For little over a decade, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder have been hanging out on the fringes of the music world. They exude a vibe somewhere between farmers, hippies and shamans: Valentine with his omnipresent straw hat and Elder with her flowing hair and flowery dresses. Together, with their collections of strange strings and music boxes, they escaped the hectic life of New York City’s music scene for the deep woods of Vermont, where they became MV & EE, a prolific and dynamic duo churning out their laid-back mishmash of psychedelic folk.
Their music reflects the pace of their lives: slow and relaxed; sometimes barely holding together as free-form drones; sometimes homey little campfire sing-alongs or easygoing boogies. Recording at home constantly, they approach music like one might gardening or knitting, a labor of love. “I guess in a sense we do try to do all this recording like a journal,” says Valentine, “and we can go back and review the journal and we can get some perspective on where we were emotionally and physically and mentally at that time. That way, we go ahead and compile what we consider a ‘finished’ piece of work.”
The pair just finished Gettin’ Gone, their second full-length for Ecstatic Peace, the forward-thinking experimental rock label run by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore. This record is hardly a sophomore effort, though. Through their own tiny Child of Microtones record label and some half-dozen or so similar boutique and home-grown labels, they’ve unleashed dozens of albums, leaving a prodigious trail for those who might be searching.
“It’s not often that we get a chance to put out a record on the level of Gettin’ Gone, and there’s no record company that’s going to let us do every record we want,” Valentine explains. “We left New York City for Vermont, and we had a little more mental and physical space to do certain things. We’d already launched Child of Microtones in ’99, and when we came up here, we thought, wow, this farmers market aesthetic, like a basket out with their wares and a cash box, we dig that concept. So we usually do these small-batch recordings with this hands-on aesthetic.”
Much like Green Blues, their excellent Ecstatic Peace debut from last year, Gettin’ Gone will reach far past the dusty hideaways where obscure and fringe music connoisseurs lurk, bringing their lunar blues to another level and audience. They’ve renamed their backing band The Golden Road (previously The Bummer Road) to signal a few changes in personnel, not to mention a brighter attitude. Frequent collaborator and Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis made the move from keyboards to drums, providing one of the most noticeable changes. “There’s tunes, there’s a lot of green space. It’s a little more in your face at times, I’d say,” Valentine says, “The songs with J are heavier, he’s a heavier drummer than our other drummers. The songs with him on the kit are a lot more wide-open, bombed-out kind of rock songs, and I’m really into that sound. But on the other hand, the acoustic stuff on the record is a lot more chilled out than anything on the Green Blues, so you get a bit more of a range on this new one.”
As the duo and their backing band worked out material for the record, they embarked on a tour exclusively of tiny dive bars for a different perspective. New lap steel guitarist Doc Dunn brought in an element of the avant-garde, conjuring up aural images of Fluxus artist Henry Flynt and composer Rhys Chatham, sources one wouldn’t necessarily conflate with laid-back woodsy folk, though it seems quite obvious the way they integrate them. “Nobody really sees that side of our music so often, and maybe they don’t look for that if you’re not pointing it out, but it’s definitely become tucked in there. The textures are still there, but harmonically I think we’ve advanced a lot. There’s no 18 minute cuts, but it’s a different kind of soloing, it’s more in tune with, like, the price of gas or something,” he laughs, “more miles per gallon, as it were. You get where you’ve gotta go a little faster.”