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Talking About Revolutions: an interview with Experiment 34's Matthew Makin
By DW Dunphy
originally published: 01/23/2019
Politics have leaked into everything, and a lot of toxic ideas have been normalized into daily discourse. It’s gotten so bad, many individuals had to radically rethink their just-passed holiday plans for fear of ruining them with interfamily fighting.
Oddly, the one place we haven’t seen a spirited response to this present darkness is in the world of rock where, by and large, criticism and retort have been muted. Amanda Palmer’s assertion that “Donald Trump is going to make punk rock great again*” has not yet come to pass. This may be ready to change, however.
Originally from New Brunswick and now based at Bryan’s Matchbox Studios in Eatontown, Experiment 34is a hard-charging rock band with a mix-master sensibility that rolls in punk, funk, and rap, as well as a take-no-prisoners worldview. In a time where the loudest stars have been noticeably timid, it may well be time for Experiment 34 to commandeer the mic. New Jersey Stage spoke with Experiment 34 lead singer-lyricist Matthew Makin about the band, the new album, and making music in the 21st century, as well as the responsibility of doing so in tumultuous times.
The album, What Dying Feels Like, will have a debut party take place at Asbury Lanes on February 16. How long did it take to write and record it?
Well, we were hoping to get everything done in just a matter of months...but we got a bit crazy during the process. This is a passion project that took us just about fourteen months to complete. We came in with most of the songs written but then we had so many other ideas and extra songs we thought would really help complete it. It was laborious but well worth it.
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What drew the band members together?
Our first song was just Kevin Nenichka (guitar) and myself. That drew in our original bassist (Johnny Zabe) and drummer (Jack LaMonica). Our new members (Keith Leming, drums, and Bryan Viegas, bass) had seen us live and followed our music ever since.
What is the origin of the name Experiment 34?
Experiment 34- if you can think it, you can play it. Let’s just say the first 33 experiments didn’t work.
The band is not afraid to go into some very thorny topics with these songs. And while there were predictions not long ago within the music journalism community that this would be some golden age for music that takes a stand on the issues, it hasn’t really come to pass. As a young band seeking to grow an audience, what has compelled you to go in that direction? I image there have been a lot of well-intended critics who would advise you to not be so topical?
Oh yes. One thousand percent we have received “you attract more bees with honey” and “what about fans that like your music but disagree with your stance?” In my opinion, the best music is music that stands for something... music with a purpose. I feel this is the record we were meant to write. I’m sure we would do a fine job being just like everybody else, but that’s just not who we are. Honestly, I was expecting a surge in music that takes a stance as well, but I definitely haven’t really seen said surge. Personally, I feel it’s the right thing to do. Our government has done us a disservice and the longer we stay quiet, the more of a hold they’ll have over us.
Descriptions can be misleading. As such, when Experiment 34 is described - as a heavy rock/funk band with predominant rapped vocals and socially conscious lyrics - impressions are almost invariably going to think to Rage Against The Machine. I was surprised to find that, tonally, Experiment 34 sounds much different, and the overall vibe often reaches back to early Incubus or, even farther back, Mordred. What are the challenges in getting potential listeners past preconceptions?
As a rock band this day in age you have to put your money where your mouth is. RATM is a major influence of mine, there’s no way around that. But so is Johnny Cash, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Doors and many others. Plus, the other members of the band have all of their influences. That’s really what makes us original. Our similarities keep us glued while our differences make us different. That’s what I love about being in a band. Don’t get me wrong, we can jam “Bulls on Parade” like that’s what we’re meant to do...but it doesn’t mean we sound like that all the time. Listeners are going to hear what they want to hear, so we have to put our money where our mouths are.
New Jersey still has a thriving rock-oriented scene happening throughout the state, but it’s fair to say that funk-rock (or rock in general) doesn’t sound like the mainstream right now. In your estimation, is that a good thing or an obstacle that greater audience awareness will overcome?
Great question. To sit here and say, “woe is me, the music we make isn’t what people typically listen to” would be all too easy. We make the music we make because we like it...hopefully, others will as well. I wouldn’t call it an obstacle. Anyone who sees us live tends to dig us no matter his or her taste. It just means we have to rock that much harder. I can’t speak for the rest of the rock scene, but I’ve noticed a lot of bands doing really well lately, so I think rock will survive.
Even with the problems that a band - new or otherwise - might face in getting into the public consciousness, there has never been a better time for indie artists to thrive, thanks in part to Internet platforms that help get artists heard. How important are these platforms to Experiment 34 in terms of getting heard and gaining awareness?
You could make the argument that it actually hinders a band from standing out... this is because everyone and their mother now have a music page. It’s an excellent way of getting your music out there, absolutely. But there’s so much at your fingertips people don’t seem to want to leave the house anymore, never mind trying something new. I’m not complaining, I’ve just never been a big fan of social media. It’s a necessary evil we use for the sake of being heard.
What was the band lineup for the recording? Recently there have been some personnel changes. Who are on board now?
We actually have two new members that we are extremely excited about! Keith Leming is our drummer and he got the songs down in just a few practices. Also, we have Bryan Viegas on bass and he plays with an aggression that we really enjoy.
What must an Experiment 34 live show bring to the audience, and what takeaways do you hope that people will leave with?
Energy. They feed off of us and we feed off of them. If there’s a ton of people or none at all, you have to bring it... or else what’s the point? If people took the time to see us live, I want to make sure we leave an imprint on them.
The album was mastered by Alan Douches who has an impressive C.V., including artists like Cage the Elephant, New Jersey bands Titus Andronicus and Symphony X, and many indie rock artists as well. What drew the band to his services?
He has an impressive resume and does excellent work. We’re really happy with the way it came out and can’t wait to get our hard work out to everybody. We’ll definitely be going back to him the next time around.
I’d like to circle back to the political side of things. Right now, there are deep social divides across the country. Lots of artists are getting pushback, not for having specific viewpoints, but for having any viewpoints. In my memory, there hasn’t been such a call for distraction and escapism in a long time. As a band that has a clear view about the way the world is at present, what is the role of the artist to voice those concerns?
Everybody is different. For some people, ignorance is bliss. I don’t mean to put anybody down by saying that, it’s just how some people are more comfortable living. Personally, it makes me sick to see the world with such discourse. I may not be able to change the world, but if I can change one person’s world, or wake one person up, I have to try. More than anything, I think I can speak for most artists when I say that this is an outlet for me. This is how I cope without exploding. I take it out on the pen and paper, then eventually the mic.
What has been the general reaction to getting out there and being forthright and unafraid to state these concerns?
I’ve heard audience members say that they admire our ability to really make a point and stand for something. I’ve been told the opposite. Everybody is different. Some people want to hear “Gucci gang, Gucci gang, Gucci gang” six thousand times... some people want to see the depths of your soul. It just depends on who’s listening. I’ve always been a confrontational person. I’m peaceful as can be, or I try to be, but I don’t stand idly by when I see change is needed.
What are the plans for the band after February?
We hope to tour. Honestly, our everything has been put into this album and its release, but 2019 will be a busy year for us.
All photos of Experiment 34 by Anthony Vito Cosentino
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