An exercise in both self-restraint and reflection: An interview with Matriarch

Julia Spotts has had a number of releases in recent years as Mellified Men, some of which have been quite noisy, that quickly secured her a place in the Western Massachusetts noise scene. More recently, she has been active with her project Matriarch, about whose “Jeffersonville” tape it was said in these pages, “The album contains two elaborate tracks that integrate moments of scrappy distortion into a more intricate web of sound, and thus by no means remain reduced to noise.” This tape, with its nuanced, atmospherically dense sound, is an impressive debut and it seemed time to have a chat with Julia.

Maybe let’s start with a rather profane question. But could you say a few words about your creative development?

Change has occurred rapidly. I did not have a lot of focus regarding my sound, I was excited to explore and play without expectations while first creating a process and becoming more familiar with my gear. Later on, I fixated on control, aiming to restrain sound to support my vision, an exercise in both self-restraint and reflection— That is where Matriarch started, about a year ago. I began composing, and found myself drawn to a slow, fuller, intense sound. Emotion and visualization heavily informs my current work.

Are there any influences from other media besides music (literature, film etc.) that have shaped what you’re doing?

The majority of my influence comes from memory, reinterpreting moments in time- or their emotional dynamics- sonically. The sequences aim to envelop the viewer. That being said, film scores have influenced me quite a bit, their ability to control emotion and tone through sound is powerful. The nature of scores relies on a smooth, unassuming transitions that envelop a listener without direct attention being given to those changes. Scores have a dynamic and often gripping effect upon listeners emotional responses to stimuli; I aim to produce similar reactions in my sonic work.

When one listens to a project like Mellified Man, it is much noisier and more abrasive than Matriarch, “Sex/Withdrawal“ sounds particularly harsh. What made you turn to the “fraying electronics“ (as it says on the New Forces bandcampsite) of Matriarch?

This transition really came on as my intentions and vision changed. I aim to create reflections. My focus became less on making sounds I liked, and concentrated on capturing and curating strong layers of sound that contribute to a complete vision, one that conveys a calculated abstract atmosphere. There is a strong fixation on control in my current compositions. I am creating with the intention to both control the listeners experience, while also keeping a tight grip on each element of sound, refusing to let tension slip before its completion.

Could you say a few words about the central ideas of Matriarch in general and the “Jeffersonville-Tape“ in particular? Did you use other equipment for the recordings?

Jeffersonville reflects upon two experiences from vastly different periods of my life. Both of these events exemplified a loss of control in different ways. One, instilling a need to hold ideas and situations with a tight grip later in life, and another, a loss of self-restraint and subsequent turbulence. The name and art for this tape are the location where I began to understand the power of self-restraint and how it can be manipulated toward one’s intentions. This is a deeply emotional tape, a rendition of how emotion transitions through time when restraint and control is relinquished. The recording and live performance setups of this tape were identical, recordings were simply more polished, opposed to the occasional changes that can occur from playing in places other than the studio.

On the Mellified Man track “vyčistit“ it says you used “Various found objects alongside woodshed materials“. How important is/are the instrument(s), the material(s) you use?

At the time of working on that piece, I used a lot of different materials. The motley of possibilities that came from each object was integral to the sound of those pieces. I didn’t have a plan, I was letting my plan come as I made new sounds, playing saws like stringed instruments and banging hammers against sheet metal. This was really fun! Exploring should be fun! However, all that stuff is hard to transport. I really stick with a streamlined version of my old setup. It’s light, portable, and does everything I need it to. I don’t often use woodshop materials anymore, but I think they were irreplaceable in terms of the sound of Mellified Man.

I recently listened to White Centipede Noise podcast and the interview with Kate DeVoe (who does the Noise Widow magazine). She was asked whether noise made by women sounded any different and she then replied women were better at doing power electronics. I found that quite an interesting statement. People often think that power electronics is very much dominated by men who dabble in misogyny (though such people tend to forget bands like the sadly defunct Shallow Waters or Axebreaker (promoting more “progressive“ ideas) or female artists like Puce Mary, Pharmakon, Himukalt or Lingua Ignota – to name but a few). How do you perceive the role of women in noise/power electronics?

