Interview with Matt Kadane Texan underground legend


Matt Kadane is a history professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in upstate New York, and a member of the bands Overseas (with his brother Bubba, David Bazan, and Will Johnson) and The New Year (also with Bubba). In the 1990s, the Kadane brothers led the band Bedhead. Matt’s one of about three musicians in the world whose every project interests me. I especially like his singing, which sounds sincere and seems to share my main concerns. We spoke outside a walk-in refrigerator on the floor of the Parish that’s between the “Underground” and the main stage. Had really loud music not been performed on the “Underground” stage while we recorded, this would have been an audio interview. – Robin Sinhababu

When you were living in Dallas, did people have an impression of the music scene in Austin, that it was this or that way compared to Dallas?

Our label was here in Austin, so we were down here playing all the time. Dallas bands – like us, anyway – when we started playing, there weren’t a lot of bands like us. We were part of a completely hardcore label in Dallas called Direct Hit. And then Trance Syndicate was sort of a hardcore label, and then they had lots of us other bands that did not sound like us at all, much harder or aggressive. We found ourselves sharing all these bills with bands that sounded nothing like us. At the time, 1991, ‘92, ‘93, and slightly beyond, we were the only remotely quiet band that played guitars. So that was sort of strange. We would play in Dallas, in Austin, in Houston, and none of the identities of those cities meant anything at all. So I don’t know even know what it means to talk about a Dallas band or an Austin band. Texas was a different story, and that meant something. But to be a Texas band, meant to be kind of a hardcore band, it meant you sounded like the Butthole Surfers, or whatever was associated at the time with Texas. We didn’t fit, but that was our world, our touring circuit, and the bands we shared bills with. And those people were all pretty open-minded about quiet bands.

Do you miss it?

Texas? I miss a lot of things. I don’t desperately miss it. I miss my family. But the heat..actually, the heat doesn’t really bother me, and I like the dryness of it. I do think Texas is pretty stressed right now. There are water problems, and it’s not getting any cooler. It may be getting hot to the point that it’s not as productive agriculturally as it once was, so I don’t know if Texas, even though it’s a hotspot right now, will be able to be itself twenty years from now.

That’s dismal.

It is, but it’s just the way the world works. I mean, the fucking Sahara was once a grassland. Maybe they’ll build pyramids right along I-35. Everybody rushes to the corridor to try and scrounge up resources.

I don’t know about that.

The Governor will be like a Pharoah, and he’ll force everybody to drink beer and build the pyramids.

Have you had many fanboys or fangirls in your college classes over the years?

No, not many. I think the student body is relatively mainstream, so they wouldn’t know about this kind of stuff. But then again, the internet opens up really easy access to all kinds of stuff. There have been people, over the years, who have known about music, and occasionally I’ll get student evaluations, those things that are written anonymously, you’re not supposed to know what handwriting looks like, and students don’t put their names at the top, to evaluate you. And five or six students have said things like, “I really like your cover of ‘Disorder,’” and that’s always really fun.

Do you think that’s a good cover?

It was tossed off.

Was that whole record [Bedhead’s 1994 4songEP19:10] tossed off?

It was a little tossed off, honestly. I mean, it wasn’t…those were songs we cared about. It’s funny, we were just at dinner, and we were talking about my brother’s [Bubba Kadane] really big scar on his left arm, and one of the guys we were having dinner with said, “Bubba, where the hell did you get that scar on your arm?”

So my brother told this story about how he was in this really horrible car accident. It was really terrible, he nearly lost his arm and lost his life. He was on the highway, he was going 80 miles an hour, the car flipped. His arm got outside of his car window and got really torn up. But had he not had the seat belt on…his car was just completely smashed. This was 1986, I was in high school, I think it was ‘85 actually. I was just messing around with this mixing board that we had, I was miking up the drums, and I just got this incredibly photo-realistic – that’s a mixed metaphor, but you can fix that in post.

Yes, I can change the meaning of words with Audacity.

This incredible reproduction of the Martin Hannett drum sound. And so I thought, “Fuck, I gotta record ‘Disorder.'” Cause this sounds just like the drum sound on “Disorder.” So I recorded [imitates opening “Disorder” fill] you know, the drum track is as faithful to the original as I possibly could, and then I did the bass, and I did all this stuff, and my mom called me, out in this back house where we had all our music stuff set up, and said, Bubba’s been in this horrible accident. My first thought was, “Fuck. He’s gotta come do the guitar part on this amazing cover of ‘Disorder!’”

