Matt Malley is a bass player, best known for being a founding member Counting Crows. He and his fellow band mates hit the music scene in a big way with the release of the album "August and Everything After" which featured the song "Mr. Jones". With the success of the album, Matt and the band toured the world, performed at Woodstock 94 and shared the stage with acts such as The Who and many others. Matt is very involved with traditions from India and practices meditation. Through these traditions, he met his wife and an arranged marriage was enacted. After the birth of his first two children, Matt made a very difficult and wise decision to leave Counting Crows and be a steady father for them. Today, Matt has three children and a wonderful marriage with his wife. He continues to write and produce music in his state of the art studio and has just released a single with Jon Anderson (former lead singer of Yes) for charity. I recently caught up with Matt.
R.V.B. - Hello Matt this is Rob Von Bernewitz from Long Island New York. How are you doing today?
M.M. - Good. Nice to meet you man.
R.V.B. - Same here. How are you making out on the west coast over there with the drought?
M.M. - Well, if you have a green lawn, it's like the lawn of shame... that is what I'm told. It means you're wasting water on your lawn.
R.V.B. - That's what I understand. So you haven't had any relief in the last couple of weeks?
M.M. - No, there's been some promising looking clouds but nothing yet. It's weird... you don't come here for the culture, you come here for the weather which can be incredibly boring. Even the drought is boring
R.V.B. - Hahaha yeah, It's nice every day I understand.
M.M. - Yeah, hahaha too much sunshine.
R.V.B. - Now you have a world championship baseball team.
M.M. - Yeah, look at that. That's where I'm from originally, the bay area. I couldn't be more proud.
R.V.B. - It was a good series. It lasted right to the bitter end.
M.M. - Yeah, it looked like the Royals were gonna be the Cinderella team again, but no it didn't happen.
R.V.B. - So congratulations on your new single. I gave it a couple of listens and it's really a very nice piece.
M.M. - Thanks. It's mellow, it's new agey'. When you're north of fifty it all makes sense. Johns voice made it pure magic.
R.V.B. - Now did you play all the instruments on that?
M.M. - I sure did, including the Indian slide guitar. I'm an Indian slide guitar student. I love Indian music.
R.V.B. - I heard the slide solo. Was that the Mohan Veena?
M.M. - This one is a little bit different. The Mohan Veena was named after its inventor Mohan Bhatt. I made a record with him a few years ago but this one is a little bit of a different design. Technically it's not a Mohan Veena but the Mohan Veena falls under the Indian slide guitar category. The slide guitar I used on the song has a different number of playing strings. There are four playing strings on it. The Mohan Veena is the same instrument basically but it has three playing strings.
M.M. - Yeah, there's another fellow... a recent friend of mine named Debashish Bhattacharya and he's the other great Indian music star on the slide guitar. He has six playing strings but it has a whole bunch of sympathetic playing strings like a sitar they just vibrate... you never pluck them. They all vibrate when you play a note in tune. They will vibrate to that note. There's twelve or fourteen usually and they're underneath the playing strings. they're the drone strings.
R.V.B. - I see. I noticed the piano work was very nice. Did you start playing piano at a young age also?
M.M. - I sure did. At seven years old, I was taking classical piano lessons. That was back in 1970 up in Berkley. I did that for about three or four years and hated it... sadly. I was warned that I'll regret that I quit and I still kinda regret that I quit. I was on the road to becoming a classical pianist at a very young age. When adolescence kicked in, I got into rock and pop and the Beatles hit me... and of course Yes hit me with the Fragile record. I just got heavily into music, again I didn't have the training nut I did hold on to a little bit on piano, I'm happy to say.
R.V.B. - You mentioned Yes, so in your adolescence years, did you lean more towards the progressive rock?
M.M. - Well I was a Beatles fanatic and I didn't know what it meant, but I was a fan of a great songwriting and at fourteen years old at the same time getting into the Beatles a neighbor gave me a "Fragile" record and they just sounded so different than anyone else. Looking back now after making major label records... the beauty of the Yes records from the 70's and the 80's is they're so organic. There's nothing really added. There's very minimal effects and triggering and nothing digital obviously. Wakeman would usually be on a piano or organ and the guitars are not very fuzzed and not very effected. Their playing is so beautiful and intricate that it's hard to realize that the sounds they're making you could make in a room. There's very little effects added on to those records.
