Jennifer Geddes 11/06/2010
A guy with a guitar and a laptop who sings songs about broken hearts and punk ethics- nothing all that new. I could name a dozen - in fact it could become a new card game.
It's kind of hard to explain what sets Jonah Matranga apart from the other guitar slinging ex-hardcore songwriters; needless to say it's probably his personality. He's one of the only performers I know who can command complete silence in a venue simply by performing. Yet there is no sense of a barrier between the artist and the audience. It's the audience who drive the content of the show, requesting songs. At the Cardiff Barfly gig in June, Matranga joked about democracy working when the final song was chosen by a show of hands.
I tried to write a review of this gig but whatever I wrote didn't seem to quite convey why you should go see this guy play. So instead I'm letting Jonah do the talking - it's something he's quite good at.
Your lyrics sound quite personal, so I was wondering if they were autobiographical or if you just took an idea and ran with it?
I don't try too much - trying when it comes to art almost makes it not art; I'm pretty purist about it that way. Whether it's political or personal - y'know, to me those two words are actually kinda the same - it's about finding the little moments and the little turns of phrase that unlock the listener's imagination. I guess I believe in the personal being universal, so if I find the moment that for me was the moment that the epiphany occurred or whatever, if I can sort of write that out as close as possible to how it felt in my heart, that's the best bet of having it get through to everyone else. It's not necessarily that the same effect will occur to them, but it's almost like songs are facilitators for emotional experiences instead of conveyors of a literal emotion experience; they will create a space in which someone gets to feel things, some spell or something. It's really hard to talk about that, but I love it.
I played my friend your 'Barack Obama' song, as he got really into the US elections. I was wondering how you thought it was going now with Obama?
People don't seem to be satisfied unless something's exactly as they would have it be, and I think that's selfish and strange. There's a lot I would change if I could wave my magic wand but, as far as I can tell, Obama's doing a good job of representing the viewpoints of all the country, which I think is the job of an elected leader. He seems to be working with the government as well as he can, so I think it's great. It's been interesting for me to see the really, really vicious hatred that's come up on the right, but also almost equally on the left they're so sort of disappointed that the skies didn't part and angels didn't come down singing.
You offer personalised recordings of your songs on your website. What made you do that?
To hear where the songs are in people's lives is pretty special, and so the whole thing about unique recordings is that it kind of allows for this conversation to happen, and then it allows me to make a recording of the song with that conversation in mind. It's the song plus the situation, kind of filtered back through the song and the person so it's a really great dialogue. That's probably my favourite idea as far as music delivery, and I've made hundreds of them at this point, for weddings and for children and for parents and for friends. I've done the weirdest songs and I've done my songs in the weirdest ways and it's just been so fun.
I remember seeing you in Newport in Le pub last year, and you mentioned how you like anagrams. I was wondering what it is about that them you like?
As with most stories, it involves a girl. There's a woman that I went out with for a while, and I've always loved words myself but she was particularly into anagrams and really good at them. I was in Onelinedrawing at the time and it was fun to play around with what anagrams of that could be; it was just a very interesting experiment. Now with the internet, like most things, it's pretty easy, you can just enter a word in and an anagram generator will give you about eight million options, which I don't mind - I don't think there's any particular honour to figuring it out in your head or anything.
Do you like general wordplay?
I do. I'm terrible about puns and entendres.
I'm a big Scrabble player and I love it. Yeah, I love words.
So, Jonah Matranga - go on and give him a go.