Matty Fasano (ARMS) Goes Solo at Mercury Lounge

As the bass player in ARMS, Matty Fasano plays in one of New York’s best indie rock bands. The album they released in 2011, Summer Skills, was one of my favorite albums last year, and continues heavily in my listening rotation. There’s a small group of bands performing rich, smart, catchy indie rock in New York City right now (it seems like a dying genre, but it’s not — the blogs just aren’t paying attention right now). ARMS are definitely among the best in this group, and Summer Skills reinforced that.

Matty Fasano’s solo recordings may surprise you given the work of ARMS — he records sparse songs on piano that are inspired by chamber music. They feel simple at first, as on the opening riff of “Living in Armchairs,” but quickly evolve into rich compositions with complex vocal arrangements. On his new EP, Living in Armchairs he forgoes all but the most basic accompaniment, in the form of percussion and baritone guitar from producer Matt LeMay (the four tracks were co-produced by Nick Sylvester).

Fasano will celebrate the release (streaming below) of his EP Thursday, April 5 at the Mercury Lounge. I asked him a few questions over email about his work both with ARMS and as a solo musician, and what we can expect in his performance.

Tell me a bit about yourself. I know you are in ARMS and have performed in LCD Soundsystem, but what’s your story? Where are you from and what do you do? And how long have you been in New York?

I’m from New Haven originally and went to college there, and I moved to Brooklyn the second I graduated, so I’ve been here for six years. I studied music at school and came here wanting to do music and only music, but found out really quickly that I couldn’t survive here without a day job. So I fell into teaching and have been doing that by day, and music by night. It’s actually a good combo . . . I have all summer to do music!

Can you tell me more about what you teach?

I’m a 4th grade homeroom teacher! Yeah, believe it or not. So I teach everything; math, english, history. I don’t teach music which is actually a good thing. It keeps music as this fun and special thing for me.

These songs (on the EP) obviously have a very different sound than your band (and the NYC indie scene in general). Is the piano your primary instrument? What do you find appealing about the solo, piano-driven approach?

Yes, piano is my first instrument, my first love, and it’s where I feel most comfortable musically. I play a bunch of instruments but I knew that when I wanted to do solo stuff, it had to be on piano. It’s where I can be most honest, and it’s where I feel completely unlimited. And I’m glad it sounds different than other stuff on the scene . . . that actually appeals to me. If I can be honest and unique, then I’d say I’ve done my job.

Can you talk about your role in the songwriting of ARMS and how you approach writing solo material? How does your relationship to the music change based on that?

In ARMS, the songwriting process is one of my favorite parts of the band, because it’s really unpredictable. We’re all coming from very different places musically, but when we arrive at an ARMS song, we know we’re there. It feel like the intersection of all of our tastes and sensibilities. And for each song the process is very different. Todd comes up with the chords and lyrics and general idea of the song, but so much of ARMS is mood and atmosphere and arrangement, and I like to think we all play a major role in that. But then of course with my solo stuff, it’s all me, and that can be very fun, but very scary as well. The process changes for every song . . . sometimes I’ll just sit down and start playing and a song will come fully formed. Other times I’ll have an idea in my head, sing it into garageband or something, and forget about it. Three months later I’ll rediscover it, finish it, and it’s a song! You never know.

What can we expect from your live performance?

You can expect a whole men’s chorus! I recruited the guys who I sang with for the LCD Soundsystem shows to come join me onstage. They’re up for anything, down for whatever, so of course they said yes. I think it will really fill the room and give the songs a nice hymn-like quality. I’m really excited; the idea of a stripped down piano and voice performance reinforced by a big choir is really interesting to me.

How did you get involved with LCD Soundsystem and what was that like being a part of those huge shows? Will we see you in the upcoming documentary?

The LCD shows came about because Nick Sylvester, who has known James Murphy for years, heard from James that he wanted to do something special for the last show, to boost the sound with a men’s chorus. My friends and I have been informally singing together as a choir since we moved here, so Nick must have said something along the lines of, “I know just the guys!” And that’s it, a few rehearsals later, there we were (Nick included) onstage with LCD for the last string of Terminal 5 shows and the Madison Square Garden show. It was an incredible experience . . . the feeling behind the shows was so positive. Everyone was really excited and kind and professional. James had no reason to give us the time of day, but he treated us with such respect. And of course the music was amazing. And yes you will see us in the documentary! I haven’t seen it but my friend caught it at Sundance and said there is a nice close-up of me dancing giddily onstage.

Do you have a specific goal or set of goals that correspond to your solo music? Where would you like to see it go in 2012 – or beyond?

Yes, in 2012, I want to do a full-length. So far I’ve done a 7″ and now here’s this EP, and I think with each release I get a little better. A full length is a big challenge, especially for someone like me who tends to write shorter songs. I’m really excited by the challenge of filling out a whole record. And I want to work with the same production team, Nick Sylvester from Mr. Dream and Matt LeMay who now also does his own solo stuff. I think they’re creative geniuses and they really help push me to do my best.

