Emperor X On Stock Responses And Performative Marketing
Chad Matheny, the quasi-local , geocaching rubber band spewing figurehead of Emperor X is performing at the Biliken Club on Friday (tomorrow) with So Many Dynamos. We spoke with Chad about his finally released album Western Teleport and the inner workings of his nationwide treasure hunt Western Teleport Nodes.
RFT Music: Happy release day!
Chad Matheny: Thank you. It's weird, because the barrier between making an album and not making an album with me is almost non-existent. It's very fluid and it's a continuous process, so this isn't really a stopping or starting point for me. The album's out now and it sort of feels like a regular day. A very busy regular day. At this point, you're the third interview I've done today. That's a lot for me.
For the last few years, most people who interviewed you were very familiar with your music and were the instigators. Are you finding that has changed now that you're putting yourself out there and inviting more press?
I'm really pleasantly surprised because it's been very casual and people are very enthusiastic. It's not awkward at all. People are being very nice and the questions they're asking are very informed. It's not like "Where are you going on tour?" "What do you write songs about?" "What kind of music do you play?"
Have you actually been asked what kind of music you play in a real interview?
Yes! My stock response is "acoustic rave," which means and says nothing about my music so I probably shouldn't say it. I'm not acoustic rave, and I'm not trying to invent a genre. But if that was a genre, I think I'd like it a lot. Actually, I think acoustic rave is just a fancy term for a drum circle.
Let's talk about the Western Teleport Nodes project. Most artists who get interviewed can relate to the excitement of going on tour or releasing an album, but how does it feel when somebody finds one of your nodes?
That's the best, that's better than anything. That's better than getting a good review or somebody writing to say they like my music. This kid from San Diego wrote me an email because he was walking around his campus and saw this messed up looking purple cassette tape. Now he's heard the music and he likes it, and it's such a unique way to connect with somebody. And this kid from Tucson he saw me post about the nodes while he was in a class on his laptop. There was one in Tucson, so he closed up his laptop, left class and ran to go find it. You bury them thinking nobody's going to find them. Six of 41 have been found at this point and I'm thinking it's gonna tap out soon. I'd always thought ten of them would be found, maybe fifteen, definitely not twenty. I'm rooting for certain songs to be found over others, so far it's a lot of the weirdo songs that have been found. But it's a random sampling, so I don't mind that
Were the tapes sent out at random or did you designate certain songs for certain cities?
Totally random. I am getting more response in cities where I've played and done well in the past, which isn't surprising. But most of them that have been found by people who weren't in my audience. It makes me wonder if there's something inherent about kids in that city that respond to what I do, where they're finding these even though they weren't necessarily looking. Who knows? I could have put my favorite songs in the cities where I have fans and friends because there would be a better chance of them being found. I could have stacked the deck that way, but the simple fact is I put them in a box and sent them to people and said "hide these."
Who actually hid all the tapes?
Bar/None [New Jersey label which released Western Teleport] works with the Alternative Distribution Alliance, which works with Warner Brothers. Warner has a street team type thing called WIA. I don't even know what that stands for, but they're like the kids I used to go to college with who would hand out fliers on campus and hold listening parties for Built To Spill records. WIA takes a few ADA releases every month to work and they picked mine.
This is interesting, because you've essentially got a major label doing your press, and you're telling them to literally hide the music rather than make it as visible as possible.
I know! They were surprisingly on board. A guy involved had always wanted to do something involving GPS and marketing, but he'd never heard the right idea that resonated with him. It's very important to me to have a hand in how this record is presented. In the '30s and '40s when records came out, they were completely artless. The labels were done by sweatshop graphic designers, and it was like logo, done. Some flowers in the background, done. Now, people look at the album cover as part of this multimedia work and it has come into the domain of the artist. I think similarly we're seeing a transition where the marketing of the album is coming into the domain of the artist. I think this will become a performance art aspect of how albums are marketed, especially now that the physical product is less important. I think things are dovetailing into some kind of confluent thing where people have to have a performative aspect of their work, and it's a good thing.
A word you've used a lot in the past few minutes is "marketing". Coming from your super DIY background, is this out of your comfort zone?
I don't feel tension. If you're selling your music at all, it's marketing and it's capitalism. You have the chance to use marketing to dilute or increase the potency of the record, why not choose the second option? You have that choice, all people have that choice and it's difficult. But that's the duty of any artist right now. I think that's hugely important that people interact with people in a different way. Old media isn't going to cut it anymore. Every aspect of the art is a piece of the experience. It's all about process, man. Process. You know, Lichtenstein and stuff.
If you have to choose, do you consider the Western Teleport Nodes to be an extension of the art or is it part of a sales gimmick?
It's part of the album, there's continuity and harmony between the gimmick and the art. It's a gimmick, but it's not important that it's a gimmick. If it was like a Scion ad campaign, it would be disingenuous. Or if it was a Reel Big Fish record with GPS coordinates, it wouldn't make sense. That is, unless Reel Big Fish makes a really profound record about latitude and longitude.