Resurrected from the wayback machine -
an interview from when I ran a music and culture mag..
Interview with Jonah Matranga, by our writer Amy , who went by KidA originally published in 2005
Jonah Matranga :
More Than Just Visiting : Jonah Matranga of onelinedrawing
The name Jonah Matranga isn't a household name yet. Fans of his music know him best from the rabidly followed Sacramento band Far who, sadly, broke up, after developing a cult following that heavily influenced the emo/metal scene. Now residing in San Francisco, Jonah is still staying true to his art, creating music that captures the heart of music lovers worldwide in the two bands onelinedrawing and New End Original. Both bands are on Jade Tree Records, which released New End Original's Thriller earlier this year and onelinedrawing's Visitor, which hit the shelves in May- Jonah is quite a busy man. He still manages to remain grounded and nice in a business where a good attitude is often non-existent. Jonah was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me over the phone.
KidAmy: In a lot of your lyrics, you mention historical figures and icons like Mother Mary (Far song of the same title), and Lennon, King and Kennedy (in N.E.O.'s “Lukewarm”). Is this a comment on the impact that these figures have had on people's lives?
Jonah Matranga: I would hesitate to make any big rules about any of my lyrics. In that case, definitely [in] “Mother Mary”, the whole point is that icons are sort of over us. Lennon, King and Kennedy, although they're really recognizable figures, the point of that line is they had a common thing, which is that they all got killed by people who wanted to keep them down. And so it's more saying, “Know your enemy.”
KidAmy: You're definitely one of the most fan-friendly artists, because you break the barrier between the fan and musician. Your website is especially incredibly personal, because you jam-pack it with Jonahpster [Jonah's answer to MP3 file sharing device Napster] which I thought was very creative.
J.M.: Oh, cool.
KidAmy: There's your “Always New” section, the sliding scale prices…Do you feel that this type of grassroots method in promoting your music is necessary, especially with the emergence of the internet?
J.M.: I don't know whether it's necessary or not. I've just always really loved performers that, in one way or another, try to get beyond the very average producer-consumer relationship. It goes on a lot in music, and I have in some ways taken it to a real extreme, it was never a plan of mine or anything…It's just sort of these ideas I've had, and I'm really curious, you know. I get an idea in my head and I'm just curious to see if it'll work and how it feels. And they just keep being interesting and fun. It's only now when I look at it, I go, “Wow. This is a pretty interesting thing that got built.”
KidAmy: Yeah, because I've been on a lot of band/fan sites and I think that yours is probably one of the best ones I've seen.
J.M.: Oh, see now, that's great, because there's a lot of great stuff out there…I'm actually working on a new design that I think is going to be pretty cool. I just got this thing for my computer where you can fiddle with things…I found a digital pad where a line sort of appears on your computer screen. It's called a Graphire, it's made by Wacom, it's neat. So I'm going to be doing stuff with a lot of little drawings and stuff. Should be cool.
KidAmy: I noticed that over the years, you haven't changed your DIY ethic. You experienced life on a major label with Far. Then you came out with your own label, O.L.D. Records, and eventually ended up on Jade Tree. How do you stay grounded in a business where beauty and style is often recognized more than talent?
J.M.: I'm not really sure how I've managed to make a living doing it. I mean, I am proud of what I do, and I think I do it pretty well. I think what I've learned more than anything is how to keep costs down. There's this term “sweat equity,” which is where you put in the work, because, obviously, the more people you pay to do stuff the more money you've got to make to pay everyone. And so that creates a situation where you've got to make kind of a lot of money on your art to make everyone happy, whereas if you don't do all that crazy expensive stuff, then the shows can stay pretty small, and you don't have to sell a gazillion records. You know, Sony spent tons of money on [Far]. I mean tons. And we were a band that was very smart about money, really, for a band on a major label. We were very conservative. And they still spent a ton of money doing stuff. There are some band! s that spend tons of money [on] making records, and the company spends tons of money marketing their record. And I think they make some really beautiful stuff. I'm not saying that you can't, but…
KidAmy: No, because there are a lot of good bands on major labels.