What are some of your favorite local acts that people might not know about?

My favorite local bands right now are Mr. Dream, who I think kick more and more ass with every show, Glass Ghost, and Friend Roulette. I love Hospitality, Caveman, and Darkside, but I’m not sure they count as local anymore because they’re getting really big! They’re all great people and are making the most interesting music around, I think.

Matty Fasano plays the Mercury Lounge on Thursday, April 5 w/ Friend Roulette. Doors: 9:30 pm. Tickets: $10. Show info here.

Favorites of 2011 and Resolutions for 2012

As I started to think about my top albums of the year, I became acutely aware just how much my taste was mirroring that of what’s becoming “mainstream indie.”

This is a common complaint you’ll see if you read the comments sections on “mainstream indie” blogs such as Stereogum and Brooklyn Vegan. I imagine if Pitchfork had comments, you’d see the same thing there. The consensus: there’s no imagination in these lists. People say that they read like lists of albums that received a lot of press this year, like a compilation of albums that we all think we should like because other people like them.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of great music to be heard on those lists. And while many of the year’s most lauded albums did absolutely nothing for me (Bon Iver, Drake, Girls, Destroyer, M83, Washed Out, to name a few), there’s also legitimately weird, left-field music that’s getting a deserved, major audience boost (Oneohtrix Point Never and Nicholas Jaar come to mind).

In thinking about this, I think it’s important to remember that the Internet’s strength lies in diversity of opinion. However, in the world of the social web and customization, we run the risk of listening only to the voices that validate our own opinion. For all the influence that a site like Pitchfork has, it’s also just one site. The Internet is a system of niches. Just like we can’t tell the evolution of music through convenient, once-every-365-days lists, we can’t tell it through the narrative of a single (or small group) of websites, either.

There’s an online maxim that says, “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

It’s what allows people like Joe Brockmeier to say, “Facebook doesn’t exist to connect its users to one another, Facebook exists to connect users with advertisers.”

I’m not equating Pitchfork to Facebook, necessarily, but here’s what Pitchfork does. It’s a site run by people who love music (I have met a few Pitchfork contributors, and this is the thing they all have in common). But in order to make money – something it must do – it creates an ecosystem that keeps you returning to it. It tells you, the user, which bands you like. It curates a festival with these bands, as well as putting on other shows throughout the year at key events such as CMJ and SXSW, also with these bands. All while doing this, it sells you ads. Which is fine! I don’t like ads, but I understand that ads are what pay people like me to work at a place like Mashable (or, Pitchfork). But it’s in the best interest of Pitchfork to create this ecosystem that keeps you coming back. Because that enables them to sell more ads, remain profitable, and continue publishing.

The point is this: if you don’t like what these music sites are selling you, start your own blog. David Greenwald, who writes one of my favorite music blogs, wrote an essential post called “14 Ways Music Blogs Could Be Useful Again.” He hits the main problem: if all the blogs are posting about the same stuff (regardless of how good it is), they lose what made them useful (and fun!) in the first place.

The Internet is a system of niches. Pitchfork and Stereogum have taken a niche – “indie rock” – and taken it to broad appeal. But there’s still room for many more voices. Write about what you love. Don’t concern yourself with trying to fit into a critical narrative. Write your own critical narrative. Or don’t write at all – just post songs and videos, for all I care. But whatever you post, make sure you do it because you love it. That’s my resolution for 2012.

Presented alphabetically, and with no comment and no apologies, my favorite albums of 2011.

Altered Zones Founders Launch New Site

Altered Zones co-founders Emilie Friedlander and Ric Leichtung will launch a new site in 2012, Ad Hoc. Altered Zones, which was founded in partnership with Pitchfork as a network of blogs focusing on experimental indie, will finish out the week with new content and then will remain on the web unupdated. From Ad Hoc’s Facebook […]

CMJ Recap: It’s Not All About the Hype

CMJ is over, and I survived. Not only did I survive, but I had a great time. For the most part, I stayed away from the bigger showcases and let the bigger blogs cover the bigger, bloggier artists. I did not see Trash Talk, even though they seemed to be the band that every website […]

FreeMJ: a Guide to What’s Good & Cheap at CMJ

For everyone except the most active music listeners and show-goers, CMJ is doubtless a daunting week in New York City. It’s not unlike SXSW in the sheer number of shows you can attend – until you factor in that the shows sprawl across subway lines and then it seems nothing like the centralized Austin, TX […]

Real Estate Streaming, Playing a Free Show in Queens

Lots of words come to mind when thinking about the band Real Estate, but how about this one: dependable. The band’s self-titled debut from 2009 was never really a grower; it was just a front-to-back solid album that sounded good the first time you heard it and has aged well, too. I still listen to […]