Santa didn’t realize how boss he was when he brought Jeremiah Matthews a drum set for Christmas 21 years ago.
“I thought drums were the coolest things when I was a kid,” said Matthews, 27. “I still do to this day. I just think they dictate the whole song. They’re the ones just kind of guiding everything. If music’s a train, then the drums are the wheels. They’re the ones that are actually getting you from point A to B.”
Matthews, a graphic designer at the Memphis Flyer, also is an experimental singer/songwriter. He describes his performances as “a live show that’s just me and a guitar. I have a drum machine attached to my guitar that I run through loopers. So, it’s a lot of looping, a lot of ambient, weird stuff. I have several different loop pedals running at the same time. A lot of feedback. A lot of ambient reverb noise.”
Drums, which eventually led to keyboards, were “more like a foundation of music theory,” Matthews said.
“When I started with drums, it was like, ‘This is how rhythm works. Breaking down into fours or threes. This is how time signatures work.’ And that kind of thing. And then when I got to keyboards, it was like, ‘This is how a music scale works.’’’
His mother died when he was 10, said Matthews, who was born near Houston, Texas. “I was a really angry kid for a while. Everyone kind of had that impression of me.”
His dad, guitarist Freddie Matthews, who was in bands, kept music going around the house for Matthews and two of his brothers living at home. He played records by the Beatles, Bob Seger, and others.
“I was that really lame kid that always had his big old book of CDs on the school bus. That kind of thing. Eventually, I got an iPad and I was like, ‘This is amazing.’”
Matthews picked up the bass when he was 14. “I didn’t have a lot of really close friends or active friends so I would just stay home and practice all the time. Eventually, I just started playing bass with my dad. When I was like 15 or 16 my dad made me learn the bass line to ‘Something’ by the Beatles, which is still the hardest bass line.”
Matthews joined his dad on stage at times and played bass on “Johnny B. Goode.”
He joined his first band as lead guitarist after his family moved to San Angelo, Texas. “I had moved from bass to guitar because it’s a pretty natural slide.”
Asked the name of the band, Matthews said, “It might been like ‘Running on Empty’ or something lame like that.”
He remembered playing with the band at a festival. “People were cheering and stuff and I was like, ‘This is not cheer-worthy. I’m terrible.’”
Matthews joined a contemporary alternative band when he moved to Cleveland, Mississippi. He also became a nicer guy. “When I moved to Mississippi, nobody knew who I was, so I got to kind of reinvent myself and make some friends. I think overnight I went from being this angsty little teenager to this actually OK-to-be-around dude.”
His father bought him some recording hardware. “I had already downloaded Audacity, which is like a free recording software, and was messing with that. I had this old four-track tape recorder that I would run though as an interface into my computer through the audio input. I would just record all these songs myself. I was really into Mars Volta at the time, so I would make all these crazy, trippy songs. I’ve gone back and listened to them and they are terrible. They are super-trebly.”
Matthews, who double majored in graphic design and audio technology at Delta State, was more fascinated with recording music than playing it. If he wrote a riff, he would say, “This is a cool riff. I‘m going to record it into my computer.”
He began putting his compositions on MySpace and ReverbNation using the moniker “Winston the Crime-Fighting Office Manager.’”
Matthews, who played “real simple instrumentals, but with weird guitar solos,” began writing songs when he took a business of songwriting class. “I always overproduced my stuff. I would have MIDI drums all over it. I would have keyboards, guitar, bass, multiple vocals with harmonies. LIke everything.”
Overproducing was because of “a lack of self confidence. I wasn’t confident enough in my writing ability or my singing ability or one specific area to just let it rest on that. I was like, ‘If this guitar solo isn’t that good,’ or, ‘I don’t know if these lyrics are any good, I need to make everything else good enough to distract from that.’”
He joined his friend’s band, The Belts, as bass player. “I got comfortable enough with them to where I was like, ‘I have all these songs I’ve written and I have recorded and I have up online to listen to. Do you guys want to help me make a live band out of it?’”
The result was “The Ellie Badge,” which was his pseudonym. He got the name from “that Disney Pixar movie, ‘Up.’ I was like 20 at the time and thought it was super cool and romantic.”
When the band broke up, Matthews began performing his original songs, which he described as “sad and emotional,” in coffee houses.
He graduated with a degree in studio art with an emphasis on graphic design. He then moved to Memphis, where he got his masters degree in graphic design at University of Memphis. “I spent three years at U of M and kind of worked on an album in the background. It was a lot more super overproduced. I was just like, ‘I don’t have a band right now. I’m going to make the craziest conceptual record I can.’”
The album, “The Ellie Badge vs. all Your Problems,” was based on a “really bad breakup” that had taken place before Matthews moved to Memphis. “There’s a song called ‘500 Days of Bummer’ that I thought was really good. I’m really proud of that song. That’s the one everybody kind of latched onto.”
The album, he said, is “very pop-punk energetic kind of stuff. There’s a lot of indie influence, a lot of mallcore mid 2000s influence. But then there’s a lot of 8-bit stuff on there, too. I did a lot of really bit-crushed drums and video game theme stuff. All the art is very nerd-culture based.”
“...Again,” his latest album, is a “time-based concept about repetition. I tried to make one song for each season.”
Describing his one-man-show, Matthews, who performs about once a week at various venues, said, “I have a drum machine attached to my guitar. I start a loop and make the drumbeat on my guitar. I have a lot of kill switches and stuff to turn the signals off and on and just start and change the signal afterward. My guitar goes through my pedal board, splits into three signals, goes through a bunch of delays and reverbs and then to my amp.
“There is also a second and third pickup on my guitar that only picks up the bottom E and A string and goes through a kill switch and then goes straight to a bass amp. Basically, I can lay down a guitar lead, lay down a drum thing on two different loops. And then I can kill the signal post loop to kind of change the way it sounds. And then run a distortion after on the drums. Stuff like that. When I need it, I can turn the bass on and just have this really deep big sound for choruses and things like that.”
As far as he knows, Matthews say, “I’m the only person that has the duophonic pickup around here. People have been using loops forever, but I think I’m the only person who thought of doing it this way. I like to think I have my own little niche, but I probably don’t.”
Matthews recently bought a Thinline telecaster body. “I’m building another guitar with the same set up.”
He usually plays “a weird hybrid” Squire guitar. “It’s Frankensteined with a new neck, new parts and everything, but the intonation is off because that specific guitar was made with a conversion neck. The intonation is messed up permanently. I’m building one that’s going to have better intonation.”
Matthews constantly searches for just the right sound. “I buy new pedals a lot. I’m probably going to buy a new amp eventually. I have way too much gear.”
Jeremiah Matthews will perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 12 at the HI-Tone. Also appearing are Alex Fraser, Kake and the 0.* and Sequoia. Tickets: $5.