Indie rock is often a solitary endeavor. The scene lionizes tragic, wounded crooners such as Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith, lonely sufferers who transubstantiate their pain into music. Even at their most inclusive, indie acts almost never comprise more than five members. Sometimes, though, a little collaboration goes a long way. That’s the mindset of Matt Seferian, who, after years playing in traditional indie groups in New Orleans (Donovan Wolfington, Pope, My Father’s Rifle), decided to turn his insular scene into a welcoming collective. He started recording Matt Surfin’ and Friends’ self-titled debut album over two years ago, and this past May he finally shared it with the world. It features musicians from his extended network of friends, both in New Orleans and beyond. Switching styles drastically from track to track, the project’s ethos is hard to pin down. As a whole, though, it feels fluid and cohesive. Every element is balanced and harmonious, from the tracklist and elegant cover design by Grady Bell—another friend of the band—to the insert, on which Seferian writes effusive blurbs about the friends who helped make it all possible. To Seferian, the album is proof of his concept: collaboration in indie rock is possible. I spoke with Matt, and some friends—Alejandro Skalany (Pope, New Holland), Ruy de Magalhães (Lawn, Rui Gabriel), and Hunter Keene (drummer at large)—on the front porch of his Mid-City home. We discussed the album, the joys of collaboration, and the horrors of stolen gear.
Why do you go by Matt Surfin’? Do you like to surf?
Matt Seferian: I’ve always wanted to surf. I tried surfing once. Alex was there. It was bad. [To Alejandro Skalany]: You remember that, in San Diego?
Alejandro Skalany: Yeah.
MS: We were on tour with our other bands, Pope and D-Wolf [Donovan Wolfington], and we tried to surf. It was bad. The reason for the name is that at my college graduation, they called my name as Matt Surfin’. I guess when they looked at Seferian, they were just like, “Surrrrfin.”
Let’s talk about the genesis of the Matt Surfin’ and Friends collective. When did you decide you wanted to have a collective rather than a straightforward band?
MS: I think it was maybe a year or two ago. I’ve always been a pretty collaborative guy. I felt that a lot of my best music was made with friends, and that anything that was just me wouldn’t sound the way I wanted it to sound or feel very honest. I got more into hip-hop in the last five, six years, and I was like, “Why can’t we have records where you get all these different indie rockers on one record? How can you have something like The Chronic, but you can’t have something produced by someone really dope like John Lennon or Paul McCartney with all these other great artists?” …It’s just not something you see in indie rock at all. I wanted to do that for a long time. I was already sort of doing that, playing in Sharks’ Teeth a lot. And with Pope, Alex and I have been writing music together. In many ways, it’s a crutch, wanting to have my friends because I feel comfortable with them. If it’s just me, I don’t feel comfortable. But I also got this idea when I was travelling a lot with D-Wolf and, in particular, seeing Alex make all his solo stuff with New Holland. I was like, “Damn, I want to do something cool that I’m more in charge of.” So I was like, “Man, I have a lot of friends. I think one of my strongest suits is being a supporting role and being a friend to people. It would be cool if we were all united, doing something together.” There was this time period, right when I moved here, where it felt like everyone was playing together. Everyone was very collaborative, between Tyler [Scurlock] and Ross [Farbe] and Ray [Micarelli] and Jack from Jack Sledge and the guys from Glish, who now do Sexy Dex [and the Fresh]. We were all meeting every week and drinking beers and smoking weed and talking about music and planning shows, and then that sort of stopped happening. So I was like, “Why is everything so fragmented right now? Why can’t we all be doing this together again?” So I just hit people up, and everyone was really receptive and down. It was pretty easy to get everyone in the room.
You mentioned Sharks’ Teeth. That’s a similarly formatted and overlapping project. Were you inspired to make this record by working with Tyler and them?
