Thursday 27 July 2017

An Interview With Matt Harrington From CORTEZ

Boston based Stoner Rockers – Cortez – returned in a big way recently with their epic new album – The Depths Below. It's been 5 years since the band released their well-received debut album. Newly signed to Salt Of The Earth Records, their new album – The Depths Below – has been winning it's fair share of acclaim recently with Cortez taking on a more riff-centric and progressive Sludge/Stoner Rock sound.

I was asked recently did I want to interview Matt Harrington (Vocals) from the band and I jumped at the chance. Thanks to Matt for doing such a great interview which goes through the history of Cortez right up to the present day.

So sit back and read on......

Hi Matt, Thanks for doing this interview. How are things with you today. Congrats on your excellent new album. Think you’ve outdone yourselves with this record.

Hey Steve, thanks for reaching out. You know, I can’t complain, man. Hope all’s well on your end, and thank you very much, that’s kind of you. We’re quite proud of it, and stoked that it’s finally out in the world.

Can you give a brief history of how the band came about and where it is today.

Happy to. Cortez came together in 2006, and released “Thunder in a Forgotten Town” on Buzzville Records in 2007. I joined the band in 2008, and we put out a demo in 2009 and started work on the first full length. We released our self-titled in May of 2012 on Bilocation Records. Shortly thereafter, Alasdair joined the group, and we continued the writing process for a lot of the songs that ended up on “The Depths Below.”

We released a split with our buds from DC, Borracho, on AM Records in 2014, hinting at a bit of a stylistic shift with our track “Vanishing Point.” We played the Eye of the Stoned Goat IV later that year as well, and began tracking the new album. We wrapped up recording in and mastering late in 2015, announced our involvement with Salt of the Earth in 2016, and “The Depths Below” was released at the end of June this year.

We recently welcomed Alexei to the group as our new drummer, we’re back to gigging out regularly, and we’re starting to demo material for full length #3. We’ve also got something in the works with Ripple Music that I can’t say much about yet, other than the obvious fact that we’re excited to be working with those fine people and can’t wait to share more.

What can people expect with your new album – The Depths Below.

I think folks aware of our previous work can certainly expect to be challenged a bit. Stoner Rock or Doom are certainly terms used to describe us at times, and for people going in to “The Depths Below” expecting to just get that, well…

What are the underlying themes of the album.

This one is a little different from the S/T, in that there is a loose lyrical concept that runs through the entirety of the record from “All Gone Wrong” to “Orison.” We also have a more overtly conceptual run in tracks 3-5 that perhaps take these themes to a more allegorical place. The main threads concern the power of influence and ideology, how people get swept up in both, what that might mean, and what comes next in terms of how we move forward as individuals and society.

What influenced you when recording the album and was it hard album to write and record for.

As far as the recording process goes, I have to give praise due to Benny Grotto for doing a phenomenal job and immediately/instinctively getting what we were after. We’re incredibly fortunate to have him in the Boston area, and Cortez is looking forward to booking time with him for the next one.

We did a lot of demo work for “The Depths Below,” and I give Scott credit here, since he has to listen to us for hours on end at home. We knew what we wanted to do when we went in, and we knew where we wanted to spend our time experimenting. Jeremy and Jay murdered it in those initial sessions, and it put us in a good place when it came time for tracking and overdubs.

As far as influences go, I was writing these songs between around 2010ish - 2015. The ongoing rise/entrenchment of social media definitely played a part, especially with regards to how that affects interpersonal and wider relationships, the belief systems and ideologies we cling to, the brands we allow to have power over us, and the reality tunnels we force ourselves into. Cortez is not a political band, but a lot of what I saw in the 24/7 global news cycle during that time was incredibly influential to me. I have strong personal opinions about civil rights, class, corporate welfare, government transparency, surveillance, the US military, and our plans to get the fuck off this rock.

It took a long time to be released. Five years after your stunning debut album. Why the long delay.

Shit, man, I’ve been waiting two years to play the finished copy in my car! I don’t know if there’s an easy answer here, honestly. Alasdair joined us a little bit after the album came out, and we knew wanted to spend some time writing with him so he could bring his influences to the material that ended up on “The Depths Below.”

The past several years have seen some significant and positive life events/changes for members of the band, a side project or two, some health issues, and we had to take a little time off here and there as a result. We also had a lineup change last year, recently welcomed Alexei to the band, and SotE had a few releases scheduled ahead of us, so it’s just sort of how it worked out.

Thanks for the kind words about the S/T, we’re definitely proud of that one too.

The album has been released and has been receiving some great reviews recently. Has is it surprised you how well it has been received.

I think any time someone puts themselves out there, there’s a little bit of trepidation as to how it will be received, particularly if they try to stretch themselves creatively. Honestly, I’m just really happy people are listening and enjoying what they hear. We went to some different places on this one, and it’s cool that people dig it.

Salt Of The Earth Records is releasing the album. How did you hook-up with them. Did you have any other record label offers.

Scott Harrington from SotE has been supportive of Cortez for a long time, and when he heard we had finished “The Depths Below” he reached out to us and we had a really good discussion about the plans for the label, some of the bands they were working with at the time, and how we fit in. We’re stoked to be working with a young label that has such an inspiring roster of bands. We had a cool show last year where a few of us got together to play at an amazing DIY venue called The Chürch in VT, and I’m hoping we can set up some more shows like that. There’s a tremendous amount of talent in this crew, and we’re honored to be a part of it.

