Grateful Web Interview with Reed Mathis

Article Contributed by June Reedy | Published on Saturday, October 1, 2016

Isaac Newton once said, “If I have been able to see further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  The exciting new album and resulting tour of Reed Mathis and 'Electric Beethoven' is just that, going further standing on the shoulders of giants.  The album is filled with classical allusions and improvisational rockets that launch off into another world.  Mathis took a concept that he has been chewing on for quite some time and put the pieces together into a masterpiece. He brought his composition to his musical friends that were not necessarily classical trained and rearranged Beethoven’s Symphony No 3 and Symphony No 6.  Imitating the nine movements of a Beethoven symphony, this studio album of 9 tracks has turned up and ascended the original Beethoven symphonies of 200 years ago. Reed Mathis has made the musical adventure into an interactive journey for listeners.

While performing live, the 11-minute tracks are taking the long way home to audience’s hearts with 50-minute versions to dance to.  Every aspect of this project has meaning and inspiration from the initiation, to the recording, to the artwork on the disc, to the live show that now commences...

GW: Is there a reason you went with Electric 'BEAThoven' on the album vs. Beethoven?

RM: Yeah Well because of the Beats.  Know what I mean?

GW: Just that easy?

RM: Yeah, The Beat generation, the beat of the drum, the Beatitudes, all that corny shit.  And the Beatles - I kinda wanted it to sound like the Beatles play Beethoven.  So… really I just wanted to give it a little swing.  And also because I have a deep-rooted sense of self-sabotage.  I wanted it to be really hard to find on the internet.  I just want to be sure that it’s hard to sell copies, hahaha

GW: I just want it to go to the only five people that really care

RM: Or only to people that don’t know how to spell.

GW: That’s actually a lot of people.

RM: It’d be quite the victory if auto correct actually corrected it to Beathoven.

Engaging the way-back machine of your mind, can you even picture what Beethoven would have thought of the internet?  To know that his music has found its way to a world wide web and to see a subculture such as ours take on his compositions would probably blow his mind.  Bill & Ted’s Excellent adventure starring Reed Mathis makes me giggle.  Listening to the album gives my mind room to open and to explore. This got me thinking…

GW: I had this feeling listening to the album that I was watching Wizard of Oz and listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon - I checked out the analog version of Beethoven’s 3 & 6th Symphony and switched back and forth to your Electric Beethoven.  It was a trip!

RM: Yes!! Totally! That’s exactly how I feel, not from Dark Side or Wizard of Oz but I had a night where I listened to (Beethoven’s) 3rd symphony by myself years and years ago, and I saw a movie in my mind of this dude’s life.  His horrible, tragic life - and then the way he conquered it.  While I was listening to it, it felt like it was synched up with a movie that was playing in my mind.  It felt like that Dark Side of the Moon thing, but it was just my imagination

GW: It comes alive for ya!

RM: It didn’t feel like I was imagining it, it felt like I was watching it

GW: You can tell - This seems like such a coming out for you. This album has YOU all over it even though you are doing a version of another artist...but it’s your turn to conduct the orchestra of your imagination

RM: Yeah, that is the other thing.  In improvised music, people traditionally will spend their years developing their unique approach to improvising and then, they will spend their middle years translating their discoveries into something people can understand… something that isn’t just for other artists.  Typically, people do that through playing well-known music because then the audience can tell what you’re doing.  If you’re only playing your own compositions all the time people can’t tell what part you wrote and what part you improvised, and it’s just a huge amount of information.  When you do your style of improvising on other people’s music, then people can tell what part is you and what part is not you. That was part of the goal, to showcase the freaky style of improvising that me and my friends like, that feels all brand new

GW: On that note, how did you decide which instruments to play?  Do you play bass on these tracks or…? This version is turned up and comes alive with all the instruments that depart from traditional Beethoven. The rainstick on Thunderstorm and all the peddle effects is a definitely a departure from the original...

RM: I play bass on all the tracks, but on one of them Mike Gordon also played bass.  I played a higher bass. I also played piano and some acoustic guitar and stuff like that.  I didn’t score it by instrument; I scored it by people that I wanted their approach ya know? Although I did want a drummer on each track, so I went ‘OK, I need a drummer and… ?’ for each song. Once I had the drummers, that part was easy to figure out - although originally I had Joe Russo on In Memory of a Great Man and Thunderstorm and Matt Chamberlain on Funeral March and Awakening of Happiness but I switched it to have Russo on Awakening of Happiness and Chamberlain on Thunderstorm

GW: Awakening of Happiness is one of my favs

RM: I think it was the right move because I don’t want to type cast Joe Russo as the rager - He can play a nice groove or two so I gave each of em one rager and one groovin tune.  I feel like it showcased the both of em.