MS: Yes and no. I started doing a lot of these songs with Tyler. I was living like six blocks from him at the time, and we were hanging out a lot because we lived so close. Tyler would hit me up like, “Hey, you wanna come jam? There’s some synthesizers in my room, and I’m smoking a lot of weed.” And I would be like, “I love both those things,” so I’d go. That was an easy segue into doing stuff like this. He’s always been an incredibly inclusive musician. And then, as soon as I finished the record, pretty much, he started the new Sharks’ Teeth thread, which I’m part of now, and was like, “You know what? We’re a collective now. Anyone can bring anything.”
Everyone on this record is involved with multiple projects. How do you balance your time? What’s your approach to producing quantity without sacrificing quality?
AS: It never felt like a huge time sacrifice. Matt and I have been playing together for so long, and I was obviously super down to do it. Also, I know what Matt likes and what he might want, so we can just get in there and do it and work quickly because we’re so mentally in tune with each other.
MS: Anyone who’s on this record, I looked up to in some capacity. It wasn’t like I was just grabbing whoever was around. It was very intentional. It goes back to trusting everyone you work with; and like Alex said, everyone was down. I didn’t push anyone. There were some people I talked to about doing it who weren’t as committed to the idea. No one said no, but some people didn’t make it because of life. But everyone who made it on the record really put the time in. [Ratboys’] Julia [Steiner] flew down from Chicago with Dave [Sagen] and sang on like every song. She was just hype. She didn’t know anything before she came. She didn’t even know what it sounded like, but she trusted me, which really warms my heart.
AS: Everyone being so close, you don’t want to let anyone down. If you’re gonna do it, you want to do it to your fullest ability. Can’t let lil’ Matt down. Can’t make him sad.
Ruy de Magalhães [to MS]: I feel like you’re always happy at practice.
MS: I’m super happy because everyone’s very sweet, and we all are so good. We don’t have to try hard to sound good. We all just kind of do it. It’s pretty easy. I see Hunter’s stinkface over there.
Hunter Keene: I didn’t say anything! I literally said nothing.
MS: He’s like, “You need to be meaner,” and I’m like, “Why?”
After the album was recorded, how did you pull all the moving parts together?
MS: It takes so long to get people to show up and come and record. Especially at that time, I wasn’t very savvy the way I am now with engineering. But part of my goal with this record was not just to showcase my community, but also to be a producer. I feel like I’m a good person to have in the room when you’re recording something—for energy, for ideas, and just for some basic knowledge because I’ve been around a long time. I was hoping this would be a way to show people that. I think it’s already worked. Since I finished the record, I’ve had so many gigs, and now I’m working by myself constantly, and I don’t need anyone to help me with engineering. I think this record is proof that this formula is possible. You can write songs for other people. You can be an artist that’s not always in the spotlight. Ideally, in the future, we’ll be playing all sorts of songs—not even my songs sometimes—and we’ll just be a collective playing together.
“One thing with all the new Surfin’ stuff, it’s all very vibe-oriented. I got over trying to make things perfect.”
The only constant on the album, besides you, Matt, seems to be the recording process. Did having one recording space help give the project consistency in the midst of all the changing personnel?
MS: I think the consistent ingredient was just me. Our last recording spot was up in the air constantly. The energy was really weird there all the time. I didn’t like being there. Going there was stressful because the landlord would be throwing things down the stairs in a coke-fueled rage. It was a classic weird New Orleans landlord situation in a warehouse. Just not good. So one of the hardest things was keeping that energy out of the record. That was tough. People would come record there with Mike [Saladis], and they’d be sketched out. It was a really bad spot. I’m so happy to not be there anymore. I don’t think I could be doing anything there. But also, recording in the same space definitely gives it a sound of consistency because it’s with the same gear, in the same room.
This album was essentially stolen from you just as you were finishing up recording it. Can you tell that story?
