[ARTIST SPOTLIGHT] Matt Lange
Last weekend, West Coast EDM had the opportunity to catch up with Grammy-nominated sound design genius, Matt Lange, at his San Francisco show and talk about his most recent EP, movie trailer work, video game scores, and much more. Clearly, this Berklee College of Music graduate has done nothing with his degree.
West Coast EDM: Talk to us a little bit about the original concept for the ‘Space Between’ EP and if the finished product aligns with what you set out to capture from the beginning.
Matt Lange: It was slightly unexpected. I had a lot of tracks that I had been making over the last year that were inspired by touring. When I’m at home, I’m usually working on a lot of different kinds of music be it film trailers or my own personal stuff that isn’t dance music. Then when I have downtime, I just make tracks I want to play in a club because, truthfully, not enough music comes up by other people that I want to play… so it’s almost out of necessity that I have to make my own. ‘Space Between’ was a collection of tracks that I made over the course of the year that were truthfully me. They gave me the right sound that I was trying to provide for an audience.
West Coast EDM: ‘In Me’ is one of the darkest sounding tracks on the new album. Is there a meaning behind it or would you consider it more utilitarian?
Matt Lange: It’s utilitarian but it’s also a personal track. I had a really close friend, Kerry Leva, sing on it and it was a track that I had originally built around something else. What it was originally, I didn’t want anymore so I basically came up with a vocal topline that sounded similar to the original and, syllabically, “I want you in me” is similar to what was in the original.
West Coast EDM: How did you first discover Deniz?
Matt Lange: I’ve known Deniz for a few years, mostly just through mutual friends in the music industry. She’s just a really incredible talent, incredible songwriter, beautiful soul, and beautiful person in general. We wrote and tracked three songs together. With the song ‘Space Between,’ I had sent her just the instrumental version of it. She was living in Bali at the time and she started writing the lyrics on the beach, of course. When she came to LA, we kinda just fleshed the rest of it out. That became the focus point of the EP and it’s easily the most commercially friendly track I’ve done in a long time - I credit the commercial appeal entirely to Deniz.
West Coast EDM: Were there any particular artists or even events that inspired the sound and style of ‘Space Between’?
Matt Lange: Not necessarily events or any single event in particular but it’s really an amalgam of what my interests are in dance music while also trying to pull in other influences. For example, ‘Blackest Balloon’ was inspired by a Goo Goo Dolls track, hence the name. I ended up coming up with all these different guitar parts that were inspired by ‘Black Balloon’ by The Goo Goo Dolls and it kind of turned into it’s own thing. I mean it’s 30-something layers of acoustic guitars and electric guitars. There are parts of it like the harmonic intro of ‘Black Balloon’ but there are other parts that were very inspired by the way the guitarists of Minus the Bear would use tapping.
West Coast EDM: Let’s talk for a minute about your trailer work because it certainly sets you apart from your run of the mill electronic music producer. First off, what got you interested in this side of the industry?
Matt Lange: It was actually somewhat serendipitous. About 6 years ago I was standing in line for the bathroom at Tony Maserati’s halloween party. While I was waiting there, some kid came up behind me and said “Hey you’re Matt Lange. I love your music! You should do trailer music!” And that turned into a 6 year long relationship of doing sound design and occasionally musical cues for all these different movie trailers, which is kind of surreal when I look back. Deadpool is one of my favorite movies too so with that, I was on my tippy toes with glee.
West Coast EDM: What’s the process like? Do they give you an idea of what they want or do you have free creative reign?
Matt Lange: With the sound design side, it’s not actually as integrated as that. You make your own libraries, they get sent out, and then whoever is putting the trailer together will just decide what sounds they like - so you don’t know you’re in it until basically the trailer comes out or when you get a royalty statement. Sometimes you want to go back and watch a trailer to see if you can hear it but they layer so many things so unless it’s really obvious, you can’t always tell exactly where you are.
West Coast EDM: What about the video game scores? Do you actively play all of the games in which your compositions are featured and what’s that process like?
Matt Lange: No, I’m not good enough to even hear all my music. I’ve never played Dota ever. I used to play Counter-Strike when I was 15 and it's not a sequential game so I can actually hear my musical cues in that one - if I die, I hear the cues. I’ve mostly heard my music in a game when people record them playing it and put it on YouTube but I’ve never really experienced it personally. You do have directions with video games as far as ‘It needs to be X number of seconds long for this action in the game.’ Aside from that, I’ve always just been given complete carte blanche to do whatever I want, which is really nice because I’ve been approached basically as an existing artist. No one really says, “We need it to sound like this,” they say, "Here are all of these different cues, we like what you do... do it."
West Coast EDM: So you’d like to continue?