GW: So after you picked the drummers, what was next?

RM: I thought to myself, who do I work with?   Who would be in to this? I made a list of the people I work with and from there is became very easy.  It was like a connect the dots, like this guy and this scene.  It seems to play to everyone's strengths -the suggestions are making themselves.  Those are always the best projects where it seems like the decisions are making themselves and you are not agonizing over them. Everything is just flowing along.  That is always a good sign that you are on the right track.  You may spend weeks writing a song, but it’s the one you write in 20 minutes that everyone is going to like, ya know?

Reed Mathis has a music making career that spans 22 years since first forming Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey in 1994.  Passion spills out of him from his enthusiasm for life, love, and talking bass, so much so, that I believe this project will keep him going for the next several years. Electric Beethoven will keep growing and engaging audiences juxtaposing his new/old style amassing more and more energy along the way.  At age 12, Reed Mathis performed Vivaldi with a mandolin.  This is a seed that has finally broken ground.

Mathis is a well-known collaborator with such acts as Steve Kimock, Bill Kreutzmann (Billy & the Kids), 7 Walkers, and most recently he has left his eight-year tenure with Tea Leaf Green to pursue this project.  It’s absolutely fascinating to see Reed collaborate with artists of any genre and of any period. Not only does he awaken the spirit of Beethoven, but also his favorite painters too.

GW: Your cover art, how did you select that? Isn’t that a version of another famous piece of art?

RM: One of my favorite painters is Gustav Klimt.  He did the famous painting called The Kiss -all these amazing paintings around the 1900s.  He did this thing called The Beethoven Frieze that is an entire room, all four walls and the ceiling are one painting. It’s not a big room - not like the Sistine Chapel, it’s a pretty little room, but he painted the whole room.  It’s in Vienna which is not far from where Beethoven lived, and it’s basically… There is no picture of Beethoven in it - but it’s portraits of the energy that is in the music, ya know what I mean? Whether it’s humans, naked women, strange half beast/half man things and gods and souls in hell and all kinds of crazy shit.  On the surface you may be like that sounds like chaotic gibberish but when you listen to the music that looks like what the music sounds like- you will understand the gut-wrenching turmoil that turns into bliss, enlightenment.  So, I always loved that, and my buddy Josh Clark is a teacher who also really loves Klimt.  We bonded over that, so when I needed album artwork, I called Josh, and I said, “Do you think you could do something not copying Klimt but just look at the Beethoven Frieze before you start painting basically.  Just to get the tone of it with all the different characters - represent their energies and spirits?” and he nailed it.  He fucking nailed it!  The grim reaper with his arms around the pregnant woman, He’s got the new mother with the infant. He’s got the goddess of spring and the orange-Yeah, he is amazing. He did several paintings in that form.  He also painted the centerfold of the LP which I sent him a picture I liked of each of the guys that played on the record, and he painted us as a choir, like a group painting Sgt. Peppers style.  I wanted that on the cover, but it’s too literal.  We used the real one on the cover.

GW: Awesome! That brings the spirit of live painting and collaboration that is so evident in the Jam Scene to this project.

The timeless transcendental art of Reed Mathis and Electric Beethoven will take to the road and play as many shows as they can.  The touring act includes Jay Lane (Primus, RatDog) on drums, Todd Stoops (RAQ, Kung Fu) on keys, Cochrane McMillian (Tea Leaf Green) on percussion and laptop, and Clay Welsch on guitar.

One last question we asked Reed in the spirit of improvisational master Beethoven considering he was deaf in his later life...

GW: Being the sentimental creature that you are, what sweet sounds would you cherish if you were to go deaf?

RM: My girlfriend’s voice sitting by a rushing river while listening to Beethoven.

Awwwwww!The Fantasia soundtrack filled with childlike wonders of music and magic will tickle your soft underbelly.  Paint your own masterpiece as you enjoy the groove, crescendo, and coda of this amazing new album. In the tradition of 2001 or Tear for Eddie, you will see that classical instrumentals have their place right here where they belong in the Jam Scene.

We will be checking back in with Reed Mathis in a few months to see how this journey is progressing.  I suspect by that time we will have a whole new living form of jam on our hands.  Thanks Reed for sharing the love of music in a whole new way!