Matt Doty of Saxon Shore

Interview by Joseph Kim, 2/17 - 2/20, 2005

Saxon Shore is a band that is definitely making some of the more vital instrumental post-rock around today. They have put out several recordings and toured extensively, including two national tours to date, an amazing feat considering that the band's members live hundreds of miles from one another. I had the good fortune of getting them to come and play at our party on 2/11. While I was expecting a mellow and atmospheric performance as suggested by their studio recorded tracks, I was instead caught off guard by a viscerally pummelling assault of heavy guitars and washes of electronic sounds which were more frazzling than relaxing. Witnessing the Saxons unison head-banging with an autistic fervor, I knew I had found the subject of my next feature. I caught up with principal songwriter Matt Doty, and the following is the result of several email exchanges.

What's your hometown Horseheads like?
Horseheads is a small village in the southern tier/upstate NY and was named after the first settlers found the skulls of horses arranged along a trail that ran through the area in 1789. It's generally quiet though and not as morbid as the name implies.

How did you get into playing music? And what are your musical influences?
My parents would often help promote and work at small music expos when I was growing up. Being around those kind of people I'm sure had an effect on me. I was also raised in an evangelical Christian home which prevented my exposure to a lot of the music and activities others my age did at that time.. I remember the first time I heard Nirvana though was on CNN and I was just completely in awe. It was a consistent string of events from there following my first guitar and attempting to transfer a decade of training on classical piano into this new instrument.

Have you played in or do you play in any other bands?
I did some guitar work for a band called Elkland last year, pretty much just writing and recording guitar parts for their EP and full length due out some time this year and a small amount of touring. They're also from Horseheads and we all grew up together so when their guitar player quit right before they started recording they asked if I'd be willing to help out. Saxon Shore is my main focus now since we took most of last year off to kind of sort/settle things out.

Saxon Shore seems to have members who live in several different states. How did you meet the guys in your band?
I met our current drummer, Steve, a few years ago when our bands were playing shows together in the NY area and I met Matt Stone, Josh and Zach Tillman, Oliver Chapoy and Will Stichter in a similar fashion. I think that's been pretty consistent for us.

You also seem to have had many lineup changes, with members who have come and gone. What are the constants in Saxon Shore?
Josh Tillman, our former drummer, was pretty much the cofounder of Saxon Shore with me, though I've always been the songwriter. At this point I'd say it's a collective of sorts with almost a set of live members and a set of recording members.

Does Saxon sound very different today than when the band first started? Could you describe the evolution of your sound and the intentions behind each record or phase that you went through?
I think our sound has naturally progressed into what it is today. Our first album, Be a Bright Blue, was very simple with guitar, bass and drums and the second, Four Months of Darkness, added more textures and electronic elements while the new EP, Luck Will Not Save Us From a Jackpot of Nothing, was based heavily on analog keyboard sounds and minimal programming.

How do you guys manage to be so prolific and tour as often as you do with members living so far apart? I had a similar situation with my previous band- we'd meet only 3 or 4 times a year and crank a bunch of tunes on the spot- barely enough to put out a record once a year, and we never played out. How does songwriting and rehearsal work out for you guys?
In the past it's always been somewhat stressful since we never toured with the same members twice. We also lacked a reliable vehicle which is something we've just recently taken care of. The members are a little more centralized now as far as being in the Northeast area. We're still a few hours away from each other, but it works.

Download 8.23.03 (live) by Saxon Shore

Maybe it's because you were playing new material when I saw you, but I got the impression that your live shows and your recorded material represent two very different sides of the band. Namely, your recordings are sort of mellow and explore delicate textures and instrumentation, whereas, live, you guys are extremely heavy and even a bit brutal. Can you account for this difference? What are your objectives when performing live as opposed to crafting a record?
I think that's something we're looking to take on for the full length as far as some more aggressive material, but it will be balanced with our gentler side. Also, a lot of our songwriting in the past has been committed to tape/hard-drive before we really get to play the song live and work out the feel/dynamics of it, but we've already started demo-ing the songs for the new album which is something we haven't done in the past.

I read on your site that you guys did the file-sharing thing in order to craft the recordings for your latest EP. Do you have any thoughts or comments about this way of working as opposed to working together in person with your bandmates?
Being able to just give creative input into something without 3 or 4 other people standing around trying to create their own parts as well was something new and it was nice being able to take as much time as we wanted to record. After we had things pretty much how we wanted them we took the album into the studio with John Hill for some additional production and mixing.

You told me Saxon Shore will be recording with Dave Fridmann this Spring. Congratulations! How did that come about?
We all enjoy Dave's work as a producer and think working with him will help expand the recorded sound we've achieved on previous albums. I think the first time we met Dave was at a show up in Fredonia.

What have your past recording experiences been like? Can you give us any insight into Dave's recording/production philosophy? I feel like with his records, there is some common sonic signature to all of them- not to the point where they all sound like they were done by the same band, but there is just something "Dave Fridmanny" about them.
We're looking forward to getting some quality time in with Dave. In the past we've recorded and mixed albums in 2-3 studio days and this time we get a full 2-3 weeks to get things sounding good. We'll still be doing a lot of the programming and electronics before we go into the studio just because that is very time consuming. Technically I don't know much about the whole recording process though. I have an Mbox which I know how to use and that's about it.

I'm not asking so much about the technical aspects of recording, as I am about any broader objectives you guys discussed as you explored a working relationship with him.
We haven't talked too much about the album yet because we're still getting our demos together. We'll probably get to talking about sounds after that.

Okay, my last question. With all the touring that you've done, you must have some crazy stories from being on the road. Tell us about the most horrific, or the best, show Saxon Shore has ever played. Also, how are you received in different parts of the country?
We're pretty well received along the east coast and midwest which are areas we've played a lot. We only made it out west once, but given the circumstances it was cool. Hmm, worst show ever.. There was a night in Kansas City where all the locals cancelled and even though we had like KCstar show pick of the week and all there wasn't a soul in the place that wasn't paid to be there. We didn't even bother loading in and drove all night to Minneapolis. We arrived there around 6am and if you've been to Minneapolis you know it's one of the coldest places on earth. We didn't have load in until 8pm or whenever so we finally got a hold of the promoter around noon and he let us come crash at his place. The thing about that was he was having his roof repaired that day so there were about 5 guys banging on the roof above while we tried resting up on his living room floor as dust and small pieces of sheetrock fell on and around us.

Thanks, Matt!


K.O.A. Zine