I don’t have much to say on the matter, really. I have no interest in dissecting the semantics of my gender related to the perception of my art, much less deciphering the social intricacies of existing in an underground space, it is minuscule in regards to the central idea of where my intentions and ideas reside. Some art may be informed by womanhood, some might not be. I don’t make power electronics, my input isn’t of worth in this regard. I make noise, but it has little to no attachment to my experience as a woman. I respect and appreciate those who make works informed by womanhood, and often, those projects shred.

On the New Forces bandcamp site it says that you have a “prominent position in the venerable Western Massachusetts noise scene“. What can you tell us about the noise scene in that particular region of the USA? Is there something that characterizes it and sets it apart from others?

Western Massachusetts is such a special place for the experimental and weird. By nature, it is spaced out, we are surrounded by farmland. Western Massachusetts can be lonely. It is a cold, desolate place, full of green turning to brown. The noise scene, however, could not be more warm. There is a certain culture to Western Massachusetts noise, it is really humble and welcoming. The people are kind. So many legends reside here, people like Jeff of Noise Nomads, Dan of Diagram: A, Erik of Scald Hymn. These people, who have done so much to expand the sound and culture of noise, are still found at shows, being kind to old heads and newcomers alike. New friends seem to become old friends with ease. People are welcomed by their willingness to listen. Shows may be small, but always comprise a crowd of eager and voracious individuals, looking to be enveloped in the sound of their peers. I can not say enough kind and thankful things about Western Massachusetts; It is humble and quiet and beautiful in nature, and so are its people. Western Massachusetts is inarguably special, a hidden gem. It is a privilege to be able to reside and create here.

What role do live performances play for you? Are they more important than the recordings?

Live and recorded compositions are pretty similar for me. My live work is all composed, just as my recordings are. The recordings tend to be more polished, with no real margin for error and scrupulous timing of each element’s ebbs and flows. Mostly, live works are special to me for their ability to surround and consume the audience, so loud the building is shaking and people unable to look anywhere but their feet, or the white walls around them. It’s more vulnerable, too. Playing in front of crowds, these compositions recounting the unease and turbulence of my feelings during significant snapshots of my life, can be gutting. There is a certain beauty in that vulnerability, though. It is something really special, there is no armor to be worn while playing in front of people giving me their undivided attention, I’m really thankful for it.

How much are you involved with the design of your releases?

For the most part, I am the sole designer of my releases, though I’ve started to let go of that. All my releases before this tape for New Forces were my design. Some I like more than others, looking back. For Jeffersonville, my only request was that the barn depicted on the tape was included in its art. The barn was important, it is the basis of the tape’s concept. I was really happy with the end result. As long as the art fits the sound, no matter who is designing, I figure I’ll be happy.

There are so many small labels releasing vast amounts of great music. Have you got any recommendations, personal favourites?

There are a lot of labels, so many that have really been impressing me lately. I must recommend New Forces, of course, the label has had a huge impact on me and its curated releases were heavily impactful on my current work. I really like Hot Releases, their curation is really consistent. Small Mercies, as well as Thousands of Dead Gods, out of NY has fantastic releases very consistently. RRR from Lowell, MA, though obvious, and also not actively running as far as I know, is incredible. The recycled series partially rules my collection, and had a heavy hand in my first explorations of noise. Cruel Symphonies from NY has been doing some really cool reissues and originals lately, it’s promising and young. Strange Material has been putting out great stuff as well, out of NY/Canada. Unseen Force out of Portland, OR has been putting out memorable psychedelic and modern sounding releases as of late. These are all great labels, it’s worth digging around and see who’s curation fits your taste best.

Is there any format that you prefer?

I gravitate mostly toward CD-Rs. The fidelity is impeccable, they are a little more durable than tapes, and are extremely portable. I like cassettes’ sonic range a lot, however. Lathe and vinyl are both great, but expensive production can be a hindering factor, though their warmth is really hard to replicate. I do have a really soft spot for the flexidisc, I really just find them so charming. All of these formats have their mixed qualities, but I certainly hold a preference toward CD-Rs.

Let’s also end rather conventionally. What does the future hold for your project(s)?

I am currently composing Matriarch’s second release set to come out on Absurd Exposition in 2023. I am leaning heavy into psychedelia, while keeping deep textures and monolithic sound an integral part of my sound. For now, I have no plans to continue making harsher noise under the name Mellified Man, however, I cannot say the project is dead, and I cannot say I will never revisit it. Though, if I do, it won’t be quite a long time.

Interview: M.G.

Photo 1:Videopunks Not Dead

Photo 2: Jane Pain