ARTIST INTERVIEW: Friend Roulette Discuss ‘The Matt Sheffer Songbook’

A well-worn cliche is that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but Brooklyn band Friend Roulette has taken it a step further: their latest release, The Matt Sheffer Songbook, Vol. 1, is a collection of songs an old friend wrote, but rejected, deeming them unworthy for the world to hear. To prove him wrong, they recorded their own versions and released the five songs as an EP on 6/16  via Pretty Purgatory.

The result is a quietly beautiful, albeit short, collection. If you search for Friend Roulette, you’ll quickly see adjectives like “whimsical” and labels like “chamber pop.” That doesn’t quite cut it, but it seems impossible to write a succinct description of their unique sound; it’s orchestral, and incorporates pop, folk and psychedelic elements. The Matt Sheffer Songbook brings together all of those things in turn, beginning with the somewhat somber “You’re A Fox,” moving into the funky “Snow Pea,” and eventually ending with a playful ditty about killing a spider, “Bacon And Raisins.” There’s a certain antiqueness to the songs, as if they’re the soundtrack to a black and white movie, or heard in a dream that stays in the back of your mind all day. Though they were simply Sheffer’s unfinished sketches of songs, the only thing that’s missing is more of them.

We spoke to several members of the band before their release show at Silent Barn, and they filled us in on the man behind the songs, their recording process and more. Read some of our conversation, and listen to the EP, below.

AudioFemme: Let’s talk about your friend Matthew Sheffer. Your new EP is a recording of some of his old songs, but I was reading that he’s maybe not so happy about that.

Julia Tepper (Violin & Vocals): He’s more recently become a confident and powerful and musician in his own right, and I think he’s still coming to terms with the fact that people love his old stuff too.

Matthew Meade (Guitar & Vocals): I just hung out with him a couple of weeks ago in Texas, and, you know, a good review would come and out and he would be like, “I don’t really care.” I talked to him about how we might do Volume II, and he was like, “Eh, you don’t really need to do that. There’s so much bad stuff.” But I’ve got over two hours of material of his to sift through.

Julia: We recorded them without asking. But I think he knew it was coming from a good place. And we’re not trying to say that they’re our songs, or anything. The band is all about us being friends, and being supportive of each other as musicians, and we feel that way about him, even if he doesn’t feel that way about himself.

AF: Is the EP an exact copy of his old songs, or did you just go by the lyrics and melodies?

Matt: I had to find all the old MP3’s he made and transcribe them, because they were really, really bad recordings. But yeah, it’s like the same songs.

Julia: They’re pretty similar. And on the cassette we released, the B side is actually his original recordings. I think the coolest thing about it is hearing them both.

Nate Allen (Bass): We barely even changed arrangements or anything like that.

Julia: Which is why they’re so short, for the most part. He never finished them. They’re sketches of ideas, and they still hold up anyways.

AF: Which songs are your favorites?

Matt: I like “Snowpea.” Well, I like “Snowpea” but “Joan” is my favorite song of all time. If I were to die, and someone was like, “What was his favorite song?” tell them it’s “Joan.” It’s a great funeral song.

Nate: I think I like “Bacon and Raisins” the best.

Julia: Yeah, that’s my favorite, too. 

AF: You went to school together, where you studied jazz. Would you say that you use what you learned there now?

Matt: I want to say no…

Julia: I love that one metaphor, I forgot who said it: you drink from the fountain of jazz, so it can’t help but, um… come out…

Matt: Yeah, that’s Robert Wyatt. “I drink from the fountain of jazz, so I can’t help but piss it out.” And that’s really us.

AF: But it seems like you guys are sometimes still stuck with that “chamber pop” label.

Matt: Yeah, we got slapped with that on right from the get go.

Julia: It’s more of… I don’t know how to describe what genre we fit into, but when you work in an industry, and you want to play shows with other bands, they ask, “What are you?” And then you kind of have to see, well, what other bands would want to play with us? So we get paired with chamber pop and math rock. That’s not what we are, but also, who else would we play with? It’s confusing.

