Fasano on Anger, Panic Attacks and Fourth-Grade Teaching

Jayson Greene

By Jayson Greene

on 05.28.14 in Features

For fans of: Distortion-drenched, delicate singer-songwriter pop
Sounds like: Alien Lanes-era Guided By Voices, lo-fi Jeff Buckley, Harry Nilsson in a waterlogged basement
From: Brooklyn
Personae: Matt Fasano

Singer/songwriter Matt Fasano has a gorgeous voice. It’s an unfair instrument, one that can switch from a pure tenor into a cream-skimmed falsetto in a breath. It’s the voice of a choirboy, which Fasano was, once (he also took college voice lessons). But the anger that trembles inside of it is another thing entirely: That anger wants to flip coffee tables over, throw drinks in faces. When he sings a line like “I can’t advise you anymore” on “Paralyzed,” you can practically picture his fingers balling up at his sides.

Fasano (who records under his last name) recently released his second full-length, The Factory LP, on Godmode, an imprint that began as a noise label (lately they’ve fanned out into new directions). His fragile songs are an odd fit for a crew that includes Yvette and Mr. Dream, but his barely-contained fury keeps him in sync with his labelmates. He seems moved by an instinctual desire to bury the loveliness of his own voice, to shovel dirt on it and tackle it and wrestle it to the ground: The songs on Factory were largely recorded via a microphone jack into a laptop. The resulting sensation, of too-big feelings seething inside of too-tight spaces, is overwhelming.

Jayson Greene caught up with Fasano when the singer/songwriter had an off day from his job as a fourth-grade teacher. They talked about the freeing qualities of anger, the darkest moment he had as a teacher, and how he whittled 150 songs down to 16 for Factory.

On being the delicate singer-songwriter guy on Godmode Records:

In the beginning of Godmode Records, it was me, Yvette, the Sleepies — it was me and three noise bands, basically [laughs]! I was honored to be with them, because I love all those bands, but I was like, “What the hell am I doing?” I think the label has gotten more eclectic and I think we went out of the way to make what I do work in their context.

I’d asked Nick [Sylvester, co-founder of Godmode] to produce my records before, because we’d known each other a long time. I loved his band Mr. Dream — the first Mr. Dream record, Trash Hit, is one of my favorite records of all time, basically. I just couldn’t believe how good it sounded, because I hadn’t realized that Nick did production. But I also just couldn’t believe how good the band was, how good the songs were.

My music was always pretty, but I didn’t want to make “pretty” songs or express pretty ideas, but that’s sort of what was coming out in the beginning. One of the biggest conversations that Nick and I had was how to hint at the anger without affecting the sweetness of the song.

On his singer-songwriter inspirations:

Harry Nilsson, Neil Young, Alex Chilton — these are people I look up to, but don’t model the songwriting on. Because Harry Nilsson could release any kind of record, and it would still be a Harry Nilsson record. There was no one thing that he did. It’s that voice, really; that’s why we love him. He has country music, and he has standards records, and he has famous chamber-pop ones, but that wasn’t really who he was. He did it all. Same thing with Neil Young. There isn’t really a “Neil Young Rule.” Whereas with someone like John Lennon, I think there are songwriting rules that he follows.

‘I never want to be too specific, but there is a lot of anger in this record. I wanted to make an angry record.’

On the genesis of the outpouring of angry, shaken songs that comprise The Factory LP:

A year ago, I was living in this really cool apartment in [the downtown Brooklyn neighborhood] Boerum Hill, but the landlord died. The landlord had no family and had left everything to his dentist, who was this really sketchy guy. I think they’re still fighting over it. In any case, I’d been living with my best friend at the time, and last February we got the boot. I suddenly had to find a place, which I did — which is also when I started writing this album. I was feeling really weird about everything.

The move just opened me up in a way, to the point where I was more in touch with things I’d been angry about before. I never want to be too specific, but there is a lot of anger in this record. I wanted to make an angry record. A lot of family stuff. I had just turned 30, which makes you confront a lot past selves. I was actually not angry at all, because I was so happy to be working on music.

On his intimate, occasionally accusatory lyrics:

There are a lot of “you’s” in the lyrics. In every song, I think, there’s a “you.” And it’s different each time. Sometimes the “you” is me. I sing “I refuse to indulge you anymore” in “It Wasn’t Me Who Left You Alone,” and while it’s definitely about a relationship, it’s also about not indulging your own impulses. When you’re in a post-relationship place, a lot of those feelings are spurred on by your own actions, and so the lyric is addressed to me as much as another person.

When I sing “I couldn’t advise you anymore,” it’s from the perspective of someone else talking to me. So I’m the “you” there too. A lot of this record is things that were said to me that stayed with me; things that I’ve overheard. Sometimes they are things I want to say to someone else.
There were 150 songs written for this record. Nick and Dale from Godmode sat down with me and we whittled it down to 15. At first the idea was to release them all, 10 at a time, and then we realized that was insane, and that some of them weren’t as good as the others. So we cut a ton of shit!

On the rewards, punishments and exquisite pain of fourth-grade teaching:

I’m about to pass my seventh year teaching. It’s really hard but it’s so fulfilling. The fourth-grade age is when kids are still really sweet, and they’re really curious and they’re into everything. But they’re also really smart, and funny. It’s sort of the last days before they get sucked into the middle-school stuff, which I think we’re all still recovering from, to some extent [laughs]! It’s an age where you can still inspire. It’s not that you can’t do that as a high school teacher, but it’s harder. And especially New York City kids; I didn’t grow up in New York City, but New York City kids are so smart and worldly. They’ve seen so much.

My darkest moment was probably in my first year of teaching. I was 23, and the consequence and weight of what I was doing felt huge on my shoulders, because I was a kid and I was just saying to myself “OK, you really can’t fuck up.” If you’re at a desk job at a place you don’t care about, like a lot of my friends were, you still don’t want to fuck up, but if you do, it might not be the end of the world. If I fucked up, I was pretty sure it was going to be the end of the world.

The first time I fucked up was the first time report cards were due. They were due on a Friday, and the Thursday night before, I’d had rehearsal with my band, but I told myself, when I got home, “I’m still going to do this.” It’s like 1 a.m. and I didn’t save any of them. And I closed my computer. Five minutes later, I realized they were gone and I couldn’t get them back.

To be honest, it didn’t end up really being a big deal at all, but I had a panic attack, essentially. My boss kept telling me it was OK, but you know how when you’re young, you really want to show people that you’re serious about your job? I just wouldn’t leave it alone, kept telling her I was so sorry.

Teaching is a very public job, and you can get very paranoid. It was my first taste of that, the paranoia you can feel being responsible for people. (I rewrote the report cards over the weekend and everything was fine.)