Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Well.......what can you say about these musician types???? Apparently
you are nothing if your website is not TOGETHER MAN!!! Well.....I
guess I am..............

So many of my illustrious colleagues have beautiful and up to date
websites. There are plans that will come to fruition in the early part
of 2009 to combine the sites. robmathes.com has been somewhat
correctly accused of being a bit corporate in tone and though the
robmathesmusic.com site is hipper in design, having been done 10 years
later, it is all about Evening Train which is now 5 years old (still
the one record one would need to know to know me though). There is no
longer an open gallery page and I only wrote about 5 or 6 blogs in the
last 6 or 7 years on that site. There is a more recent blog about
Panic At The Disco and Radiohead and others that is passionate and
somewhat worth reading though. Scope it out. I was actually scheduled
to work with a fairly famous and gifted singer recently and she looked
at my website robmathes.com and chose another arranger. Is that
hilarious or what???? It wasn't a musical decision I was told but
rather a "FONT" aversion I guess. I supposed I asked for it :0(

Chris Botti is an old friend who has a remarkable band. His guitarist
Mark Whitfield and his drummer Billy Kilson are ridiculously gifted
and yet their websites are also in dire need of design and information
help. I am comforted that I am NOT ALONE!!

OK....what have I been doing with my life????

Over the last two years the most important projects have been Panic At
The Disco's second record Pretty. Odd. which I produced, scoring the
Polish Brothers films Astronaut Farmer and the upcoming Manure both
featuring Billy Bob Thornton and with Stuart Matthewman of Sade and
Maxwell fame, my first major original instrumental commission for a
major orchestra and my record Orchestral Songs, not the promised
Evening Train sequel but a collection of occasionally artsy but
heartfelt songs for Voice and Orchestra. There are a number of tunes
with band on OS and indeed true grooves on there but a lot of it will
seem like a departure.

Panic's record consumed about five months of my life in late 2007 and
early 2008 and was the most fun I have ever had in the recording
studio. It got rave reviews and I am hoping to do the next one. If I
don't, having done that one was enough joy for a lifetime. For those
who were skeptical of the band after their first record, I highly
recommend P.O. as an incredibly musical work by a band of smart and
gifted writers that keep getting better.

I have continued to arrange for people and produce other tracks. I
arranged a few tracks for Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, Butch
Walker again---a long term collaborator who has just released a
magnificent record---Sycamore Meadows after his house was destroyed in
the California fires---, Blake, and Secondhand Serenade.

Concord Records is releasing a new Vanessa Williams record to
capitalize on the big success of Ugly Betty. I produced three Latin
inflected tracks for it, all recorded with musicians from Mark
Anthony's band including legendary Latin Percussionist Luisito
Quintero and the great keyboardist Ricky Gonzales. I produced a record
"In Color" for Michael Cavanaugh, who was discovered by Billy Joel and
starred in the Twyla Tharp musical Movin' Out on Broadway. A very
gifted straight down the middle Rock/Pop singer from Cleveland, we
recorded some of it at my home away from home Abbey Road and there is
some strong stuff on there, especially Michael's take on a few Joel
songs and his insane boogie woogie piano playing on the Joe Turner
classic "Roll 'Em Pete". A number of years ago Melissa Errico, who has
starred in a number of Broadway shows, asked me to produce something
for her after seeing me musically direct the Bono tribute Grammy week
a few years ago. I produced her "Lullabies and Wildflowers" on Velour.

Meeting Stuart Matthewman was true serendipity. A great vibe creator
who was the master behind so much of Sade's music and that incredible
Maxwell debut record "Urban Hang Suite". Stuart is great at melody and
track creation but does not orchestrate or arrange and he himself
would say he is harmonically challenged when working in the Classical
or Jazz idiom though his ear is ridiculous. On both the films I was
encouraged and allowed to use some of Stuart's themes and compose much
of the score for the orchestra and on the new film, a mini Big Band.
"Manure" the new film (hilarious with Tea Leoni and Billy Bob) has a
soundtrack which is like Dragnet meets Quincy Jones meets Oliver
Nelson. A true hoot to record and another reunion with Joe Bonadio,
the drummer and percussionist on all the early Christmas stuff
including William The Angel.

