Olivier Riquelme

Not Expository, But Clearly Evocative – Matt Easton Talks The Jenny Thing In 2021

Technically sound and stylistically mesmerizing, American Canyon is the evolution of a band whose skillset, dedication, and appreciation for music can be found in every nuanced crevice of the album’s DIY arrangement.

We are living in an age of entertainment where reboots, revivals, and reunions are all the rage. Who doesn’t love the origin story of a beloved villain (Cruella, we see you.) or the return of a cast the world adapted much of their lifestyles from? (You know who you are, cast of Friends.) The Jenny Thing might be part of that on the surface; a band jumps back into making music decades after living a variety of eclectic, domesticated, and enjoyable lives and returns with a fresh take on the new wave meets rock genres. Experimental musicality is still there, youthful and fun as ever, but with newfound wisdom and a wider lens of life to look through, it’s clear The Jenny Thing’s revival is anything but.

The Jenny Thing, founded on the Bay Area in the early nineties, revived themselves, sure. All of the original band members and good friends got together for a few jam sessions and were reminded of their mutual artistic endeavors. On the other hand, though, the contemporary mindsets and updated experiences they could bring to the table makes The Jenny Thing in 2021, The Jenny Thing 2.0. Fans new and old are sure to appreciate that, because their ever-evolving musicality and revitalized soundscapes don’t stray far from their eighties and nineties musical background, but do take listeners to a place of contemplation and emotion like never before.

Made up of singer and guitarist Matt Easton (who we sat down with), guitarist Shyam Rao, drummer Mike Phillips, and bassist Ehren Becker, the quartet matured in the sense of style, perspective, and firm meticulous rhythm. Whether the band wanted to emulate the creative process of the famed and beloved Peter Gabriel when getting into the (home) studio or were looking to shed themselves of any expectations that pop culture, society, businessmen, or peers put on them, they did it. The Jenny Thing got back to their roots while also going against the grain, and, in turn, created the most ruminative and stylish records of the 2020s. Fresh eyes, heartwarming energy, and genuine creative control allowed them to emulate bands like The Psychedelic Furs in the most modernized sense. From top to bottom, from the mixing to the mastering, American Canyon is what The Jenny Thing always wanted to make, but never had the groundwork to do so. A little COVID-19 pandemic pushing, a trip to a mythical, but oh-so-real desert, and a whole lot of lacing ideas in-and-out of each other with a purpose brought out the best in this Berkley, California four-piece.

Singer and guitarist Matt Easton has his eye on the prize, his heart in all the right places, and his musical chops right in his back pocket. In a lively, telling conversation, the musician shared how working from home, growing as people, and building songs from the demo up made this revival – if you can call it that – possible.

American Canyon is just so sonically mesmerizing and it’s evident that it was crafted with love. It’s also very relevant, so I think from top to bottom, the record is timeless. From your perspective, what are you hoping that fans are new and old, I guess take away from this record?

What I hope they takeaway is, is like a really rich psychology that’s mysterious, but still accessible or relevant to the listener. It meant that on purpose. The psychology is kind of bare in a way and then kind of the backstory is veiled. Even though the story is veiled, what’s happening to the people in it should be very recognizable to everybody. Those would be some of the goals I’d have is just that people would like to step into it and that the place or that the actual action is mysterious, but the emotion is very high fidelity that it’s just one inch away the way. I want it to feel mysterious and big, but hit home to our listeners.

What I kind of took away from it is that you guys, as people, are music that is in the stall logic without being overly wistful or complex. I enjoy that so much.

Yeah. Neat. There were a lot of no limits;limits on the way we work, which was kind of along the lines of we can go to any point in time or go to any pallet of sound or feeling, but it’s not like we’re not going to hit the buffet and put in all 40 elements. It’s very curated, I guess. It’s curated in that there’s limits on what is going into any lyric set or any sound set on this record. It’s very purposeful that way. For instance, with the nostalgia factor we followed a bunch of sounds we love like Erasure and INXS and other sorts of things that I was listening to when I was like 11. We threw that on top of rock, without focusing on rock, so to speak.

You know, one of the notes that I took that I have written down is that I put that it feels very intricately crafted and like it should be listened to cover-to-cover, not shuffled. Would you agree with that?

Oh yeah! Yes, I’m so glad you said that. There is a lot of force in all music now to not do that anymore: make wholehearted albums. This is like my second foray into making music or the band’s second foray into making music, and yet we feel kind of young and sort of young on the scene in a weird way, like we’re almost like a new band, right? We’re old people in a new band, but it’s an old band, and there’s a lot of going to the tables to talk to people about business and just being like, “We don’t know jack, so you guys tell us how it works.” It’s funny the idea of this being like an album-album. I would say like one in three people said, “We don’t do that anymore,” and almost, “Don’t do that.” These are one of the messages we got, but it’s still completely an album and it is not meant to be like a mixtape. It is supposed to be a sequence, absolutely. 