Matt Lange: I would love to do more of that. It’s work that I truthfully really enjoy because creatively it’s quite limitless.
West Coast EDM: What’s the highest compliment someone could pay you about your productions?
Matt Lange: About a year ago I was sitting with Dave Pensado, the mix engineer and we had just been listening to some of the stuff I was working on at the time. He just turned to me and he said “you need to be more arrogant… because it’s not arrogant when it’s true.” I just kind of sat there taking that in because I could never say that about myself and I would never feel comfortable. But I really thought about that quote a lot because coming from Dave - he’s such a respected mix engineer and just an incredible person in general… I feel privileged to even know him - to hear someone I’ve looked up to in that regard, pay me a compliment like that was kind of breathtaking to be honest.
West Coast EDM: Any pre-show rituals?
Matt Lange: Have a beer. I aways have a craft IPA. I’m an IPA guy and I’m a big beer snob. Tonight, it’s really lovely because I get to be at a restaurant with one of my closest friends. Her and I have known each other for 20 years, so that’s pretty special but that only happens in San Francisco. Other than that, I like to get to the club about an hour before I go on, have a beer, and just go do the thing.
West Coast EDM: In your Reddit AMA from the other week, someone asked you your perspective on the word “trance” and you said ironic - why?
Matt Lange: First off, I have a lot of friends who make trance music and are very successful at it, which I very much appreciate. I find the literal definition of trance in relation to the musical form of trance ironic because I find very little of the trance genre to be entrancing at all. I actually find a lot of minimal techno to be very trancey because the problem with trance music is that it’s all in your face. There’s very little subtlety, there are lots of hands in the air and people jumping up and down, which to me does not induce any sort of trance. It also doesn’t loop, it’s loud, and different things are happening all the time. If we’re looking at trance as a form of hypnosis, that’s when I would turn to more of a techno based genre as it’s more subtle. When I think of what’s trance music, I think of Steve Reich “Music For 18 Musicians.” That to me is incredibly entrancing.
West Coast EDM: Let’s wrap it up with some rapid fire.
West Coast EDM: Favorite food?
Matt Lange: Steak.
West Coast EDM: Career if you weren’t in music besides pro skateboarder, photographer, or writer?
Matt Lange: Teacher because those who can’t do, teach.
West Coast EDM: Next country you want to visit?
Matt Lange: France.
West Coast EDM: Last time you listened to ‘Rift’?
Matt Lange: You know, I’m very appreciative of the fact that a song I created over a decade ago is still a popular thing, which is something to be proud of. I don’t know the last time I listened to the original version but there’s a version I’ve been playing where I took some of the parts of ‘Rift’ and mashed them on top of a different track, which is kind of my way to satiate the crowd that always wants ‘Rift’.
West Coast EDM: Any tracks you haven’t been able to listen to?
Matt Lange: Yes absolutely, ‘Empty Walls.’ Every once in a while I’ll pull it up and I’ll listen to it and it won’t hurt as much when I hear it… but the event in my life that inspired that track was incredibly difficult and that’s a song that I needed to make as basically a form of catharsis. And I’m glad I made that track, I’m glad it’s out there. I’ve gotten e-mails from people where they really related to it and that means a lot to me but yeah, it’s not something I can listen to on a regular basis because emotionally, it will take me right back to the place I was when I wrote it.
West Coast EDM: Hopefully it was a good distraction at the time.
Matt Lange: It was a necessary distraction.
West Coast EDM: Audiobook or paperback?
Matt Lange: Paperback. Hard cover if you can.
West Coast EDM: Favorite festival you’ve performed at?
Matt Lange: South By Southwest. I go every year!
West Coast EDM: Production tip from Berklee that stuck with you?
Matt Lange: Not necessarily a production tip but one of the most meaningful experiences was I a took a sampling class that was taught by a teacher who’s name was Michael Brigida - he was just brilliant. Every week he would have all the students bring in found objects from home and we’d all take turns basically recording these sounds in a nice sound booth. Sometimes it was all 12 of us with Pop Rocks in our mouth and we were recording it in surround so it sounded like this big sea of granular crackle. After we recorded, the assignment was to create 12 instruments out of it, but create melodic instruments. That class in particular was really pivotal in how I started viewing sound design and the way you could essentially morph any object into anything else.
West Coast EDM: Favorite app?
Matt Lange: The New Yorker app. Best writing I find.
West Coast EDM: Three of your favorite non electronic music artists?
Matt Lange: That’s easy. Tool. Ben Howard. Imogen Heap.
West Coast EDM: First thing you’d purchase if you won the lottery?
Matt Lange: Nicest house in the Venice canals.
West Coast EDM: Favorite music venue in LA?
Matt Lange: Ace Hotel. Beautiful.
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