I have continued to musically direct The Songwriter's Hall of Fame and
the Kennedy Center Honors which are both highlights of the year every
year. Epic Records called to have me quickly arrange a few tracks for
the winner of the America's Got Talent show Neil E Boyd. Neil is a big
kid from St. Louis with a huge voice. We did it in two long days.
Though no reinvention of any wheel, just basically straight up but
musical versions of holiday classics, he is performing at the NBC Tree
Lighting and it was a few days of bliss recording with my favorite New
York string section on one of the last working days at Legacy Studios
A 509, the last great room for orchestral recording in New York which
closed November 30th. A sign of the times and another subject


The two things I end with are the two things closest to my heart right
now. I composed a piece for the Nashville Symphony and Leonard Slatkin
that will be premiered February 5th in Nashville. The other piece on
the program is Brahms First Piano Concerto with Emanuel Ax (NO
PRESSURE THERE!!!!). Slatkin and the Nashville Symphony won the Grammy
for Best Classical Album in 2007 so besides the pressure to do
something strong anyway, I wanted to write something completely
unified and not at all some kind of crossover piece written by a
supposed "arranger of pop music". Some of the songs on Orchestral
Songs like "When You Are Old", "Embroidered Cloths" and "The Rose, The
Lily, The Sun, and The Dove" point the way for this piece.

Those who know me well know that since I was in my early 20's I have
not left my home without a box of Stravinsky, Mahler and Britten under
my arm. I also studied intensely with composer Myron Fink at SUNY
Purchase and Hunter College. I know what I am doing and indeed feel I
have a sound of my own if I am allowed to say that, though critics
will note I come from the tradition of many others, influenced by
American masters such as Bernstein & Corigliano & Copland & Barber
plus mid Period Stravinsky & even Sondheim. These men created bodies
of work which create ridiculous and impossible standards I will surely
not live up to but they are what I grew up on nevertheless. I did my
best but what was supposed to take me 30 days took 53 days and
consumed me. It is a very tonal and open piece of music and its title
is A Standing Ground: Concertino for Orchestra (after Poems of Wendell
Berry). I will put the program note at the bottom of this update. My
hope is that it is a worthy 15 to 20 minutes of time spent listening
to music. I don't claim anything other than it is the best I have to

The other thing is the completion of rhythm tracks on the much awaited
(by friends and fans locally and the guys in the band like Will Lee,
Billy Masters and Shawn Pelton) Wheelbarrow, Evening Train's sequel.
This is music of some intensity and even occasional ferocity on tracks
like "Chilly Water" and the blues "Wheelbarrow". It is deeper in the
direction of the songs "Evening Train" and "Although It Is The Night"
and the thing that distinguishes it for me is that it is not remotely
safe in approach. Because my writing has a spiritual undertone too
often associated with some kind of conservatism or contemporary
Christian music, people who don't really listen closely assume the
music is a bit staid and too pat, even over produced.

Evening Train was supposed to be my RECORD!!!-------- my personal
Achtung Baby or Peter Gabriel's Us. I wanted it to be cinematic,
arranged, involving Horn Sections and Strings, showing off my life as
an arranger and orchestrator and I wanted it to be a journey of some
sonic quality and significance. It was mixed by the peerless Mick
Guzauski who won the Grammy for mixing Eric Clapton last year. I am
deeply proud of it BUT............

I recognize this is a time in music history, especially recording
industry history, where immediacy is gone. Everything is processed,
tuned to within an inch of its life, moved, prodded, corrected and
manicured. When it is done by masters on big gleaming acts like
Beyonce or John Mayer, it works and audio quality has never been
clearer in a way. However, the kind of intensity that one gets from In
Rainbows by Radiohead is all too rare.

It is time for vocals to be allowed to be NOT PERFECT. It is time for
people to stop matching the bass drum to the bass or to move
everything around for musical perfection or, better put, seeming
musical perfection.

Wheelbarrow will be rawer and largely uncorrected, no tuning of vocals
(though on Train there no tuning on the lead vocals at all). Though
there will be more of the meditative and softer side of what I do, it
will seem like a more direct listening experience than Train does,
more stripped down. Some will find it less impressive perhaps but from
a writing and performance perspective, it is the best I have not
unlike the Concertino.

I cannot finish it in this economy. I don't need the funds I had for
Train, largely supported by the money I made working literally around
the clock at the height of the music business when even Classical CD's
occasionally went gold. BUT............. I do need funds to at least
finish it well. I have not sung anything except live scratch vocals,
no Guitar tracks, no keyboards, just Billy, Will and Shawn recorded
and done. They played beautifully and sounded amazing. We played
everything live and I wish I could keep my tracks but the recording
realities did not allow that. I am sure I will save and have those
funds within the next year or two. Best case scenario, WHEELBARROW
will come out for Christmas 2009. Worst case....2010. It will not be
overbaked in the slightest. I just have to spend the little time on it
it needs. I will get it done and get it done right.

That is it. There have been other things going on but that is most of
it. Come to the Christmas show if you can. Happy 2009.