Mätthew Griffin on music, writing, and being just some punk kid from Worcester.
by Chrissy Prisco
Deli: How did you get started in music?
Mätthew Griffin: When I was pretty young, around 9 years old. Both my brother and father sang in a professional men & boys choir, which I joined soon thereafter. I recall there was a lot of singing practice after school and the Choir Master, professor Louis Curran, at WPI (Worcester Poly Technical Institute) was pretty grueling not only about practice, but also about conduct. The guy would throw a temper tantrum at the drop of a hat. But, it was an interesting "family activity" after my mother joined on to be the choir's secretary. We sang all the classics like Haydn, Bach, Mozart, in English, German, French, Italian, but mostly we sang in Latin. It was fun going on tour; singing in Montreal, Canada, at St. Joseph's Oratory; in Washington DC, at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception; even singing a duet once of Sillent Night in German, with my brother on Christmas Eve, at St. Patrick's Cathedral, in New York City. I think I learned that night how to shit my pants [laughs].
During that time I tried picking up a few instruments; violin; trumpet; clarinet; piano; recorder. Nothing really stuck with me. It's a shame, since I have a relative who was an original member of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I have his 19th century autoharp sitting here next to me.
Deli: What was the first show you DJ'd? How old were you?
Mätthew: The first show I DJ'd was on WTBR.FM in Pittsfield, MA. It was one of two shows I was doing. One was a classical music show I did with a townie girl, who went to the public high school where the radio station was located; the second show I did was an "alternative" or "college rock" sort of show, mainly with that genre of music that was popular (?) at the time. There was a small room at the station with all the great new releases that were sent into the station, some of which have ingrained my musical tastes to this day: Mission UK First Chapter; Sisters of Mercy Black Planet; The Cure Standing On A Beach (singles collection); ...Mighty Lemon Drops; Flesh For Lulu; Gene Loves Jezebel; Peter Murphy; Siouxsie & The Banshees; Echo & The Bunnymen; The Godfathers; New Order; Hard-On's; Jesus & Marychain; Love & Rockets. I was 14 in 1987.
Deli: Have you always lived in Worcester?
Mätthew: That's where it gets tricky... My father was from Boston and my Mother from Chicago. Soon after they married and my brother was born, they moved to Worcester (much to my father's chagrin) and I was born and raised in Worcester until I was 13. At that point I was sent away to private school. This part coincides with my answer to the previous question; my first roommate at school was a punk. He got me into a lot of staples at the time, like Lords of the New Church; D.O.A.; The Banshees; The Cure; UK Subs; Minor Threat; Killing Joke. I guess you would call him a "Black Punk" or "Death Punk" back then. He and I would stay up late on a Sunday night to watch the Young Ones and then 120 Minutes on his little black and white TV and be groggy as Hell on Monday morning.
After I graduated from High School, I moved to back to Worcester and had a live-work studio at the Worcester Artist Group. I had a lot of fun living there. Shows were happening out in the main gallery all the time; Fugazi; Buffalo Tom; Sleep Chamber; Dinosaur JR, etc... After that era of the WAG closed down, I did the sofa tour for a while and ended up moving in with my friends Russ and Elodie in a 1 bedroom apartment in Allston, MA, in 1993. Well, technically it was 3 people in a one bedroom, but later turned into 5.
I moved back to Worcester for a short period in the mid-nineties, and then back again to Boston to take care of my father and his ailing health for 2 years, where upon I went into a downward spiral descending into Hell... After he passed away, I moved back to Worcester, MA, (The Seventh Gate). That's when things started picking up again for me, musically. I stuck with it for 5 years, then decided to move to Providence, RI. Prior to moving to Providence, I was putting on a lot of all ages punk shows with Brian Commando, front man of seminal Wormtown punk band The Commandos (and pretty much the guy who had invented the "all ages" scene in his basement in West Boylston, MA, the NME). It was a lot of fun and at the same time I was working in fine art restoration and decoration, under an Italian Master restorer. I made the decision to move to Providence, because the previous Mayor, Buddy Cianci, supported the economic development of the arts and I was convinced I would get a job in the arts once in Providence. Sadly, this was not the case. Be it the art scene or music scene, the people there have their claws dug so deep into whatever little thing they have, there is no room for anyone new. However, once moving to Providence, I was a writing correspondent for a time with ARTSCOPE Magazine, a fine art publication based out of Quincy, MA. My Editor at ARTSCOPE, Brian Goslow, is also a friend, and Editor and the Publisher at wormtown.org, an online publication dedicated to all things music in "WORMTOWN" (Worcester, MA). I wrote live reviews for Brian's site and after he had me join on with ARTSCOPE, that is where my professional writing career began. Soon thereafter, at the suggestion of Nancy Neon, NOISE Publisher Timothy Maxwell picked me up and I have been writing band features for the NOISE for 6 years now. Anyway, I moved back to Worcester in 2011 and have been happy with it ever since.
Deli: What was the music scene like when you started out? How has it changed? Is it better or worse?
