Friday, August 30, 2013

Keep it Local Friday Artist: Man Alive!

 Man Alive! is what I would probably categorize somewhere in the "alt-folk meets haunting waltz meets country for people who don't like country" music genre. Confused yet? Good! All you really need to know is this is good music. Driven by strong percussive backbeats courtesy of Matt Chieffo's small kick drum and choppy guitar and banjo playing, Jeff Shattuck's swirling accordian lines, the concrete bass runs of Jordan Allain, and soaring fiddle of Amber Hoggatt, the band is doing something that not a lot of other folks are doing around this town. This is original music my friends. Take a little from this influence, a little from this influence, pour in your heart and bake something that is completely your own and unlike the other "folk" music coming out of the Boston music scene. I reviewed their aptly titled EP "4 Songs"a few months back (Here) and while I enjoyed the listen, this recorded work has NOTHING on a live performance from these guys. They really are a band with such high energy and presence on stage that you need to see them live to really absorb what exactly Man Alive! is.

I caught up with Matt Chieffo and Jordan Allain to get two views on the band, what they are doing, and where they are heading on this dusty road we call making music. Needless to say, they are kicking up some of that dust along the way and making some noise to go along with it.

RLR: Just tell me a little about the band, who is in it? What would you describe your sound as? Where have you been playing?

Man Alive! is : Matt Chieffo (vox and guitar and banjo) a boston public highschool writing teacher who doesn’t wanna act like a responsible adult. Jeff Shattuck  (accordion) PHD laser scientist . Jordan Allain (bass) – manager at the best bagel shop in Boston and Amber Ferner-Hoggatt (fiddle and vox) VMD – specializing in primate research

JA: To me our music feels like you just walked in on an old timey throw down where some people are swinging their beers and stomping their feet, while others are grabbing the nearest dance partner and tossing them around the dance floor.
We've been playing shows for a few years now at various local venues: Great Scott, O'Briens, Middle East, T.T.'s, Radio, Precinct, as well as some outdoor festivals and a couple basements for good measure.

RLR: The band name is interesting, where does it stem from?

MC: Man Alive! Is an old expression that can be used in a number of contexts. Man Alive! That lake is cold! Or Man Alive! Im having a girl! Or man Alive! That whiskey is strong. Or Man Alive! That band is good haha. 

JA: It stems from the exclamation Man Alive! which is a very versatile expression. You could be surprised, pleased, excited, bewildered, heartbroken. When you just feel something so passionately and words are failing you, let out a Man Alive!

RLR: What records are you listening to right now? . What records shaped you as a musician and made you want to pick up an instrument and be in a band?

JA: I just found out about this band The Wave Pictures that I've been getting really in to. Belle

MC:  We are an eclectic group as far as musical taste. Jordan and I love the kinks, dr. dog, and have been getting really into this group The Wave Pictures. Jeff comes from Maine and generally likes old time music though I'd say he's more up to date with bands in our genre than any of us...then there’s Amber. Another one who was raised up on old time but shes got a special place in her heart for 90s pop country..its true. As far as musical influence goes its a tough one - we draw from so many places- I can speak for myself..I think the Kinks have some of the best lyrics Ive ever heard..their subject matter is inspiring and Ray Davies point of view is always so perfectly absurd. The Grateful Dead - early Dead- Working Man's Dead - The lyrical delivery is really inspiring for me - The energy and rhythm of Roger Miller (one of my all time favorite people ever) I was raised listening to Van Morrison so he's in my head for sure...Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson- Tammy Wynette-  My grandparents were amateur country line dancers- EmmyLou and Gram Parsons - I also really love afro psych. There is so much more is hard to sort through. So much is there - I take pieces of it all - like I said its a particular aesthetic im after - take all of those and mix them all that is dark, morbid, and strange and you’re getting closer.

RLR: Aside from music, do you have any other pastimes? What would you want people to know about you aside from your musical endeavors?

MC: This is actually a good segue into our interests outside of music...I’m way into horror movies, I silk screen, go fishing about as much as I can, and make muppet style puppets..haha yes I do ..Rumor has it they might be making an appearance at our Halloween show.  Amber collects bugs and paints, Jeff plays competitive volleyball, and Jordan draws strange cartoons and writes short stories - he and I often give each other pieces we've written to read. Soo we are equally as eclectic in out extra curricular band activities... 

(Chieffo with one of his "muppet-like" creations)
photo courtesy of Eye Design

RLR: So what is making music important to you? Anything you look to do more of in the future?

