INTERVIEW: Mat Kerekes on doing what he wants to do
Editor’s note: Bob Dylan once said that “a man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night, and in between does what he wants to do.” By that standard Mat Kerekes, known best for being the frontman of the illustrious group Citizen, should be considered an enormous success. Currently, Kerekes is on a solo headline tour playing in small intimate rooms while getting ready to release his second solo album recorded with acclaimed producer Will Yip.
New England Sounds’ Colleen Johnson recently had the chance to speak with Kerekes about his current tour, upcoming record and future as an artist. Throughout their interview, the overwhelming theme was that Kerekes is doing exactly what he wants to do, playing the songs he wants to play, recording the record he wants to record and going at a pace that allows him to live his best life.
Read through the entirety of their interview:
So, to get right into it, you’re currently on this solo tour right now that goes through the end of March. How have these shows been going so far?
Really awesome. Much better than I anticipated. I know three of the shows sold out which is super cool. And I remember, when we were booking this tour, I kept pushing Jason Parent, my booking guy. Saying I need small rooms, small shows. Like I didn’t want anything over a hundred capacity. Because I just wanted it to feel cool and when the shows are small, and they do well, it would be good for my morale. That’s not really how things worked out because I guess there aren’t a lot of venues that small. So I went a little bigger than I wanted to, but it’s going super well. So I’m glad, and everybody in my squad is in good spirits right now. It just feels really good.
Speaking of your squad, you are so supported; you have your brother Chris playing with you, your drummer from Citizen, Jake Duhaime. How have you been approaching these sets? Is it a mix of old, new, are you even throwing in some Citizen songs?
Well, I have a new record coming out. I tried to put in a little bit of everything, but the main thing was that I just want to play what I want to play. With Citizen, there are four other dudes in the band. Five people in the band and everybody has to agree on a set. We’ve kind of fallen into this routine of playing the same set of songs a lot, and I just wanted to go into this and play only things I wanted to play. I left out a couple of songs – that I feel like most people that would be at the shows would know – just because I don’t want to play them I want to play the things I’m excited about. I don’t even care if the record’s not out, I just want to play those songs because I like it. And that’s been a good thing for my fucking mental health. Just doing things I want to do and not doing things I don’t want to do. I pretty much plan to continue living my healthy life like that.
Now you’ve been writing music for a long time. Was the solo project something you always wanted to do? Is it something that you’ve always been working on or did it just come about in these past few years?
I’ve just always kind of wrote solo songs than would just post them online. I would never hype it up. It would never be an actual thing; it would just be me posting songs on my Bandcamp at random. And that was like a parallel to Citizen, the main gig. So I never really intended to be doing what I’m doing right now in regards to solo stuff. The first solo record, “Luna,” wasn’t planned. I just had a bunch of demos and my manager Evange; she was like ‘Hey you should put this out on a record’ and so that’s how that album came.
The next one is pretty much the same thing. I just had solo songs that had been written just to have them. I got approached by Wil Yip being like ‘Hey I’m doing this label,’ Elektra now with Black Cement. ‘We’re interested in talking to you about putting out your next record.’ It was never planned, it just kind of all fell into place. Which I’m super grateful for obviously. I’m just kind of rolling with the punches. I don’t even remember what the question was (laughs).
That’s oky! It was just about how naturally you write in Citizen, and Citizen has been a band for several years now. But when did you start doing this solo project? Having this outlet for yourself.
It really began at the beginning of Citizen. It’s always just been a thing I would do. There have been solo songs that have become like Citizen songs. Like we had this song, “Tracking Time,” a long, long time ago and I wrote it for myself. Then Nick was like ‘Hey, let’s do this for Citizen.’ We don’t play that song anymore but that was at the beginning of it, and this solo stuff has been happening since pretty much the beginning of Citizen.
Was there anything new you tried while writing/recording this new solo album?
I learned how to play piano, keyboard, whatever you want to call it. That was a huge thing because of it just kind of opened up a whole new world of songwriting. Just playing something on the piano feels so different from playing it on the guitar, even if it’s the same thing. I think that that changed things a lot. I think that “Ruby” is a lot more upbeat than my older stuff. It just feels good to do new things. I just went through a patch where I felt that everything I had done, it wasn’t bad, but I felt washed up. I was like I’m writing songs that I would write five years ago.
I read a David Bowie interview that was kind of like, ‘Whenever I’m about to do a new record, I move to a different city, or I learn a different instrument.’ He would just make a drastic change in his life, and I thought that was cool. I started listening to a lot of older stuff. It was new to me, and I think that opened up a lot of cool avenues. And it gave me a new perspective on music because the old one I had was sort of dried out and fucking rotten. So it just felt good to mix everything up. While what I’m doing may not be innovative or new or whatever, it’s new to me, so it feels good to me. And I don’t care about how anybody else feels in regards to that as long as I feel good. I’m happy that people like it. I’m just happy that people have been receptive to it and even if they weren’t, whatever.
I know they’re not really on the same genre as you but I just recently spoke with As It Is who have been around the same circuit. And that same idea was fundamental to them. That they their best mental health wise that they’ve ever felt, so they don’t care about kids reception of the music they’re making right now. I feel like that’s similar to your situation.
Yeah, it’s funny. Because there are certain things that really bother me now that shouldn’t bother me in regards to music. Like if I were to play the fucking songs, like ‘2 AM’, it’s this really old song I have. And I don’t connect with it at all at this point in my life. If I play a set and that song gets the biggest reaction, it’s just going to bum me out. What I want to do is I want to play the things that I want to play, and I want to write the things that I want to write. If you want to listen to songs that I don’t want to play, then you can listen to them wherever you want, and in any situation you want. But it’s good. I think especially with Citizen, I can get into a song twist playing older songs, and I’m just so tired of it. I’ve made the decision in my life to do whatever I want.
Perfect and speaking of that, how do you balance that out? I know you recently announced for Citizen the next tour with Knuckle Puck. You also have this solo album coming out. What are some focuses or goals while doing this?
Pretty much when Citizen doesn’t do things, I do shit. I’m pretty tired of the tour life. Citizen has a lot going on in the next couple months, but after that Knuckle Puck tour, we’re going to slow down a lot. And write or do things, so I’ll have a lot of time to look into opportunities for myself. But, I’m not going to go gung ho. I’m not going to accept every tour offer that’s presented to me. I just want to do the things that I want to do again. I’m interested in growing organically. I like headlining, I like playing small shows, and I just want to take my friends’ bands on tour and hopefully have a good time. I don’t want to tour with random people. While I am nice and I like talking to people, I’m just not interested in mingling much anymore (laughs). I want to do what I want to do and hopefully throw bones to my good friends and just have fun.
I think everybody in Citizen is ready to start winding down. I’m ready to wind down. Even though I’m just getting going. What’s the word? I don’t know if it’s novelty but I’m just going to say that. Increase the demand, and then you’re not as busy. Citizen toured five hundred fucking times last year. If I were a fan of Citizen, I wouldn’t want to go see them anymore. If Mat Kerekes toured five hundred times in one year, I wouldn’t want to go see him. I wouldn’t want to see Third Eye Blind a million times. Making yourself limited does a lot of good things. So that’s kind of the approach I want to start doing in regards to music.
Selective touring will also keep your career longevity because they know they don’t get to see you every six months. It will be more unique.
Yeah, make your show more of an event than just a ‘Hey I’ll catch you in two months.’ It’s okay if I miss this one because I can see them in two months. I don’t want that.