An interview with Matuss about discipline
Discipline and humility are key words in Julia Matuss' trail to success as a producer and label director for Absence Seizure, an etiquette that just issued two of her newest tracks. Profet´s Chief Ideologue Filip Lindström interviews the energetic Matuss about how to maintain those qualities in a creative life.
Julia Matuss is in Berlin instead of in New York, where she has been living for the past 12 years, and inarguably is very happy about this. Her life is periodic, parted into extreme lapses of either work or play. She clearly states she can’t do both simultaneously.
Now, when in Europe for a few months, the Ukrainian producer and label director is at ease. She is visiting Berlin, mainly for inspiration and recreation, and I can feel her contentment in her bubbly and sparklingly joyous way of talking quite a lot. After each of her answers to my questions, she excuses their extensive length with a broad, glistening smile that could make up for anything. The thing is, she has nothing to make up for, and I have nothing to excuse. She believes her responses are too lengthy, but what she doesn’t know is that elaborate answers are the Pop Journalists most sought after commodity. It enables us to lean back, do practically nothing and still gather enough information to make for a satisfying piece of work. Of course, parts of these long replies have to be cut in order for everything to fit, and so snippets of Julia Matuss’ testimony will be left for your vivid imagination to encompass.
In response to my first, innocent ice-breaking question »So, what are you up to in Berlin?«, Matuss sets off on the following explanation:
»I haven’t been outside of the Americas for the last 12 years, and I wanted to come here to get a better idea about the city, the culture, the art, the people, the music of course, and the parties. What I’ve been doing is going out almost every night and in the day time I’ve been to record stores. America is really great, but I’m kind of a gypsy. I need to move, I need to see new places, new people. America is a big country, and you have New York, L.A and Chicago, but it’s still one country and I can’t be in one place for too long.«
»I’m an in-or-out sort of person«
Happily speaking of the way the cobblestone on some of Berlin’s streets feels under the wheels of her bike, Matuss manages to describe how she finds joy in the small things. Right in this moment, when we speak over the phone, she is exuberant – enthusiastic for all the new impressions she’s making and all the new experiences she’s living. The second hand happiness alone is reason enough to put a smile on my face too. Like any human being who has ever been born, I also grow tired of my surroundings at times, and Matuss’ ecstatic description of how »refreshing it is to be in a new place« makes me both jealous and cheerful.
Her daily life, back in New York City, comes up and Matuss explains thoroughly why she has chosen to live in a part of Brooklyn where not many of her friends wants to come visit (»it’s sort of like a dangerous neighbourhood« she says). What it all comes down to is dedication. »People ask me why I live there, and I say ‘Basically because I like being away from everything, so I don’t get distracted. You have to write music sometimes. If you want to write music, it takes discipline and a lot of time invested. I came across an issue where in New York I was always out seeing something, doing something. That’s amazing but you have to realize that if you do that for one year, you’re not going to write anything. You’ll have a great time, but you’re not going to have any material. You have to choose. For me, moderation doesn’t work. I can’t go out for a coffee, come back and make music and then go to a party. I’m an in-or-out sort of person. I need to put myself on a leash, periods of months without socializing. This is how I write material.«
This type of discipline does not come easy, I can tell you that much, dear readers. I myself try, or at least have tried, to live like Matuss says she does but I always end up with trying to entertain a social life and a spiralling career in the noble trade of Pop Journalism all at once. Your focus gets jangled and you might just lose control of where you’re headed if you don’t take care, so if possible, Matuss’ way is the one to take. But, where has this sense of discipline actually come from?
»I used to be a professional fighter« Matuss says. »If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be a disciplined person. In martial arts, there is no other way. When I was doing cage fighting, I had training four times a day at one point. It wasn’t healthy and I’m not saying it’s good, but I know what it’s like to get up at 5 in the morning, going to the training and doing it non-stop. If you start slacking, it’s going to affect your skills, and you’ll get your ass kicked. Do you want that? No, so you’d better get organized.«
The metaphor of an undisciplined lifestyle leading to physical pain is very effective and thus useful in the attempt of achieving all possible goals. Ultimately, you yourself suffer the most for your laziness or inability to structure your behaviour. Take this with you, dear reader, because it will help you in ways you can’t imagine.
