“The girls — they’re the one’s making us breakfast.” The line sounds simple enough at first, but what Matt Mahaffey is really saying is “The girls are making breakfast of us instead of for us.” The double entendre in that line from the title track to Self’s latest album, Breakfast With Girls , embodies the multi-layered spirit of the music and lyrics, both leaving you immediately satisfied and yet able to discover more each time you listen. Matt doubles the double entendre in word and beat, both twisting and folding into themselves and one another, leaving new blossoms in its path but remaining crisp, solid and dependable every step of the way. Writing sometimes on bass, sometimes on sampler, or just drums, he keeps it fresh and ever engaging.
An even more specific perspective are his main earlier influences; the Beatles, Prince, the Beastie Boys, and Kiss, to start. Those attitudes are playing through his own swirls of samples, crunchy guitars, a smorgasbord of synth sounds, cooler loops and samples, actual strings, unstoppable hip-rock-hop grooves, seamless vocal walls, flawless singing, and even more unbelievably cool samples and loops. Each of these things flying in and out of view like witches and things outside Dorothy’s window on her gusty trip out of Kansas, just as unpredictable yet suddenly sensible.
Listening to Self’s music, you get the idea that Matt has difficulty squeezing that gushing songwriting pipeline valve shut each night. He still maintains a home studio, where most of the new album was recorded. But unlike when he recorded Self’s first two albums, when the mixer was twelve feet from his bed, never letting Matt out of its sight, he’s moved to a new house which allows him to keep the studio a floor away, and trade in that Marshall cabinet for a real coffee table. “I used to sleep in the closet because I had my whole bedroom full of gear and could not escape. Needless to say I didn’t get laid. At all. The gear beckons you at all hours.”
He says he’s now emerging from a productive hibernation recording Breakfast With Girls but also working with some side projects. “I produced this group called Vitamin C, which is basically a girl, for Elektra Records. She used to be in a band called Eve’s Plumb. We just sat down for a month and wrote songs together, I laid down her tracks for her, it’s basically sort of a sample-dancebeat-vibe thing. I also went out to L.A. to work with Ken Andrews, who’s got a record coming out on Epic. I wrote a couple of songs with him. He used to be in Failure, and when they broke up, Epic just signed him again, and he’s got a home studio so I just went to write with him for a little while. And I’m recording the Features for Spongebath.”
Matt loves producing, and admits it’s what he wants to do when he’s old and gray. “But I love doing it while I’m young and cute, too.”
While Self’s albums are mainly Self-produced, Hugh Padgham (who produced the Police, XTC, and Paul McCartney, among others) was called in to mix this round of tracks. Matt recalls when they met, “We just had lunch and laughed the whole time, so we said ‘let’s do it’ and booked some time in New York. For about a month we’d mix all day, then go down to this little bar and drink the whole night. Wake up late and do it all again.
“Hugh’s stuff lately has been really hi-fi, so I was worried at first that it would be too clean, but he proved me wrong. He took my dirty sounds and made them even worse, which is what I was looking for.”
As far as a fantasy producer for himself, Matt would choose to work with Prince, maybe to be the artist who revives his career. Right before the title track on Breakfast , Matt even gives a backwards nod to Prince, a la “Darling Nikki.” He notes, “I was thinking he would hear that and sue me, then I could go to court and meet him. You know, if you can’t join ’em, beat ’em.”
Awaiting litigation, Matt, along with his brother Mike, who plays guitars and bass, drummer Jason Rawlings, bassist Mac Burrus, and keyboardist Chris James are keeping busy rehearsing for the upcoming tour. Still, Matt says he finds time to write almost every day. “Right now we’re working on a concept album where we use nothing but toy instruments. We’re trying to keep it really real by using only toys, like ripping out the little sample boxes in stuffed animals, and there’s toy drums and pianos all over the place.” He says that album should be out around December.
Self’s recent deal with Dreamworks allows them to do two independent releases for each major release. Matt shows no signs of not being able to meet that level of output in an unusual variety of ways, and all signs that he’s eager to do so. And lyrically, he is no more predictable or less prolific. Songs about writing songs, psychotic girlfriends, taping a sheet of acid to your chest and then dying, plane crashes, psychic hotlines, a guy who hangs around bars collecting cigarette butts and driving into the wall, a delivery guy who catches you listening to Captain and Tenille 8-tracks, marrying a movie star (like Meg Ryan), being poor and carless, and some more psychotic love tales. Still, each one is pure and clear. Matt explains his honesty in a lyric, “But why bother with painful memories? Why tear out my heart for the world to see? Why not paint by number a catchy melody, burn it up the charts with sweet simplicity, then do it again.”
Collectors beware. Breakfast With Girls will have a limited edition release with an extra 3-song EP, Brunch , and will also be released on vinyl with five extra tracks. And watch the websites, http://www.dreamworksrecords.com and http://www.spongebathrec.com, for even more extra tracks will be available as downloads if you can manage to conquer the band members in a video game battle. “You have to battle the band. It’s going to be really funny. Instead of just clicking into certain pages, you’ll have to beat up Chris, who’s throwing his pianos at you, then you’re granted entry to the video room, or beat up Mac to get into the lyric room. And if you beat the whole band, you win a new MP3 every day. I just sent them like twenty unreleased tunes to put out there, so they can change out every day.” Matt wants to make the songs available to fans so they don’t have to search out bootlegs, “But they have to beat us up first.”