J.M.: Yeah, totally. It's not about that, per se, it's just that I think that when a lot of money gets involved, it gets really confusing, that's all. And so personally, I've discovered that I just like doing the stuff myself. And I love getting help actually, but really, I just like doing the stuff. I'm just figuring out what I like the most about music. I like the most just like writing the songs. That's the thing that is the best for me. As far as getting the songs out there, the thing I like most is the sense of community, like in music, being a part of the community. I feel like that's been lost a lot in the world now. People don't just sit around and play music. People will go to rock shows [to listen] or they'll buy records, but they won't sit around and play music with each other. So I try to keep things as personal and direct ! as possible. It's funny that that's ended up being my business plan, too, because the whole thing about it is when you keep it as direct and personal [as possible], then you don't need a ton of people. A small amount of people just have to chip in a little money, and it's enough to help you pay your rent. And that's great. It's just a really great and simple way to do it. It's sort of like back in the day, when people would just grow and eat their food, and that's it. Nowadays, we get a job, and we go out and earn this money to pay for food [we get at] a supermarket, which for the food to get to the supermarket, it's gone through a million different [places], from some farm somewhere halfway across the world on a plane, into a car, into a freezer, into a little packaging plant. All of these people have been paid along the way, so you're not even paying so much for the food anymore…you're ! paying for all of the people who helped get the food to the market. You know what I mean? You're all getting mixed up. And so with music, I like to make it and get it to people as directly as possible. I've discovered that I really enjoy that. I think I look at myself sort of like a farmer that goes to the farmer's market in town. I just, you know, grow these little ideas and then I sell them just for a small amount to people who want a good, homemade idea.
KidAmy: Well, I think it's worked so far because you have tons of fans that have found out about you, I think, mostly by word of mouth.
J.M.: Yeah, I mean that's cool. It's never to deny that there was a lot that we got to make [in Far], you know, records with really cool people. We were on Sony and they helped a lot in spreading the word. I'm sure Jade Tree will, too…More than anything, I think that the music I've made, in whatever shape, has definitely been a sort of a word of mouth, grassroots thing, and that's great.
KidAmy: Well, this is sort of a funny question, but have you ever considered acting as a career? Because I saw you in Jimmy Eat World's “Lucky Denver Mint” [video] and I laughed my ass off. Nice shorts and Frisbee moves.
J.M.: Yeah, well, I have. I wouldn't just call myself an actor unless I happened to really, really practice a lot. But I think it would be fun. I had so much fun being in that video, that was really great. And it was really easy, because I didn't have to remember any lines or anything. I just had to act goofy. So that was fun. Yeah, no, I really like that idea. I don't know what it would be like to really do it. I think I am going to be in a movie pretty soon. My friend Darren is talking about making one, and he wants me to be in it.
KidAmy: Yeah, that's Darren from Strife? Is that who you're talking about?
J.M.: Darren who did the Strife videos, who did the Far videos. Yeah, he's an old friend. You know, history is littered with bad actors becoming musicians, and bad musicians becoming actors. It's pretty bad. But see, that's the thing again. I would feel kind of stupid going into some billion-dollar movie, saying I could act, but if I get together with my friends and a camera, and we try and make something, then to me it's more like just making an idea, as opposed to trying to be an actor.
KidAmy: What does “Bitte Ein Kuss” mean in English, for those who don't speak German?
J.M.: It means, “Please, a kiss.”
KidAmy: Yeah, because I got the advanced copy of Visitor, and I was wondering what that meant.
J.M.: It just means, “Christiane, please a kiss.” Give me a kiss.
KidAmy: Where did you get the idea to sample Massive Attack's “Protection” for the “True Love (Remix)”?
