Alive & Well’s Matt Vernon Discusses Growing Up On The East Coast, New EP’s Structure, & More
Last week San Diego pop punk/rock band Alive & Well released their latest EP, From Basement To Beaches. We had the opportunity to chat with frontman Matt Vernon (center, in the photo above) about his origins on the East Coast, the narrative through-line of the band’s latest EP, and more.
Check out our interview below.
You’ve been playing music in one form another for quite some time, what was the turning point for you in your musical development that led to Alive & Well?
I was playing music on the East Coast, half of my time was dedicated to an agency band that played bars and casinos and the other half was in my original group that took its cues from banks like A Day To Remember. Original music is always going to be what fuels me and when I started to see that the other members of that band were starting to aim their lives towards having families and buying homes I knew it was coming to an end. I felt stagnant in almost every aspect of my life and wanted to make a dramatic change, I knew it would be a good test of character and if it went well or if I failed miserably, I’d probably get some songs out of it. I made a conscious decision to start writing in a more straightforward way, less of trying to keep myself and my band entertained, but more to write songs that would hold together over time. The result of that gave me all the materials to put together From Basements To Beaches.
There’s references in your music to moving from the East Coast, do you consider yourself “embedded” in southern California, or (still) a transplant? Do those feelings, one way or the other, work themselves into your style?
I’m coming up on 4 years of living in California and I still feel like a transplant, there are so many drastic differences out here from what I grew up with back East and I wonder if I will ever feel any different. I do feel like I am home though and only because of the struggle I went through in my first year out here. I feel like I earned my keep in California and that plays a huge part in my attitude and certainly helped shape our style.
There’s quite a difference, especially on “No Winter in the West” from your first EP, The Escapism Sessions, to what we hear on this new release in terms of production value and overall maturity in the sound from track to track. To what do you attribute that change in two years? Was it producer-driven? Or something personal that you wanted to impact the music?
The biggest thing that contributed to the change in quality between the first release and From Basements To Beaches is that we made a decision to cut no corners and spare no expense on the new EP. The first one was self released and recorded in a friends garage and it sounds like it. FBTB was recorded and engineered by Beau Burchell who is a a guy that whether you know it or not, you’ve probably been exposed to his work whether it be from his own band Saosin or his mixing and engineering work from bands like Moose Blood, The Bled, and The Bronx. Because we were all such fans we worked very hard during pre-production to get the most of his expertise. He helped us really take the songs to the next level, and from a vocal standpoint the mix that came through the headphones was so exciting that I feel like I was more inspired and gave a better performance because of it. I also feel it was better the second time around because when we put out The Escapism Sessions we had only been playing together for a few months, we had yet to learn how to play off on another and we were still developing the band’s chemistry.
The EP’s final track, “259 Park Drive”, is an interesting one as it’s practically two songs in one. Did you ever consider expanding the last 90 seconds into a standalone track?
I had thought about it when I had just written the last riff, but that song is by far the most important one to me and once I had played around with the idea of ending the song and having a balls-to-the-wall tag at the end I felt like it was a perfect ending to not only the song but to close the EP out. I use that part of the song lyrically to cut out the metaphors and flat out thank my friends for everything they did for me at that time in my life.
Was is it always your intention to have a set through-line conceptually for the tracks on this EP? Did that make it any easier or more difficult to write?
It wasn’t my intention to write a semi-concept album, but as I anticipated, the move stirred up a lot of thoughts and emotions and since I spent my first year in California broke as hell, I had plenty of time to write and these 4 were the first ones that came together. I think it made the process easier, I could of sat back and combed through all my life experiences and wrote other songs but since this was happening to me in real time, while I was writing, the songs have a sense of urgency, determination, panic, and hopefully honesty that I hope resonates with people.
Do you think that you would look at future records in the same way? Perhaps you already have more material – is it important that it all relates to a central theme?
No, I think from this point on now that there is a steady line-up you’re going to see more of Mike [Mule] and [Eric] Brozgold’s voice and influences come through as they help out a out in the arrangement phase of the new songs. We definitely have more material. We couldn’t record it for budgeting reasonsm but we’re eager to follow this EP up in 2017 with a longer EP or hopefully a full length if we can get the bread to pay for it. I don’t think we’ll have such a direct theme in other records but we try to keep an overall message clear in everything we write: We’re here for a good time, not a long time. Keep your head up and have a good attitude and fuck anyone who tells you otherwise. We’re spitefully optimistic.
Speaking of which, with this EP
set to release in a few weeks out now, are you already looking ahead to what’s next? What does the rest of 2016 hold for you and the rest of the band?
We can’t help ourselves when it comes to future plans, we are constantly scheming away at the next steps. Once we put this EP out our plan is to take the show on the road and get it in front of as many people as possible for the remainder of the year. We try to go over the top with everything we do and we set the bar pretty high getting to work with Beau, shooting our first music video on two coasts, building the entire set for our album art, and landing some huge show opportunities so going forward we’re really going to have to work hard to keep that momentum going. But we have some cool things in the works already.