Sideline Spotlight: Matt Farley Talks Music, Comedy, New Songs in Interview

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Matt Farley is the most important musician you don’t know about. To date, he has released over 20,000 songs ranging from heartfelt love ballads to songs about email addiction. In fact, there is almost no subject that is unaddressed in Farley’s oeuvre. Farley’s utilitarian body of work has songs for every occasion, including 1,700 songs specially tailored to people’s names. As much as I would like to tell you how to approach and enjoy Farley’s work, doing just that would defeat the point. Farley has created an enormous rabbit hole that anyone with a Spotify subscription can fall down for – literally – years. His body of work does not tell one story, but infinite stories, each of which is intriguing in its own way. To be a fan of Farley’s is to be a fan of the little things in life, to be a listener of Farley’s is to observe how everything has a story worth telling, and who better to talk about Farley than the man, the myth, the legend himself?

What drives your creative output? Do you feel a commitment to the prolific level of output you’ve been practicing over the years, is it because you enjoy making music, or is there another reason?    

I love being creative. I feel like I’m wasting time if I’m not in the middle of a creative project. It’s just the way I’ve been since I was a kid. I’ve always been in the middle of a project. It quickly became apparent to me that the more I create, the more good stuff I create. Sure, I probably also create some sub-par stuff. But if I push through that stuff, I eventually get back to something I’m proud of.  

What’s the most frustrating aspect of what you do? I imagine it would be messing up towards the end of one of your repetition songs, like the songs where you sing someone’s name over and over again and then having to sing that name over and over again (again). 

I would probably just keep the error in the song if I slipped up a little near the end of a name song. That would just add to the fun of the recording! I’m most frustrated by the fact that very few people recognize the fact that I’ve written 100s of the greatest songs of all time.

You seem to thrive on the low-fi genre. Given the opportunity, would you scale up to a higher quality of production or instrumentation? Or is the folksy, ironic Mount Eerie, at-home quality of your work an important aspect of it for you? 

I don’t like big production. I feel like it lacks humanity. Of course, I’d probably use better equipment, given the chance. But I would still want to embrace the homemade feel that exists in the songs I currently release.  

With over 70 band personas constantly releasing new music, how do you separate your personal life from your Motern Media life? Is there a line, or are they the same thing at this point?  

I am completely obsessed with my own creative output. It’s all I think about. It’s all I want to talk about. I try to hold it in when I’m around friends and family so that I don’t drive them crazy.  

What inspires your different bands? What causes you to start a new persona and then develop that persona out?  

At first I made different bands based on the topics of the songs I was doing. Food songs were by The Hungry Food Band, poop songs were by The Toilet Bowl Cleaners, etc. It was a few years before I came up with the idea of creating drama and backstories for some of the personas. That just kind of came to me at some point.  

Why differentiate between your personas? Are the differentiations primarily for the genre distinction or is there also a character differentiation? I know you’ve begun fleshing out how they interact with each other, but are these all extensions of you or do you think of them as separate entities?   

I don’t remember exactly when I decided to delve into the backstories of these “artists” and “bands.” But once I started, it was so much fun. And it gave me a chance to release more serious complex songs like I had with Moes Haven. I just think it’s fun to use a discography as a way to tell a weird funny story.  

What can you say about Caniko Tucci? To some he may seem like an outlier with only one album and a more serious mood.  

I could have attributed that album to Matt Motern Manly Man, which is a name I use to release more serious albums like Caniko Tucci’s album. But that name presented itself to me (my wife and my 3-year-old made it up) so I figured “why not create a new artist?!” But I have several more serious albums, which I call my “no jokes” albums  Here’s the playlist: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/1dtIlTpCdQT3eDcqhcpFqf I’ve been releasing 2 to 4 serious albums like that since around 2016.  

Did being on Jimmy Fallon and having a five part mini series made about you change your process or your motivations as an artist in any way?

Those two things didn’t change much of anything for me. But it is nice to be able to brag about it to people who seem to doubt that I’m a “real” musician.  

A fair amount of your body of work is quite serious, and you started your career making more serious songs. Is there a certain persona of yours you wish was more popular, or are you happy with people taking whatever they want from your body of work?  

I’d be much happier if my “no jokes” albums got some amount of attention. I feel like people write me off as the poop song guy, thereby refusing to accept that I could possibly write anything of true substance. Specifically, I think the 20+ albums on this playlist are brilliant and worthy of serious critical analysis: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5ODqpoD7QbQoPPwBDSpgdH

You’ve created a universe with different themes and genres and you’ve spoken about how they are interconnected. Do you conceive of your work in some kind of meta, Tarantino-esque universe?  