There is a rumour going round, saying that no one is perfect, and it applies to Matuss as well. With her martial arts discipline considered, she still sees herself as occasionally lazy, at times procrastinating her own music. When handling other performer’s work, as one of two founders of the Absence Seizure label (co-founded with Abe Duque), she never procrastinates one bit.
»Thinking ‘I can do this tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow’, I can do that to myself but I can never do that to other people. I’ll give you an example; I’ve always had problems with speaking about what I do with a hype. I can’t really sell myself, I’ve never been able to do that. If you’re doing something good and it’s worthy of attention, it’s going to get it without you saying it. Maybe it’s partially a Russian mentality, because. My generation was raised to be humble, to not talk about yourself and to lay low. If you do something good, then it’s out there and people will notice it, or they won’t and that’s okay too. I’ve learned that if I like someone else’s stuff, it’s so easy for me to be raving about it! It’s easier for me to pitch someone else’s music, but if we talk about mine I can’t say that it’s brilliant.« Matuss laughs at this thought. »I mean, how can you say that, it’s simply not okay. I would like to see the artist who can honestly say that his things are brilliant, because everybody I’ve met always have doubts.«
I can’t keep myself from thinking I’m brilliant, especially when Matuss emphases the improbability of an artist aware of one’s own brilliance. Either I’m not an artist (implying that the awe-worthy Pop Journalism is not an art, which everyone with their head attached to their body knows is untrue) or I’m too self-centred to properly function as a normal human being would. Of course, I’m no stranger to the devious, painful self-doubt, but these two extremes fuel one another and I wouldn’t let go of the doubt if it would mean sacrificing my narcissistic sides.
The story of Matuss’ upbringing and how it manufactured her look on »bragging« (even if this word is not entirely correctly used in this context, let’s keep it) is relevant to the question of how she works with other music than her own, on Absence Seizure.
»I treat other people’s things very differently from how I treat my own.« she says. »I’m sure many people can relate. It all depends on your upbringing, what country you were born in, how you were raised.«
»What was it like, coming to America with that almost modest look on life? The American culture is more accepting to believing in yourself. Did you see the clashing of those two outlooks as problematic in any way?« I ask Matuss.
»A hundred percent« she replies. »In the beginning, it was very problematic. Then, you learn that you have to drop the judgement. It took many years.«
Somewhere in her stream of consciousness, Matuss lets me know that her tracks are direct reflections of her feelings, and therefore of course I want to know which feelings are reflected in the songs she has just released to celebrate Absence Seizure’s tenth give on vinyl.
»The best records I make come from a dark place, when I’m really upset. Sometimes I’m guilty of amplifying my feelings, I can make myself suffer. I can escalate a feeling in my head to a point of no return. If I don’t have feelings like that, I can make them. When I made this new record« (where Matuss contributes with two tracks, »Crashing Hard« and »Sisabuc Fresh«, and Abe Duque with one) »I was in a phase when I was very content and happy with myself. I went through a very rough time last year and it was over when I was writing [the record]. When I’m saying rough time, I mean I went to jail and then to the monastery right after jail. When I came back from the monastery, it got even worse if possible. Then I had to face the consequences of my actions.«
At first, Matuss is reluctant to tell me what actions she had to make up for, but soon she voluntarily does share the story. »I got a DUI, which in my country unfortunately is not looked upon as a bad thing. In America, though, it’s possibly one of the worst crimes, so they made sure they put me through hell, financially and emotionally.«
After a troublesome year of AA meetings and a period of sobriety, the producer chose to start praying every morning and every evening, once again showing evidence of divine discipline. Meditation also came in to her life, multi-faceting her spiritual side. It all landed her in the said space of positive energy, in which I believe I’ve caught her now as well. This state sparked her two tracks on the new split release, and will hopefully continue to energize her music further.
Matuss is a glistening character, talkative and open, yet firmly clung to her beliefs, whether be it her religious or ethical ones. She is definitely tragically wrongfully described in her Resident Advisor biography, stating that »what’s unique about Matuss is that she’s not only eye candy like most female DJ:s, Matuss has an obsession with music« (either, hopefully, self-written with vast amounts of irony or penned by some meathead male primate with knowledge reaching no longer than to the tip of his own toes). Matuss lives in this magnetic balance between discipline and recreation, a definite alternation between work and play, a relationship resting on precise absence of moderation. I might not work like that, even though I have given it a fair try, and you might not work like that, dear reader, but what do I know? What I do know is, Julia Matuss functions this way, and it looks like it’s working out perfectly.