AF: What was the recording process like for this EP?

Matt: We recorded it in Ryan Weiner’s apartment. He’s in the band Tiny Hazard, a good friend of ours. We didn’t go into a studio at all. But that was two or three years ago.

AF: What made you decide to release it now?

Matt: Oh, we had every intention of releasing it. We’re just slow as fuck. And it’s not even like we’re working that hard. It’s not like we’re geniuses or anything, perfecting our craft. We’re just really irresponsible.

AF: Do you have any memorable moments from your tour this week?

Matt: Yeah, Richmond was memorable. We got shut down during our first song, by the landlord. He made a random visit to the apartment, and he shut it down and said, “The devil’s had its fun!”

Nate: We were playing a really quiet ballad, it was a very sweet song. Everyone was leaving and bummed as fuck, but then we realized, everyone was on their phones, making calls, sending texts, looking for a new venue. People weren’t like, oh, cool, I’m gonna go home.

John Stanesco (Bass Clarinet & EWI): What you see on the tour is, the DIY scene is so strong in so many cities and towns. I was thinking, I wish we had something like that in New York, but then I was thinking back to when Shea Stadium shut down, or when Palisades shut down, and there really is that community here. People band together to find new venues to hold shows that were rescheduled.

AF: Any upcoming Friend Roulette projects we should watch out for?

John: I think we’re trying to get back into really doing things, just putting out stuff really fast now. We’re not sure if we’re going to stick with the traditional EP, followed by a full length formula. We were talking about some other strategies to maybe just, keep releasing. And we’re also getting better as producers, getting better gear, where maybe we could self release stuff, you know, to keep in the public eye. So to speak. Rather than just waiting for the machinery of labels and PR to churn.


ALBUM REVIEW: Meilyr Jones “2013”


It doesn’t matter if you’ve never heard of Meilyr Jones, or his former band Race Horses. It doesn’t matter if you think Jones is English, when in fact, he’s a Welshman. It doesn’t even matter if you’re stumped on how exactly to pronounce “Meilyr”-because an authoritative voice tells you within the first 30 seconds of 2013’s opening track “How To Recognise A Work of Art.”

These things cease to matter, not because they are uninteresting, but because it is such a great record that it speaks for itself. It stands on its own two feet.

2013 is many things-a contemporary foray into baroque and renaissance influences, a brilliant pop record, a sonic odyssey with innumerable peaks and valleys. But it is also a love letter to Rome, the breeding ground for many of songs on the album. After the disbandment of Race Horses and the end of a relationship, Jones romantically fled to the ancient city, catalyzed by reading art history texts and Byron’s Don Juan. “I got really taken over by the feeling of adventure and passion in Byron, and some of Shelley’s poetry and Keats as well. And they were all people who went to Rome.” Jones mentioned in a press release.

And so along with everything else, 2013 has yet another incarnation, as a scrapbook of Jones’s time in Rome, and everything he loves in general. “I wanted to make something that felt right to me and expressed my interests, which are classical music and rock ‘n’ roll music, and films, and nature and karaoke, and tacky stuff,” Jones says. “And I wanted to capture that feeling in Rome of high culture and low-brow stuff all mixed together.” For a record so difficult to nail down, it is comforting to know that such a stew of influences went into making it.

It might amaze you, as it did me, that five of the twelve tracks on 2013 were recorded live in all of one day with a 30 plus piece orchestra that Jones assembled himself. Jones told press that he “wanted to record it completely live. The idea was doing it like a Frank Sinatra session.” And that idea certainly comes across in the grand arrangements Jones has served up.

He’s a songwriter with big ideas, delivering lofty compositions of the finest kind. “How To Recognise A Work Of Art” confirms the pop chops Jones has been refining since his days in Race Horses, the sweeping orchestral arrangements bringing a whole new dimension to otherwise infectious hooks.



