Interview with Danny Belgrad of Vern Matz
A new single has dropped from American band Vern Matz, a group of self-described ‘wide-eyed Yale students’.
Vern Matz is made up of Danny Belgrad, Michael Lituchy and Noah Silvestry, and a band’s first single rarely sounds so polished yet willing to experiment. Lyrically, the song is tinged with nostalgia, with the band telling The405: “At its core, ‘Trampolines’ is a nostalgic piece that yearns for something that never really existed. It's like driving through a suburban town and feeling a longing for a time and place that you never experienced. You know you can't have it, you never did – it's just this feeling of reaching out.”
There are so many unique features to this track which only reveal themselves after multiple listens. Be it the creeping, rapidly-bowed strings laced in reverb, the brisk stuttering of a guitar through a tremolo pedal, or the voices that can be heard in the brief reprise before the explosion of an outro. This accomplishes something interesting, making the listener look back to the past (just as the lyrics do) as they reflect on not hearing these subtleties upon previous listens. The song escalates from subdued, personable folk sensibilities – complete with bowed strings, piano harmony and strummed acoustic chords – to a surprising outro with shifting rhythms, pitch shifted guitars, and a thundering bassline that wouldn’t have sounded amiss on Radiohead’s ‘The Bends’. After such an exciting single, we’re very lucky to feature an interview from band member Danny Belgrad below.
First of all, could you introduce yourself to all of our readers? What role do you play in the band?
I'm the lead singer and guitarist in Vern Matz.
So, you’re all Yale students. What do you major in, and has this had any effect on your writing or recording?
I’m a philosophy major, Noah is an architecture major, and Michael is a biology major. I think any academic influence is really muted, and anything that is shaped by our studies got covered up pretty hard cause it was too dweeby. I love philosophy but there’s no place for regurgitating German philosophers in the context of indie rock - it’d be the height of pretension. I snuck in some references to the Martian Chronicles on another song though - stuff about aliens watching cartoons and killing each other
For a three-piece, you’ve got a large sound, especially when it comes to that explosion of an outro! What was the inspiration for such a marked change towards the end of the track?
We really wanted to stuff everything we could into ‘Trampolines’. It was our first time in a recording studio, and we wanted every possible idea we could think of in the song. I wanted delay guitars, and Michael wanted spliced vocal segments, and Noah wrote out this string arrangement. In the end, we were just like, ok, let’s throw it all in.
The song started with these verses which I’d written as a kid, and Noah suggested to keep expanding the song. I went back and wrote out this piano progression inspired by ‘You and Whose Army?’ by Radiohead, and then we pushed that part pretty hard in the studio to make it dense and affected. My favourite part is the chorus, though, and that was something that came very late in the process, when Michael and I got together to write acoustically. At that point, we were like, ok, we have a folk song now, this thing has to be two distinct parts. Let’s make the end weirder.
What is your writing process like as a band?
Our writing varies, but a lot of times I’ll come in with an egg, and then Michael and I will sort out the bones of a song. From that, the three of us refine everything and nit-pick each other’s parts until we have something. The song writing is obviously incredibly important, but a lot of the creativity is sound design in the studio - our producer and engineer Matt is an amazing guy. We all produce on our own outside of Vern Matz, and Noah is developing a really strong engineering skill set, so we end up throwing a million things at Matt. He’s great about calming us down and mixing it the right way. We usually go like 14 hours in a row on honey sticks and La Croix until we get kicked out of the studio.
I spent a huge portion of my college life starring at frequency charts and trying to learn how to produce by listening to Grimes until I went crazy. Having a dedicated producer/engineer is amazing.
The single cover art is great too, almost like a muted pop art aesthetic. Who designed it, what made you choose it, and how does it relate to the song?
I love muted pop art aesthetic as a description! Michael has an obscure and lovely talent for finding unknown artists and reworking their original designs until it looks properly Vern Matz. We wanted the art to be eye-popping and nostalgic – the pop art image was almost incidental, but it gave the song a nice spin. For musical artwork, we're big believers that colour and emotional tone tell the whole story, so the design is really quite simple.
As for the future, the band will be opening for Tokyo Police Club on 7th December 2017 at the Outer Space. They will be releasing another single “soon”, and plan to release a debut EP in January next year, with their press release stating:
The EP was born out of several road trips between New Haven and Philadelphia. In a lot of ways, the EP is about Vern Matz coming of age - as individuals and as a band. Faced with finding a place in the world, the EP is about fleeing from those decisions and trying to ground themselves. Vern Matz says of the record, "Much of the EP is an expression of a feeling of displacement and an attempt to restore a sense of wholeness. There's a lot of confusion and nervousness in the fact that you don't know what needs to be restored. We looked backwards a lot to resolve that uneasiness and got very swept up in nostalgia." The Vern Matz EP was recorded at Miner Street Recordings, produced and mixed by Matt Poirier, and mastered by Greg Calbi and Ryan Schwabe.
Check out their Twitter and Spotify below: