A few years ago, I was in a recording studio with Matt Reischling when an alarm on his phone started shrieking.
It was jarring amid the hermetic calm of the studio. “Hold on,” he said with a wry smile, silencing his handheld klaxon, “I set an alarm to have an idea.”
Reischling’s friends are sometimes baffled by this intentional intrusion.
“One went off when I was with a friend and she asked, ‘Who was that?’ I said, ‘No one. It was an idea alarm,’” he recalled.
Reischling gives each alarm a provocative title, something like a writing prompt. His friend was slightly baffled.
“What did that one say?” she asked.
“An older man stares out of a plane window at a barren landscape below, and contemplates his mortality” was the reply.
Today no alarms are evident as Reischling sits contentedly sipping his tea, ready to talk. The native Petaluman has just released a new record, and he’s excited to share. Swimming through the Pulp, his eighth album, is by turns rocking and reflective. A strong singer and meticulous producer, Reischling writes songs that span the anthemic earworm choruses of “Soft Perfection” to the slightly mournful folk rock of “Vague Behavior,” with many other shades in between.
“One of my songwriting heroes is Buddy Holly,” Reischling says. “His music is always catchy as hell, two minutes long, but memorable.” And if that sounds remotely easy, it’s probably because one hasn’t tried it. “I like to think I could become a darker, more emotional Buddy Holly,” Reischling muses. “But I have a long way to go.”
And because this is Petaluma, Reischling is a shepherd of songs, and occasionally, sheep. “One morning I woke up, and I got my coffee and was ready to record when I started hearing something outside. I pulled back the drapes, and there were about 30 sheep that had busted through my fence and were mowing down all the plants in my backyard. I threw open the door in a panic and there, standing in the doorway, was the biggest goddamn sheep I have ever seen. It must have been standing at chest level, but it felt like we were eyeball to eyeball,” he recalls.
Reischling didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 20. “My neighbor, Jessica, asked if I wanted to learn some chords,” he says. “I learned pretty quickly, and wrote some terrible songs, but then I wrote a song about sitting on the tailgate of a car on I-5 with a blown tire, and people really seemed to respond to it.”
That song, “Tailgate,” cemented the notion that Reischling could make music with real appeal. “We all have to battle with— am I being pretentious by calling myself an artist?” he asks. In his 30s, he had the following realization: “I am consistently making music and art and pushing my creativity. And I’ve never looked back.”
Instead, Reischling is releasing a brand new album, one that is quite likely his best yet: “It’s the most playful and revealing record of mine, sonically and lyrically,” he says.
Listening to the effortless quality of Swimming through the Pulp, one would be forgiven for assuming it came easy.
“I had a lot of fun recording,” says Reischling. But the difficulty arose when he would allow himself to wonder, “Is anyone going to listen to this; will anybody care?”
Many musicians know about doubting their work, so it’s with some reluctance that I ask Reischling to describe his music: “This is always tough… I came up with eclectic, emotional, indie folk rock with a touch of futurism. Now that does sound pretentious,” Reischling grins. “But there are a lot of synths on there, so it’s not like early Bob Dylan or something… which is brilliant; I’m not throwing shade on Bob Dylan.”
Nor would any sane artist, as to do so, would only invite comparison, that sour thief of joy. But Matt Reischling is merely laughing; he knows that Dylan is an albatross around the neck of every good songwriter, and that’s not going to keep him from doing his best work.