A few years ago while I was surfing the interweb for places to play shows I came across a website in Minneapolis about the music scene I’m into. There I met none other than the man himself Matt of Caustic. We didn’t chat much but we said our hellos. Welcome Facebook, and as it turns out Matt and I got a long pretty well. Then he signed to Metropolis Records the biggest independent label out there focusing on the music that both Matt and I like and create. So then it was time to finally nail down an interview with Matt for this blog. So with out leaving you hanging any longer I present to you Matt of Caustic and the Interview.
So let’s start this with a bang.
Since you’re still very underground in major media circles please tell my readers a bit about who Caustic is, how you’ve gotten to where you are at today?
Well I’m the sole member of Caustic when it comes to the creation of the music, but I frequently collaborate with other people, especially live. I live in Madison, WI and originally was a DJ and promoter but started making electronic music about a decade ago. I’m very hands on and have maintained an extremely high DIY aesthetic, even when signed to labels. I’m a workhorse and have been fortunate enough to connect with a nice chunk of people through my albums, live shows, and blogs/rants.
How do you think the music of Caustic is best described to someone unfamiliar with your work or the genre in general?
I guess the easiest and broadest way to describe it is “industrial,” but the style/subgenre really depends on what track you’re hearing, as I tend to switch up styles within that framework. One track on an album may be more EBM and the next could be breakcore. One of my favorite things about Caustic is remaining consistently inconsistent in regards to style. There’s definitely a “Caustic sound”, but since I’m such a mix of influences and styles track to track I jokingly call the genre I do “Jizzcore,” of which I believe I’m still the only artist in there. Or wants to be.
You’re a very outgoing person and very vocal about the things you like and dislike in music, art and politics, do you think this helps people identify with you better and create a tighter bond between you and your fans?
I believe in having an opinion as an artist. Not necessarily on everything, but I tend to vocalize mine a lot to engage people in discussion. I’ve revised my opinions and changed them when confronted with a good argument on whatever I was bitching about, and I like facilitating those discussions in my blogs and rants on art and music. I don’t tend to write political pieces, though I talk politics a lot on Twitter, but mainly regarding politics in Wisconsin which are a mess right now.
Mostly I want to try and make artists (and sometimes fans) to think more critically about what they do and the importance of it. 15 or so years ago I started doing improv comedy and one of the most important things I learned from the guy who taught me was to always question why you do things artistically, and why they are or aren’t needed. That was so helpful to me in terms of me making creatively fulfilling art. I won’t say every song is some masterpiece of originality, but I know that I came from it with a fresh perspective or at least was able to learn something new from doing it and made Caustic what it is today.
I hate people settling for mediocrity creatively and I hate people who can’t rise above their influences. It’s very common that a new artist will sound like an amalgam of the artists they love and that’s fine, but if someone can’t get past that and find their own voice then it’s hack and a waste of everyone’s time. At any time and place people are going to be influenced by What’s Hot Right Now, and that makes some sense, but I think it’s really boring to create music using that as a main parameter. I mean why the hell are you doing it at all if you’re just going to sound like a copy of a copy of some bigger band?
This is a problem mainly for up and coming artists and “middle tier” established artists, so I hope that my blogs and rants can speak to a few of them and inspire them to take the road less traveled. I think they’ll make more interesting music even if it means you sacrifice a few fans that can’t understand your music because they’re stuck in the mindset of What’s Popular Is All There Is.
Maybe I should keep my mouth shut though– I’d have less competition if I did…or really thought of music as “competitive”;)
The internet has become instrumental for artists such as yourself how do you use the internet to connect with your fans and future fans?
Basically if I didn’t have the internet Caustic would never have gotten off the ground. It was because of my presence on the internet that my first labels saw what I could do in terms of mobilizing fans and getting the word out there. Honestly if I started this in the mid-90s I don’t think my first album or two would ever have gotten out. Selling music like Caustic’s, especially the more amorphous stomp vs humor noise tracks I was doing early on, would have probably been pretty difficult, but I was lucky in that the first label I was on (and this is a credit to Mark and Christian from Static Sky) they saw that I could do what I was doing with or without a label, so I was a more “safe” bet in comparison to a lot of other artists who were either just making music and not thinking critically (or maybe as obsessively?) about how to build a fanbase.
The internet allows you to be as DIY as possible. It’s just putting in the time and knowing how to communicate what you are effectively…and get really lucky in the hope that people enjoy what you do.