R.V.B. - They did a lot of that kind of stuff in the 70's, however in the 80's they started messing around with sequencers and fuzz but they were changing members also.
M.M. - Yeah you're right, when the South African influence came in for the 90125 record with Trevor Rabin. They re-invented themselves and that record also changed my life. The 90125 record was a whole different Yes but like you said, thet's when the effects started coming in.
R.V.B. - Right. You picked up the bass a little later on. Were there other instruments that you dabbled with besides the piano at a very young age?
M.M. - The normal elementary school curriculum which was violin and trumpet. My ten year old is taking up trumpet now so I'm thrilled. I went through those from music in school and I'm a big fan of giving kids music lessons in public school. It was really piano and then I discovered bass guitar with a friend of mine just before my freshman year in high school. I guess I was fifteen.
R.V.B. - So I guess you were able to pick it up pretty quickly.
M.M. - I understood music... a lot of people play the bass because they think it's easier, because a lot of bass is easy. Country bass... I'm not picking on country music but it's really a no brainer... you play one note at a time. A great bass player will bend time. A great bass player will play on the back side of the drummer without slamming . There will be no clicks or anything with the drum. That's how a great bass player thinks like James Jamerson and a lot of the great rock players.
R.V.B. - You approach the song completely different with the bass. I overdub my own bass on song songs in my studio. it's actually a very enjoyable instrument.
R.V.B. - So I understand you had a chance meeting getting a haircut, where you met your guitar player friend and it turned into something rather large for you.
M.M. - That was the beginning of the Counting Crows. My friend Dave Bryson and I were in a band about three years before Counting Crows started. Dave and I ran into each other when I was going to get my haircut. He was playing with Adam, our singer/songwriter in Counting Crows. He said they were thinking of expanding from an acoustic duo and getting a band started. He said "Come and meet him" and Adam and I really hit it off because I was a big Celtic folk revival music fan. A fan of Fairport Convention and all the off-shoots, Steeleye Span and Pentangle, the whole Celtic folk rock movement of the late 60's - early 70's. It was connected to prog' actually, in a very subtle way. So Adam and I hit it off with our folk rock love and that was the beginning of Counting Crows. I was in the band for fourteen years.
R.V.B. - During your tenure... obviously it was a great run and you wrote a lot of great music, was there any particular shows that you have played that stuck out?
M.M. - We toured with the Who for about ten shows and that was a high point of my life. We opened the first show when John Entwistle died. Three days later they played the Hollywood bowl with Pino Palladino on bass. We opened that show and there was a sadness to it. I was of course hoping to meet John and couldn't be more bummed that he lost his life. John, Chris Squire and Geddy Lee are probably the three main reasons I play bass. The tour with the Who was awesome... it just doesn't get better than that.
R.V.B. - I see. Now you toured the world and this gave you a lot of adventure, how did you enjoy touring Europe?
M.M. - You know, it was awesome and I loved it. There's a point though after six or seven years when I realized I wasn't growing any more. It had nothing to do with my own band mates... they're great cats but it gets to be a bummer when you're in London and you kind of know where you go and there's the restaurant that you always go to... I lost my sense of magic. Not being too pessimistic touring because it is an awesome lifestyle. It coincided with the birth of my second son and realizing I'm becoming an M.I.A. dad, and that coupled with getting bored on the road is what got me out. I just had to shut it down.
R.V.B. - Well that's really amicable of you to do that, to put family first. You had your run but family is more important.
M.M. - Yes, Thanks... mentally it made sense. It's obviously the right thing to do but there is a yearning, being a dude and laughing really hard with your mates... traveling the world together. I yearn for it still but I know I can't get these years back with my kids and It's obvious I made the right decision. Thanks for noting that.
