Following his own musical muse for 10 years now, Matranga says he “feels validated” that it’s worked out.
It’s safe to assume that the future of Jonah Matranga’s “band,” onelinedrawing, is secure. There’s no chance there’ll be some tumultuous split, fueled on by the inflated egos of the rest of the group’s members.Matranga’s a one-man act. See, that’s one of the perks that come with being a solo artist — the music stops when you do.
Of course, his melodious sidekick, “Are Too,” who’s credited as onelinedrawing’s percussionist on Matranga’s most recent offering, Visitor, could malfunction. But onelinedrawing fans need not fret — Matranga’s prepared should such a mechanical breakdown come to pass.
“The one I’ve got now is the third, I think,” says Sacramento native Matranga, of the portable, discontinued, diminutive R2D2 replica he records with and brings on the road to shows; Are Too’s a Star Wars relic of the 1980s, bearing a finite database crammed with different prerecorded drum beats, bass tracks, computerized squeals and sound effects. “The original one I lost in San Francisco,” Matranga says.
He’d left the 1-foot-tall robot on top of his car and drove off, he says. In the days that followed, Matranga feared he had lost Are Too for good. But then, little more than a week later, a call came from a friend with a connection.
“This guy who worked at Toys R Us, who was there when I bought it, calls me, and says, ‘Hey, we’ve got a few of those things on clearance, just $8,’” Matranga explains. “So I bought those. I’ve got a couple in storage just in case.
So I sort of feel like the universe will provide me Are Toos for as long as I’m supposed to play with a robot onstage.”
While the notion of a man with his robot crisscrossing the United States serenading the nation’s music lovers one venue at a time might seem eccentric, it sort of speaks to Matranga’s musical serendipity. With onelinedrawing, Matranga’s not attempting to augment his savings account; the man’s track record proves that. In fact, he’s not even sure why he does what he does, or where he fits in, as far as the whole grand musical spectrum’s concerned.”All I know is I’ve got to keep on singing,” he says. “I don’t know where I fit in. I don’t know what a scene is. I don’t understand it. Never have, never will. The songs are the rule for me. They’re what I follow around. It’s all about the songs. I realized a long time ago that I don’t have a real focus as far as what I’m doing or want to do. I just want to do stuff that excites me, so it sort of leads me around in a lot of different ways.
“Ten years in, of avoiding day jobs, I feel pretty validated that I’ve sort of followed this weird muse of mine and it’s worked out,” Matranga continues. “I’m not rich and don’t care much if I ever am. But I’m supporting myself, I’m supporting my kid, and I get to meet all of these great people. It’s a beautiful life.”
Matranga’s something of a veteran. From the mid- to late-1990s, he fronted the once-celebrated, now-disbanded Sacramento hardcore foursome Far, a band that mixed heavy, grinding riffs with Matranga’s eloquent yet powerful vocals. Far were responsible for one of 1998′s best records, Water and Solutions.Far split in 1999, because Matranga says he’d written “some songs the rest of the band wasn’t into,” he says; those songs would eventually become Visitor. Although Far’s career was short-lived, it left behind a truly fervent and loyal fan base — most of them, now onelinedrawing fans.
The songs Matranga had written that ultimately led to Far’s demise were too personal to be recorded as a group effort — songs about heartbreak and sweaty sex. So, in Far’s wake, Matranga formed a new band, the now-defunct emo troupe New End Original, and released a series of split singles and EPs. Last spring, Jade Tree Records put out Visitor — a mix of 11 serene, painful, pensive songs he’d written over the past dozen years.
The tracks range from the Nick Drake-like opening weeper, “Um,” which glumly chronicles his divorce, to the emo-by-numbers, heart-on-sleeve diary entry “Candle Song.” Ironically, the “almost stereotypically emo” ballad is the oldest song on the collection, from a time well before the genre was fodder for Time magazine profiles.
With onelinedrawing, Matranga has crafted a Fugazi-like, low-key indie aesthetic that encompasses everything from playing the odd living-room gig between club shows to offering a sliding-scale payment system for the merchandise on his website. Because of the approach he’s taken to his musical career, most critics have called him “a one-man emo band.” It’s no surprise Matranga doesn’t think of himself as emo.
“Emo has been a really big push by some demographic, street-marketing gurus to sell kids Pepsi,” he says. “I really don’t think it’s been a cultural movement. There’s a vaguely confessional, Oprah, Jenny Jones thing going on, where there’s this sort of compulsive outpouring of emotion. But, I don’t even think it’s emotion. The marketing of intimacy and sincerity? That shit is scary. That I can say with clarity.”
Matranga’s says that he has started recording new music “with an old friend” — songs he hopes he’ll be able to release within the year.”The new band, if it’s ever a band, would be called Gratitude,” he explains. “We’re still in the very, very infantile stages at this point. And, I’m a little self conscious about these songs. I mean I love the music, but I grew up on Boston and Journey. It’s not like that, in some senses. It’s like the Pretenders meets Boston, maybe. It’s post-punk music in a way, but it’s really poppy, and it’s going to be really big-sounding. I’ll be singing my ass off, with big harmonies. It’ll probably end up on a major label, which is weird for me because I’m so in love with my rental-car, onelinedrawing life. But these songs, if they make it into the world, need to be brought into the world in a very shiny way. It might confuse some people more. It’s all confusing to me. I’m just trying to figure out the best idea for the moment.”