Like a lot of music fans, I didn’t discover Blue October until their platinum selling 2006 release, Foiled, hit the charts and radio airwaves.
I really loved that album and, looking back, if I had a Top Ten list for that year, it definitely would have placed high. If you’re a fan of expertly executed and thought provoking rock and roll, you already know they are truly one of the best, (and, in my useless opinion, most under-appreciated), bands working today.
Last weekend I had a chance to talk with the band’s bass guitarist, Matt Noveskey.
Matt was born in Adrian, Michigan, a quaint and relatively quiet town that, in some ways, could pass for Michigan’s version of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. Still, Adrian is close enough to both the college town of Ann Arbor and the rock and roll/Motown mecca of Detroit that the FM radio, especially when Matt was growing up, was rocking daily with homegrown legends as varied and diverse as Iggy Pop and Marvin Gaye. Thankfully, when his family relocated to Traverse City, his radio was still able to pick up the broadcast signals coming from some of the best stations of the day. No surprise, those musical influences were definitely felt in Noveskey’s very musical household. His uncle played bass guitar and sang in a touring rock band, his brother plays drums, and his grandparents played guitar, piano and accordion. Inspired by his uncle, Matt first started playing bass at five years of age and has been playing in bands since he was a teenager. When he isn’t touring, he now lives and works in Austin, Texas.
Pop Bitez: So Matt, what kind of stuff were you listening to when you were first learning how to play?
Matt Noveskey : Well, I grew up on a pretty weird cocktail of music because I have older siblings and they all listened to completely different stuff. My room in our house was in the middle of the hall and on one end was my brother’s room and then on the other was my sister’s. My sister listened to Rick James and Marvin Gaye and my brother listened to Metallica and Iron Maiden so I was a little confused. I was kind of like, “what do I listen to?” and so I was dippin’ into both and I was drawn to bass, before the guitar even, because I always loved that bass line. I loved that sound, I was listening to James Jamerson every time the Motown stuff came on.
PB: Sure, Detroit had some amazing radio stations back then.
MN: Definitely, WRIF and all of that great stuff. When I first started actually playing I was really into early alternative stuff, I was a really big Dead Kennedys fan…and The Pixies…early Jane’s Addiction.
PB: Who are you listening to now? Is there anyone that’s currently got your attention?
MN: Umm, good question. You know, I’m so behind on the radio right now, I don’t really listen to the radio much and then, whenever we come home, I’m always working and I’m also producing a lot of other bands and I listen to the music I’m working on so much that it pretty much takes over. Like I’m working with a guy from Houston right now, Aaron Cuadra, and I’ve had his demos for so long now I feel like that’s all I’ve been listening to. As far as acts that are really popular right now, I really love the new Arcade Fire, I think it’s really amazing and, not to jump on the bandwagon too much or anything, but I think MGMT is a really fantastic band. I really love what they’re doing because it’s fun, and it has some vintage sounds to it and you can’t throw it in a box and define it. You know, you can’t say “this is pop” or “this is alternative” and that’s what I like, because things have changed so much, there’s music out there you can enjoy and it’s not necessarily something that’s been handled by a label, you know, picked apart and processed.
PB: And then, of course, there’s the fact that you’re currently living in the middle of yet another very musical city…
MN: Right, and there are bands here in Austin that, in my opinion, are just as good, if not better than, a lot of the bands working on a national level and I’m just spoiled by being able to hear them all of the time. There’s a band here called Sounds Under Radio, they’re one of my top 5 bands and they’re right here in my backyard.
PB: Now, you’re going on your 11th year with Blue October is that right?
MN: Yeah, I joined in ’99, when I moved down here from Michigan.
PB: And it really hasn’t been all that easy of a ride for you guys, like the on-again/off-again relationship with Universal. Has it gotten harder do you think, with more success comes more problems and all of that?
