One decade after the release of their Translation Loss debut, The Galilean Satellites, Philadelphia’s Rosetta stand on the cusp of their fifth long-player, Quintessential Ephemera. Released in association with Golden Antenna Records, the new album follows 2013’s independently-released The Anaesthete and the 2014 Flies to Flame EP, as well as an original score produced earlier this year for a film about the band, Rosetta: Audio/Visual, and is the latest in a line of deeply creative outings furthering the band’s stylstic meld of atmospheric metal, sludge, post-rock and ambience. Noteworthy also for being their first full-length with the lineup of vocalist/noisemaker Mike Armine, guitarist Matt Weed, bassist Dave Grossman, drummer BJ McMurtrie and guitarist Eric Jernigan after having brought the latter on board in 2014 (he doubles in City of Ships), Quintessential Ephemera continues Rosetta‘s workman-style approach to progressive, fluid and exploratory songwriting, their commitment more to going places they’ve never gone than to any particular genre or other.
Weed took some time out recently to respond to The Obelisk Questionnaire and you’ll find his answers below. Please enjoy:
The Obelisk Questionnaire: Matt Weed
How did you come to do what you do?
Hard to say, since I’ve been in one band or another with our drummer BJ for over half my life. I picked up a guitar when I was 14 and it has always been a kind of territory that I explored, rather than an object I tried to master. So I’ve always written music by default – it was much harder to learn music written by other people. I went to school for totally unrelated stuff and that was probably a good thing, since academic study tends to destroy one’s enjoyment of a thing. I’m a bit of a robot in personality anyway, and music was one of the only ways I could ever access, understand, and communicate about emotion. The verbal language of emotion is either mystifying or outright off-putting to me, but playing an instrument I always felt like I had access to a more truthful way of communicating with people.
Describe your first musical memory.
My parents played a lot of classical LPs on a really crappy integrated turntable/amp system from the ’70s when I was a kid. My dad liked Romantic composers like Brahms and Tchaikovsky a lot, and my mom played the piano in the house, often old hymns. I would sit at the piano and play individual notes to see which I liked. I liked the A two octaves below middle-C the best. I would wail on that note for long periods, sometimes chanting over it (I was about four or five), but my family never complained about it. I guess that was my first foray into drone music.
Describe your best musical memory to date.
In high school, when I was still training on violin, I did a program where high school kids got to sit with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and play together. Each pair of stand partners was one PO member and one high school student. It was remarkable mainly because I was a “just-okay” student of the violin, but while I was on-stage with such serious players, my technique just seemed like it magically improved, instantly. I had no idea I could play like that. It wasn’t objectively great but it was an order of magnitude better than I was normally capable of. I never forgot it, because it was proof to me that everyone does their best work in collaboration; one person who develops skill and takes risks has a beneficial effect on everyone he or she plays with. Likewise, being lazy or self-satisfied drags down everyone around you.
When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?
There have been several extended periods where I really struggled with the idea that having integrity and good character is more important than success. I was brought up believing that (my parents were neither achievement-oriented nor overly accommodating), and I still do. But it’s easy to make that statement when you have enough to eat and can make rent and people are regularly affirming the work you do. Society says that integrity matters, but then turns around and judges you exclusively on indicators of wealth, prestige, or social significance. That would probably explain why so many truly awful people are among the most successful. Especially in the world of art, you need to be profitable, popular, or critically acclaimed. If you’re none of the three, you must not be very good at what you do. Then you feel pressure either to adapt your work to the market or to quit entirely. But neither of those options demonstrates integrity. I’m not sure it’s possible to resolve that conflict, ultimately.
Where do you feel artistic progression leads?
Laying aside questions about marketability, it seems like it’s a progression of greater risk-taking. You try something new and then ask, did it communicate what I wanted to say? Was it satisfying? Did I learn something in the process? If it didn’t work, then you go back and try again. If it worked, then you jump off from there and take more risks. If you’re not taking risks, then you’re not making art, you’re producing a commodity. But taking risks necessarily means failing sometimes.
How do you define success?
Sustainability. I don’t just mean that in the financial sense. I’ve never made any money from the band and I probably never will, but I’m happy for the band to support itself. Money hasn’t ever been a goal, it’s just one means to the end of being able to keep going for as long as there is music we want to make. But there are other dimensions to sustainability, like avoiding personal burnout and cultivating new audiences, not getting stuck in unproductive habits, becoming more disciplined people as time goes on. During periods where Rosetta was broke and almost unable to continue, money always loomed as the largest dimension. But once we went independent and the band more or less began to pay for itself, I started to see a lot of different ways it could be derailed that had nothing to do with money. I think success would be a situation where we had what we needed and were spending more time creating than problem-solving.
What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?
A No Doubt show at the Electric Factory in Philadelphia in 2002. Yes, it was for a girlfriend. Someone puked on my shoes.
Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.
A drone record made with a guitar and found sounds from my house to a four-track tape recorder.
Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?
Every year my wife and I try to go on a wilderness backpacking trip to some weird remote location. I always look forward to that. I feel most human in situations where I have to submit to the law of nature, rather than using technology to bend nature to my wishes. Real life seems totally unreal by comparison.
Rosetta, Rosetta: Audio/Visual Original Score (2015)