I felt that on my own listen through, because the flow is immaculate and necessary – at least on the first full listening session. Now, you touched on how you guys feel kind of like this new up-and-coming band on the scene, regardless of the fact that this is your second inception of the band. How did having lives in between these two aspects of The Jenny Thing help you grow as artists, if at all? Do you think that artists like yourselves need or deserve to take a step back to maybe evolve in the way you wanted and then to create something as good as American Canyon?

I mean the short answer is just, yes, totally. We couldn’t have made that. In our early incarnation – which is the same people, so I’m not talking about a lot of change – it’s almost just a generation change. “What happens when you take the same thing and you put it back in the jar 25 years later?” Well, it’s so different. It’s so, so different from what we were doing before, because what we were doing before was freighted by playing live and sort of doing nineties van touring. You sort of walk into the studio with the three guitars that the band is using on stage and then you sort of create texture second and you try to reinterpret, but you’re also, again, really freighted by what works in front of 300 people in a medium sized room really loud. That’s sort of the aesthetic, so just on the sonic end, we were super free. It was just a blank canvas. Then there were a bunch of things like slow but meaningful production experience and engineering experience. We’d never engineered and produced an album completely ourselves before either. We made this in my house in a studio there, so that’s different of course. I’m happy to do that now.

We’re off the clock in that way, but creative in that approach. In that place the conceptualization of sounds and ideas was so much richer. It’s almost like I was doing something more primitive. It was me 25 years ago, but it wasn’t during this project. Living life, reading, writing – they’re all intertwined, so with life experience to go with the writing and placement of this record’s recording, it’s almost like a whole different vehicle of our work. Suddenly The Jenny Thing has four wheel drive where it didn’t before. 

True. As you get older, you’re able to look at things in a bigger picture. Everything is so nuanced anymore.

Exactly, I think that’s important.

I think this new record came out so well being homegrown, because one of my notes reads ‘evocative elegance with an air of professionalism and orchestration with a garage band aura.’

Oh, that’s lovely. Can I call you every day?

[Laughs] We touched upon this, American Canyon being the turning point and the song itself being awakening that deserves to be heard with this semantic concept of where you could go as musicians. Is that why it became the title or was there another reason? Because I think it truly does capture the essence of this record and how it’s emotional and angsty, but also, like I said, wistful and laidback.

Thank you. Initially had a project title without a lot of songs under it that we called Citizen for it for a short while. We then lived with a concept from my head called Guns and Drums. We even announced that the album was going to be called Guns and Drums. Then a few things happened. One, it felt kind of literal, like at the end of your thought you think ‘guns and drums,’ then someone asks you what it means and then life goes on. Two, we kept coming back to the evocative and more thoughtful qualities of the words and sounds of “American Canyon.” We were really fascinated by the fact that it’s a real place actually near here. It sounds completely unreal, so we just sort of stole the name. We made it though so that the fantasy “American Canyon” is just going to be this sort of secretive and daunting place. We kept coming back for that reason. 

The thing about that place is that anything can happen there in its beauty. That just felt both flexible and super evocative. Then the thing that put us over the edge was when we actually went to shoot the video for the song in the Mojave Desert in November 2020. Of course, which was when we were sort of like heading into probably the biggest spike of the pandemic in California. Still, we went out there and shot the video and it morphed from sort of a David Lynchian script that the director and I began to dream up and it was like, “Oh my gosh, this can be 40 minutes, but it’s a three and a half minute song,” so we stripped it way, way back. It sort of went completely outdoors. We simplified this intense story and it’s this face off between these two, almost like modern, but still legendary characters in the desert. The band is performing there, in the canyon, too, which is all cut together. It’s really beautiful. I think going there – may be specifically during COVID with a low threshold for entertainment after looking at a wall for six months and then you go into the pristine desert and you can’t believe it – it was like that feeling came to head. “American Canyon” is a stolen name and it’s this fantasy place, but the fantasy is made real through the song. We’re watching it, we’re making it with this director. That just clenched it: our album wants to be that mysterious coming to life through art, sound and style. It was a huge moment. 

The video was the biggest collaboration of blood, sweat, tears, and also relinquishment of control – which is part of collaboration – that I’ve ever done. I’m super proud of it. Maybe it feels kind of like mainstream in a way, but it also has so much grit to it and character development through tropes, I think through, like I said, legendary characters in a way. This amazing video experience cemented the name and feeling of this overarching, long-awaited musical project.