J.M.: I think it was just that I had this idea for doing “True Love” in a much slower way. And I think I was just really into that record at the time. So I thought, “Wait, this beat would be fun.” It really wasn't, like, a big thing, where I thought I was being really clever. Obviously, it's just a really great beat. And so I just grabbed it.
KidAmy: What versions of “Better Than This” and “14 to 41” do you prefer playing live? You have two different versions, with New End Original and with onelinedrawing…
J.M.: I don't know. I don't prefer either. To me, they're very, very different. To me, in those cases, the onelinedrawing versions [of those songs] are…they're sort of…smaller. And so, maybe they're not as expansive as the New End versions. Maybe they're a little more humble. The New End versions are, like, rockin'. “Better Than This” [onelinedrawing version] is much quieter in the beginning. The New End version is much more dramatic. The onelinedrawing versions are a little more playful. The New End versions are more serious. The volume in the onelinedrawing versions is like a four. Not just in literal volume, but sort of in a drama [sense], and the New End versions are like a nine. But I don't really prefer either. I really love them both. I think they [all] really work in both situations. I don't know if anyone else feels that way, but! I do.
KidAmy: What do you mean by “It's time for a bit of in the bed disco”?
J.M.: What do you think I mean? [laughs]
KidAmy: I don't know [laughs]
J.M.: Come on. No, I mean, the song is actually about sex. But most of my lines are…that's just a real thing. We just have this sort of cute thing in the morning where we'd sort of be waking up, and be sort of like squirming around on the bed. Just like, dancing, but in bed. Just being goofy. We just called it “in the bed disco.”
KidAmy: Got it.
J.M.: It's just sort of…but really, the song is about doing it.
KidAmy: Do you see yourself always doing something musically (like producing, writing, performing, creating) in the future? Even if New End and oneline go to waste, are you going to be producing albums by other people?
J.M.: I don't know. I think it would be fun. Right now, it feels like it would be fun, but mostly I just really don't want to keep doing anything out of habit or because of anything other than just fun. I mean, it's really a simple thing that I'm trying to stick to, which is keeping things right now, and not doing things out of habit or out of obligation or because someone else gets satisfaction out of it or because it makes me money, or any reason like that. I want to do stuff that's fun. I think that's the best way to say, “Thanks for being alive.” I think the best way to do that is to really, really try and do stuff that excites you.
KidAmy: If onelinedrawing/New End Original were to cover 80's classics, what would they be and why?
J.M.: Well, they would definitely be different songs. onelinedrawing…I don't know why these two came to my mind, but, maybe onelinedrawing would cover…Ok, there's two versions. Well, there's this song by David Bowie called, “Space Oddity.” Which is, [singing] “Ground control to Major Tom…” You know that song?
KidAmy: No. (Born too late for that one).
J.M.: No, Ok. That's not an 80's classic. That's true. Forget about that then. I was going to go on this big “Major Tom” thing. What would New End do? Well, Ok…New End would do the other…the first thing I thought of, so it's good. New End would do this 80's tune [sings] “Earth below us/wilting falling/floating weightless/calling calling oh…” You know…?
KidAmy: Yes, I can't think of the name of that one.
J.M.: [Continues singing the song and humming the melody]… And that has the words “Major Tom” in it. So we [New End] would do that one, maybe? Onelinedrawing…what would I do? What would we do? We would do like a Devo song…maybe go ahead and do “Whip it.” Actually, there's a song that actually both bands could do, called, “We're Through Being Cool.” Except, with onelinedrawing, it would be sort of like the “14-41” thing. With onelinedrawing, it would be small and tight. With New End, it would be big and rockin'… That's pretty much as good of a theme song as I can think of.
To find out what Jonah's been up to these days visit www.onelinedrawing.com or www.newendoriginal.com
Here's an old favorite, from Jonah – “Better than This” – by his band “Oneline Drawing.”