R.V.B. - How old were your kids when you made this decision?
M.M. - I have three boys and my first one was four years old and the second one was just born. He was six months old. This was in 2004. The band saw a dark shadow growing over me and I just started getting bummed out being out there. I would call on the phone from Amsterdam and my four year old would say "I love you dad" and I'd hang up the phone and there's my quiet hotel room and my aloneness and I can do anything I want. It just didn't make sense anymore. It's great when you are in your 20's or your 30's or you're not married or you don't have kids... it's friggen awesome. There was a pull that just got stronger and stronger.
R.V.B. - Are there any memorable moments with your kids, that you say to yourself "I'm glad I made that decision"?
M.M. - Just being present in the house. If I'm on the computer or tweaking my email and I don't want to be bothered, I'm there with them. They can call me... if they need me, I'm there. It's an overall presence in their lives.
R.V.B. - It makes for a strong family, having the father around.
M.M. - Yeah exactly. It's giving them a good foundation and it's my reason for being alive now. I think Art Garfunkel said "The birth of your first child is the beginning of the second half of your life". It's really accurate to say that the reason I live is for a good foundation in their start and having dad at home makes their world feel like a safer place.
M.M. - I was called the George Harrison of Counting Crowes in a sense, I was going off to India and I'd do type of meditation and I'm really into it. A Guru that started it called Mataji... she passed away about four years ago. It's a technique that involves something ancient called Kundalani and in the Orient it's the Chi energy. I feel it on a cool breeze on the palms of my hands whenever I meditate. I got heavily involved in this and it's weird, there's no certificate that says you're in or out. There's no money involved, so it's a very unusual practice. It's also very decent... America has been exposed to all the false Guru's with the Beatles and the Maharishi. I guess they get exposed as child molesters or taking everyone's money but anyway, I got into this pretty deeply and there's a point if you can get an arranged marriage. It's called Sahaja Yoga and I asked her "If you think I'm ready, I'd love to get married to anyone you say" and she arranged us. We married in India and I'm here to say it freaken worked... we're in love and it's been sixteen years and three little kids and I think having the foundation of our faith being the same is a big part of having happiness in life.
R.V.B. - Now how often do you practice this art?
M.M. - I guess you could call it a meditation technique or a science. It's recommended to be up with the daybreak which is rare unfortunately for me but to be up at dawn, before everyone else wakes up and the birds are chirping and the sky is just getting lighter. That's the best time to meditate. You sit and just hold out your hands and put your attention at the top of your head. That's what this technique is. The Kundalani and the attention is like a needle and a thread. Where your attention goes the Kundalani will follow. It resides at the base of the spine in the sacrum bone. Sacrum is Latin for sacred so whoever named that bone knew something was in there. When it comes at the top of the head, it comes out of the fontanel bone area, and fontanel is French for fountain. I can feel it when I meditate and over the years "hopefully" the awareness starts to expand within your silence of your awareness. I sense it... I feel it but I don't want to go banging anyone over the head with my practice, you know.
R.V.B. - Well if you enjoy it, and you get a great feeling out of it, and a great experience out of it, who is anybody to say anything?
M.M. - Yeah exactly, nobody's getting hurt. We're not killing people that don't join us like some other people in the world who are doing right now.
R.V.B. - Yeah it's a shame. So your wife also plays music?
M.M. - Yes, she's an Indian singer. She's Indian, but she's from South Africa. So I guess she's from a westernized democratic country. Unlike an Indian sheikh, she knows all about western music. One of the beautiful things of India is that the Himalaya's are like a wall from the rest of the world and Indian music is so deeply ingrained in the culture and most Indians don't know the Led Zeppelin catalog. Although with the age of the internet now things have probably changed. India is such a pure culture of their music and their food. That's two of the reasons I'd love to live in India but my wife being from South Africa knew about, for example, Yes. She knew about Jon's voice and loved all the western rock music and was raised on it. She sings Indian classical music and she's a super good singer.
R.V.B. - What I'm getting at is, when you did finally settle down... you wound up building a studio... a world class studio.
