Meet Emperor X
The teacher turned one-man band.
Last week, a man ran through the Hapsburg area of Vienna kicking trash cans and singing really loudly at small crowds of people. That man was Chad Matheny, a former science teacher who ditched school to tour the world as a kind of one-man folk-band; roaming the streets trussed up like Dick Van-Dyke with an acoustic guitar, mic and a million other instruments strapped to him.
But the unorthodox approach doesn't stop there, he's also got a penchant for hide and seek. For his latest album Western Teleport, he buried 41 cassette copies across the US. Matheny says it's something about "attempting to highlight the death of the physical copy of music and the expanding role of marketing in the experience of art" but, y'know, hello! Treasure hunt time!
Anyway, I got to talking with him to about making it in the today's music industry, velociraptors and his habit of gigging in the most inconvenient of places.
Noisey: Hello mate. I was trying to work out where your name came from so, following a hunch I googled “Emperor X” followed by various Japanese video game companies. But I found nothing. Could you explain the origins of the Emperor X?
Chad: Late-night experiments with vowel rhyme in a depressing apartment in suburban Nashville. I just liked the way it sounded. And the X seemed kinda cool.
How's the tour going? Smelt anything weird lately?
Yes, actually! The other day I was in a Lidl in Gent, Belgium, and one of these packages was open and oozing something greenish, and it smelled virulent and alive, like the kind of thing that you'd put in your mouth and immediately vomit.
Nice! So, you've got a thing for playing unconventional places. What's the busiest location you've played?
Busiest, like foot traffic?
Probably the Times Square subway station, right in Midtown Manhattan.
I hear you've got quite an unsual method in writing your material too?
I tend to get seduced by a melody or a sound or a rhythm. Then I mumble fake English and record it and loop it until my brain hears it as real English. Then I write down those words and start to bang them into a sensible shape. That's by no means how I always work, but it happens a lot.
You seem kind of pissed off about music industry. By why? They give us so much cool shit, like Ke$ha!
I think it's an arbitrary hierarchy that concentrates cool points. It also does a lot of amazing things. I don't want to come across as if I'm complaining about the state of the music industry, because I think it's full of good people with their hearts in the right place who try their hardest to disseminate amazing work that would go unheard otherwise. But some fundamental assumptions people make hold us back from a real creative flowering. Those assumptions are invalidated more and more every year.
The two tendencies I notice mattering most are, on one hand, the increasing control an artist has over their work and how it is released, and on the other hand the diminishing financial reward or attention an artist can expect to receive for their efforts. But as always, clever, talented people will continue to find ways to get great work done in any system, just as they have since the beginning of the arts.
Lots of early classical composers were the court pets of brutal despots, and they still wrote the soundtrack of the Enlightenment. The affluent welfare state-inhabiting artists alive today are certainly luckier than they were, and we should expect ourselves to produce good results despite our music dissemination system's galling inefficiencies.
Do you reckon you'll still be doing this, in like, 10 years?
No, I see myself in Pyongyang, Unified Korea, running a record label that highlights the emerging avant-garde music scene in the former Communist North.
And who would you see yourself performing alongside?
Hmm. They would have to be fast, and have lots of stamina. I don't know...a velociraptor?
What places AREN'T you up for playing?
I haven't found one yet. My friend Sam Farzin is making a documentary about my friend and fellow music pal Stephen Steinbrink and myself on a day in which we played all over Orange County. We played in a beach cave, in a hot air balloon, a retirement home, and the inside of a Richard Serra sculpture.
Sweet, thanks Chad!