Interview with Matt Menovcik of Vinca Minor

Matt Menovcik - Photo by Milo Tobin

In a world where most musicians are stuck in their own head, contemplating ideas of existentialism and other frivolous thoughts, it is always refreshing to meet someone who is genuinely trying to make it out there. Vinca Minor’s Matt Menovcik may wake up to the music of Brian Eno and he may appreciate movie soundtracks but the electronic/post-rock/classical composer is very much a working-man’s musician. Following the success of his solid album Isolation, he took time out to sit with DOA to discuss what his music means to him, what film music possesses and what his future plans are.

Delusions of Adequacy: You concentrated on making this album without a film to pair it with, how hard was that?

Matt Menovcik: I don’t really see this album as a soundtrack without a film, but rather an album meant to create a world and tell a story. In this sense, I don’t really see the album as being much different from other albums I have created. The main differences with this album is that I was the only one creating it, the sounds and instruments I chose to use, and the structure I chose for the songs. The only thing I didn’t do for this album was master it (Kramer did a superb job at that; for which I am very grateful).

DOA: Do you still envision things (characters, a story to follow) when writing music that isn’t meant to be scored for a film?

MM: I feel that I’ve always envisioned characters and stories when creating my music.  The music that I really like and that speaks to me is music that does this. I like passion and meaning and I fear that has become sort of unfashionable these days in music. I find most of the music that I hear that gets labeled emo(tional) really makes me feel nothing.

DOA: The music on your album is certainly far more colorful than the cover art you chose, any reason for this?

MM: I wanted the album artwork to reflect the feeling of the album, which, as the title says, is isolation. I think the starkness is a proper representation of the emotion of the album. I’ve also always been a fan of minimalism, so I was creating the cover artwork that aesthetic naturally presented itself. I suppose it should be noted that, maybe not surprisingly, I created this using Microsoft Word. I’ve actually done a lot of artwork using Word. I find the limitations to be more inspiring to me.

DOA: How would you describe or better yet, pinpoint your own style of music?

MM: This is always a tough one to answer as it’s sort of a double-edged sword. I think artists, or at least myself, like to think that they are doing something different and unique and no one wants to be pigeonholed by a genre, but of course it helps for listeners to have a frame of reference or an idea of how to interpret what they hear. That said, I used electronic/electric instruments (for the most part) on this album and was heavily influenced by, amongst other things, a lot of German electronic music (Ellen Alien, the Kompakt label, Mouse on Mars, etc.), so I guess you can call it electronic music, though I don’t feel like my music would necessarily appeal to all fans of electronic music.

DOA: Is there a genre it fits under?

MM: I find I often get categorized in the “experimental/avant-garde” genre. I suppose I identify more with this than any other, though I do feel my music is a little more structured than most music in this genre. I do think my music is unique, especially my voice, so I know a lot of people have a hard time pinpointing my style.  I’m not sure that answers your question, but I hope so.

DOA: What is your aim and purpose when delivering such tranquil music? What do you hope the listener takes from it?

MM: With this album, I really wanted to create a world with the songs. I agree that a lot of the music is tranquil and if people find that relaxing then I’m happy with that. There is a lot of tension, however, in some of the pieces and a lot of subtlety that happens. I hear from a lot of people that they get something different from the album on repeated listens, which I’m very pleased to hear. My favorite albums are the ones that reveal different things over time, so if my album can be that for somebody then I feel I’ve done a good job. As far as a message for the listener to take from this album, I really like to leave that up to the individual listener. My songs often contain themes of loneliness and desperation, but always with some glimmer of hope. I suppose as an overarching message, my desire would be for the listener to take that feeling of hope away with them.

Vinca Minor - Isolation

DOA: I was meaning to ask, what exactly do you attest the name Vinca Minor to? As opposed to simply using your own personal name?

MM: I didn’t want to use my personal name on this for a number of reasons. For one, I wanted a name people could pronounce (people seem to have trouble with Saeta and Menovcik, though I guess Vinca could get me in some trouble as well). Perhaps more importantly, I wanted to use a name that represented what I was doing. I’m still a believer in the idea that the role of the artist is to create beauty, so I went with the idea of a flower.  The music is quite subtle to me, so I didn’t want to use a flower that really stands out like a rose or lilac. I liked the idea that Vinca Minor is the less aggressive of the periwinkles and that the flowers are solitary in their groupings. I feel the name has a good flow when spoken and that its qualities fit well with the qualities of the music.

DOA: You mention Brian Eno a lot, what other similar artists have influenced you?

MM: As I said earlier, I was influenced by a lot of German electronic music. I also really like Aphex Twin, Fennesz, a lot of artists on the Kranky label (especially my friends Windy and Carl), the early 4AD acts, 808 State, Rachels, and more that escape me right now.

DOA: In that same vein, what other non-similar artists have influenced you?

MM: My biggest influence and favorite artist is Nina Simone. When she sings or plays piano it’s like church for me. I feel very lucky to have seen her perform live twice.

I also feel influenced by Jeff Buckley. The soul and emotion he put into his songs and his performance of other people’s song is beautiful beyond words. Arvo Part’s music has also had a huge influence on me.

I feel that I’m influenced by a great number of things. In literature, I love Camus, Murakami, Rilke, the Russian greats, David Foster Wallace. In film, I love Sofia Coppola, Fellini, Kyslowski, Bergman. In visual art, Picasso, Schiele, and Lautrec are some of my favorites. Musically, the two artists I’ve mentioned above and to a lesser degree, more than I list right now. I’m also influenced by everyday occurrences – the small things. I feel terrible that I don’t treasure life as much as I know I should and it’s easy to blame on my disease, but I do try to notice as much as can when I am able.

