While I’m sure many agree with the sentiment that their musical taste fluctuates often (and sometimes very rapidly), mine is especially the case when it comes to chipmusic. Due to the wide and oversaturated market filled to the brim with talent new and old, I’m always looking for new and exciting releases that push the boundaries of what these small (but mighty) sequencers and instruments are able to produce—as my article archive can attest. With releases sprouting up left and right, it’s quite a grueling, difficult journey to sift through them in order to find one in which I connect with on more levels than I can explain. However, when that does happen, I feel like I’ve hit a gold mine, and this is especially the case with with The Mineral Kingdom, Oakland’s first chipjazz/doom metal/bluegrass/
chamber music band, and their self-titled first EP.
Released on Bandcamp January 27, 2015, The Mineral Kingdom EP started as a full-length Matthew Joseph Payne album well over a year ago, where MJP remarks he had recorded “a ton of material with a string trio, brass, woodwinds and more.” Originally written before the current band formed, MJP mentions that the full length album was, “originally meant to showcase the diversity of the personnel used in the Matthew Joseph Payne performances, but barely featured the actual TMK players”, so some re-thinking had to take place so that the inclusion of all the current band member’s instruments (Michael Booker’s alto and tenor sax, Meerenai Shim’s flute, Ryan Rey’s electric guitar and Don Hanson’s custom software GifSlap that manipulates GIFs in real-time) could be incorporated, which MJP remarks as having been incredibly
beneficial to the creative process.
Interested in what the transition from a single act to a band meant to MJP, he remarks this transition as being “totally amazing” and yielding “willing musical partners that pretty much go along with all my crazy ideas, who are so talented and busy, but donate their time for what is essentially a vanity project.” Some of these crazy ideas include MJP performing shoeless (he enjoys the connection it provides to the stage both physically and
metaphysically), the members wearing all white when on stage, and their appearances
opening with a march into the room with a panda flag, hats and mitten.
The Mineral Kingdom’s name is a reference to a live recording of ‘The Salt Crown’ by Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, whose work had an enormous influence on MJP’s creative output, that can be found on archive.org. In the performance, Nils Frykdahl (who contributed an arsenal of musical instruments to SGM including vocals and autoharp) announces their song as being about, “…the slow but inevitable interactions of the animal and mineral kingdoms.” After having performed under the name at several DNA Lounge shows hosted by 8bitSF, 8bitLA’s Freq.Fest 4.0, and Rockage 4.0, their synergy as a whole cannot be undermined. Even at non-chipmusic venues such as Santa Cruz’s The Crepe Place, the band received a huge positive response and lots of pleasant remarks. Curious, I asked MJP when his music journey began, how long he has been composing chipmusic, and his musical influences in and out of the chip community. He responded:
I studied a bunch of instruments (and voice) in my youth, starting with piano when I was five, but music really clicked for me when a piano teacher introduced me to 70’s progressive rock. I learned that music could have the complexity and development of Western “classical” music, and also the power, energy and fun of rock and pop music. I got really into multi-keyboardism, electronic music and arranging as a result. I have a long list of great teachers I’ve had the good fortune of studying with, and I owe them a lot in terms of technique and history, but most of the skillset I’m really using is self built on that foundation as a result of creative necessity.
I had a band in high school that had a song in which most of the band members (myself excluded) performed a rap about Mega Man, and in that song I used a Game Boy with a copy of Mega Man II to play sections of some of the game’s songs live. Someone who saw me playing with that band told me about LSDJ and I ordered a copy soon after. This was around 2001. I dabbled with it and used it in a few minor projects, but didn’t get really serious about LSDJ and chipmusic in general until Lizzie Cuevas and I formed The Glowing Stars in 2010.
Mentioning musical influences is pretty difficult; influences are these things where you get influenced and inspired, but you also have to fight against turning into that artist. Often times people say, “Oh, I’m inspired by these things” and tend to reduce that to, “Oh, their music is just the sum of those things.” However, Boris inspires me because of their textural drones, Seal of Quality because of the interlocking of parts and sounds, and Boaconstructor and Space Town Savior’s technical abilities. Acts like Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Yes (in the early to mid 70’s) are the whole package for me—those acts are hugely important to me in terms of both composition and intensity of performance.
For those of you following this release, you may have taken notice of a very special track on this album—‘The Norberto Fig Awesome Cat Competition’—that features special guests.
A very pleasantly bluesy track, MJP’s banjo makes a very special appearance in ‘The Norberto Fig Awesome Cat Competition’, as his self-modded Gameboy running LSDJ provides the backing percussion. Special guests on this track include Nathaniel Browne on bass trombone, Sophie Huet on clarinet, Steve Lakawicz on tuba, Keith Penny on accordion, and Ken Yee on trombone. MJP remarks that the collaborations with these musicians, along with others, certainly has an impact on everything he does as a musician:
I think collaboration is one of the best parts of the performing arts, but I think my work with TMK and previous MJP live shows has more to do with work as a composer and arranger than anything else. I tend to be ‘that guy’ in most of my projects, writing horn arrangements with The Glowing Stars and other bands, and bringing weird instruments into every project and generally being a catalyst for dense, performative arrangements. However, the way that the clarinet merged with the saxophone and the flute in the ‘The Norberto Fig Awesome Cat Competition’ collaboration is a great example of how things can really come together.
Taking a bit of a hiatus to focus on new material, The Mineral Kingdom plans on writing tracks that are programmed in Piggy Tracker. The overall instrumentation, however, will remain the same onstage as MJP joked, “we already have so much crap to move around and set up—but of course in the studio—all bets are off.” In the meantime, The Mineral Kingdom will continue releasing video content and “other things!”, so be sure to follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube for those updates. You can purchase ‘The Mineral Kingdom’ on Bandcamp digitally for a mere $4, which features album artwork by KeFF (who also did the art for MJP’s ‘Gargantuan Acoustic Locator’) and individual song artwork by Don Hanson that comes included with the Bandcamp download.