MS: It was the night of the last D-Wolf show. We had two shows: one at Gasa [Gasa], one at Banks [St. Bar]. We’d just moved into our new spot in Fountainbleau, and during our first show, we were broken into. We were going to get gear for the second show, and we saw the door was kicked in and a bunch of shit was stolen. The computer was gone, the hard drive, a bunch of the preamps. So we cancelled the show and called the cops. We had to go through a crazy process. I was freaking out because I’d lost all my music that I’d been working on for a year or more, and there was no way to recreate the collaborations that occured. So much of it was in the moment. We were trying to think of everything we could possibly do. We reviewed security camera footage forever, and we had to argue to get that right and offer them money because they were only supposed to show the police. But after watching two to three hours of footage, we were able to deduce that it was our neighbors who stole it and were lying about their alibi. The guy who came out had a shopping cart ready to go, hidden in the side door. It was obviously a premeditated thing. He knew where the cameras were, so he was looking down and going at angles where they weren’t looking. He knew about the gate code, so he hid in the dark and waited for someone to walk in. So it was obviously an inside job, but that’s not enough evidence to convict anyone. But then, they turned on the laptop to try and wipe it so they could sell it, I guess, and it pinged for a sec, so we got their location. So we drove over and called the cops, and it turned out there were piles of cellphones, potentially drugs, and thousands and thousands—the detective said something like 30 grand plus—of other stolen stuff. They confiscated all of it and gave us our stuff back early because we helped find them. And luckily, the record wasn’t wiped. They only caught one of the dudes. I don’t know where the others are. I think they’re in Florida somewhere. They still post on Facebook and shit.
HK: If I did something terrible, Florida is where I’d end up.
MS: I think there’s something with jurisdiction lines. I don’t know how that works. But that was a nightmare. Somehow, it worked out, but I was pretty resigned. I was really upset, like, “If this doesn’t work out, I’m not gonna do it again. It’s too hard.” Now, I have multiple hard drives at the studio and a hard drive that I take with me everywhere because I’m just nervous about it now. It sucked, calling people like, “We don’t have your files, so the record you were working on is gone.” That was a really shitty experience to have to go through, hearing everyone be so disheartened about it. You can replace gear, and if you have insurance, you can probably get some money for most things. But you can’t get someone’s recordings again. You can’t capture a moment that’s passed months ago and try to recreate it and feel good about it in the same way. I remember feeling absolutely insane for like three days when that was happening. I didn’t sleep much. This is a weird thing to say, but someone who was important to my family was lost to a violent crime shortly before that, and I feel like they were looking out, putting out some sort of cosmic energy for us. Right after that, my brother got an amazing job, and my record was returned in a situation where it wasn’t likely we were gonna get it back. We got all our gear back besides some cables, which were no big deal to replace. I feel like there was some good energy in the world protecting all of us in that moment.
All of you played on different tracks on the record. Do you have personal favorites?
HK: Yeah, the one that wasn’t released. That’s my favorite one.
MS: It was supposed to sound like The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury. It’s going to be released as a single within the next month. I’m just going to drop it on Spotify.
RM: That one and “Jamz” were my favorites.
AS: I love the last track.
AS: Yeah. It’s just a sad little acoustic song that’s so truly Matt to me. It was a great way to close the album. We love closing with emotionally intense, quiet little tracks so that the little thing that happens at the end is very impactful and huge.
MS: It literally is just me. I’m the only person on that recording. I did it in my house, not even at the studio, and my girlfriend at the time was being really loud in the other room, watching Grey’s Anatomy.
photo by Kevin Duquette
That song was the closer to your solo Matt Surfin’ EP, Simple Songs. Why did you decide to repeat it on the new album?
MS: Because I liked it a lot, and I was like, “Man, I wish I’d recorded that song differently.”
What did you do differently on this recording?
MS: I added harmonies. I changed the key. I sang it better. I just did it more comfortably, the way it was supposed to be done—in my house, privately, intimately, alone, in my room.
AS: It’s just one of those songs.