The music scene when I started out? You mean like that trash on the TV like Toto; Asia; Journey; A-HA; Dexy's Midnight Runners; WHAM; Cyndi Lauper? That's the reason why I got into subculture and underground music. Once I started spinning records on air in '87, hair bands were all the rage. I can't get far enough away from a radio once Guns n' Roses is playing. If you are referring to the local music scene, things ARE very different. When there was a (all ages) show, EVERYONE was there. I'd even go to thrash shows, just for something to do and for somewhere to go.
Has the music scene changed? Yeah, it's changed alright. Evolution killed off the dinosaurs and now there is a new empire. It's a very cutthroat scene; a high school popularity contest, really. What also changes are tastes, like mine for example: I prefer to go to a Hardcore Punk show nowadays, as opposed to a goth dance night. It's just that I need something tangible, something real.
The music scene better or worse? Depends on genre and element I guess. I can only speak really of the scene (in my opinion) in New England. Goth is dead and the kids want to hear the beats of electronic dance music. There are VERY few live artists of the genre left, most of whom shrug off the whole "goth" tag. My friend, Jenn Vix is a good example of an artist who embraces her gothic influences, but moves into other territories as well. A good portion of her music is very dance club friendly, but it's also very dark and she makes it work; and quite successfully! Dreamchild is a wonderful duo from Boston, who produce some of the better live music I have heard in Boston in about 17 years. The Milling Gowns are ace; post-punk at its fucking best!
Deli: You've made a successful career for yourself over the past 25 years, are there specific people (musicians, venue owners, press/promoters) who have been especially supportive throughout the years?
Mätthew: Well, that depends on how you measure being "successful"? Do you mean money? What money? This is all really for fun. If I get a little cash out of it, hey--all the better. Specific supportive people in my life in the music scene? I'll shortlist this one: Brian Goslow; Anderson Mar, CEO of Dark Sky Productions; Jenn Vix; Steve Muccini & Al Nahabedian from Happy the Clown; J-ME Johnston from Industrial Sonic Echo; T Max & Nancy Neon at the NOISE; Ben Turk; My friends Russ; Brian Commando; Pierre-Emannuel; Frank; Christopher; (yeah, I guess I'll say it) my brother John; and countless bands...
Deli: A lot of the shows you put together seem to be of the "dark wave" and gothic genres, how did you get involved in that scene? What is its appeal to you?
Mätthew: Taking too much LSD while listening to Bauhaus as a teenager. I don't know if I could say that there is an appeal? I mean, it's who I am.
Deli: What would you say has been the pinnacle of your career thus far?
Mätthew: I believe my apex as far as gigs I'm DJ'ing now would be working with international acts: Chemlab; Assemblage 23; Android Lust; Ego Likeness; Holy Cow; PanzerBastard; The Queers; Angry Samoans; (world class dancer) Aepril Shaile; Athan Maroulis of Spahn Ranch and Black Tape For A Blue Girl... As far as Black Tape For A Blue Girl is concerned, I remember seeing Sam Rosenthal's (Black Tape's original/core member) record label Projekt Records, advertised in Alternative Press when I was a kid. Now I am working with him off and on at different gigs. He's even had me DJ his record label's festival "Projektfest" 2 years in a row now, both at the Trocadero Theater in Philly, then at the Middle East Downstairs in Cambridge, MA. It's like a dream coming to fruition!
As far as the writing aspect, I have been able to finally interview some of my local favorites over the decades. I ended up with the cover story on two them; One Of Us and Sleepchamber. I was even able to do a story on New England's voted #1 "Alternative" DJ, Chris Ewen. I've been supportive of Chris since the early 1990s and that support does come back. Recently, I was able again to spin beside him for the Xmortis goth and industrial night, held monthly at TT The Bear's place in Cambridge. I call that a "pinnacle". Why not?
Deli: What about the Worcester music scene is inspiring to you? What sets it apart from Boston? Have you ever thought about pursuing the same career in a different city?
Mätthew: The mediocrity of a good majority of the music and the scathing politics of the clubs. I started putting on shows purely to create entertainment for myself, and to show musicians and fans that it doesn't have to be a "one horse town". I started at WAG, went on to a gutted out church hall, with my business partner Brian Commando, at his request; to Veteran's club; to a Middle Eastern restaurant. Now there's a plethora of venues in Worcester for bands to play and for people to go to party! Also, people are bringing the shows back into the basements. It's fucking anarchy -and we don't care!
The difference between the two cities are snottier attitudes and cleaner clothes.
Doing my thing in a different city? I was thinking of Montreal. The scene there has always been thriving!
Deli: What is the most important thing you've learned -- or come to realize -- about working in the music industry? Do you feel your peers are genuine or making nice to further their own careers?
Mätthew: The same thing I learned working in the arts: when someone offers you a dollar--you grab it! I think there are a lot of phony people in general in whatever business you are in. I've lived away from home since I was 13, and I can size someone up REAL fast. When I am out somewhere and someone introduces me as to someone as "DJ" Mätthew Griffin, I always grab their hand and say "Hi, I'm Mätthew. Nice to meet you". Really, I'm just some punk kid from Worcester.
Deli: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Deli: Parting words?
Mätthew: "Be exactly who you want to be, do what you want to do. I am he and she is she, but you're the only you." - Crass, Big A Little A
Photo credit: Molly McGrath