Matt Cherry, Maserati
In November 2009, Maserati drummer Jerry Fuchs died in a terrible accident. The band was in the middle of recording their new release, Pyramid of the Sun, when it happened. They released the album this week, and on it they pay tribute to Fuchs. Maserati are an instrumental band, so as band member Matt Cherry explains, during the recording process they constantly asked themselves what Fuchs would have done to a song, and they let that idea take precedence.
Do you have any other creative outlets besides songwriting?
Sure. I have a design background and have dabbled in graphic design. I’ve done some painting and photography. Even when I was in high school, I was taking every art class that was offered.
How do you think that background informs your writing process?
If I am going to compare writing to another type of art, I would say that I write music and do graphic design. So it’s an iterative process: where you start is never where you end. But that’s the fun of it. When I create something, I create multiple versions. Then what people remember, the finished product, is a combination of those iterations.
When you write songs, do you see yourself also as an illustrator?
Not really. Since we don’t have lyrics, our music is a lot more subjective and vague. I’m not sure that we are trying to tell a story.
Tell me about your writing process. How disciplined are you? Does the discipline of your day job help make you a more disciplined writer?
I would say I am somewhat disciplined. Writing music is not my job, since I have a job I do for work. For me, it’s never work. It’s an unwinding thing. Sometimes I schedule writing sessions with other people. Or I'll start writing after I get inspired by seeing another band.
It’s an unwinding thing for you. How do you ensure that?
I’m an architect by day, so I am already in a creative field that hinges on deadlines. I guess I am a somewhat orderly person, so having a deadline doesn’t bother me. I like to work under pressure. Occasionally it feels like work, especially when Jerry lived in Brooklyn and we would fly him down to record. We only had a certain number of days to get things done. We are the most productive in that kind of time constraint.
Is the songwriting in the group collaborative?
I play guitar and some synthesizer in the band. A lot of it is just an idea, like a melody or a guitar part or a key change or some aesthetic piece of something. I’ll bring it to Coley, the other guitar player in the band, and we’ll flesh it out. Once that’s done, we take it to the rest of the band and rearrange it and chop it up. So it is collaborative, but it always starts with a single idea.
All of the songwriters I've interviewed get inspired by what they hear people say or by what they see people do. But since you don’t write lyrics, what inspires you? Where do these “aesthetic pieces” come from?
Other songs. I would say that’s our main inspiration. We are devourers of music. I can’t get enough new music. Not necessarily new, but really anything I hear and like for the first time. So for me, it’s like, “This is really cool. I want to do something with a similar vibe.” The inspiration is more stylistic, I suppose.
What do you do, then, to ensure that what you write isn’t a copy of what you just heard?
I put my own spin on it. I don’t steal a melody, but it’s more like a sonic quality that I mimic. I’ll hear a synthesizer and think, “Ooh, that’s really cool underneath an echo guitar part.” I don’t have to play the same guitar part, but I like the sonic combination of those two things. I'll try to create something similar. So I’ll create a demo of that nugget. Then a month and a half later, after it goes through five iterations, it really sounds nothing like the original. There’s a lot of that in our band. Going through records and finding stuff that we like.
When you sit down to write, do you ever have a goal?
Is there anything you must have with you?
I’ve been on road trips before and immediately come up with a melody in my head, so I’ll record it on my iPhone immediately. If I don’t, I’ll forget it.
The iPhone seems to be the one indispensable part of the writing process to a lot of musicians. I’ve talked to some who run to the bathroom at a restaurant or bar to record something that just popped into their head.
Laughs. Yeah, I’ve done that.
What time of day do you like to write?
I am more of a morning person.
You are the first songwriter who’s told me that.
Yeah, I am sort of an anomaly in that sense. But again, I have a day job, so I am used to that schedule. But when we are on tour it gets really annoying, because my band mates are bartenders, so it sucks because I end up waking early and can’t break that habit, whereas those guys sleep until noon. I have to make sure I bring something to entertain myself for a few hours. I can think of many times when I’ve been drinking my coffee between 9 and 11 in the morning and I come up with something.
What do you do when you are blocked?
I’ve learned to walk away.
For how long?
If we are working on a song as a band and are just tired and getting frustrated, we walk away. The important thing is to record it, walk away, then come back after 12 hours and listen to it. Then it sounds completely different.
You’ve been a band for 11 years. That’s a long time for a band. How does that relationship affect the collaborative process? Do you ever worry about a comfort level?
We are consumed with listening to music, so each album is somewhat a reflection of what we are listening to at the time. But we are good at recognizing that we’ve done something before, and so we know not to pursue it.
When Jerry died, how far along were you on the album?
We were recording the album in segments, not at once, so we had recorded about 60 or 70 percent of it. Most of the drum tracks were finished. We dealt with everything that happened at the end of the year, then in the spring we took the files to another studio and finished recording.
Did you make a conscious effort to pay tribute to him?
Yeah, definitely. Jerry was also very opinionated, so he definitely wasn’t aloof to the things we were trying to do. We were asking ourselves what Jerry would want us to do here. So inherently we were always thinking of what he would have done and maybe let that take a little more precedence.
How do you pay tribute as an insrumental band?
To be more specific, one of Jerry’s big influences was John Bonham. He was definitely a rock drummer. But over the last five years or so, he lived in Brooklyn, so he was drawn to the club scene and started hanging out and playing in bands like LCD Soundsystem. So he started to graph that aesthetic onto his playing style. We are not a dance band, but this record has a heavy hand from Jerry as far as leaning towards dance music. Not just because of bands Jerry told us to check out, but after he passed away saying, “Oh Jerry would totally go for this. Let’s go in this direction.”