Matt DeMello & The Significant Looks are available on Bandcamp.
by Matt DeMello
I’ve known some members of my band for almost a decade, and this lineup, in particular, feels like a real coming together of different characters from across the stray, crazed plot lines of my life. As with all my friends, there’s a handful of records that come to mind with each of them, but if I had to narrow it down to one for each member, I think the list would look something like this.
West Side Story OST (Spotify)
I despised little league sports as a kid and in my struggle to find an activity acceptable to my parents, I ended up in a stage version of West Side Story for a local community theater group in the suburbs of Providence in the summer of 1997 at ten years old. I was given Arab’s solo in “Gee Officer, Krupke”. My partner (Significant Looks vocalist Jennifer Nordmark) and I watch the 1960 film every summer, right on the solstice. Which is it’s own unique experience, as the score was created specially for the feature itself because the original 1955 pit score had been lost before the film began production. She took me to see the New York Philharmonic perform the score a few years ago. We had just seen Brian Wilson play the Pet Sounds 50th anniversary shows in McCarren Park — and I didn’t weep (yes *weep*, as in, wiping entire sides of my arm in mucous and snot from my face every 15 or so minutes) nearly as much at every fleeting note as I did for West Side Story. There’s the platonic ideal of Lydian scale in pop (“Maria”)… the wild, Smile-level chord progressions of “Tonight” and “Somewhere”… the James Bond/rat pack vamp and Stravinsky-esque cacophony of “Cool”… the mini-operas in the reprises… the Springsteenian dancing gangs picking a rendezvous for the night… all “scratched into my soul” as the great lyricist Craig Finn would say. I think he and Sondheim would get along.
Third/Sister Lovers – Big Star (Spotify)
A few years ago, I was in Memphis with my girlfriend and she convinced me to drop Jody Stephens, legendary Big Star drummer and nicest guy ever October 2014 award winner, an email asking what he was up to. He was kind when I had him as a guest on a music and current events podcast I hosted for BTRtoday the year before, spending two episodes asking the most probing questions about Third/Sister Lovers I could. But I truly felt the meaning of ‘living in the present’ getting a guided tour of Ardent Studios from Jody later the next afternoon. “Fucking magical” doesn’t quite sum it up correctly, and I’m not sure anything really could. Their music means so much to me, but Third/Sister Lovers is my north star: as happy as it is sad, chaos as much as it is orderly. It bleeds what it wants, the most bitter poison and the sweetest syrup. Not a lot space in between, though. We visited Graceland the day before, and Elvis means so much to me on a totally different level. There was still something even somehow more sacred and mysterious about going to the place where they made Third/Sister Lovers than the place where they don’t let you go upstairs because that’s where the king of rock and roll died on the toilet.
Return to Cookie Mountain – TV on the Radio (Spotify)
The first full incarnation of the band did a sort of Pink-Floyd-covering-“Sultans of Swing” version of “Wolf Like Me” on my first mixtape. Significant Looks vocalist Liz Wagner Biro came to me with the idea to record for her partner and my best friend in the universe (big shout outs to Tim Dillon). But this caught me the summer after my first real relationship ended and I moved to New York for three months in the summer of 2007. It’s entrenched in that time for me. Some people are OK Computer people, but I really think more highly of Return. Maybe they’re two halves of the same coin, like Velvets & Nico and There’s A Riot Going On. It’s a record I also share with my brother, who was side-by-side with me through punk rock and Bad Brains in high school. I don’t think that’s all a coincidence, all these different kinds of sounds and people being interested in the same things. His 18-month-old daughter, my god-daughter, appears to have a pretty innate sense of rhythm. Paul McCartney feels so strongly about Pet Sounds, he makes sure his kids have a copy in every format, as soon as it comes out, to stay “musically educated.” As her godfather, Return may be the only music I enforce on her. Or let’s put it this way, if she ever asks, “Uncle Matt, what music came out while you were alive and mattered to you and dad the way Sgt. Pepper’s matters to grandpa?” I will tell her, “This.“
The Grand Wazoo – Frank Zappa (Spotify)
We did “Eat That Question” for our single release show and – in full, even with the marching band section – for my 30th birthday show last year. I just love it as the ideal “fuck off” anthems. My drummer, Roo O’Donnell broke his wrist the show prior to the first performance of the song and I (being a committed Zappa fan) wrote him a full score of what I had in mind for the drums and said, “We can take it down a notch if you think you’re doing damage to yourself, but I want to communicate clearly and exactly about everything, exactly as your playing it — if only for your well being.” It was fine, he nailed it. We bond over a lot of music: Big Star, Andrew Bird, Nuggets, even Bare Naked Ladies and a lot of 90s radio running-errands-with-Mom suburban pop stuff. But what really impressed me is when he pitched himself as producer for our latest single. He said that in my debut album, “I could hear you making your Astral Weeks, now let’s go make your Moondance.” It’s a pretty lofty comparison. I mean, I try my best but I don’t know about being even in the same zip code as channeling anything that meaningful. But what it really hit me in that moment was that we shared the way we think of music. Or he could at least hear what I wanted to accomplish, whether or not I have a prayer of getting into that sort of territory. But I knew that already, from the moment he put his body on the line for a fucking Frank Zappa cover. Albeit, the closest Zappa ever came to “Iron Man”/“Seven Nation Army” levels of simple/bombastic…
Frances The Mute – The Mars Volta (Spotify)
It’s not a cool record. They’re not a cool band. But Frances The Mute was all I was listening to when I got to Quinnipiac University in 2005, in search of better musicians to work with than the emo-drenched suburbs I had popped out of could offer. That’s when I met Alex Busi, who nine years later would produce my debut album, There’s No Place Like Nowhere. We connected over ‘cool/good’ music — Sufjan, Lightning Bolt, Pinkerton, Modest Mouse, Dylan, Wish You Were Here — more than anyone I had met before. On campus for four years, we never quite stuck with the same band for that long but we always bent over backward to help each other out, get each other shows, and always promoted each other’s original work. All along the way, we always looked at each other from afar and said: “you’re doing exactly it, man.” We talk about still executing ideas we had over a decade ago, like giving my high school band’s debut double LP a ten-year re-release with a Raw Power-style all mixed in-the-red cassette tape master, which we finally got around to back in 2015. When we made No Place, with compositions like 14 minute long concertos and other completely over-the-top ideas, he would start ProTools project files that ended up with well over 100 tracks on them. Yet it was much earlier that I had a feeling he would go to the farthest edges with me. And it was when I knew he had such great, impeccable taste… and still loved Frances The Mute too.
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