Spirit In The Night
Wednesday 29 January @ 10:52:56
Tom Hallett Channels Kingdom Of Ghosts' Glen Mattson
It was a dark and stormy night. No, really, it was. Mid-January in Minnesota, after midnight, sub-zero temps, freezing snow drifts, and here I was, walking down University Avenue in St. Paul to meet legendarily wild Glenrustles / Peasants / Katastrophy Wife / Satan On The Loose / Kingdom Of Ghosts co-founder / multi-instrumentalist Glen Mattson. Though I’d favorably reviewed the band’s self-titled, self-released 2001 album, calling it “Iggy-via-Thunders inspired” and “gleefully dark,” I was still a bit trepidacious about meeting this shadowy character in person, especially after he insisted we hook up at the gates of the abandoned State Fair grounds after midnight—“...and don’t bring nobody with you, neither,” he’d growled into the phone. “If I see so much as a glimmer of a headlight, this interview is off!” So I’d reluctantly agreed to his terms, filled a flask with NyQuil and vodka, and bundled up for the long walk.
A very wee Glen Mattson with his first drum kit
When I reached the barren, dimly lit entrance to the Fair at 11:59, I was alone. I found a snow-covered fire hydrant and leaned against it to take a pull off of my flask, and as I lowered the container filled with warm, green liquid, there he was. Standing right in front of me, wearing all black, with a hood pulled low over his face, holding a battered snakeskin briefcase, was Glen Mattson. The drummer/singer/songwriter/guitarist’s eyes glowed a piercing red from the shadows of his hood, and he spoke in a hushed, harsh whisper. “Come on, Hallett. Somebody’s gonna spot us out here, man. Follow me!” And with that, he hopped the wire fence guarding the gate and shuffled into the night. I quickly followed, and after walking in silence for a moment or two, we came upon a black van, parked in the dark, engine quietly running. Mattson flung open the side door and shoved me roughly inside. He jumped in after me, and after I’d adjusted to the warmth, I took stock of the interior of our makeshift interview site.
As Mattson settled into a comfy-looking armchair opposite myself, I plopped into a bean bag and shrugged out of my jacket. The walls of the van were covered in lush, blood-red velvet. A teardrop window graced the side wall. Heavy cloth swaths hung over the side and rear windows, and a thicker, theater-type curtain blocked my view of the driver. As he pulled away from the curb, still driving with no headlights, I saw a glimpse of his silhouette. A large, stocky figure wearing what appeared to be a World War 1 German army helmet, complete with that wacky spike on its top. I turned back to Mattson to find him pulling a fully-stocked wet bar out of the wall. “Care for a drink?” he asked. “Um—sure, I’ll take a beer,” I replied.
We settled back with our drinks, and Mattson flung back his hood to reveal a face painted in red and white war colors, eyes wild and gleaming, and a perpetual half-smile on his lips. He pressed a button near the bar. Instantly, music began piping out of hidden speakers in the walls. An ominous, gut-rattling melange of grumbling guitars, pounding toms, and rumbling bass, with urgent, tribal vocals. “Yeah, that’s the new stuff,” he said nonchalantly. “I thought you might dig a first listen.” Still a bit taken aback by the odd methods my interviewee had chosen for this meeting, and kinda creeped out at the thought of gliding silently through the abandoned State Fair grounds (are there any old security guards out here, I wondered, wandering around with loaded guns and flasks full of the same deadly mixture in which I myself was imbibing? Not a fun prospect to contemplate...) with some grinning corpse at the wheel, I mumbled, “Cool, man. It sounds %@!#$&ing cool so far.” Mattson laughed then, a disarming, totally charming laugh, and downed his drink in one smooth motion. “Oh, come on man. So I’ve got a few reasons for wanting to keep this interview low-key. You don’t need to know them, and you probably don’t want to. Just remember, if any %@!#$& goes down, you’re just a hitch-hiker and you know nothing, OK?” “Ummm, sure, Glen,” I answered. “Whatever you say, buddy.”
Having already interviewed Glen’s slightly less mysterious brother (and Glenrustles co-founder) Rich, I was thankfully in the know about his past history, humble beginnings, and so forth. Moved to the Cities from the Iron Range in the ’80s, co-founded and drummed for the Glenrustles on and off for about a decade, formed a couple of hardcore, punk-noise bands with The Peasants and Satan On The Loose, and co-helmed and drummed for the original lineup of Katastrophy Wife with his then-wife (and Babes In Toyland co-founder) Kat Bjelland. Has one child, a chip off the ol’ block by the name o’ Henry, and is currently about to release his second album with the power-house rock trio (Mattson on vocals and guitar, bassist Keith St. Louis, and drummer Kurt Allis) Kingdom Of Ghosts. (The title comes from George Orwell’s “Keep The Aspidistra Flying”).
He’s well-read, intelligent, humorous, and humble, and he’s also really loud, scary, and sometimes uber-lubricated when he hits the stage. KOG’s first album was angry, in-your-face, and akin to the spirit of Glen’s influence, New York Dolls founder Johnny Thunders. A great debut, full of catchy, ball-bustin’ rawk, but a bit skewed towards the post-divorce emotions Glen was exorcising. The new album, Die Breathing, is something else entirely—a complex, ingeniously produced, well-crafted slice of post-punk guitar rock—and on the eve of its release, he wants the world to know where he’s been, how the new album came together, and what they can expect at the band’s official CD release party on Tues., Feb. 4, at St. Paul’s Turf Club. Here’s some highlights:
Tom Hallett: So tell us what you’ve been up to since you left Katastrophy Wife, Glen.
