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January 12, 2009
Sacramento Single: Nice Monster's "Down"

matthewgerken_small.jpgThe name of J. Matthew Gerken's band Nice Monster explains exactly what his intentions are for its music.

"I don't like writing songs that have typical guitar strums - you know, ba-ba-BA-ba bum. I like using odd time signatures and syncopations - that's the 'monster' part, (writing) difficult or interesting rhythms," he explains. "But at the same time I like but at the same time, I really like catchy melodies."

Gerken, along with friends Jefferson Pitcher and Christian Kiefer, is also part of the recent Of Great and Mortal Men project which recently released the highly lauded three-CD set, "43 Songs for 43 Presidencies" (Standard Recordings, $30).

The brand-new, self-titled Nice Monster EP swaps politics for a rich mining of sonic spaces, experimental yet accessible noise pop and complicated emotions.

Nice Monster is rounded out by Jason Roberts (guitar), Greg Aaron (drums), Chad Wilson (bass) and Gerken's girlfriend Heather Phillips (piano, vocals).

The new EP was recorded in the home shared by Gerken and Phillips and the experience, he says, was mellow with a focus on fun instead of technical perfection.

That relaxed vibe was aided by the arrival of a puppy.

"Heather and I were looking for a new puppy and in the middle of recording, a rescue puppy became available," he says.

The presence of Mickey, a Black Lab/Border collie mix, gave the recording sessions a playful mood.

"It was just really fun and created such a relaxed, flexible atmosphere," he says. "The fidelity might not be as pristane as it would be if we'd recorded at a studio but I think the performances are better."

Nice Monster

Song: "Down"

Style: Jazz pop

Behind the song: "It's similar to a lot of Nice Monster songs because it doesn't have a verse-chorus-verse (structure)," says Gerken who cites artists such as John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Wilco and Radiohead among his influences and inspirations.

"Down" starts with a slow, deliberate mood before shifting, half-way through, into something decidedly more upbeat.

"Those kinds of shifts happen a lot (in our songs)," Gerken says. "The texture, the time feel, the meter, even the lyrical topic - it can all change."

The song's subject matter, Gerken says, is a "tongue in cheek reflection" about childhood.

"The first part of the song is about a person wondering why they are the way they are," he says. "In the second half of the song, there's the realization that 'oh yeah, it's because of this stuff that happened when I was a kid.'"

The song's actual lyrics, he adds, are pretty "ambiguous."

"You almost need liner notes to understand them," he says. "I like to leave room for people to make their own interpretations."

On the Web: or

Listen to "Down" from the new Nice Monster EP here:

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