He nearly died, so it took a really long time to finish that cover. After we had made the first Bedhead record, we had these songs that were kind of leftover songs from that record, and we didn’t really want them to be on the next record. So we thought, let’s just record them, to get them down for posterity. And then we’ll just have them. We weren’t thinking about releasing that record. We thought, best thing we should do is just get one really good mic, so we can do it all really quickly. We had enough time on tape to do one more song, and we thought, let’s do that cover of “Disorder” we were messing around with.

It’s an okay cover. I actually really enjoyed playing that song, because that band meant a lot to me, and still means something to me.

And to millions of people.

And to millions of people, which is by itself really shocking, because when I was a kid listening to that band…no one knew about Joy Division. What’s startling to me is, I discovered them not long after Ian Curtis had died, and to me, it seemed like Ian Curtis had died eons earlier than the moment I discovered New Order and Joy Division. And the fact that Control was such a big movie, and people are really into Joy Division, it’s just really strange.

Were you into Classics as a high school student? As an undergrad?

I was, actually. I thought I would do my Ph.D in Classics. And my Latin was good, but I never really worked on Greek. My French was good, German was a problem. You need to know those four languages, and so that kind of held me back. And it was more than that, I think, I didn’t really think I would flourish in the field of Classics, given where it was at the time. And probably given where it still is. It’s very focused on really particular things.

Those songs “Foaming love” and “Dead language” –

Well, those two songs are reflective of that interest. “Foaming Love” – I don’t think I’ve ever admitted this to anybody, because I’ve always wanted someone to discover this – that song has lots of hidden references to different versions of Aphrodite. Anahita, and Ishtar, and all these things, and those names are the first lines, form the first words of most of the first lines in that song. So I was really into baring references to –

Did you have a crush on her?

I did.

Do you have a crush on her?

I still do.

Does your wife know about this?

Yeah, and I – [looks over my shoulder]

There’s no one there! You’re trying to change the subject!

[Points at recorder] Can you stop this for a second?


Just for a second?

No, it’s a juggernaut, and it’s a –

All right.

I liked how you tried to sabotage this thing by putting something on the table to make it noisy, and now I’ll have to edit that out.


Yes, just clap your hands when you want something to be deleted.

Okay, that’s a good point, that’s what I should do. But I was really into – I still am – stories from antiquity, that whole era, and my very romanticized perception of it. My mom used to read Edith Hamilton to me, so I think I have that kind of sense of antiquity, and for that reason I think I never should have been a classicist, because ultimately, when you start to do serious, advanced graduate work in Classics, you get into really particular issues that wouldn’t have done it for me.

Was the first Bedhead show at an art opening?

It was, actually. It was in Austin, at an art opening. We were all living in Dallas, and this guy we knew had an art opening at the Dobie Theater. So we played a show there. And I think the next night, My Bloody Valentine was playing on that Loveless tour, and we really wanted to see them, and they were playing only in Austin, so we played our show, went to see them, and felt sort of inadequate about ourselves.


Yeah, it was about volume, and about creating this overall sound. I mean, we were playing in the lobby of a movie theater, and I don’t think we had a PA. I think I had a mic plugged into the guitar amp.

How did people respond?

I think people liked it. I actually think that was a really good show. There were maybe 50 people there. You know, we had played music before, and Bubba and I had been in a bunch of different bands. In fact, he and I were going through a lot of pictures today, for other reasons, and we were laughing as we came across all these pictures of us around then, because we looked so much younger. That was the first time people sat down when we played. This would happen with Bedhead a lot, people would sit down. And it wasn’t a club, and there was no booze, and in those sorts of settings, people pay attention.

Was [Silkworm guitarist] Andy Cohen a guitar player in Bedhead for a time?

No, he played guitar on the first New Year tour. We had all of these extra guitar parts, so we needed a fourth guitarist. And for maybe the first several years of The New Year’s existence, we toured with a fourth guitarist. But Andy was the first fourth guitarist. We had a lot of people playing fourth guitars, actually – John Engle from Codeine played for one show, Vanessa Harding played guitar one night.