Haha oh yeah, totally, man. It was like record label Thunderdome. You shoulda seen it.

What’s the song-writing dynamic within the band. Is it down to one individual or is it a group collective.

Very collective and democratic. Generally, someone will bring in a riff or a part and we’ll work from there. Every so often someone will have an idea that’s a little more fully formed, but no one ever walks in saying “here’s the song, everyone has to play it like this.” We try various ideas over the process, no one takes offense if the group collectively decides something doesn’t work, and no one is in a rush to declare “mission accomplished.”

We’re all really good friends and respect each other enough to be constructive and honest with criticism. One of my favorite parts of being in this band is that we all have diverse influences and challenge each other, but nothing ever feels like a compromise.

Some songs get wrapped up in a practice or three, some can take months of work, and another might get halfway there before we put it on the shelf for a while. We don’t try to force things, and there’s a very singular mindset within the group when it comes to song craft. It’s not enough for a song to have good parts, it has to all make sense together, flow well, and be sonically interesting.

While I wouldn’t say there’s a hard and fast method to how we arrange songs, I would say there are times we consciously try to subvert the idea of that.

The thing that I’ve noticed with The Depths Below compared to your debut is it’s a lot more progressive and has heavier moments with more emphasis on riffs and melody. Is that a fair assumption to make.

I’d say it’s spot on. The majority of these songs were written with Alasdair on board, and the five piece and twin guitar dynamics allowed us to explore some new territory and let everyone stretch a bit. Speaking personally, I focused a lot on trying to find interesting hooks and melodies in places that hopefully were a little unexpected.

Was that the plan to make something different to your debut album.

I think we always want to try new things and progress as a band, but I wouldn’t say we had a hard and fast idea that we were going to set out to make something completely different. For context, some of the songs on the S/T were more or less done musically by the time I joined the band, and that record was also finished about a year and a ½ or 2 years prior to its release. Adding Alasdair’s influences and having both he and I involved in the writing process for this one certainly brought some new ideas to the party, and Alexei is bringing new ideas in now as we get into the writing process for full length #3. I don’t know if it’s so much the plan as the natural progression of a band over an 11 year span together.

Were you worried that fans might have forgotten about Cortez in the five years since you last released your debut album.

You know, we’re really fortunate in that we’ve had a core group of people who have remained interested during the time since our last release. We put out a split with Borracho in the meantime, as well as released a cover of Deep Purple Mk 3’s “Stormbringer,” and we’ve been lucky enough to have people out there who pay attention, dig what we do, and help fly the flag for us.

Will you be touring this record heavily or will it just be individual, one-off shows such as festival appearances.

I think we’d all like to get back to Europe at some point to do a longer run, but we’ve tended to stick to weekenders up and down the East Coast over the past several years. We’re hoping to have news to share regarding festivals soon.

Do you guys get the chance to tour regularly. Or is it only on certain occasions.

Unfortunately not, but we’ll see how things look now that we’re back to full strength and starting to book out mid-late Fall.

What have your been high points and low points being with Cortez or your musical career in general.

I had a year or so in there several years prior to joining Cortez that was a pretty tough run. I was between bands at the time, and just not finding anything that gelled either creatively or personally with the musicians and bands I was meeting in Boston. I need a creative outlet, I love performing, and I really enjoy collaborating with other people, so it was frustrating for me not to have that after playing consistently for so long.

It was definitely a low during our recent drummer search, but finding Alexei turned that around pretty quickly for us. Between the recent release of “The Depths Below,” Alexei joining the group, and the fact that we’re back to writing at a good pace, I’d say we’re entering a high right now.

Looking back on your musical career so far, is there anything that you would change. Or any funny stories that have happened on your musical journey.

I had some opportunities here and there that might have gone somewhere, but maybe they wouldn’t have. I could have moved, and maybe I’d have found something else. I’ll be honest, I don’t really dwell on that sort of stuff. We can’t change the past, and we wouldn’t be right where we are right now, if we could. I enjoy now.

Haha I could tell a million of them, from various bands over the years, but most of them would get lost in translation. I think they might be better in person over a few rounds of beers, so I can punctuate the conversation with my obnoxious laughter. Hopefully we’ll hang sometime, man.

We have to talk about the stunning artwork for The Depths Below. Who designed the cover and how did you decide to go with that artist.

It turned out really cool, didn’t it? We went with David Paul Seymour this time out, and couldn’t be happier with it. We’ve been fans of his for a while, and knew he’d be a good fit.

Did Cortez have any input at all with the album cover. As it’s a great representation of the album in general.

Haha does sending the album tracks and trusting in the artist count? We wanted him to listen and see what he came up for as far as a direction or ideas. He instantly got what we were looking for, and zeroed in on the concept pretty quickly.

We agree, David nailed it, and we can’t wait to see it in a larger format when it comes time to release it on vinyl.

Before you go Matt, do you have anything to say to your fans.

Just thank you. Truly. I’m humbled by the response to everything we’ve done, and I can’t wait to share the new tunes we’re building right now. I think it’s some of the best work we’ve ever done.

Words by Steve Howe and Matt Harrington.

Thanks to Scott at Salt Of The Earth Records for arranging this interview and to Matt once again for doing this interview. The Depths Below is available to buy now on CD/DD from Salt Of The Earth Records now.


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