Singer-songwriter composer Matt Siffert had a few minutes to speak about his new CD ‘Cold Songs’, a great follow up to his last release Morningside. Matt has a show Friday, Feb. 1st at 8 PM at ZirZamin in NY. Details on the bottom of the page and on the website link.
CM: What is ‘Cold Songs’? It sounds like the songs are a cycle about break-ups.
Matt: ‘Cold Songs’ is a collection of songs I wrote and arranged for myself (voice) and string quartet. I started writing the songs after three crappy life events happened; a break-up, a job loss, and a health scare. Expectedly, I was in a dark place emotionally. But these events were so serious that I ended up splitting my cognitive attention; my logical side sorted out the problems, and my creative side moved on. More specifically, my creative side moved on to newfound love, growing up, nature, ego, and other topics it had previously been drawn to. But now I had a new, darker lens through which I could view these topics. And it is this lens that defines the material on ‘Cold Songs.’
CM: Is the song structure an easier concept for you as a writer/composer than extended pieces are?
Matt: That’s a great question. I don’t necessarily think that song forms are easier for me to work with – there are pieces on ‘Cold Songs’ that don’t use the ubiquitous “verse-chorus” songwriting format – but I do thrive when writing pieces of short duration. My compositional method leans more toward the depiction of a subject – be it a scene, emotion, character, etc. – rather than the development of one. Frankly, I am less interested in telling linear stories than I am in depicting subjects clearly, creatively, and insightfully. In ‘Cold Songs,’ for example, there aren’t any stories that unfold, or plot points that happen. Instead, the focus is on what kind of characters and emotions are at play. To use visual art as an analogy, my compositional process is more like painting than movie making.
CM: The songs musically remind me of the songs Nick Drake did with string arrangements. Was anything like that an inspiration?
Matt: I was definitely inspired by musicians who combine folk-influenced songwriting with classical instruments. The biggest influence in this respect was Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate, which so tastefully balances the two. But yes, Nick Drake contributed, as did The Beatles, Paul Simon, and Rufus Wainwright. I also relied heavily on classic pieces from the string quartet literature, including works by Schoenberg, Webern, Dvorak, Beethoven, etc.
CM: Where are you hoping to take the songwriting from here? Any thoughts of doing a work for the stage?
Matt: Another great question. I recently was lucky enough to meet with Corey Dargel, a brilliant songwriter and composer whom I’ve admired for quite a while. He listened to my music and noted that many of my songs are in some way connected to romance. He asked me a challenging question: “What would a Matt Siffert song that had nothing to do with love sound like?” Though I started to explore this notion on ‘Cold Songs,’ I will be exploring it further on my next solo project, delving into new kinds of subjects, scenes, and emotions that live outside of love and romance. By doing so I will also be able to explore new musical materials such as instrumental configurations, forms and styles, etc.
It’s funny you bring up doing work for the stage; I am actually going to spend the summer developing a new project with a friend/colleague who runs a theater company in Philadelphia. We are both interested in making art that has clear emotional and thematic implications without using explicitly linear stories. So, we’re going to see how music and live theater can work together to create an experience that presents thoughtfully created characters that are handled in a way that operates outside of the “A then B then C” mode of theatrical storytelling. I’m excited to see what we come up with!
Friday, Feb 1, 8 PM
30 W. Houston St, NY