Mr. Golden Sun is led by Matt Hamer, a singer-songwriter and instrumentalist who describes his music as "folk songs trying not to sound like folk songs." In this interview, Hamer describes the evolution of the songs on his brand-new Central States EP, what he learned from recording it and how fatherhood inspired the songs.
Introduce yourself. Describe your music for new listeners.
Mr. Golden Sun is the name of the songwriting project I’ve been working under for the past couple of years. Live, we’re a four-piece at the moment, but a different group of musicians tracked the parts I couldn’t play on the EP. The songs are the blueprint and we flesh them out with whoever is around and available.
Sonically I guess you could call most the material folk songs trying not to sound like folk songs. I’m really keen on combining organic sounds with more inorganic/mechanical ones. So we’ll pair really dry acoustic guitars with a repetitive Motorik drum machine beat, or add some jacked up synthesizer noise to something more consonant and natural. It mirrors the lyrical content in my opinion: lives that on the surface seem banal being only a thin wall away from something that disrupts that entirely. We get comparisons to Wilco and Neil Young but also stuff like Slowdive or The Sea and Cake. So I don’t know what to call it. I’m really selling this, aren’t I?
Describe the journey to Central States EP. How long had you been living with these songs?
I guess the seeds of it go back a bit. I moved to Kansas City in 2015 from Wichita and the band I was in at the time broke up. I was toying with the idea of reforming it up here, but the types of songs were coming from a really different place and deserved a fresh start. The scope was shrinking. I wanted to tell smaller, more intimate stories. Looking at the EP as a whole, all of the songs are about people feeling trapped by either decisions or their environment, or in other kinds of desperate situations. I don’t know if that’s just neuroses bleeding onto the page or if it’s just fertile ground for storytelling. Probably both.
What did you learn from the recording process that you’ll take to future projects?
A lot. We did drums and vocals in proper studios but I recorded most of the other parts myself in houses and churches and other less traditional spaces, which was pretty slow and felt like banging my head against the wall a lot of times. When it came to mixing there were some challenges cutting out muddiness because I tracked a lot of things that took up similar sonic space. I like midrange sounds a lot apparently and sometimes they step on each other’s toes. But as it is I’m pretty proud of what we made. I’d love the luxury of just rolling into a studio and banging out a record in the future, but this was a way more feasible way of working this time around.
Describe your creative process. Are you a heavy editor of your work or do songs come fairly quickly?
I feel like I’m still developing a real process. I do think I’m getting better about trying to get the bones of a song done and then going back and making adjustments, but there are a lot of factors that can scare a writer away from putting pen to paper when it isn’t perfect yet. There have been a few times where it all feels magical and like stanzas are coming out fully-formed and I’m discovering something that already existed. But most of the time it’s just putting in the work until I have to decide that it’s done. Talk to me in a year, maybe I’ll have it figured out.
How has fatherhood inspired your music?
All of these songs were written while I was a dad (my oldest is 4) though nothing recorded so far references my kids directly. I’ve got at least one song in the works now that’s more explicitly about fatherhood, so we’ll see if that ends up getting a life on the outside. They influence everything obviously, but it’s hard to write about them a way that does justice to that relationship. Even more so than it is with my wife, Meg.
Songs like Heavy Water and The Comedian are essentially controlled freak-outs about the world we’re living in currently, and that anxiety has definitely intensified since I’ve had kids. You start thinking about what kind of world you’re going to leave them, and at times it can seem pretty bleak. Though I’m happy for the world that it gets to have them in it. They love everyone and everything, and that gives me hope.
What’s ahead for you in 2019?
We’ve got shows coming up and are booking more. And I’m writing a lot. I’m sure a lot of stuff will happen this year that I can’t predict or plan for. So I guess we’ll figure that out as it comes.
Gilead by Marilyn Robinson. Probably the book I recommend more than any other one. It’s a stunning meditation on fatherhood, forgiveness, faith, and doubt. I needed it when I found it and it’s the book I’m most likely to reread in the future. It also falls into what’s becoming my favorite genre of fiction that I call “old man reflecting on his life”.
Tenth of December by George Saunders. One of the best collections of short fiction that I’ve ever read. It’s funny and tragic and masterfully crafted. The title story and Semplica-Girl Diaries are highlights, but the entire things is gold.
Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. Lewis’ final novel and a bit of an anomaly if you are familiar with his usual fare. It’s a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche and it’s super
Rear Window (dir. Alfred Hitchcock). It’s amazing what Hitchcock pulled off having the entire film set inside a single apartment. Suspenseful and super fun. Plus you get Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Have some friends over and watch it together. With snacks.
Take Shelter (dir. Jeff Nichols). This is maybe the best depiction of the anxiety of these times. What do you do when you think you see the end of the world on its way, but might also be going crazy? The storm’s coming, but at least Jeff Nichols and his protagonist portrayed by the great Michael Shannon see it too.
Boyhood (dir. Richard Linklater). As a child of divorce who grew up in the 90s/early 00s, this captures the feeling of my childhood more than any other piece of art I’ve ever interacted with. Though the details are different, watching the characters grow over the 12 actual years it took to film is like watching your own family change.
The Party by Andy Shauf. I became obsessed with this album at the end of last year. Lyrically fantastic, masterfully arranged, and the engineering! Try and find a better drum sound. I dare you.
FLOTUS by Lambchop. Another record I listened to non-stop when it came out. A great example of a veteran band who isn’t afraid to keep experimenting into middle age.
Made Possible by The Bad Plus. The opening song “Pound For Pound” is one of my favorite pieces of recorded music, and this is one of my favorite jazz trios. It’s a little on the “out” side, but there’s beauty and rage and possibly humor in there, and the songs actually have a structure even though the tether gets stretched quite a bit. Their use of subtle electronics to augment the acoustic instruments is also right in my sweet spot taste-wise.
The Agent Intellect by Protomartyr. Aggressive and witty and catchy post-punk wonderfulness. Joe Casey is one of my favorite lyricists working at the moment and they just come up with the most propulsive songs. If you’re looking for some catharsis, these guys are my current go-to.