Featured Guest is the section of my website where I interview artists, actors, musicians, authors and various cool people I have crossed paths with over the years. Tonight we had a pow wow with main man Matthew Harrington, the singer for the long running and popular Boston band Cortez. Cortez had a new album out on Salt of The Earth Records. Matthew and I talked about his life history, inspiration, films, life perspective and more in this interesting interview. Very cool to talk with Matt today, laying down thoughts on the history, the present and the future of Cortez. - G

 

1.Matt how are you doing today man? Good to speak with you.

 

Hey Gideon, doing well, my man.  Hope all’s well on your end.  Likewise, and thank you for reaching out, I’m honored.

 

2.Glad you’re doing well man. Yes thanks all is good here. You’re welcome and to you too. Tell us a little about your background, are you from Boston originally?

 

I’m not, but I have lived in this city for most of the last 17 years.  I grew up in a military family, and while we spent most of our time in Hawaii and Rhode Island, we lived in several other spots up and down the East Coast as well.  I went to 4 high schools in 4 wildly different states (and something like 10 or so schools overall), so unlike a lot of folks who probably had bands growing up, I didn't really have that chance since we moved so frequently and never really got out of basements/garages.   

 

Yeah okay.

 

Aside from one lengthy stretch our second time in Hawaii, we moved every few years, and I would say that transience and exposure to diverse cultures is something that has influenced me in many ways.  It’s at the center of my worldview, core philosophy, and outlook on life.

 

Yeah I can dig it, when I was younger I similar experiences and it definitely in hindsight played a huge hand in the same ways. That’s great man.

 

I’m lucky, in that I’m an incredibly social person and don’t have a hard time forging friendships with people, but it wasn’t like that was something that happens overnight in a new place that may be far removed from the last, both culturally and geographically.  The music was always there though, and got me through more than a few rough patches.  Still is.  Still does. 

 

3. For sure, I can see that because most people who move often like that have a hard time forming new friends and adapting during that time of their life. Yeah that’s really good. What inspired you to sing in rock groups and what was your history leading up to joining the group Cortez?

 

I’ve always loved to sing and write, so I think it was more of an unavoidable inevitability than anything particularly inspirational.   I enjoy telling stories, performing, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy attention, so that’s part of it as well.

 

I wanted to be a guitarist growing up and maybe someday people will see my sweet rock moves, but I’ve been incredibly fortunate to consistently link up with talented people who put my humble playing to shame, so I've stuck to what I do best.

 

4.Did you have any favorite albums or groups that inspired you during your early years?

 

As a kid, I grew up listening to a lot of classic stuff like The Stones, Queen, Boston, Heart, The Beach Boys, and The Who.  Led Zep, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Bowie, and Sabbath were in the rotation as well as I got a little older.  As a teen into my 20s, it was mish mash of punk and hardcore, classic rock, post-punk, surf rock, new wave, hip-hop, indie rock, and grunge.  All that stuff definitely informed and continues to inform my approach to music in general, but also specifically how I approach Cortez tunes.

 

Very cool man.  

 

I’d say the stuff that has stuck with me the most as musical touchstones from my youth/formative years (aside from the previously mentioned) would be The Misfits (I sing in a Misfits tribute called The Double Whoa Sevens), Melvins, Danzig (1 and 2 especially), Talking Heads, Descendents, Faith No More, Wipers, Monster Magnet, Killing Joke, Morphine, Clutch, Hüsker Dü, The Cure, Iron Maiden, The Pixies, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Naked Raygun, Motörhead, Neil Young, and Black Flag.

 

Great man, I didn’t know you sang in a Misfits tribute band. That’s awesome. Yeah I love a lot of those too. How did you meet the band and Cortez come together?

 

So, it’s funny.  Jay and Jeremy used to play in a band called Steelhead around the turn of the century, and my band Left of Heaven used to play shows with them here and there, so I knew those guys prior to joining.  I actually tried out for another one of their bands later on, and then tried out for Cortez a year or so before I went to see them at the end of a tour where they had gone out as an instrumental group.  Scott and I had a good time talking over a few beers that night, he sent me some new stuff they were working on, and a week or two later we got together to jam on some tracks from the EP and a few songs that eventually became part of the 1st full length.  I joined the band officially a few months later.  A couple of years after that, we were lucky enough to welcome Alasdair on board to bring us back to a 5 piece, and just recently we added Alexei on drums. 