It’s a thing people want to have on their resume.

It is. “I was in the New Year. Isn’t that enough? Can’t I get a job?” No, that position has been occupied by lots of people.

the-new-yearThe New Year

One other thing I read was that you were trying to approximate the sound of string instruments early on in Bedhead.

Yeah. Bubba and I had played with our very good firiend Mitch McKay – Mitch and his brother Josh had this band called Macha. Mitch is an amazing drummer. So Bubba and Mitch and I wanted to flesh out our sound, so we knew someone who knew this violin player. And it was this woman named Martie Erwin, who went on to be one of the Dixie Chicks, if you can believe that.

Under a different name?

Martie Seidel, yeah. I think she got married. So, we were used to the sound of this stringed instrument, and we had asked this other guy to replace Martie when she went on to do more full time stuff with the Dixie Chicks. And we started reorganizing the band, and really missed that sound. I had been playing bass in that band, and we thought, well, if we get more guitars, we can approximate that sustained note that you get from a violin or viola. So that was the original incentive for doing that.

You know, the one time I hear it clearly is in the last song, “The Present.”

Oh, right. Well, in there, we were deliberately trying to imitate that particular thing you can do with a stringed instrument with the bow. That was different. I think originally, we just wanted long notes. So if there was one guy who could make long notes, the other guys could do the more arpeggiated stuff. And you just can’t do that without a lot of guitars. I guess all of us at different times were doing the part that you might associate with the violin or viola. But just having the extra hands was what was cool. And I think we were probably only thinking about how this was connected to a stringed instrument for a couple years, if not a couple months.

You’re writing lyrics for other people in [new project] Overseas, right?

Yes, some. I’ve never done that before, but it’s totally cool. I like it.


Does it feel weird?

I thought it would, but it’s been kind of liberating, actually. Why? I don’t know.

Well, let me ask you this. How do you feel about your singing voice?

I hate it.

You hate it?

Yeah. I detest it.

Stop that.

I actually don’t hate it.

You have to admit, it’s good for the kind of lyrical territory you’re covering. If you were trying to be Robert Plant up there, it might –

Yeah, yeah. I really like to hear people who can sing well, you know, and sing all over the place. I don’t think I’m giving away some kind of Overseas secret, but the lyrics for the song “Help,” I wrote, and I love hearing [David] Bazan sing that. I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine singing that myself. The whole Overseas thing is really hard for me to put into words right now. I’ve been going back and forth with [Codeine drummer Chris] Brokaw in these emails he’s been sending me, “So what’s it like?” and “How’ve the shows been?” and I’m just able to say things like “They’ve been great.” “They’ve been fun.” Like what the fuck? There’s got to be more to it than that.

What’s it like to be in a relationship, especially a serious one like marriage, and write songs like “The Idea of You?”

Oh, well that song was actually written mostly before…when a previous marriage was falling apart.

Did you get any grief over it?

No, I don’t think so. To me, the song is kind of about base lust, but also a recognition that so much of that base lust is also about an idea, and about this typically, I think, exaggerated idea people have had about the object of that. So it’s not really about anyone, or any thing that you would ever make material. Why would I get grief about it, because I sound like a pervert or something?

No, who doesn’t want to hook up with the girls in the back of the room? No, I didn’t realize that it was written during a previous thing that was falling apart. I’ve known songwriters to – like [Silkworm guitarist] Tim Midgett’s been with the same lady for a long time, right?


And he’s got these songs that are about all kind of romantic difficulties, and I’m like, Jesus, who else could that be about, but –

Yeah, and it’s hard to see that stuff being about Vickie, who I love, and who’s the most even, stable person in the world. But I think in some ways, you get started on something because of some particular thing that happens, and you get carried away. And your imagination takes you places and all of a sudden, you’re writing about something else. Everybody in Overseas is in a happy marriage. And these songs are just about grief, and divorce, and relationship failure. I don’t know why. I find myself wanting to make music when I feel terrible. I find myself wanting to write lyrics, I should say, when I feel terrible, I’d say 70 percent of the time.

