Mat Weitman of Hotels On Mars Invites Us To Tour His “Grief Museum”

This past year had me glued to late night news channels and articles on my feed, nonstop. Most of it has been dreary, sometimes hopeless; it became second nature, sighing at my screen. Then came the positive takes, so optimistic about the inevitable change, promises of heading into some kind of normalcy. Although comfort in some form is certainly necessary during these times, I found myself wanting to just scream into the darkness; sometimes I’d rather wallow in the bad, or at least accept reality. That’s why Grief Museum, the debut record from Hotels on Mars, out now via Styles Upon Styles, felt so appealing to me – I could throw it on and let its anti-anthems consume me, even from opening track “The Worst Year On Record,” which goes, “If I could become a rat, well, there’s something appealing in that… because then I could chew through the walls.”

Hotels on Mars began in Chicago, where multi-instrumentalist Mat Weitman released several EPs and singles under the moniker before abandoning the project. After relocating to Brooklyn, Weitman started to contemplate putting out new music, and realized it wasn’t just the worldwide pandemic putting his life on hold. In the beginning of 2020, he had also faced personal tragedies. “It was a rough start to the year,” Weitman tells Audiofemme. “I lost someone really important to me. That shouldn’t have happened. Things started to happen, one thing after the other, kind of going to a larger scale.” Fragments of emblematic journal entries started coalescing around the concepts of wasted time and lost relationships, as well as current events; to recontextualize these in album form, Weitman took on something like the role of a curator, cataloguing events and emotions as his beautiful, haunting Grief Museum came together.

It was no easy feat, especially when mourning. Grief comes with a hint of guilt and loss of self-value, apparent in “(I Don’t Want To) Hurt Myself” where Weitman sings, “Lately, it seems as though all the things I do cause me pain/And not only that, but all the things I touch hardly feel the same/I picked a flower the other day and it died before I could get it into a vase.”

Although contemplative and candid, Grief Museum feels twangy and cosmic, offering lighter tracks as a breather at just the right moments. The album was completely recorded in Weitman’s home, which contributes to the dreamlike vibe. On “Catalina Pigtail Pork-Rind,” Weitman purposely leaned into dream-logic. “It’s kind of like waking up, but talking about a dream. Sometimes in a dream, things are the way they are in waking life, but slightly different,” he says.

While he’s a powerful lyricist, Weitman also channels his feelings into instrumentals dispersed throughout the album’s ten tracks. “I had certain musical themes in terms of chord progressions and going back to certain ones,” Weitman explains, noting that his goal was to “make a real art to it, building toward something that would descend. I had certain lyrics that I would come back to. When you’re really going through something emotional, you return to something over and over. It becomes a loop.” 

In the wake of this year’s events, Weitman found another form of catharsis via his sister Drew, giving added meaning to the record. “Over the summer, I marched with Black Lives Matter,” Weitman says. “At the time, I was doing a lot of work with my sister. I released an unpolished version of ‘Worst Year on Record,’ and all proceeds went to the South Brooklyn Mutual Aid.” The organization will also receive a portion of proceeds from Grief Museum, which features a tribute to Drew in the form of instrumental track “13 Mimosas.” Weitman wrote the song in four parts, contrasting with the more direct approach he took for the rest of the record. “I wrote the album mostly sequentially and I didn’t know if I was going to use it,” he admits. “But it was a relief for me to make. And I found a spot for it.” 

While I was listening to this album initially as something I could drown my sorrows in, I’ve realized since its release that it’s also like a battle cry not to go down without affecting some kind of change. Weitman displays his pain as a means of catharsis, but by using Hotels on Mars as a vehicle to benefit others, he also shows us, by example, how to get through it. “It was important to not just make a song about what’s going on, but to do something for the community… even in a small way,” he says. Grief Museum isn’t just a monument to sadness and suffering – it’s one of reverence, where we can all grow and hopefully learn from its artifacts.

Follow Hotels on Mars via Bandcamp for ongoing updates.

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