 

 

6.Awesome. You guys have a new record out now, can you tell us a little about the recording?

 

Sure thing, and I’ll start with heaping much deserved praise on the wizard, Benny Grotto, who I can’t say enough good things about.  The man is a master of his craft, and just an all-around fun dude to work with. 

 

Oh yeah he’s great, very cool producer.

 

I don’t know about other bands’ processes, but we demo and edit and re-demo and re-edit and then edit some more before we declare a song “done,” let alone think about stepping foot in a studio.  We want to be as efficient as possible with our time during basics, so we have the cash and freedom to experiment later in the process.  We came into this session knowing we wanted to track every single song we had “finished,” so we’d have some tracks ready for splits, comps, or whatever, and we knew we needed to be as tight as possible to make that happen.  Jeremy and Jay are total pros, and just killed it during the initial sessions.  That set Scott, Jay, Alasdair, and myself up with plenty of time to work with Benny on our tracking, overdubs, and ultimately on the whole mixing process itself. 

 

Benny, Scott, and I had a lot of fun with the vocal tracking and mixing this time around, and I’ll give my guys total credit here for putting me in a position where we had the time and freedom within our budget.  It also doesn’t hurt that Scott did a LOT of extra work on our demos this time around, and we really had a solid idea of what we wanted to execute on by the time we had Benny in front of the board.

 

 

7.How did you hook up with Salt Of The Earth Records?

 

Scott Harrington from SotE has been a fan of Cortez going way, way back.  When we announced that “The Depths Below” was complete, he hit us up and we had a great discussion around their plans for the label, some of the bands they were beginning to work with, and their potential plans for us.  As I said, it really helps that Scott H has been a longtime fan and the whole SotE team loves the music we create as a band.   It’s very exciting to be involved with a new label that has such an inspiring roster of bands, and respect for the music that we all create.

 

8. Yeah man, Harrington’s such a great guy. Solid, supportive, enthusiastic dude. He's been way cool to me for years. That’s awesome bro. What inspired your songwriting on the new record?

 

It's interesting... this record was wrapped up about 2 years ago, and some of these songs date back to right around the time we completed the 1st full length, so there's about 5 or so years in there where I was actively writing for this record. I had some significant personal change going on at that time, and there's a couple of nods to that.  I'll preface this next part by saying that Cortez is not a political band, but there were many moments and movements covered by the 24/7 world news cycle from around the time of the lead up to the 2012 US Presidential election through the seemingly endless Primaries that lead up to the 2016 US Presidential election that were certainly influential and inspirational to me.  Also, the continuing march of social media and how that affects interpersonal and wider relationships, the belief systems and ideologies we cling to, the brands we allow to have power over us, and the reality tunnels we force ourselves into. 

 

Yeah okay.

 

There's a loose lyrical concept that runs through all the tracks on this record concerning the power of influence and ideology, how people get swept up in both, what that means for society, and what comes next in terms of redemption or how we move forward as individuals and a people.  All of that is a little more allegorical and perhaps more traditionally conceptual in the trilogy that makes up tracks 3 through 5, but the same ideas thread their way through the rest of the songs as well, from "All Gone Wrong" all the way through "Orison."

 

9.Very original man. Of all your live shows what are some of the stand out memories in your band’s history?

 

You recently spoke with my label mate, Bill Kole of Ol' Time Moonshine, and you'll have to forgive me but I'm gonna copy my buddy's homework here.  We had an amazing show in Vermont last year at this rad spot called The Chürch, and played in front of a packed house at one of the coolest DIY venues I’ve ever had the privilege of playing.  It was really fun to be able to share a stage with Scissorfight, OTM, and Buzzard Canyon in front of that crowd.  I hope it’s something we can do again this year, and maybe make it an annual thing.  They have a great group of people up there at The Chürch, and they should be proud of the scene they’ve built.

 

10.Yeah okay, Bill’s a cool guy, I really dug talking with him (see Bill Kole interview) . Cool man sounds really good. What do you hope to accomplish in the near future with your music?