Sometimes I have an idea, or something that plays with language and I write it down, and that’s a very happy way to start a song, lyrically. But for the most part, there’s something that I’m agonizing about that makes me turn to music. So, I think the music that comes from that moment is an exaggeration of what’s actually going on. And it’s a way to deal with problems. If you tried to do a character assessment of someone solely on the basis of how they sounded in a confessional booth, you’d have a very different image of that person.

So a lot of songs that might even be confessional, or might come from people who associate the music they make as being generally confessional, is more than half driven by imagination and fictional character constructs. I mean, who is happier together than Tim Midgett and Vickie Hunter? I don’t know, nobody. But Tim can write great songs about troubling things. Although I think most of the really troubling things that Tim writes songs about are not really relationship things, but general life things.

Does Tim give good advice?

If I need really serious advice about something, Tim always gives me good advice. I mean, Tim is one of my closest friends, he’s one of my favorite people in the world, and he’s without a doubt one of the smartest people I know. So it’s always great to talk to Tim about stuff.

One thing I always liked is how you sometimes write the lyrics in sentences.

That’s true.

People generally don’t do that.

I do that sometimes; “18” is like that.

I was thinking of, like, “Alter Ego,” where it’s a paragraph.

Yeah. I like to do that. And you try and find the points where you can. So those are for me – and I haven’t really thought this through – those are probably the songs that come from an idea that you have that takes linguistic expression. You somehow express to yourself something in a coherent sentence. And then, there’s the song. And I think when I’m agonizing about something, I’ve probably resorted to a more standard verse form.

Is that because you want to obscure it?

Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe there’s something cathartic in rhyming, I’m not sure. I don’t theorize music at all. I don’t think of any of this stuff in a way that, say, someone who paints but who teaches painting in college might think academically about painting. I don’t think about any of this stuff really, ever. I just do it. And I have this great fear, and it’s probably rooted in this cliche that you can’t be productive artistically while you’re theorizing and you can’t be useful as a theorist unless you’re not a practitioner, but in any case that cliche that makes sense to me. So I have this fear that if I really start to theorize about this stuff, then I won’t be doing it. But I don’t think I’d want to theorize about it anyway, I just enjoy doing it.

People who are religious – from what I can tell – they don’t really like to be religious scholars. The most secular people I’ve ever met in my life are in Religious Studies programs. They’re the ones who will tell you how you can tear apart the Quran, or the Bible, or Talmudic scriptures. Those people are unbelievable, relentless.

You make it sound pathological.

Well, I’m grateful for them. They actually do a better job of deconstructing religion than anybody. But the faithful don’t need that stuff. They just need practice. And I think I like the practice of music a lot more than the theory of it. I’ve never read a book about music from cover to cover. That’s not what interests me, at all.

I’m not saying this is a stupid question because I don’t know how to word it, this may actually be a stupid question, and you should feel free to say so if it is. It may be just because you’re a man and singing the songs, and I’m a dude and identifying with them, but there’s something about especially Bedhead and the New Year’s music that’s always seemed very male to me, very masculine. Obviously I don’t mean in a Led Zeppelin kind of way, but there’s just something about the concerns and the internal monologue that just seems very male.

It does. I mean, we have like 75 percent, 80 percent of our audience is male. Less Bedhead than the New Year. Yeah, I don’t know what that is. I don’t know if it’s because we…so, I just checked my cellphone, and my wife sent me this funny message that made me laugh, so maybe this is relevant. Bubba and I played a show in Chicago, just the two of us, three years ago.

Not relevant.

It is. It’s hugely relevant. You’re not going to believe how I connect this to your question. We were on different sides of the stage. We’re never on different sides of the stage, but the amps we were borrowing were on different sides of the stage, and we were both too weak to move them to the other sides of the stage, so we just had to deal with it. We couldn’t budge them. So our weakness led us to a situation in which we were very uncomfortable. But that’s what we did, and so throughout that show I was just freaked out. The whole time. Everything sounded wrong, because I’m used to hearing him out of my left ear, and I heard him out of my right ear. I heard him out of the wrong ear the whole time; I was panic-stricken.

Basically, I think the show was fine; there were a lot of people there, a lot of friends of ours. We finished and we got offstage, and I was talking to our publicist at the time, who was with a publicist from another label. Our publicist said, “How’d you feel about the show?” I was just honest, and said, “Oh, it was fucking horrible. I hated this, I hated that, I felt terrible, I felt awkward.” I just basically revealed what I thought. And the other publicist, who was very young – and these are both women – was like, [cocky female bro voice] “You just gotta own it, dude. You just gotta own it, fuck this lacking confidence bullshit, just fucking own it!” Like, “Fuck you, you little Facebook generation fuck, I don’t want to own it!”