MC: Well Man Alive! has taken a number of different shapes and seen a number of different people before settling in with the current line up. In the early stages it was more of a country rock band- electric guitar, bass, piano, drums with none of the current people in the band. I started writing songs and playing them at parties in the kitchen and then my friends started to play along and those were the instruments my friends played haha. I actually really liked the sound of that first line up but it wasn't Man Alive! I don't know how else to say it and believe me it was hard to explain that to my friends after we played a bunch of shows and the band was gaining momentum and I decided to completely dismantle the band and start from scratch. But there has always been a particular aesthetic I’ve been chasing with Man Alive! and its really hard to pinpoint. I'd say the aesthetic is more closely tied with my goals as a song writer. I wanted to tell stories..stories of my friends of my family of my own life. Life itself is inspiration. We all carry around these beautiful stories sometimes heartbreaking sometimes uplifting sometimes absurd or strange and I wanna tell them. I put myself in other people shoes alot I find the angle of the story that I find most interesting (this is where my own particular sense of aesthetic comes in) and I write from that point of view - Even when the story is my own. Couple the angle of these stories with melody and you have chance to evoke emotions in every shade you can imagine.

But just as every writer has a unique "voice" song writers do too.. and this "voice" is most sincere when it comes naturally -when you cant help things from coming out the way they do. My musical tastes do vary- I've always been into playing rock and roll, high energy music. But when I go to tell these stories with a guitar in my hand they just seem to come out "country." It didnt begin as an intentional move to play in this genre its the just the "voice" I found myself writing in. So when the first line up of the band starting taking me away from that "voice" I found myself writing to the sound of the band and not telling the stories the way I wanted to soooo I stopped and went back to where I started - playing by myself. ...But Ive never been one to be content for too long..always pushing the
envelope it wasn't long before I started playing with Jeff and then Jordan..Then we went through a couple mandolin players (Chieffo pictured left with former band mate, Brian Carroll and below Shattuck with Logan Chieffo - Matt's brother) and a drummer before I saw Amber playing with an old time string band at a barn in western Mass and recruited her and then this line up has been together ever since. 

We've written sooo many songs over the years and its fun as we get new players to watch the songs change and take new shapes it keeps things interesting. Its not easy for us to classify our sound. Im not pleased with the general label of americana and I personally feels its being abused- rock and roll with a tele and cowboy boots is all you need for that genre at times...but we're not singularly folk, country, or bluegrass either. A lot of people hear the accordion and hear a zydeco influence but thats not intentional either outside of the my dreams to add new orleans style horn sections and a drummer playing a trash drumset and a washboard haha..which we kinda tried already... 

We've also been really bad about recording. I tend to write new songs faster than we could ever learn them between practicing for gigs  so when we have time we often go to the back log of tunes and start plugging away.. But we promise we are getting better at recording. We just finished a four song EP which Redline graciously reviewed (thank you!) and we were pretty proud of it. We recorded it ourselves mostly live in Jordan's basement surrounded by some 30 odd old chandeliers that we hung around ourselves to feel at home. We have a pretty...interesting and specific way we've learned to record our band..there is a method to the madness and its best we do it on our own haha. We also recorded some great live video with EYE DESIGN among the chandeliers, which made an awesome set, but the video got..well lost/destroyed so we are planning a reshoot in the near future..we are also working on a new full length album which we plan to release in the winter so we've been a busy band and will stay that way, new songs will never be a problem haha. 

RLR: Cambridge/Boston/our city has been known for having a great music community, how do you feel about it? Do you agree with the sentiment? What bands do you like to collaborate with?

JA: I've never really been involved in any other artistic community other than Boston, so I don't have much to compare it to. There are times that I feel encouraged by it, and times that I feel frustrated by it. We've met a lot of awesome musicians and artists through playing and attending shows, and we've also had some nights that just didn't feel right for whatever reason. I think this would be the same no matter where we were playing though, you can't please everyone.

MC: We are super excited to be in Boston right now - there are a ton of great things happening in the city rand we are happy to be a part of as much of it as we can. EYE DESIGN is in our opinion the best thing happening within the Boston music scene over the last year or two. Erick and Ian are some of the nicest and sincere people I know and they have become really good friends of ours – plus their work is incredible. They film bands and book shows. If you’ve never been to a Treat Yo Self show at Great Scott well then go treat your damn self – live art, music and treats yessir. But we are in the process of working on some music video concepts with them too.

We also really love Peachpit and the Fantastic Liars and we have been playing with Peachpit a bunch. They are great everyone should go see them..Actually see us together at Precinct on 9/14. Sometimes the drummer plays trumpet on one of our songs! And rumor also has that all three of us bands will be covering each other’s songs as part of our Halloween extravaganza this year.

RLR: Plug away...anything else at all that you want the fine readers to know?

MC: Well I think that’s it for now..lots of fun stuff coming up – we have a show at middle east up on 9/9 with two amazing bands – As the Sparrow and Sway
This is the first show we have put together in awhile and we are psyched for it!

Be sure to check out Man Alive! online at:

AND listen to some tunes here:

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