Matt Mondanile is a critically-acclaimed musician who plays guitar in Real Estate and Ducktails. I had a great discussion with Matt about everything from his past in Northampton, MA up to his shows this month in New York. And in between those two ends of the timeline, we discussed visiting new countries, Weezer, moving to Los Angeles from New York City, and more.
Alex Obert: When you lived in Northampton, MA for college, what did you think of the scene there? What did you take out of it?
Matt Mondanile: It was a cool place to go to school because there’s a lot of music stuff going on there. During the first week I went to college there, I went to a concert in Easthampton at the Flywheel Performing Arts Center and I saw Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth play. There’s a lot of interesting local music and I would book local musicians in Amherst at the college with the funding they had.
Alex Obert: What did you think of Turn It Up?
Matt Mondanile: It was a cool record store. Another record store in the area was Mystery Train Records. I really liked them a lot.
Alex Obert: Do you recall purchasing any memorable records at Turn It Up?
Matt Mondanile: I remember there was this thing they had where they’d wrap up five records in a package, it was like a mystery pack. You’d buy and you’d get five random records of a particular genre. One time I got a hip-hop bundle of records. And I got the Ying Yang Twins 12-inch record that had the instrumental versions of the songs without the rap part. It was awesome.
Alex Obert: Regarding your music, I understand that you really enjoyed playing in Sao Paulo with Real Estate recently.
Matt Mondanile: It was a really big thing to go to South America because I never had been there before. People have written me from Santiago, Chile for years, so we got to go to Sao Paulo, Porto Alegre, Santiago and Bueno Aires, Argentina. The audience was really amazing. And beautiful cities. It was really cool to go down there and meet the people there. They really appreciate music in a nice way.
Alex Obert: What’s that feeling like when you find out that people from other countries listen to your music?
Matt Mondanile: It’s pretty cool because you can tell from the internet that people are interested in it, but you can’t really tell until you meet them in real life. It’s really cool when people know the songs, it’s a nice feeling. The Internet is a really powerful thing. I don’t think a lot of bands go to South America, but I think people there and listen to a lot of music because of the internet. It’s all just really gratifying.
Alex Obert: When you travel to other countries, do you try to visit places and take in the scenery when you have time?
Matt Mondanile: Yeah, when we have time. We try to go walk around the city. Some of the bandmates go to record stores. I just like to walk around to get food and ask a local where to go. I went to a cemetery in Buenos Aires. It was beautiful. But you never get that much time to really see the city. When you do, it’s really great. It’s not like traveling where you’re a tourist. It’s more like you’re traveling all day, then you get to the city and then you soundcheck. It’s mostly inside the venue.
Alex Obert: On that note, which venues do you consider to be home?
Matt Mondanile: In New York, any venue is my home. (laughs) But now I live in Los Angeles. I’ve lived here for a year. There’s no venue here that I call home, other than my house. Though that’s not really a venue. The venues that I would call home are like Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg, Glasslands, stuff like that.
Alex Obert: Why the move to LA?
Matt Mondanile: I moved to LA a year ago because I was dating a girl out here. I also had a room at a house that was open to me and it was way cheaper than New York. Like half the price. It’s a lot different here than New York. What’s better about LA is that it’s cheaper, there’s less things going on, I don’t mind driving, and I can have a house with a deck and more space. I have more time to focus on my music and writing. In New York, it’s hectic because there’s always things going on and it’s really busy. I didn’t like New York because I didn’t have to commute to a job. So I lived there and I would just make music and it basically meant that I was inside my apartment all day. It was stifling because it’s so small. But in LA, I have a house and I can go outside and I can take breaks and I can go on a walk. It’s just a little bit nicer.
Alex Obert: How does the people watching different between New York and LA?
Matt Mondanile: It’s different in LA because people don’t walk around as much. Most people are driving in their cars. It’s not like New York where you can just sit in a park and watch a million people walk by you. It’s more isolated in LA. There’s no sense of community or anything.
Alex Obert: Where do you go in LA to get away from everything and take time for yourself?
Matt Mondanile: I guess I just hang out at my house with my friends. I don’t have to get away from anything. In LA, I can drive around and go to different places. There’s a lot of places you can go and get away. There’s a lot of different things you can do. There’s a really beautiful place in Pasadena called the Huntington Library, which has this garden that I like to go to. It’s beautiful. It’s a nice place to escape and relax and just walk around the Botanical Garden.
Alex Obert: Do you find yourself coming up with ideas for your music when you’re in that kind of environment?
Matt Mondanile: Yeah, I do. I think that just moving and being in a different environment altogether is really inspiring to me. A lot of the songs that I wrote for the next Ducktails record, I started writing them when I moved here last year. And I’ve been working on them all year. So it’s been pretty cool.
Alex Obert: And it must’ve been pretty cool to have performed with Rivers Cuomo recently.