You often times use a lot of self deprecating humor, how important is humor to you in the music you create and the message you want to get across to people?
At first humor and the self-deprecation were used as a means to convey my normal personality– I’m not much different in person than I am online– but also as a defense mechanism because I knew I’d get a lot of pushback from asshats who would automatically hate what I do because it didn’t sound like Hocico or VNV Nation or Converter or whoever was (and I’m a fan too) great.
Basically I also recognized the approach of the vast majority of artists in this genre were to seem angry and “hard,” when most of them are about as dangerous as any random computer nerd hoping their computer doesn’t crash from overloading the processor. It’s hysterical to me how so many artists posture and pretend that they’re badass when we’re all primarily gear dorks, be it analogue or “virtual” gear.
Frankly I’ve toned down the self-deprecation stuff over the last few years because it’s kinda lame having “success” and still sh*tting on yourself all the time. I still get plenty of crap from people, most of it joking, and while I think it’s gotten kind of old it’s not the biggest deal. I set up this playing field so I have to play by the rules I set up, y’know?
While we were growing up, I’m sure you had dreams of being a rock star and standing on stage in front of thousands of people and singing your songs, the reality is that only happens to a very small percentage of artists in the world, so where do you find your satisfaction in Caustic?
Hell, I wanted to be a comic book artist when I was a kid. My only problem was drawing the same image over and over again.
With Caustic it was always a crapshoot. It was always “how far can I take this joke?”, even when it got to be less of a joke (to others- I always took it seriously, or at least just wanted to have fun and get better) and more of an honest-to-goodness artistic thing.
And honestly my main satisfaction comes from creating the music, when I’m crafting the tracks and learning new things and figuring out what I want to say with it. At that point all that matters is what I think. I love getting the actual music out there as well and it’s a great feeling if it connects with people on some level, but the simple plugging away and creating without any opinions other than my own is just a great feeling.
You signed to Metropolis Records for your latest release, Metropolis is probably the biggest label handling your type of music, why did you chose to go that route in this day and age especially with how DIY you’ve been about your music in the past?
When I conceived of the concept of The Golden Vagina of Fame and Profit a year or two ago I set up the parameters of what I wanted to do with it. I wanted it to be a big, polished “club” CD where I raised the money to make it, as I’m pretty much broke and up to my ass in debt, and I wanted it truly to be as “big” as possible in terms of release, and for that I needed it to be on the biggest label in the scene, which is obviously Metropolis. I could have done it completely DIY like Trail of Vomit and can always do that, but I wanted to make a statement with The Golden Vagina and that was how I envisioned it. Also, there are very few things as funny to me as getting on the most beloved label in this scene (which I love, too) and be able to give the finger to a million asshats who don’t get or like Caustic in the process.
Hell, even if I only put out one album with Metropolis it’s been a great experience and helped get Caustic out there more. I never figured I’d even release one album when I started this, so it’s all been gravy since Unicorns, Kittens, and Sh*t.
How do you think living in Madison Wisconsin affects the music you create?
The Madison, WI electronic scene has been one of the most interesting in the country, in my opinion. We’ve had everyone from Stromkern, The Gothsicles, Null Device, Stochastic Theory, and Sensuous Enemy come out of here (to name a few, and that doesn’t even get into breakcore artists like Abelcain and Anonymous doing stuff in other genres) and each one took elements of the “standard” genres they could be grouped in and warped it into something really individual and personal. I think that’s mainly because we were all encouraged to be whatever we wanted, as there wasn’t the same scene bullsh*t like in other cities where the most “accessible” bands got to open for the touring acts or anything like that. Why? I booked the vast majority of the shows, and I LOVE how original all of the artists here are and gave as many as I could a chance to shine and get on stage. When you aren’t jockeying for position and whining about every lost chance you could have had in your microcosm then it frees you up a lot more to just be CREATIVE and have fun with it.
The competition thing here never really stuck. We all helped each other out and encouraged each other, be it with production help, remixes, playing shows, or just hanging out and bullsh*tting. A bunch of the artists that started here have moved away, but we’re all still friends and the same aesthetic still lives on here with everyone who are still around.
It’s a really nurturing environment, and that’s pretty much it.
You’ve had a very public struggle with addiction and getting sober, now that you’ve been sober for some time, how do you feel when you are creating?
It’s been a revolution for me, mostly because I’m concentrating on learning more about production and focusing on the actual MUSIC more than getting f**ked up all the time. Frankly I think the new album speaks for itself, especially when you compare it to Trail of Vomit, which was written to be as “non-commercial” as I wanted and was sent out to get mastered right before I hit rock bottom. I love how that album turned out, but the desperation I felt doing that one versus the happiness on the new one, to me, speaks volumes.