MN: Well, I think that it all depends, success can do all kinds of things, it tears bands apart, you know, it makes some bands stronger and I think it’s just a big learning process. As far as the label stuff goes, you know, we’ve been so blessed, we couldn’t have done what we’ve done without a company like Universal. They brought us to a point where we could do this for a living, full time and, you know, that’s something to be grateful for, but things change, the whole industry has changed and, at the end of the day, the only people we really depend on are ourselves and our management, that’s it, you know?
PB: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Now the latest album APPROACHING NORMAL is a very different sound from the previous album, especially tracks like…hang on…I just drew a blank…
MN: “Jump Rope”?
PB: Yes! You knew where I was going!
MN: Yeah, I knew where you were going…(he laughs)
PB: I gotta tell you, I love that track…
MN: Thank you.
PB: Partly because it’s such an unexpected tune. Is it fair to say you guys were trying to lighten it up a little?
MN: Yeah, you know, FOILED was a pretty heavy record and when you listen to the whole thing from front to back it’s pretty emotionally draining, but it’s also a record I’m extremely proud of, I still love that record very much. With APPROACHING NORMAL, there are things about it I really love and there are also things about it I don’t. I don’t dislike any of the songs on the record at all, and we worked with one producer for the whole record which is great and, you know, Steve Lillywhite is a legend, but we’re also one of those bands that doesn’t like to be thrown into a genre. So it’s really good for us to be all over the place and do a couple songs in one place and then do a couple in a completely different environment with somebody who has completely different ideas and that’s how FOILED was. There were many different producers and many different studios and I think that contributed to making a really great record. Then with APPROACHING NORMAL we definitely did things a little more organized and when things come a little more easily you end up with a product that comes across in a way that seems safe in some ways and in other ways. The thing that I’m most proud of on the new record, is that we didn’t bend on certain things. At one point somebody said, “Well, you know, maybe ‘Jump Rope’ is too poppy or too happy for you guys,” and it was like, if anything, that motivated us to do it even more, you know, we want to push your buttons a little bit and see what we can get away with. At the end of the day, looking back, I’m really proud of the record and I do love the record, I just think it was tough for me personally because it was a lot different. It just wasn’t what I was used to, the process I mean.
PB: Have you had a chance yet to check out the line-up at the TEMPE FALL FRENZY? Is there anyone in particular you’re looking forward to seeing or talking with?
MN: Well, I haven’t seen all the bands that are listed yet but I know Weezer is on there and we did a show with them a few weeks ago in Omaha and they are so amazing live. They’re such a good band, they put on such a show and not only do they sound great but they have fun with what they’re doing and they get everyone involved and they bring people up from the crowd and, you know, they just blew me away. After being a fan my whole life and never getting to see them, getting to actually share the stage with them twice is such a blessing. So now that I know what they’re all about live I’m really anticipating the next show, I’m definitely excited about it.
PB: And you’ve got Primus on the bill with you as well. As a bass player is there a possibility Les Claypool might have been one of your influences?
MN: Oh yeah, a HUGE influence. I wasn’t schooled musically but everybody in my family pretty much played an instrument so, when I jumped on bass, I had people to play with and show me the ropes. My brother was a big Primus fan and so, I think it was when FRIZZLE FRY first came out, he knew all the songs, he knew all the drum parts, so I was actually thrown into it and I actually learned a lot of Primus material before I learned what notes I was playing. I was learning how to play things like “Tommy the Cat” and I didn’t even know what a chord was, so, you know, (laughing) I definitely did things backwards in that sense. The thing I love about Les is that he has this approach where he can be very groove oriented and hold the fort down, which he definitely does, but he sort of broke all the rules for bass players, you know? He said, “Why can’t the bass be the lead instrument here, why can’t we have fun with it?” I actually went and saw them many times when I was younger and the guy is just incredible live, unbelievable.
PB: Well, it sounds like you’re going to have a good time in Arizona.
MN: Yeah, I am. I’m definitely going to have a good time, I’m really looking forward to that show.
PB: Me too! Thanks for your time Matt, great talking with you.
MN: Yeah, likewise. Thanks man, see you next weekend.