MS: Yeah, it was one of those things where I just had to be alone. I was whisper-singing into the 421 mic through my Apogee. It had to be very finessy because I had it cranked so I could get the white noise. I was getting more into capturing the vibe. One thing with all the new Surfin’ stuff, it’s all very vibe-oriented. I got over trying to make things perfect. In earlier D-Wolf records, it was like, “I need to sing every note on pitch. I want to do this right,” and that’s not what it’s about sometimes. Sometimes, you just gotta capture the energy. You want to be on pitch, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
The album has a much more positive vibe than most indie records. Was that intentional or just a byproduct of all the collaboration?
MS: Alex and I have made a lot of sad music together. I felt like it was all I could do, the only way I could express myself.
AS: What we like too.
MS: Yeah. We listen to intense music. But when I started writing this stuff, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to make people smile. There are certain records that just make you feel good on a sunny day.
AS: Dance music. I know you were listening to Prince a lot and that sort of stuff—stuff that makes you feel good.
MS: Particularly now. My whole thing now is Emotional Dance Music. Like, who wrote that song “Soak Up the Sun?”
MS: Yeah! You listen to that song and you’re just like, “Fuck yeah. This is a sunny day.” Liz Phair is an example, too. “Never Said”—that track is super upbeat, super fucking poppy, not lyrically happy at all, but badass, and it makes you smile and feel good. I wanted to do that. A lot of the lyrics on this record are about anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, so it’s not really a happy record, but I wanted it to sound happy. I wanted to do something that wasn’t the same thing Alex and I have done together for a long time.
“I think there’s an acceptable amount of whining, and then there’s looking yourself in the mirror, like, ‘Alright, you fuck. Let’s go.’”
Were you happier while you were making this record than you had been making past records?
MS: At the time, yeah. Towards the end, no. In the end, my life was falling apart hardcore. But leading up to it, I was in a committed relationship of almost six years, had a great dog, lived on the bayou. I was counting my blessings. I was like, “You know what? It’s really not that bad being me.”
RM: It’s actually pretty fucking awesome. [Everyone Laughs]
MS: I just got really lucky with a lot of things. I looked at myself in the mirror, like, “Yeah, things aren’t great. Nothing worked out the way I thought it would. My best laid plans have all fallen apart. But you know what? I’ve got great friends, a great musical community, someone who loves me, and people who care about me, and that’s really fucking fortunate.” Everyone suffers a lot of loss and setbacks in life. Any time I’m feeling really sad—and Alex gets a lot of text messages from me, when I’m really sad—
AS: Wah wah.
MS: Exactly. But I think there’s an acceptable amount of whining, and then there’s looking yourself in the mirror, like, “Alright, you fuck. Let’s go.”
AS: It takes effort to be positive, especially when that’s not your default. It’s very hard to do things in spite of that, change things that need to be changed.
MS: It is hard, but I’ve got to own up to the fact that it could be way fucking worse. That’s something I’ve been telling myself the last two years. Like, “Aw, man, that really sucks that that didn’t work out,” or, “Paying rent’s gonna be really stressful this month. But you know what? It could be way fucking worse.”
AS: “I’ve got this city. I’ve got the Saints.”
MS: Who Dat.
MS: Seriously, though, I have an amazing support system of friends. That’s why it’s Matt Surfin’ and Friends. I’m doing this because my friends are fucking awesome, and I want everyone to hear my friends. I want people to know about New Holland. I want people to know about Lawn. I want them to know that Hunter can drum in their band. I want them to know that Allegra [Weingarten] is an amazing songwriter and musician, and she can shred. I want them to know that Tyler is a little fucking wizard genius in Gentilly, tinkering away. I want them to know about Ross and Ray. I just want people to know about these people. Obviously, none of these people need my help. If anything, I’m getting help from them.
Matt Surfin’ and Friends is out now on all major streaming platforms and on vinyl via Community Records. The band will play Gasa Gasa, opening for Charly Bliss on Saturday, July 6; and for Prince Daddy and the Hyena on Wednesday, July 31. For more info, check out communityrecords.bandcamp.com/album/matt-surfin-and-friends.
top photo (L-R: Keene, de Maghalães, Skalany, Seferian) by Mike Hartnett