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.


NEWS ROUNDUP: Halloween Edition!


  • Check Out Friend Roulette’s Spooky “Dutch Master” Video

    The video for “Dutch Master” features disembodied heads and a man with no face to match the mood of the quirky, spooky song. The director, Josh Jones, states: “The video is entirely inspired by the music. I just listened to the song a few times, wrote down these dream-like acts and then started producing. I did all of the photography, lighting, editing and not-so-special effects myself. No crew, just one big beast man running around and tricking people into acting.” Dutch Master is from Friend Roulette’s new album, I See You. Your Eyes Are Red, out now via Goodnight Records.

  • Please Take This Very Important, Very Scary Survey

    Ghosts and ghouls aren’t so bad. In this digital world, what’s actually scary is that we’re held captive by ads, and automated programs collect our personal information so corporations can peek into our minds. To go along with their new album Slagroom, all boy/all girl has created a customer survey that gets very strange, very quickly. Take it here, and watch their video for “Pastels” below.

  • The Controversy Behind The Ghostbusters Theme Song

    Recording the iconic theme song came down to the wire- and while it earned its writer, Ray Parker Jr., a Grammy and top spots on the charts, he was accused of plagiarism by Huey Lewis & the News. Read a history of the song here, which also includes the recent (and questionable) covers of the song for the new Ghostbusters theme (If you prefer the original, it’s below!). Who ya gonna call?

  • Listen To A Halloween-Themed Song By White Mystery

    “Here Come The Zombies” is a demo that was recorded four years ago, and just premiered on High Times. The track features a Gibson Maestro Rover, a kind of amp with a rotating speaker that gives the guitars in the song an awesome effect.

SHOW REVIEW: A Sunny Day In Glasgow @ Pianos, 1-16-13

A lot has changed since A Sunny Day in Glasgow last took the stage together.

On the one hand, their particular brand of shoegaze-influenced dream pop has quite a few predecessors, most notably My Bloody Valentine, with the coy experimentalism of groups like Broadcast.  But from 2006-2010, when the band was most active, there weren’t very many people doing what they were doing in quite the same way, despite whatever obvious cues they might have taken from bands that came before.

2013 is a different story.  We’ve got Tamaryn, we’ve got Young Prisms, we’ve got Wild Nothing, we’ve got a slew of other bands releasing LPs that all kind of exist in this soupy, soothing blare of hazey indie rock.  I don’t mean to imply that the sound is worn-out or adopted too often.  You could do worse than to reference shoegaze.  But it’s interesting to wonder this current revival and subsequent proliferation was spurred at least in part by the acclaim that releases like Scribble Mural Comic Journal and Ashes Grammar garnered at the time of their release.

I really adored A Sunny Day in Glasgow.  Always kind of hated the name, but track for track obsessed over what they were doing sonically.  The reverby harmonies, drowning in a drone that at times was even something of a challenge to listen to (see 5:15 Train) created a constant tension  between the lovely aspects of the songs and the echoic harshness that threatened to destroy that beauty.  There were so many layers to dissect, but you had to be willing to sit there and listen.  And in those days, as silly as it might seem, I defined my musical identity by being someone who would listen to that sort of thing, and felt in a very real way that it gave me a separate identity from those who would not.

It had been a while since I’d heard anything from them.  There had been a kickstarter campaign to help them finish their upcoming album.  But in the internet age, attention spans are unfortunately shortened by the zillions of releases that come out constantly, by the fact that those releases are at our fingertips, by the fact that most of them don’t warrant more than a few casual listens before moving onto the next big thing.  I’d fallen a bit of a victim to that, and nearly forgot about A Sunny Day in Glasgow.

That is, until I noticed they had scheduled a show for LES venue Pianos last Wednesday.  What could it mean?  One thing it meant was that they were still around, still making music.  And another thing that it meant was that I’d be seeing them soon.

I arrived at the venue just a few songs into opening band Friend Roulette’s set (they have a residency at Piano’s in January).  The match made immediate sense to me; Friend Roulette play intense, orchestral indie rock.  Not one but two drummers graced the stage, energetically backing the yearning coos of vocalist Julia Tepper, who gracefully played a swoony violin.  Also of note was the presence of John Stanesco, or more specifically, his EWI (which stands for Electronic Wind Instrument).  This is one of the most mind-boggling contraptions I’ve seen recently.  It’s definitely a woodwind-ish instrument, played like an oboe or clarinet, but with synth-like keys that can allow it to sound like anything from a flute to a keyboard.  I was so obsessed with discerning what it was that it almost distracted me from the band playing.

Being completely distracted, however, was bit of an impossibility, considering how aggressive they are for an indie-rock outfit.  While Friend Roulette is a chamber-pop band that likes to consider themselves kitschy, there was an underlying moodiness to some of their work.  I was most taken with their newest track, “Golden”, featuring a gorgeous, moaning swirl of violin between choruses.  But just a few songs later, they played what I seriously thought was going to be a cover of “Eye of the Tiger”, the opening riffs lifted directly from the iconic Rocky theme.  It then it morphed into something more original, leaving me thinking that maybe it was just sort of a jokey intro to their own song.  Later in the song, however, whiffs of “Eye of the Tiger” came back, so that turned out not to be the case.

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Friend Roulette
Friend Roulette

Despite all that, there are intriguing elements to this band’s compositions, especially the quieter, more subtle plucked violins – but also the cacophonous builds and the drama that comes from them.  This residency could be a great boon for an emerging band like Friend Roulette, still trying to suss out what works and what doesn’t.  The audience seemed quite enthusiastic, so that’s a good start.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow took the stage a little later than expected, though that did not stop them from playing a full set. Pianos loves to deafen its patrons, so the sound wasn’t so much “mixed” as it was excruciatingly loud.  As a result, lead vocalist Jen Gorna had to strain to be heard, pushing her already lean voice to its thinnest points.  Likewise, Annie Fredrickson’s vocals got a bit lost, and as such there was really no hope to bring to the forefront the unique harmonies that set the band apart from their contemporaries.  There didn’t seem to be much reverb on the vocals either, which I consider an essential characteristic behind the band’s recorded sound.  Rather, the two girls tried to rely on playing off of one another to achieve the same effect, which unfortunately didn’t come across with guitar and keys drowning them out.

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the ladies of A Sunny Day in Glasgow
the ladies of A Sunny Day in Glasgow

The band has a great energy though, even shrugging off a heckler who cried “Play the song the drummer knows!”  Gorna did mention that they had not played onstage together in two years, but it was more a statement of fact than an apology for any shortcomings.  She also said that she hoped everyone in the audience had done some drugs before arrival (I had not, not realizing it was a requirement).  They played a healthy mix of tunes from all three releases and, of course, unveiled some new songs, which seem to hold a similar aesthetic to the material on Autumn, Again; the songs were more pop-oriented, with fewer pockets of noisiness and straightforward lyrics.  With the mixing being what it was though, it was honestly a bit hard to tell what they’ll be like on the new record.  So many of the little details that make A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s songs unique were lost in the sheer volume so typical of the venue, but perhaps this will be the first of many more shows.  If nothing else, it served as a perfect reminder that A Sunny Day in Glasgow are still around.  And that was a good memo to get, indeed.

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