DOA: Can you share your top five albums with us?

MM: Jeff Buckley – Grace
Talk Talk – Laughing Stock
Prince – Sign o’ the Times
Dirty Three – Ocean Songs
Nina Simone – At the Village Gate

DOA: And of those, which have had the biggest impact on your music?

MM: I like to think they’re all in there somewhere. Jeff Buckley really opened my eyes to so many new ideas and artists. His album is so heartfelt – it always inspires me. And then there’s his voice. I don’t think I can say anything that hasn’t already been said. Talk Talk really taught me so many important lessons about music – texture, atmosphere, emotion. His voice is also so unique and passionate. I must have listened to this album over a thousand times by now. The same goes for the Dirty Three. Here we have poetry from a violin. This album taught me subtlety and how to move your song and take it into the stratosphere – and with only three incredible people. Prince always inspires and amazes me, but especially with this album in particular.  The way the songs play out and stories unfold.  If it didn’t have “You’ve Got the Look”, it would be perfect. With the Nina Simone album (I think I’ve gone on about her enough by now), all I can say is “Just in Time”.

DOA: And of those, which have had the biggest impact on you, as a person?

MM: Grace really had a huge influence on me as a person. I think it was here that I really decided I wanted to be an artist. His story and his love of music gave me a lot inspiration. He shared his influences and exposed his fans to so much wonderful music. With only one proper album (really, we can’t count Songs for My Sweetheart the Drunk) and a live EP, that’s pretty incredible. There was also a lot of stuff going on in my life at this point.  I was in a band with Kurt from The Deadstring Brothers, getting ready to move from Detroit to Seattle, and really learning a lot about who I was. Unfortunately, I think I may have lost sight of that somewhere along the way. We’re always changing as people and, hopefully, growing. Sometimes during all of this you can get lost and lose sight of where you were going. Or sometimes an earthquake will come along and throw everything in disarray and leave you confused and alone. Maybe I need to go back and listen to Grace again.

DOA: The classical music or the ‘band’ music, which one means more and why?

MM: If you are referring to the music on Isolation as classical music, then thank you.  That is a very nice compliment. And by the band music, I’m assuming you’re referring to my band, Saeta, or at least the style of song I write in Saeta. So I’ll answer the question from that perspective. I like to think that I am always making meaningful music. It’s at least meaningful to me. Whether I am telling stories using lyrics or by trying to convey a story through instrumental music, I feel that there is always an emotion and message there. Neither one means more or less to me. I honestly see them as the same things.

DOA: When making music, do you draw from composers like Mozart or Brahms or do you feel more of a connection towards the 20th century side of music?

MM: I have to confess that I don’t have a huge knowledge of classical music. I could probably hold my own in a conversation, but a lot of it doesn’t really speak to me. The composers that I really enjoy are Arvo Part, Astor Piazzollo, Debussy, Ravel and Erik Satie. I do love Pablo Casals’ performance of the Bach cello suites and I have been listening to Jacqueline DuPre performing Elgar’s Enigma variations a lot recently. I don’t really go for the musique concrete stuff or the twelve tone pieces so much. I like beauty and those things aren’t very beautiful to me. I know they are to some people and I certainly am not condemning them, they’re just not for me.

DOA: How much do you attest your own love for films in connection with the love for your music?

MM: Music is my first and true love. It is always with me and it has always stayed by my side when everything else has deserted me. I really enjoy film and appreciate its ability to encompass you and take you away for awhile. It’s a really powerful medium – utilizing both your visual and auditory senses. I like being able to contribute to that world with music. It’s always so satisfying adding music to film that has no music and seeing how it brings things to life and helps accent the emotions of the scene.

DOA: Are you working on scoring any other films?

MM: Right now, the main thing I am focusing on is Vinca Minor. This is what’s important to me and what matters. That said, I am contributing some music to a local independent film. I’m not scoring it, though. The director decided to have several different artists contribute to the soundtrack. It’s very different from how I normally work, but I like new things, so I’m looking forward to it. I am also preparing to start work on a dance piece with a Seattle dancer. This will be my first piece for dance, so I am looking forward to this as well.

DOA: Do you have plans to return to a full-fledged band?

MM: Vinca Minor is kind of turning into a “band”. For the live performances, I have a keyboardist, Juliana Brandon, and an accordion player, Marchette Dubois. As far as something else, I’m not really sure. I never rule any possibility out.

Last year began really difficult for me and I basically lost almost every friend I had – due to a number of reasons. Get ready for the sob story. I actually tried to start bands or collaborations with various people around town and no one was interested. I have really bad depression and this only proved to exacerbate the situation. Because of this, I decided to work by myself in my home studio. Things improved by the end of the year and I had a new album that Kramer had agreed to release on his Second Shimmy label. This year I decided that I wasn’t going to try to keep holding onto relationships where I was the only one keeping the relationship alive, which has been helpful for me as it puts me a bit more in control. However, I am still very distrustful of people, which is sad to me because I love people and try to see the good in them. It’s just sad that we have to hurt each other so much.

All of that said, I have the next Vinca Minor project decided and I have begun studies for it. It’s a very large undertaking for me and I can only hope that I will be able to accomplish what I have set out to do.