 

I think we’d all like to head back to the EU and do a stretch of dates over there, but we just had our CD release show in Boston, so right now we’re focused on playing regional shows and getting the word out about “The Depths Below.”  We’re also well into writing songs for full length #3, and I’m really stoked at how the new tunes are coming along.  We’ve had some health issues, life changes, and lineup changes in the last couple of years, so we’re hoping we won’t take nearly as long to get the next album out for people to hear. 

 

11.Outside of music talk, What life skill do you feel everyone should have?

 

Mindfulness. 

 

12.Right on. What do you feel were some of your mistakes in your life and some of your best choices?

 

You know, I try not to dwell on things I can’t change.  I think it’s more important to understand the lesson and use that to become a better human. 

 

13.What advice would you give to a younger artist starting out today?

 

Haha marry into wealth, lawyer up, get divorced, and take half?  Honestly, I think I’d just say be open minded and constructive with your band mates or partners during the writing and recording process.  You owe each other honesty, respect, and the freedom to try something new or different.  That said, play and write for the song, not yourself.  It’s important to be critical of the music you make. 

 

Also, unless I’m somehow speaking to a young Iron Maiden in this scenario, no one really wants to see you play for more than 30-40 minutes.  Practice until you’re tight as fuck, get your shit on and off stage quickly, respect the sound engineer, and ritually murder everyone in the room with a solid 35ish minute set that would leave them wanting more if you hadn’t just killed them all.

 

 

14.I can dig it. I always say short explosive sets are memorable and always bring the fans back in for another with excitement. But in time long shows really please fans, it all depends on the time period of the band’s history and yeah style. Sure, that’s a good example saying Maiden. Yeah great points, sound engineers need to respect the band and bands need to respect the engineers. In what ways has your perspective shifted about underground music scenes since you began playing?

 

You know, I don’t know that it really has.  I think it’s cool to see a return to that DIY mentality over the past decade or so, and this is one place where I see the Internet as a boon for a lot of artists.  People have endless creative freedom within music, and there is an audience for everything out there now.  I’m particularly excited to see bands stretch outside the confines of genre and expectations, especially as they start to build that audience and get wider attention.

 

15.I can dig that man. Good answer. Do you have other creative interests outside of music?

 

I write short-form fiction and have a few things I'm working on, but my job keeps me incredibly busy and I don’t have nearly enough time to devote to them as I’d like.  I really enjoy cooking and the creative nature of that.  I used to cook in some pretty nice places for a living when I was younger, and I’ve always found it incredibly meditative and satisfying from a creative standpoint.    

 

 

16.Do you have any favorite books?

 

Oh, quite a few.  I tend to be in the middle of 2 or 3 books at any given point.  I also love comics or graphic novels or whatever we're calling them these days.  Some of my all-time favorites would be The Lone Wolf and Cub Series (‘Satan’, from the s/t album, is a nod to this), Dune, Neuromancer, The Illuminatus Trilogy (and Robert Anton Wilson in general), Lord of the Rings, Transmetropolitan, everything Philip K Dick, Lord of Light, Akira, The Big Knockover, Watchmen, Saga, American Gods, Y The Last Man, Tao Te Ching, Ancillary Justice, Chuang Tzu, The Stand, Manufacturing Consent, The Handmaid's Tale and the MaddAddam trilogy (Margaret Atwood is a fave in general), The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (and a lot of Heinlein's work)... and, shit man, I'll stop there or I won't ever stop.

 

17.Haha okay I understand, good sources for sure. Favorite films?

 

Where do I even start?  Probably with Repo Man.  Fucking legendary. 

 

Great to hear you say Repo Man. Nobody talks about that one much, I remember it really well.

 

Also: 2001, Dr Strangelove, Empire Strikes Back, Blade Runner, Akira, The Great Escape, Apocalypse Now, Shogun Assassin, Wall-E, Coming to America, Blue Velvet, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, Kill Bill, The Fall, Children of Men, They Live, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Blazing Saddles, Godfather I and II, Yojimbo, Goodfellas, Videodrome, and the Citizen Kanes of 1989 and 1991 respectively, Roadhouse and Point Break.