M.M. - The property I bought... this five acre horse ranch style building was owned by Michael Jackson's engineer. A guy named Bruce Swedien. Bruce built a free standing building on the property and apparently mixed and recorded some Michael Jackson records there and he's tracked Michael in that building. The building is awesome and my studio is all state of the art but a lot more compact than you would think. You would expect a giant board but I have an eight fader board. What I did get was the greatest pre-amps, the greatest microphones. I'm all hooked up with my Neuman mics and lots of other great mics... pre-amps and keyboards. It's all computer based but I can track state of the art so I love.
R.V.B. - Did you ever involve your wife in any of your music?
M.M. - No, sadly not yet. She's a shy singer and I haven't done anything that needs an Indian classical singer voice as of yet but I plan on it.
R.V.B. - You did come out with an album "The Goddess Within".
M.M. - That was kind of my letter to the world. I wanted for once in my life to be the guy who did everything on my record. Hahaha so in a selfish way I made sure that I oversaw everything... every instrument, every vocal... I oversaw the artwork, the text and that was the one time I wanted to do that in my life.
R.V.B. - Were you happy with the results.
M.M. - Yeah I'm happy with it but looking back, it could have been engineered a little better, equed a little better but the songwriting and the words... I'm thrilled with it actually.
R.V.B. - Now your teacher of your Mohan Veena recorded the album "Sleepless Nights" with you right?
M.M. - Yes "Sleepless Nights" was recorded with Mohan Bhatt. He was just a master of... when he plays a note, you can just feel all of India in that note. He was a student of Ravi Shankar.
R.V.B. - With all the legendary producers that you have worked with through the years like T. Bone Burnette and Steve Lillywhite. Did you learn anything from them that you now incorporate into your own producing.
M.M. - T. Bone Burnette is by far the greatest producer and musician I've every met. He did our first record. The first Counting Crows record back in 1992 and he taught me about bending time as a bass player. He made everyone a better musician. I have to say that no other producer has taught me much. Working with T. Bone was like being fed to the lions... you know, jumping into a deep lake. We were all Bay Area musicians. East Bay, self taught... thought we knew it all. I'd go to the local guitar store and play as fast as I could on a bass and try to impress the employees. That was my understanding of bass playing. T. Bone just kind of broke me down and just built me into a songwriter, bass player and no one has come close. He's just one of the greatest musicians in the world.
R.V.B. - I was actually in the same room with him once down in Nashville. So what do you have on tap for the future? What do you have envisioned for your music output?
M.M. - No big plans. I'd like to do another record on my own but of course include musicians in the future and of course my wife... to say as a loyal husband, and my children even. Make my second record under my name. I have a plan someday to... once Jon Anderson wraps up his Jean Luc Ponty tour is to get a band going with him but Jon doesn't know about that yet.
R.V.B. - Hahahah. Are all three of your children musical?
M.M. - Yeah, all three of them are. I have a four year old and he's already composing, believe it or not. I'm a proud dad talking but he has a little song about the moon and the stars, it's night time and the moon has to brush it's teeth. It's a little melody and it couldn't be cuter, so I had to record that. My ten year old is playing trumpet and piano. My fourteen year old is a bass player. He's a freshman in high school and he beat out ten other bass player auditions to get his chair by sight reading on bass. He's also taking up drums this summer. He can play the entire Moving Pictures Rush record from beginning to end on the drums.
R.V.B. - That's no easy task.
M.M. - No, YYZ, that's some hard stuff.
R.V.B. - That album sold a lot of copies. I bought myself a copy.
M.M. - Yeah, me too. I was a senior in high school and that's another record that changed my life. The sound of the bass on that record and the songwriting is just brilliant.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your career up to this point. You've certainly accomplished a whole lot. You've done the right thing in life and you should be proud of yourself. The music community sure is.
M.M. - I sure appreciate that man. Uplifting the world is my goal.
R.V.B. - You have a great attitude and I wish you all the luck in the future. I'm looking forward to hearing some new music from you. You gotta get your wife in there. Hahaha
M.M. - Thank you.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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