MARTIN Schmidt and Drew Daniel are experimental US music duo Matmos, famed for building their songs from all manner of unlikely sounds and samples throughout their 15-year career.
For their breakout album A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure, the pair recorded the squirm-inducing sounds of surgical procedures and turned them into a danceable record.
With the recent release of their latest album The Marriage of True Minds, the pair are heading down under for their first-ever Australian tour, as part of the Sydney Festival.
The Star Observer spoke to Daniel about working with Bjork, the Matmos live experience, and couple fights on the road.
Q: Your studio recordings are made using so many unusual samples and objets. Is it sometimes hard to recreate the sound in a live environment?
A: We’ve learned the hard way. We tried to play this track using the uterus of a cow live. The one we had made the record with was airtight, and we could play it like a bagpipe. We got this other one to do a live show, but it wasn’t airtight – it had a hole in it – so it just sat there on stage like a giant, smelly condom. There’s a lot of trial and error as we figure out what’s going to work on stage.
But I don’t really relate to that model where you put out an album and then become a touring delivery machine to play those same songs to sell records. That’s not as compelling to me as presenting work I’m excited about, whether it’s new or old songs. Often we’ll bring a new object or instrument on stage and improvise a new song live, on the fly.
Q: Your 2001 album A Chance To Cut Is A Chance To Cure was a dance record comprised of the sampled sounds of surgical procedures. How on earth do you arrive at the idea of making a record like that?
A: I had a weird childhood: my father is a surgeon and so I grew up surrounded by surgery. Once we had a few records under our belt, I felt like it was time to stick my neck out and look back on the circumstances in which I grew up, and make music out of that. We thought, people are already afraid of surgery, so it’s not very interesting if you make the music sound frightening. Can you turn it into something funny, silly or lighthearted? That was the challenge.
I like that people can experience the music on their own terms, and then where they find out what it’s made out of, it changes for them.
Q: The first time many people would’ve heard of Matmos was when you worked on Bjork’s 2001 album Vespertine. Did that feel like a real turning point for you?
A: We’d played to crowds of maybe a couple of hundred people, then suddenly we were with Bjork playing to festival crowds of 60,000. It was fun and scary, but Bjork was very good at bringing us along without forcing us to be anything we weren’t. She pushed us to work at things like choruses and chord changes – I got a real songwriting bootcamp from having to learn her music.
Q: You’re a couple as well as a musical duo. Are there challenges and benefits that come along with that?
A: We just had our 21st anniversary. We face questions every gay couple faces – how do you define the rules, what you want and don’t want? As a band, we have this incredible opportunity in that we don’t get alienated from our partner; we don’t go off on tour and have this big life experience we haven’t shared with each other. Martin and I know each other in this weirdly telepathic way because we’re together all day every for months on end.
I do feel sorry for the engineers and sound guys in venues, because we roll up and we start having a couple fight about how we want things to sound, and I don’t think straight dudes in bands really do that!
INFO: Matmos play at Sydney’s City Recital Hall Angel Place on January 15 and Melbourne’s Howler on January 19. www.sydneyfestival.org.au