When he was a kid in the San Francisco Bay area, Matt L. Roar’s mom and dad formed a blues band with him on bass, his little brother on sax, mom on the keys and dad on guitar. A guy from their church, who would wear a hat with red lights on it during shows, played the drums. They would perform at watering holes out in the East Bay, and Matt’s dad would dress him up in a big coat and hat as a cheap disguise—to hide the fact that he was only twelve years old and hanging out in a bar. After growing up, playing in hardcore punk bands in San Francisco and the East Bay and later moving to North Brooklyn several years ago, Matt L. Roar is definitely no newbie to the indie music scene.
Equally influenced by a DIY punk ethos, modern rappers like Lil Yachty, oldschool hiphop (Wu Tang and Tribe) and the old timey sounds of Woody Guthrie’s wails, his musical project Golden West Service is an idiosyncratic blend of garage, punk, noise, lo-fi 8-bit and a number of other genres. On GWS’s newly released first full-length album When You Die, he collaborates with a variety of musical friends, including Tim Hellman (OhSees/Flat Worms), who plays guitar on three songs; Evan Smith (Russian Baths) who plays bass on almost the entire record, and Jah Jah Brown (local punk rappers Ninjasonik) does vocals on one of the tracks. His younger brother Aaron Rohrer plays sax on one of the songs, poet Marisa Crawford performs on another and, and friend Andy Del Calvo laid down some drums for the song Blackbird.
We chatted with him about his new album, and the best local venues to see live music (The Gutter, Silent Barn, Trans Pecos and RIP Greenpoint Heights).
GP: What/who are some of your biggest musical influences?
Matt: I draw inspiration from bands who mash up different genres. I love my buddy Jahjah’s band Ninjasonik, and Howardian, which is Ian from Japanther’s new band. I’ve had the opportunity to play a few shows with them over the last year and I think they rubbed off on me pretty hard. I love the way both of those bands smush together various genres and utilize elements of punk/noise as well as samples, beats, and other elements of hip hop music. Little Wings is a huge influence on my music. I really like him because so much softer singer/songwriter music you listen to feels canned and polished, but his music is still a little bit fucked up and dark or mysterious, even when it’s quiet and pretty.
GP: Your music seems to blend many genres. How would you categorize your music, and do you feel it’s necessary to categorize music these days?
Matt: I always have such a hard time answering this question. As someone who grew up listening to and playing hardcore punk, I feel like there’s always that sloppy/raw side to my music, but I really have enjoyed making more tonally and emotionally varied music the last 10 years or so. I think your categorizations are pretty on point. I think that categorizing music is kind of reductive and capitalist which is why we are all supposed to do it. It can help people find what they like, but basically, genre is an attempt to fit art into neat categories so that it can be marketed. That’s not punk at all!
GP: GWS’s sound is refreshingly stripped down. Do you think a lot of music is over-produced these days?
Matt: I think people make music that reflects their resources much of the time. I think DIY music, early hip hop, punk, noise, blues, jazz, etc, were created by artists working within the restraints of the tools and traditions that were available to them at the time. Some artists who still work in those traditions tend to not dive too deep into various computer programs/studio magic. Now obviously home studios and music software are much more accessible than ever before so it’s easier for people to “over-produce” without spending a million dollars. I think people truly believe that if something costs more it’s better, and that highly produced music sounds like money… But you listen to old records that were recorded in one take on magnetic tape and they sound amazing.
GP: Do you have local favorite live music spots?
Matt: I’ve played and attended super fun shows at [the] Gutter [200 N 14th St]. We had our record launch at Muchmore’s [2 Havemeyer St] this summer which was super fun. We used to love to play at Greenpoint Heights which shut down unfortunately. I love playing anywhere that’s intimate and embodies DIY ethics. I grew up playing at 924 Gilman St [in Berkeley] so I love clubs like Silent Barn [603 Bushwick Ave] or Trans Pecos [915 Wyckoff Ave] that are invested in building community and being accessible to young people in the neighborhoods they work in.
GP: How does living/playing in North Brooklyn affect your music?
Matt: I think there’s just so much inspiring creative energy here, so many bands, artists, taggers, skaters, creative people and spaces… I think the energy of this city finds a way into your art, no matter what you do. The clearest example I can think of is that when I played in San Francisco I’d often play with a nylon string guitar and a drummer playing brushes, and here I’m using 808’s blasting through a PA. That frenetic, anxious, excited energy is infectious.
GP: Have you seen the music scene change in the neighborhood?
Matt: I think in the last 8 years we have lost some really important venues, Death By Audio for example. I don’t really get why Vice couldn’t have tried to help them survive when they took over the building. I know they have heaps of money and have profited immensely from bands and artists who were supported by that venue. I think there’s a documentary about that though… I mean it’s so expensive here that it’s hard to make rent and have time to be an artist, and certainly venues are having a hard time. There are really cool spaces popping up elsewhere though. I mentioned Silent Barn and Trans Pecos which are both really rad/accessible DIY venues in Bushwick/Ridgewood. And fortunately venues in Williamsburg/Greenpoint are still finding a way to exist. Probably because people buy lots of beer.
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You can catch Golden West Service with Kid Midnight at Muchmore’s (2 Havemeyer St) on Monday, Oct 30th at 7pm. They may or may not play in costume!
Listen to GWS’s album When You Die here, and on Spotify.