“Don Juan” slows the record down to a honeyed melancholy, which is the only place to go after a banger such as “How To Recognise A Work Of Art.” Inspired by the same poem that led him to Italy, “Don Juan” is a nod to the baroque with subtle harpsichord and recorder riffs. The opening notes remind me of the exoticism found in The Stranglers’ “Golden Brown,” a similar genre-bending track. While straying from gimmick, “Don Juan” does render a lush image of open-bloused sirs flung upon velvet divans, drinking not from cups, but goblets.  

One of the most compelling aspects of Jones’s songs is that they behave more like Classical compositions or film scores than traditional pop music. They never end where they began, and traverse twisting paths the whole way through. “Passionate Friend” thumps along like the opening number in a sinister musical, the first words to which are nearly whispered by Jones: “Sometimes I am with the witches//on fire, fast and ruined//sometimes all around, with the honey in me, I quicken.”

“Refugees” is the emotional core of 2013, seemingly the most obvious breakup song. The leading single off the record, it is the first song I heard by Meilyr Jones, and it continues to resonate deeply with me. It is spare enough to exhibit his incredible talent; there are no bells, whistles, or harpsichords, just Jones at the piano with his striking choirboy voice.



2013 is an album in two acts, bisected on either side of “Rain In Rome,” an instrumental that melds organ with pattering raindrops and violent applause. It is a joyous palette cleanser, as the remainder of the album will volley from straight up rock with “Strange Emotional” to classical dramas such as “Return To Life” and “Olivia,” the latter of which features an operatic choir. There is a lot going on here, but I wouldn’t change it a bit.

I could all too easily write a synopsis of every track on this record, which is something I am rarely compelled to do…but 2013 is that wonderful. There isn’t a mediocre song on it. If you like Kate Bush, Van Morrison, The Zombies, if you like classical, eccentric, baroque, chamber, psychedelic, garage, or just slickly written pop, I recommend, beg, entreat you: give Meilyr Jones a chance. You will never be bored again.

2013 is out now via Moshi Moshi Records.


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LIVE PHOTO REVIEW: The Family Crest @ Madison Square Park

the family crest

Last week we caught The Family Crest at Madison Square Park as part of its Oval Lawn concert series. The 7-piece SF-based Chamber Pop project is in the middle of a massive North American tour supporting the release of their latest album, Beneath The Brine, which has reached a fever pitch of critical praise. Peep our photo editorial of the show below.
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Photo credit: Mia Min Yen


VIDEO PREMIERE: Kate Copeland “Breaking”

Kate Copeland

NYC-based orchestral pop artist, Kate Copeland, has slowly built a name for herself writing beautifully intricate vocal-driven tracks that showcase her background in composition as well as her wide range of influences, which span widely, from seminal folk icons, to classical behemoths like Stravinsky (adding to her cool-factor, Copeland also performs in a Seattle-based psych-rock band!!). Her debut album, Recollection Room, is due out on June 8th, and her lead single, “Breaking”, gives us a clear glimpse of what we have to look forward to from the full-length.

The Oberlin conservatory grad clearly possesses a strong sense for music theory, evident within “Breaking”‘s thoughtful arrangement, which includes twinkling piano and ukulele lines, and a slow, mooring cello on the low-end. The song builds up slowly, integrating more and more instrumentation, pulling the listener into the emotional crevices of Copeland’s songwriting until you feel as if you’re a part of the music itself.

The video, out today, depicts Copeland as a 50s-era, glammed-up, but viscerally lonely housewife, bereft yet still awaiting the return of someone or something that eludes her. Shot in black and white for the first minute or so, we see her slowly acquiring more color, as the song builds. Soon she’s removing the various accoutrement that lend to her image the appearance of perfection, as paint splatters across her face. We are shown the underbelly of a life that presents itself as tidy, but in reality is perhaps full of pain and anguish. Beautiful and complicated at once, Copeland narrates a motif I think we can all likely relate to. See for yourself, how the story culminates:

Keep your eyes out for Kate’s debut album, out June 8th. She’ll be performing in Seattle, at the Seattle Columbia City Theatre on June 7th for her album release show.