Glen Mattson: Well, we did two tours of England, and the first one was really great. We had a lot of fun there, we played the Reading and Leeds festivals, got to hang out with The Queens of the Stone Age. But the second tour—that was something else. I went on tour after Kat and I had broke up, and after I’d already recorded the first KOG album. The second time, we were over there for three months and probably only played for three weeks out of that time. That was the end of the group. When we got back from that, I checked myself into a mental institution for six months. And Keith sold all of his equipment and moved down to Kansas to try and make it as a rodeo clown. Kat’s still involved with the Katastrophy Wife project. But when I got back, I checked myself in. I wanted out of rock and roll completely. I had my acoustic guitar with me, and some of the counselors were really cool, and they encouraged my songwriting. I wrote about eight of the songs that are on the new album while I was in there. The songs for the first album I’d written when I’d been kicked out of my house and was living in my practice space. So the counselors encouraged me, it was kind of like Alice Cooper’s From The Inside album, you know?
Hallett: So when you got out, you decided to re-form KOG, huh? How’d that come about?
Mattson: Well, I called Keith up and told him I needed a bass player. And he was pursuing a career that was as close to show biz as he could find. He was trying to break into the rodeo clown world, and basically, these guys are real hard-ass, rough guys. And he told me it wasn’t going well, those guys were hard-asses and wouldn’t let him in. So he came back and really liked the songs. Kurt, who’s normally in four or five bands at once, and is doing real good with Unguided Missile right now, was between groups and had begun to become somewhat of a hermit, spending days and nights at a time in his backyard, welding gigantic, abstract steel %@!#$&ing structures. He needed so badly to express himself, so his wife called me up and said, “Glen, you’ve got to get this guy back into a band. Help!” The sculptures were so weird, and so huge that the neighbors complained and the city finally came and threatened to give him a citation, so he had to have them dismantled, and he was on the verge of a breakdown himself when I called him up to drum for KOG. We rehearsed for six months before we recorded this album, took 22 songs and cut ‘em down to 11. We played a couple live shows at Big V’s and The Turf, and things seemed to be going well.
Hallett: And you guys recorded the album at your brother Rich’s Flowerpot Studios?
Mattson: Yeah, and actually, the production is like, half the album, man. Rich really went all out, and %@!#$&in’ did it up with us. He even plays wood blocks on the song “Waiting For a Miracle.”
Hallett: Let’s talk about the songs on the new one.
Mattson: I’d gotten all the anger and stuff out, a good percent of these songs are about fear of death, a couple are love songs, and one of them, “Bones On Parade,” is about monster movies, Creature From The Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, monsters. One’s about space ships—but they all kinda have love behind them in some way. But not light love, but dark and gloomy love, like, baby, you drove a stake through my heart.
Hallett: Is there anything else about the new album you’d like people to know?
Mattson: Yeah, I’d like ‘em to know that the pictures on the album—the cover shot is me in the mental institution, when I’d stolen some make-up from a nurse and done myself up all tribal—were all taken by my sister Kathy Mattson, who’s also the lead singer of Satan On The Loose—I play guitar for her, but it’s her show. I’m not doing any drumming now, but if there was a cool group looking for a drummer, I’d probably sign on. I’ll just throw this in—Tom Cook, who plays with The Blue Violets and Rich Hopkins, he was a big influence on my style, and he’s the best drummer in town as far as I’m concerned. He’s the only local musician, besides my brother and sister, who came to see me in the mental institution.
Hallett: Any comment on your tenure with Katastrophy Wife?
Mattson: Yeah, it was a blast, a lot of fun. I got to go across the ocean, and we still get along really good. And we have a son, I jam with him all the time. He’s into Fantasia, he knows it, man. He’s got perfect timing, tone, and pitch.
Hallett: So what should fans expect from your new album, Die Breathing?
Mattson: There are some songs on the new album that are about love and stuff, and people might assume that they’re about Kat or our relationship, but hey, I’ve been dating, you know? We’ve been apart for about two-and-a-half years, and I have a new girlfriend that I’m very happy with. I just want people to know that this is a really cool rock and roll record, it’s sort of laid back, but it’s got some fast songs, if you like the Velvet Underground or the Stooges, you’ll like this album...
Suddenly, the van pulled violently over to one side, and Mattson jumped out of his seat as if electrocuted. He flung open the side door and screamed, “Ozzy’s drinking again! This interview is OVER!” Flustered, I spilled my beer onto my open notebook, knocked over the bottles on the wet bar, and stumbled out of the warm van into the cold, dark night air. Mattson flipped his hood back over his face, threw me the universal “rock” sign, and pulled the door shut. Through the side window, I glimpsed the driver’s emaciated, grinning skull under that WW1 helmet, and I swear he winked at me through one rotting eyeball. Then the van squealed off into the gloomy depths of the wintery Fairgrounds, and I was left where I’d started, alone, cold, and confused. But I had it—that exclusive with the elusive, that hot scoop from the mysterious source—and a copy of that kickass album—I might not die breathing, but I’ll die happy...
Kingdom Of Ghosts plays The Turf Club with The Mammy Nuns on Tues., Feb. 4. Free. 21+. 1601 University Ave, St. Paul. 651-647-0486.