Like Tarantino’s universe, there are definitely some inconsistencies within mine.  But, yes, I do like to imagine this strange world in which The Singing Animal Lover has a rivalry with The Odd Man Who Sings About Poop, Puke and Pee; and The Guy Who Sings Songs About Cities & Towns is in love with the same woman as The Very Nice Interesting Singer Man. It’s hilarious!  And then, to top it off, the albums are also brilliant. There’s so much for people to take in!!!

What do you think about over-saturation? Are you worried about creating such a large body of work that it is impossible to enjoy and really experience? Or is the megalithic scale part of the point?  

I think some people are hesitant to explore my catalog for that reason, and I can understand their hesitance.  But part of my process requires me to release everything. If I don’t release something, I feel like it bogs down my creative process.  Something unreleased could still be considered “in progress.” So if I have something “in progress,” it’s harder to start something new.  So I need to just get it out there and move on to the next thing. If that keeps people from delving into my work, so be it. I’ll try to direct them to the best stuff to make it easier for them.

Although your sillier songs are popular and generate more listens, songs like “this side of the line” and “it’s ok to break the law if you have good intentions” do have lyrical and musical merit.

Do you worry that people won’t be able to differentiate between your serious stuff and your more ironic stuff the more you saturate your Spotify identity with ironic projects?

Yes.  It’s like if an actor puts out an album lots of people say “Why does that actor think he’s a singer,” as if people can only do one thing.  Likewise, they might think, “How can that comedian do anything deep and serious?” There’s not too much I can do about that other than keep producing stuff.  Many of my silly songs are well-written, and most of them are hilarious. There’s nothing wrong with silly comedy.  

Who are the musicians that you would liken yourself to? Who would you cite as influences?  

I’ve been a big fan of The Beatles, Bob Dylan, REM, Van Morrison, and others like that since I was young.  I consider my music to be somewhat similar to the work of Jonathan Richman, who has lots of wide-eyed odes to everyday things.

Additional point:  I feel like most people exaggerate how long it takes to create a song.  If they say they spent a year on a song, it means they spent a couple hours on it, then put it away for 12 months before going back to it and finishing it in another couple of hours. My approach is to avoid the 12 months of doing nothing and just finish the song in one sitting.  

Some people interpret your creative effort as a subversion or a critique of modern pop music. Modern pop has sought universal connection and essentialism through ambiguity; ex. ‘Baby girl you’re a human being / I love that about you.’ You, however, have achieved a similar universality through specificity; ex. ‘I’m Sorry I Farted in the Elevator and Blamed it on You’ or your name songs. Your high level of output also undermines the pop space by proving that putting out a lot of music isn’t difficult and that one can put out a lot of good music without the amount of effort the music industry would have us believe.

How do you feel about your music being potentially seen as a critique of modern pop music? Is that a comment you are consciously trying to make?

I’m not out to disrupt the music industry.  But I’m happy to provide alternatives to prevalent myths about creative people.  I discuss it in this song: https://open.spotify.com/track/4cPp8I88HnGP8nP0QN1HxK  The specificity of my songs is just something that I find humorous, and something that helps them stand out. It’s not a conscious effort to make any points, but I can definitely see how you or anyone else could draw conclusions like you mention in the question. I’m also very happy to show people that anyone can be creative, and get those creations “out there,” thanks to the internet.  We live in a time where artists don’t need to get through gatekeepers like record companies. Strangely, a lot of people don’t respect artists who release music independently but hopefully that will go away as more and more people release things independently.  

Many of your songs deal with the mundane parts of living, but your treatment of those subjects elevates them beyond the tedium of everyday life and makes them feel special, even enjoyable. Do you feel like a champion for the every-day person by lifting up daily life in this way?

Yes. I think there should be a song about everything. A lot of people have it in their nature to start humming a made-up song about whatever they’re doing. I’m just taking inclination, and running with it. I feel like there’s an incredibly tiny amount of subjects that are considered ok for mainstream music (love, dancing, partying, drugs). While plenty of good songs have been made about those topics, I find it refreshing to hear songs about other things.

Are you at all familiar with Andy Kaufman? Would you liken yourself to him in any way?

Yes.  I’m a big fan of Andy Kaufman’s work.  I definitely see a similarity between what he did, and what I do.  The main difference seems to be that Kaufman is treated like a god by critics, and I’m not.  If Kaufman released an album with 92 songs about office supplies, it would be treated with much more reverence than my album with 92 songs about office supplies.

What can your fans expect for the future? Do you have a vision or goal your working towards?  

I’m trying to increase the number of live performances I do.  I’ve started a monthly residency in a small venue in my hometown of Danvers, MA.  Details here: https://moternmedia.com/live-shows. It’s part concert, part TED talk, and it’s a lot of fun.  I also do an annual 5.5-hour epic concert Extravaganza which is a lot of fun.  The next one is October 24, 2020.

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