That, I think, is not really an answer to your question, but somehow we’re just trying to be who we are, and it’s just not appealing to so many people. And inevitably, a lot of those people are women.

So Clara just sent me an email saying just to own it. Good luck with the show tonight, own it. So that was the whole joke. It’s been our joke for a long time.

I’m telling myself that, about various things, all the time. Don’t you, sometimes?

I actually like when people are honest about stuff. If you’re having a hard time with something, you have a hard time with it, and that becomes an interesting moment. And if you witness someone having a hard time with it, this is like reading a great novel where a character is conflicted.

I don’t like this bravado. I actually am totally annoyed by that. I like when confident people are confident; I don’t expect for people who actually feel no self-consciousness to break down in public. And if it’s like a Chan Marshall thing, then that’s just nauseating, but that feels like performance and artifice anyway. But I think if someone’s conflicted, the expression of that conflictedness is interesting. Maybe artistically interesting, but ethically interesting for sure. And this is what we want when we read about people who we get excited by, and I think this is what we all want from each other, but somehow, in the Facebook generation, it’s social suicide to express weakness like that.

Did you come down to Austin a lot when you were growing up?

I’ve definitely been to Austin more times than I can remember.

Did you grow up in Dallas?

No, my brother and I grew up in Wichita Falls. He moved to Dallas before I moved to Dallas. And then for most of Bedhead’s history, I was in New York City, or Boston. I moved to New York in ‘94, right after the first Bedhead record came out I moved there. So that band existed for almost its entire life – post the release of the first LP – with us not living in the same state.

Was there much a division of labor between the guitar players in Bedhead?

Well, Bubba and I wrote those songs, and more or less said to those guys, can you play this, can you play that, and worked on it, and it gelled with what we had in mind and had gotten in a demo. So we determined who was going to play what on the basis of – I think this is right; these are questions I’ve never really thought about – what the amps sounded like on stage. You know, “You tend to play that sound, why don’t you do that part?” Tench [Coxe] tended to play more muted parts, tended to have a guitar sound that was much more subdued, and meant to be a kind of enhancer. Although Tench would also sometimes play bass, when Kris Wheat would play percussion.

Especially on the first Bedhead LP [1994’s WhatFunLifeWas], which is recorded more lo-fi, is it intentional at all that your voice hides behind the guitar?

Yeah, it’s partly intentional.

It suits the lyrical themes, to be sure.

I think so. Well, it’s entirely intentional, I guess – part of it was aesthetic and part of it was driven by self-consciousness.

That changed over time, yeah?

A little bit.

There was a Pitchfork review of one of the New Year records, I really liked how it began: “Musicianship is a disease, and Matt Kadane has caught a bad case.” I liked that, because I like statements that are true, but people who like or dislike the thing would probably agree with it. I thought, “Yes! I’m glad.”

That’s the only time in my life when I’ve actually responded to a reviewer. I fucking hated that so much. I didn’t give a shit about Elliott Smith, so to be accused of imitating Elliott Smith made me want to vomit. Not that I have a problem with Elliott Smith, but that was just nothing I ever listened to. We played with him, too.

Wait, so “The End’s Not Near” has nothing to do with Elliott Smith?


You don’t think it sounds Elliott Smithy at all?

I never listen to Elliott Smith! The only thing I can think about it that sounds like Elliott Smith is that we doubled the vocals, which I now realize is something he did.

What about the way you’re singing? [terrible imitation of Matt Kadane imitating Elliott Smith]

I’ve always sung that way!

You haven’t always sung that way.

I’ve always sung that way.

That’s not how “Foaming Love” sounds.

It is.

That’s not how that “Disorder” cover sounds.

Not every song has to sound that way.

So what’d you tell the guy?

Well, I’m kind of embarrassed that I responded.

You’re going to be embarrassed again when people hear this.

No, if anyone listens to this – this is not a statement about you – they’re not going to make it this far.

This is going to be the beginning.

Is it?

That’s the magic!