that they have actually gone out of their way to check out our music and come to our shows. But not only come, but sing along to the songs and get into it. We've been getting an incredible response from the fans about the new album. It's very reassuring.
Your producer, Steve Heigler, has an impressive resume (The Pixies, Brand New, Fuel). What was it like to work with him?
I believe he would say the exact same thing as I will say, and that is we wish we would have a little more time. It was very rushed. We had 17 days to track everything, and about six or seven days to mix everything. We spent about a year and a half writing Telling Secrets to Strangers and having only 17 days to produce it was a little rough.
Steve Heigler is brilliant though, as is the engineer Mike Watts. The fact that we were able to come together and record and produce the album in only 17 days is in and of itself an incredible feat. And it says a lot about how professional both those guys are.
I missed talking to Jonathon the last couple days because you were filming a video, For which song?
We were doing a video for "Becoming a Monster," and I have to say these last few days have been the most hectic of Self Against City's career.
We played a show in San Diego last Saturday, about ten hours south of where we live. We left Friday night for San Diego, drove ten hours, played the show, left right after the show and drove the ten hours back so we could start working on the video. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday we worked for no less than 10 hours a day on the video. Wednesday we had a half day because we had to play a show Wednesday night. So we shot the video for a half day and then drove an hour and a half to Davis, California to play a show, and then we went back for Thursday. Friday was our only day to get ready for tour. We are in Phoenix now [Saturday]. It has been nuts the last few weeks!
Aside from being extremely time consuming, what was the experience of shooting a video like?
Working on the video was like something I've never experienced. We walked in and the director, our buddy Marko from Yuba City, which is about an hour north of Sacramento, in less than two weeks not only put together a treatment for the video but put together an entire crew to make it happen. We were in the warehouse that his family owns and there were already two complete sets built for the shoot. It was like walking on to the set of a sitcom.
It blew my mind what Marko was able to pull together in just a week and a half. And the people were just so generous with their time and their creativity it made it very smooth to work on, even though it was hard work. Everything went very smoothly. I can't wait to shoot another video.
When and where can we see it?
The beginning of February it's going to be done. It's being edited right now. And it should be on the internet. We're hoping to service it to regional networks, and local networks. Hopefully you won't be able to get away from it. (laughs)
What’s next for Self Against City?
We are going to spend this entire year touring. That is all that is on our plate right now, and it's finally a relief to only have to look forward to playing shows. That's what we're doing this all for, is to play live music, and we have finally accomplished releasing an album that allows us to spend the next year touring, every city as we can as many times as we can.
We really want to get overseas. We've been talking to the label about that. We want some UK, Australia, and some Japan dates.
Are You going to start writing the next album?
When ever a good idea comes, we log it with a little demo-recording setup. We make note of it, and we record a snip of it. And then when we have some down time we'll put all the stuff together and develop it over the course of the next year. By the time we sit down, we hope to have a lot of songs to work on.
So, we're not going to put off songwriting, but at the same time, it's not going to be a priority.