The Weekly interview: Self leader Matt Mahaffey - Las Vegas Weekly


The Weekly interview: Self leader Matt Mahaffey

Matt Mahaffey’s residency runs every Thursday in October at Bunkhouse.
Chris Bitonti

What do you have in store for this October Bunkhouse residency? It’s a solo show. I’d like to have the band there for some of them, but everyone lives in different parts of the country, so it’s kind of expensive for us to get together super-often. But the solo shows are fun. It’s beat-oriented stuff with an iPad and a guitar or a piano or a Rhodes and also sitting at the drum kit with an Omnichord doing some one-man, White Stripes-type of approach. I try to get a set together for this that just keeps it moving with as much variety as one man can offer.

Will it be similar to your TED Talk performance? Yeah, that’s the Omnichord, and that thing is pre-played on that. So it’s gonna run the gamut. It’s gonna be stuff like that, and me playing to, like, some 2 Live Crew beats. Last time I did it it was really fun, and people dug it, so I think it’s gonna work.

Have you done multiple shows at the same venue like this before? No, I’ve never done anything like this.

One thing in your TED Talk that was inspiring to hear was that your mantra is, “Why do it if it’s already been done.” How is that going to guide your residency? Do you mean, am I going to get in trouble if I do the same thing twice? (laughs) That applies solely to the sound of my stuff. I’m not the best off the cuff. I like a script. I’m not a huge live improvisational musician, because I don’t read music and I can’t just make it up on the spot. I can if I’m playing the piano or if I’m playing the drums, but on the guitar it’s just not in my DNA. So I have to memorize and therefore I have to rehearse it.

I toured with Beck for many years, and that guy has no problem just throwing it out. I would be the first person in line to get the setlist and then look at it and realize there’s a couple of songs on there that I’d never even heard before. I would run to my iPod and learn them really fast before I went out in front of 20,000 people who knew them note for note. I don’t do that. When it comes to shows I like to have stuff planned. My plan is to play the first show, gauge the reaction and season to taste after that.

Do the physical restrictions of a one-man band force you to increase your creativity—like necessity is the mother of invention? It’s tough, because I’m not a huge fan of sitting down with an acoustic guitar and playing a song to someone. I’m a backwards musician. I grew up playing drums and sampling, and it’s taken me until now, 20 years later, to be able to sit down with an acoustic guitar and play to a song.

I opened up for my friend Ruby Amanfu, who plays with Jack White a lot. That was the first time I just went out and did these 2 Live Crew iPad beats and a guitar, and the reaction was really good and it was entertaining enough where people really responded. That, to me, was, “Okay, I can get away with this; I can pull this off.” It’s forcing me to be creative.

Do you ever see Self touring as a full band, full-time again? I think we would all love to do that, but everyone is professional. My bass player works on Jimmy Kimmel; my keyboard player just engineered a Prince album; my guitar player is a computer wizard who makes apps, and my drummer works in the hospital.

Earlier this year we played New York, LA and Nashville, and the crowds were amazing—super responsive and they knew all the B-sides. I don’t know if that’s because absence makes the heart grow fonder or what, but just really good reactions. It’s just kind of cost-prohibitive to keep doing these one-off shows. We would like to do a tour where we could actually make some money, because we don’t when we’re doing these one-off shows.

But we have to carve out time. I think at this point, we’re fully capable and fully rehearsed to do some weekend warrior-type stuff, but none of us could take off a month unless we have a No. 1 single and people are offering us $150,000 to play a birthday party.

Matt Mahaffey October 2, 9, 16, 23 & 30, 8 p.m., $5-$10. Bunkhouse, 702-854-1414.

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