Extended Cut of The Matt Pond & Rocky Votolato Feature From The Inlander

*Sometimes when I’m writing a feature for The Inlander my rough draft is about twice as long as the print word count limitations but I really like it. This is one of those times. So here’s the extended version of my feature on Matt Pond & Rocky Votolato’s musical friendship.*

Sticks and Stones

Matt Pond and Rocky Votolato are bound by their love for songwriting. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t rough patches.

Three minutes before I’m set to interview with singer-songwriters Matt Pond (PA) and Rocky Votolato, I receive an e-mail saying they won’t be doing the interview together, after all. They’re traveling to the next stop on their co-headlining tour in separate vehicles.

That seems odd: The point of talking to them was to explore their musical friendship. After all, the two are on their second tour together this year. But separate interviews still works.

I talk to Pond first, and it’s clear what’s on his mind: his broken leg. While loading out gear after the fourth show of the tour in Pontiac, Mich., Pond suffered a spiral fracture that completely severed both his tibia and fibula.

Pond is first up and it’s clear what’s on his mind – his broken leg. While loading out gear after the fourth show of the tour in Pontiac, Mich., Pond broke his leg. Or perhaps that’s underselling it. He destroyed his leg. He suffered a spiral fracture that completely severed both his tibia and fibula which twisted the leg backward.

“It wasn’t some gloriously drunken or exciting adventure,” says Pond. “It was simple. I tripped and someone, I pulled them down onto me, and basically their knee went right through my leg. It was gross. I had a surgery. I have a lot of rods and pins now.”

He seems like he’s trying to push the pain from his mind, though. His comments drift to the astounding number of dragonflies in the fields they’re driving through. But he also might be trying to distract his mind from another byproduct of the broken bones, one that becomes clear once the next call begins.

After some idle chatter about what Matt and I had discussed, specifically the broken leg, Votolato is more directly open about why today’s interview became today’s interviews.

“Did he tell you that’s pretty much why we’re in separate cars today?” Votolato asks.

Turns out it was a tense morning in the Pond/Votolato camp. A detail which I probably should’ve picked up on after Pond’s description of what character trait draw the two together.

“Rocky and I both have a temper,” says Pond. “I think it’s a good thing. It is one huge struggle to play music and continue to play music. You need to have fire in your belly if you want to do this. I like that about him and appreciate that about myself. We look at things a lot of the same ways. But it’s hard to have so much fire in your stomach sometimes.”

“We’re both very passionate people; I guess I’ll just put it that way,” says Votolato. “When shit gets heavy, we can definitely blow up.”

“Touring is difficult as it is,” he continues. “And then when somebody breaks their leg and there’s a medical problem… it’s been very challenging for both of us. But I love Matt to death and care about him as a friend. And I just don’t want him to have a long-term medical problem from just trying to finish the tour. I’m really proud of him that he’s been able to play the shows and keep getting on stage.”

Stepping back from the drama of the day, it’s clear to see that the musicians are kindred spirits. They share the same birthday (March 8) and speak in equally admiring terms about the other’s music. They’re simpatico, both personally and audibly.

“We have a mutual respect for each other’s music,” says Votolato, “really that’s what it kinda comes down to. We got along personally too, but I really dig his songwriting.”

“I think our music really compliments each other,” he adds. “We’re sharing a band on this tour and each night it feels like it works. We’re different enough that sonically it’s not too similar to where it’s boring or you can’t feel a difference, but we’re enough alike where it’s not jarring. I feel like it puts on a good show for people; a variety of music with it all still being a cohesive package.”

The fact that the two are both sharing the same backing band on this tour is a sing of that cohesion. When pressed for specifics on what unites the two’s tunes, Votolato points to the basic songwriting core of their tunes.

“I think the thing most similar is our approach to lyrics. I think that’s really where our passion lies; a focus on melody, and lyrics, and a quick turn of phrase that really means something. And we both like songs, we both like things to be cohesive. It’s not really super abstract or anything. We both like songs that are a little bit more traditional.”

That’s not to say the two are cut from the same cloth. There are certainly differences between the two, but again, it seem to draw them together. There’s a counter-balancing effect between Pond and Votoloto.

“We have such a different approach rhythmically and vibe energy wise,” says Votolato. “He’s always more on top of the beat, pushing the beat. And the drummer was even mentioning this since he’s playing for both of us. Matt’s always just a little ahead of the beat, and I’m always a little behind the beat. Maybe it’s kind of a yin and yang thing.”

It’s not solely a musical dichotomy either.

“I project myself with pessimism, whereas Rocky projects himself with optimism,” says Pond.

Both speak glowingly of the other’s music and the aspects they wish they could lift to become more complete songwriters. Pond gushes about the focus and simplicity of Votolato’s work.

“Music is now a lot of triumph of beauty and triumph of the perfect night or something like that,” says Pond. “It’s in so many people’s music these days. But I like the triumph in a chipped tooth from trying to kiss a girl too quickly or something like that. I like the songs that will probably come out of breaking my leg and the triumph of what makes us all similar; nothing above anyone else, nothing below them, just what we all are. And there’s a lot of that in Rocky’s music. It’s not the golden moments; it’s the struggle to get to the golden moments. I think struggle is the best thing you can do.”

“He paints these detailed pictures of moments in a way that I wish I could. There are some things I can see so clearly when he sings them. Personally, I’ve always pulled in and out of the specific to the larger focus really quickly. Sometimes I wish I could stay there like he does a little longer.”

Votoloto, on the other hand, raves about Pond’s ability to easily grab the listener from the get-go and his cleverness which keeps them hooked.

“I feel like there’s a sort of Americana, country element to what I’m doing that is completely absent from what I’m doing,” says Votoloto. “And when it comes to his stuff there’s a pop sensibility, or maybe even more in like indie rock, or even just rock element that’s there in what he’s doing that has more of an edge that’s completely absent from my songwriting. When I look at Matt’s songs there’s always this catchiness that just hits you over the head right away, and I feel like sometimes that’s not always there for mine. As a songwriter I really look up to him for his way to say something meaningful in a few words. He just captures a feeling. It seems effortless. He’ll just have like two lines in a song that it’s like wordplay; really witty and really quick.”

“I think he’s one of the best songwriters out there today. I have a lot of respect for his ability to communicate an idea and the imagery in his lyrics. The way he can turn a phrase, that’s really intriguing for me.”

It’s clear these two songwriters are too compatible to stay upset at each other for long. By the time my conversation wraps up with Matt, he already seems to have mellowed quite a bit since whatever spat had happened that morning. In fact, he even begins joking about his injury.

“The show that we had played [on the night of the break] was really awesome, so we were really excited,” says Pond. “So in a sort of ‘Mazel tov!’ way I sort of shattered my leg. Don’t Greek people throw plates? A lot of people like to break things in a celebratory manner. It’s like with championships, you win a championship and then what do you do? Go and burn everything to the ground. So that’s what I did. We won that championship and I had to break my leg.”

“But the season wasn’t over yet!” I interject. “Yeah I know, I know,” says a laughing Pond.

“We won our home opener and then we just went, “Fuck it! We’re champions!”

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