 

18. Great yeah, 2001. Children of Men, very heavy film. They Live is always a favourite. Interesting to hear you name Yojimbo. Blade Runner, also a classic. I interviewed a friend who is Hindu and we talked about his life and Hinduism, he always talks about Blazing Saddles. I think for some people certain films kind of make this impression and the variety are wide. I think everything goes back to Conan the Barbarian and Point Break, but I’m a huge fan of so many kinds of films for so many reasons. All those are very cool man. Big fans of Roadhouse and Point Break around here. What are some of the bands you know you’d encourage readers to check out?

 

So, I’ll admit it… I’m kind of the worst about listening to new music, but like a lot of people I've been digging the hell out of that new Elder record.  I'm looking forward to new Chelsea Wolfe, Monolord, and Ufomammut later this year, and hopefully making the time soon to actively listen to the new Bison, Unearthly Trance, Mutoid Man, Boris, and Melvins records. 

 

Man I am too, I am really bad at checking out new bands as often as I should. Some of those I know and some of those I need to check out!

 

Lately I've been rocking a lot of Whores, Earth, Tombs, Crippled Black Phoenix, Danzig’s Lucifuge, Beastmilk, Lana Del Rey, Ulver, quite a bit of Soundtrack work (Morricone, Stranger Things, Black Mirror, Halt and Catch Fire), 35007, Disfear, SURVIVE, Emma Ruth Rundle, Adolescents, Kendrick Lamar, A Place to Bury Strangers, a lot of NWOBHM classics, and 90s hip-hop like Smif N Wessun, Gangstarr, and GZA’s “Liquid Swords” album. 

 

Awesome. Love a lot of that stuff. Lana Del Rey, NWOBHM, those early Danzig records. I dig Gangstarr and I’m a big 90’s hip-hop fan too. I listen to all  kinds of music.

 

I definitely encourage people to look into the Salt of the Earth catalog, as there have been some stellar releases so far and our label mates Atala and Scissorfight had a great showing at Roadburn and Desertfest this year.  Around Boston/MA, Darryl Shepard has a new project called Test Meat and Jim Healey (Black Thai/We're All Gonna Die) is just about to debut Set Fire, Worshipper put out a really fun record recently, and I'm hoping we’ll get some new stuff from Birch Hill Dam soon.  Outside of that, I'll happily point people towards our buds in The Humanoids, Crowrider, Wasted Theory, Borracho, and Mighty High.   

 

 

19.Right on for sure. Yeah man I think that’s amazing about Atala and SF at Roadburn. I dig a lot of those guys and the ones I need to hear I will get to soon.  Do you guys have any shows or news coming up you’d like to talk about?

 

Oh, absolutely.  Now that we’ve had our CD release, and we’re in the back half of summer, we’re booking Fall and looking beyond that.  We’ll hopefully do a weekender or two down the coast before the year is out, and we’re really excited to be part of Forge Fest in Providence on September 23rd.  The lineup is pretty stacked on both days, and it’s going to be a blast.

 

We’re hoping to have something to share soon about pressing “The Depths Below” to vinyl with Salt of the Earth.  We’ve also got something in the works with Ripple Music that I can’t say much about just yet, but for those looking for a little more of that new Cortez… stay tuned, we got you.

 

That’ll be great bro.

 

Other than that, we’re back to work on tracks for the not even close to being titled full length number 3.  We’ve got the basic skeletons of about 7 or 8 songs right now, and knowing us, these may take a few different forms as we push them towards a demo worthy state.  Alexei joined us early on in the writing process, so we’ll have some new influences making their way into our sound and I’m excited to see where that takes us.  This is really my favorite part, man… we’re building the groundwork for what’s coming next, actively creating together, and the whole process just puts a big smile on my face.

 

 

20.Awesome brother. Look forward to keeping up with new stuff. Any last words for your fans?

 

Thank you, truly.  It’s incredibly humbling to have people from all over the world connect with the work our little band from Boston is putting out.  We’re building some of the best stuff we’ve ever done right now, and I can’t wait to share it.

 

Matthew, thanks to you for the interview. A pleasure catching up with you bro. Keep me updated on your new stuff and keep up the rock. Thanks bro and take care, G

 

Small Stone Recordings

GS Tribute Album

Cemetery Crows

C.Crows Gideon's side project doom metal, sludge, gothic blues band. You can check out a few songs from the early demo on the reverbnation page. Doom On.

https://www.reverbnation.com/cemeterycrows