You can get a lot more done when you aren’t hating yourself every second of the day for not being able to stop self-destructing.
Do you ever doubt yourself when you talk about your sobriety and find it cliché to talk about it?
That’s actually a great question. I really don’t find it to be clichéd at all because I’m only speaking for me and my experience, but I’m sure to someone who is sick of hearing about it (and I try not to talk about it as much, as I don’t feel it’s necessary to discuss now that I’m more used to it and have a little more time under my belt) it’s clichéd as hell. I mean an artist just BEING an addict/alcoholic is as clichéd as you can get, right?
Basically when I quit I realized I needed to be open about it, primarily because I thought it was important that people knew I wasn’t “that guy” any more and also because I knew if I messed it up I’d have to confess that, so it added another layer of ownership to the whole thing. I also didn’t want to act like I was ashamed that I had a problem, because even though I know I’m not some big rock star I do have some people that actually look up to me for whatever reason, and if I could help one of those people get out of a personal hell like I had that’s the least I could do to start repaying all the love and support I’ve gotten from my family, friends, fans, or whoever.
Again, I try not to talk about it as much because I don’t want to be that annoying prick who always has to bring up how they finally woke up– if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s humility, so I’m just trying to let my actions speak louder than my big, stupid mouth for once. Well, at least in regards to my alcoholism. I won’t shut up about pretty much everything else.
When you and I were originally setting up this interview it kept getting delayed and you said that “it’s fine, this isn’t a race” and I thought that was pretty interesting, where do you see Caustic in 5 years from now? 10 years from now? Do you think you can keep doing this or do you think you have an expiration date?
I think about that myself sometimes. I’ve gone through a lot in the last few years and have thought about ending Caustic a bunch of times, especially when I quit drinking since booze and all that was such a big part of Caustic. I quickly realized though that *I* am Caustic and I define Caustic however the hell I want, and that’s part of why I love the project. I can make a jacked breakcore-ish track like Redneck Pussyhouse and then a slower, sexified joke track like Lady Business and it’s normal for me. It’s almost expected to anyone who has listened to me before.
I have no idea when Caustic will end. As long as I’m having fun and pushing incrementally forward and think it’s worthwhile then I’ll keep going. Luckily the blogging and all the other stuff I do folds in with Caustic as well, so there’s a real synergy between everything that I think helps keep it interesting for me as well.
My joke has always been that I’ll treat Caustic like the Dread Pirate Roberts and just pass along the name to someone one day and they can continue Caustic. I find the thought of that hysterical.
You’ve done a lot as an independent artist, toured with some of the biggest names, become a sought after remixer, played Europe and done some huge festivals, what has been your greatest achievement in your eyes?
Knowing that I’ve helped get more people into making music and the music THEY want to make means more to me than a lot of that. I’ve loved having the privilege of traveling and performing all over the country and to other countries as well, but trying to keep the mess of Caustic going with some integrity and letting people know that you don’t have to have years of training to make music or ANY type of art as long as you’re dedicated and passionate. It doesn’t mean anyone will care or you’ll get popular for whatever you make, but that’s not the point. If I wasn’t able to express myself creatively I’d have probably killed myself by now, so I think it’s vital to encourage that in others.
I want to live my life like characters in war movies that, right before they head into a battle with insurmountable odds, take a moment to just say to the others that “It was an honor.” I just want to remember that every day about all the people I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and become friends with because of Caustic, as it’s truly been an honor to know and work with them. I’m endlessly grateful for what I’ve accomplished and the luck I’ve had with what I do, regardless of how much money I make or don’t make or if I’m the biggest or most popular.
Caustic’s always been about the ride, to paraphrase Bill Hicks.
You’ve been talking about new songs you’re working on, the new record feels like it just came out, do you ever take a moment to relax and enjoy your success or is it back to the grind stone after every release?
I’m sure it’s a common feeling, but after creating, marketing, and promoting a new album it feels like you gave birth to creative triplets. I was so numb and depleted that I didn’t think I ever wanted to make more music, but then I just start dinking around and the ideas start to flow again. Since I don’t really have the ability to tour for a year on a new album because of job and marriage responsibilities it allows me to hop right back into the studio and keep going.