Matt Mondanile: Yeah, that was amazing. That was like playing with my hero. I can’t believe that that happened. I met him in Mexico City not super long before, so that was cool.
Alex Obert: What was going through your head while on stage?
Matt Mondanile: Nothing. I was in awe. I couldn’t think. (laughs) And I couldn’t believe it was happening.
Alex Obert: And how about when you were on Conan recently?
Matt Mondanile: It’s the same kind of thing. It was my second time playing on TV and happened so quickly, you don’t even pay attention while it’s happening. It goes so fast and all of a sudden, you’re done. Everybody there is really relaxed and it’s all chill. They’re all friendly, it was pretty mellow. We played on David Letterman and it was a little bit more intense because it’s New York. It was a little bit more businessy. Conan is a much more relaxed environment.
Alex Obert: What was the first concert you ever attended?
Matt Mondanile: The first concert I ever attended was Ben Folds Five at Central Park. The second concert I ever attended was Weezer in New York City. I actually told Rivers that I named my high school band after a Weezer demo called Paperface. He was so into that. He thought it was so cool.
Alex Obert: So what are some of your favorite Weezer songs?
Matt Mondanile: I like everything off of Pinkerton and the Blue Album. I like the B-sides of those records too. I like some of the Green Album, but I’m not super into it. I think their newest album is really good, but I don’t like much of the stuff in between those.
Alex Obert: Who have you been listening to lately?
Matt Mondanile: I’ve been listening to a lot of Neil Young and I’ve been listening to a lot of Elliott Smith. Elliott Smith is a great songwriter. His recordings are so special and it makes me really excited to record songs in a studio. It inspires me to write songs on an acoustic guitar. Elliott Smith wrote a lot of songs that are chords changing, he got a lot of melodies out of that. So that inspires me.
Alex Obert: I’m curious about which eighties bands you listen to.
Matt Mondanile: There’s this band called Felt that I like a lot. They’re from the UK. I like this band Scotch, and Italian disco band from the eighties. I like this French popstar called Étienne Daho. I like Sade, Enya, anything from the eighties really.
Alex Obert: With the release of Atlas this year, how do you feel about the finished product?
Matt Mondanile: It’s great. I think that touring a lot for this record has proven really successful for us. We got to go to a lot of places that we’ve never been. The record was received pretty well, so that’s awesome.
Alex Obert: Which new places did you get to go to?
Matt Mondanile: South America, which we already talked about. I went to Mexico City for the first time. Some parts of Europe that I’d never been to. We never played in Finland and Real Estate played at a festival in Helsinki.
Alex Obert: What plans do you have for 2015 in music?
Matt Mondanile: Real Estate’s doing some shows with Belle and Sebastian next year. We’re touring in February in Asia and Australia. Other than that, I hope to have my Ducktails record come out around June. I’ll be touring for that next year too.
Alex Obert: On the topic of Ducktails, I’d love to get your thoughts on Killin’ The Vibe. It’s a song that really captured and moved me and I’m curious what it did for you.
Matt Mondanile: Looking back on it, I think it’s cheesy now. I could have made it better, but I made it when I was pretty young. It’s cool that people like it. I like it, it’s a good song.
Alex Obert: How would you have changed it?
Matt Mondanile: I would’ve just made it a better recording. I would’ve just tried to work harder on the sound of the recording. It’s a little bit lo-fi for me at this point.
Alex Obert: Which songs are you most proud of from Ducktails?
Matt Mondanile: I like the last record, The Flower Lane. I like the song Letter of Intent a lot where Jessica Farkas sings. I also like the stuff on my last EP, Wish Hotel.
Alex Obert: Aside from the influence of the television show, how did you come up with the name Ducktails?
Matt Mondanile: I made a cassette tape and I just wrote “Ducktails” on a cassette tape. I started making copies and giving it to friends when I was at Hampshire College. There was no thought involved.
Alex Obert: I’m interested that you did an interview with Franco Falsini. What was it like to be the interviewer with someone that you admire?
Matt Mondanile: He’s a hero of mine. I’m really inspired by all of his music. He made it in the seventies in Italy, prog rock. Meeting him was really cool. And since then, we’ve become friends. He’s stayed at my house in LA and he’s worked on music with me.
Alex Obert: Who else would you love to interview?
Matt Mondanile: I’d like to interview Neil Young, Bill Murray, Paul McCartney, Tom Hanks. That sounds good. (laughs)
Alex Obert: If it were to all end today, how would you want to be remembered?
Matt Mondanile: I would like to be remembered as a guy that had a good time making music and meeting people, just being a person of the world.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, can you fill readers in on the New York shows this month?
Matt Mondanile: I have a show with Real Estate at Music Hall of Williamsburg on December 18th. On December 26th, I’m playing at Glasslands in Brooklyn with Ducktails.
Alex Obert: I’d love to thank you so much for your time and I look forward to everything ahead.
Matt Mondanile: Thanks so much!