Creating isn’t a chore to me– I love the process. So I’m always working on stuff, whether it be new tracks, or blogging, or organizing all those blogs and rants into a book like I have been the last month or so. I mean why turn off the spigot if so much great stuff is flowing out of the artistic faucet, right? Even if I don’t release it or whatever it’s just something I always enjoy doing to get out of my head.
And “success” is a relative term. I’m glad the album got an amazing response– really, I was blown away by it– but I can’t just say “okay, that’s it!” and call it a day, because the challenge to myself is always greater than anyone else’s opinion. The new stuff I’m working on isn’t as clubby. It’s still catchy and fun, but I wrote my “club album” and I don’t feel like repeating that right now. Sure, some of the new stuff is clubby but like I mentioned earlier I can jump styles a lot and so I’m exploring that more. I have no idea if anyone will like it because I refuse to limit myself because of past successes or failures– I make what I make.
Basically if I’m not scaring myself with stuff I’m trying then I know it’s not worth doing. I think every artist needs to have that siren going off saying there’s potential danger, otherwise you’re just coasting, and fuck that.
I really like the new album, to date it’s your most focused and accessible, do you think that is because of the sobriety?
Definitely. Like I mentioned earlier not thinking about getting f**ked up all the time gives you a lot more time to work on stuff that’s actually important, and honestly I also needed every healthy distraction I could find at that time. I had the parameters set up going in (and this was before I got sober) and so it was just a matter of writing lyrics I thought were worthwhile and figuring out how to write solid hook. Luckily I had Sami/Faderhead helping me in that department in that I’d send him tracks and he’d offer suggestions or just tell me it was sh*t. That’s actually how White Knuckle Head F**k came about– he was hating everything I wrote so as a joke I wrote a “Faderhead” song because I knew he’d like it. He did, so I decided to use it, even taking it further by letting Sami “Faderhead” it up even more and adding some guest vocals.
What’s most ironic about White Knuckle Head F**k is that it’s both my most derivative yet my most personal song on the album. Go figure.
What’s next for Caustic this year? Any shows planned?
Maybe a few local gigs. I’ve been fortunate to get offered a lot of fests and other gigs all over the place, but for the time being I just want to stick around the ol’ homestead and spend some time being a “normal” person for a while.
Mostly I just want to get some new merch out there– it’s been a few years since I had any new shirt designs, so I’ll be putting out the STOP SAMPLING FULL METAL JACKET design and hopefully another hoodie this year. I’m organizing my book of rants and blogs as well and plugging away on the new Caustic, Causticles, and Prude albums where needed, too.
In today’s age of technology and digital downloading do you think labels are even necessary anymore for distributing music to an audience?
They aren’t necessary in the slightest to put music out there, but if you want people to actually know about it labels are still a damn useful resource. I wouldn’t have the distribution I have now with physical CDs (which I still love) if I was doing it solo. The main reason I love labels is that there are people to help share the workload and other people that are a lot more knowledgeable than me who can work certain aspects of the marketing or whatever better than me.
A group effort succeeds better than a solo effort if you’re trying to get word out.
Tell me about Prude? I know it’s a project with Jared Louche of Chemlab, where is this project at and is Howie Beno as sexy in person as he sounds online?
In 2006 I met Jared at Black Sun and we, much to my drunken surprise, hit it off. We talked back and forth over email and he kindly helped me out with an intro on Booze Up and Riot, but when he started seriously suggesting we work on stuff together it was a tremendous honor. We gathered some other troops and started putting music together, at the beginning based off some rough skeletons of tracks I’d written and later on with other guys like Phil DiSiena and Marc Plastic putting stuff together. Unfortunately due to our respective schedules and lives it’s been an incredibly long process getting the music out. Dan Clark from The Dark Clan was working on mixing the album but with him being even busier than Jared and I combined we lucked out to have Howie offer his services, so we moved everything over to him.
I’ve actually never met him in person, but I imagine he sounds like Phyllis Diller in real life. Or maybe I’m just weird. I’m really excited to hear how he warps our stuff, though. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever heard, so I’m excited to hear the reaction to it.
Last question: This is your soap box question, often times artists get asked repeated questions by every outlet and are never given the opportunity to really speak about something that’s personal to them, whether it be related to their music, related to other art they create or about their personal lives, here is your opportunity Matt to get up on a soap box and talk about anything that you want to talk about, what does my audience need to read from you? It can be personal, political or about your art but this is your chance to cover anything I missed.
Don’t waste your life.
Look Caustic up on the Web:
Posted under Interview, Music