Since 1998, Chad Matheny has produced a vast catalogue of lo-fi, minimalist and experimental music under the moniker Emperor X.
This March Chad will be touring Australia as Emperor X in support of his 2017 album 'Oversleepers International'.
His eighth full-length studio release, the album was written while Chad was recovering from invasive surgery to treat severe testicular cancer and undergoing six months of chemotherapy.
We caught up with Chad to discuss the new album and his plans for the Australian tour.
Last year you released your eighth studio album 'Oversleepers International'; firstly, how have audiences responded to the record?
[Chad] They bought most of them, so that's a good sign. I think the label has about 35 left and I have a stack of a dozen or so that I'm bringing with me to Australia, so it's close to out of print at this point.
If that's a good gauge of response, I'd have to say people liked it a lot. I try to avoid Googling myself, but when I put a record out I sneak around on forums and whatnot to see what people liked and didn't like.
For the most part people seem very pleased with this one, maybe not as much as 'Western Teleport', but more so than 'The Orlando Sentinel'.
A lot of rock kids were annoyed by 'Warmth Perimeter' and I guess I would be too if I were a rock kid, but all that makes me want to do is make a full EP of beats just to give the rock kids a good-natured hard time.
“I think about Australia as a combination of the southern UK and deep, deep trucker Texas: a hydrocarbon-based colony on the hinterland, an advanced outpost at the edge of civilisation.”
The people who are into my stuff tend to respect my genre agnosticism, so I don't worry too much about their response. It's often quite different in five or ten years. It's very important to divorce immediate response from one's evaluation of one's work, so I try to do that as much as possible.
It's only been out for ten months now. Ask again in ten years.
This album was created during your recovery from surgery to treat testicular cancer; how did this affect the style and tone of the songs?
I think most cancer survivors experience two simultaneous competing urges. 1. I want to be over this stuff and never think about it again and not be defined by it. 2. I want everyone to think I'm a bad-ass for not being dead and not losing faith through dark times.
These are both very human urges and I forgive myself for them, but definitely the second one annoys me the most. So I'm very self-conscious about it.
When I was plotting out this album I was perhaps to sensitive to this and was obsessed with not making it 'the cancer record'. But when I talk about embryonal carcinoma and a hyper-specific chemotherapy regimen and medical debt in a hook, I'm kind of asking for it, aren't I? It was a hard balance to strike.
I can't pretend I didn't have cancer, but I also don't want it to be the whole story of that year. Lots of things happened, not just boring medical drama. So I guess I tried to concentrate all the cancer stuff into one dense bomb in "€30,000" and let the echoes resonate subtly throughout the record.
I think about mortality more and the importance of human kindness, and that comes out in the music a bit. But I think those are improvements that come with time for every person; a bout with cancer just accelerated that process for me.
Also, it should be said and said and said again that the kind of cancer I had was a really, really easy one to beat. Granted I had it in an advanced stage, but at no time were my odds of surviving overshadowed by my odds of dying.
Even at the absolute worst, I had a 70 per cent chance of recurrence-free survival and those odds swiftly improved after the treatments worked. I've been free of any sign of disease for more than two years now, with almost no permanent side effects from treatment either.
So I knew I wasn't dying when I wrote these songs. I was just a grumpy, melancholy, pale, too-skinny, temporarily bald guy with a 14-cm scar and a whole lot of cisplatin in the blood. In retrospect it just seems like wild times, you know?
Some people who deal with addiction issues probably have it a lot worse all of the time. It's not always so serious. I was and continue to be quite lucky.
Did you approach writing and recording the album any differently than previous releases?
Nope. What sounds different from album to album with me is where I record them. In this case it was at my bar in Berlin, during the off hours there. The room sounds amazing and we have a nice piano.
This record also took longer because there was a big medical illness in the middle of it, so I had to stop and re-start. That was annoying. Other than that, the process was the same. My process consists of writing as I record. No roughs, no demos. The demo is the master, but earlier.
One other difference: I collaborated a lot more with friends. Ryland Bouchard helped me lay down some tracks, and Rudi Maier and Sebastian Feller and Bernd Wolfram poured a lot of effort into five of the album tracks too.
The record would not be the same without any of those people. But I wound up mixing/ mastering it all in the end, so the process wasn't radically different; just slower.
Going back a few years to 2010, you released your album 'Western Teleport' in a very novel way by burying the cassettes and posting clues for how to find them. Are there any still left undiscovered?
There was one in Australia! It was on some beach near Geelong. Someone sent me a picture of the correct location years later, but told me nothing was found so I imagine that one's gone.
I am very certain that if any were still out there by now they're lost forever; 19 of the 37 were uncovered and activated, though, so not all of the music for that project was lost forever. Eighteen songs were, though. They're gone, deleted, lost forever!
You'd actually have to look on Wayback Machine to find the info about the nodes. The website fell victim to link rot and a spamdex attack by a Dutch casino (long story), so the public interface was deleted too. Thank goodness for Wayback Machine. Lemme see if I can find what's left... yeah, here it is: click to visit the 'Western Teleport' webpage.
The tracking map doesn't work anymore because I think Google changed their API since then and map tags are different now. Anyway, some of the info is still there.
How are you feeling about your upcoming Australian tour? What are you looking forward to the most?
Being upside down! I seriously think about this whole hemisphere thing way too much: I'm somewhat mystical about how it affects the mind. It's not good. I try to be more rational about it, and I've been able to explain my feelings a bit.
I think about Australia as a combination of the southern UK and deep, deep trucker Texas: a hydrocarbon-based colony on the hinterland, an advanced outpost at the edge of civilisation. Which must seem crazy to all of you, because it's just normal for you.
I have Australian friends who tell stories about kangaroos and koalas like I tell stories about rats. I'm from Florida, so I'm used to the fauna-that-can-kill-you dread of nature. There is some resonance there; this quiet, horrifying awe of being on the edge of an abyss and yet still trying to pretend civilisation is a normal thing to do.
But I think Australia has this to a more extreme degree than suburban Florida.
I'm also interested in getting a sense of the political climate there. The whole world seems to be going slightly mad at the moment; not permanently, not violently, not yet, but a distinct lurch is visible.
I see it in young people more: more nihilism, more cynicism. Older folks are worse: they think they're being calm and rational by voting for what they think are conservatives but who are in fact populist radicals. I'm curious which strain of nihilism is most prevalent there.
Going to shows gets one in contact with this fairly quickly. Good people react to crazy times in so many diverse ways and I always look forward to seeing how these times are parsed through the eyes of another culture.
What can Australian audiences expect from your upcoming shows?
I'm bringing a wireless synth. I am in a shouting mood and will indulge that thoroughly.
I have been way into ambient music for the past winter. I just wrote 12 new songs. I am borrowing an acoustic guitar from a new friend, so there will be soft moments too, but things might get fun and weird.
I will try to ask people if they want to hear any specific older songs, too, but sometimes I forget so feel free to shout back at me and interrupt me.
Will you be making use of the public transit systems here to tour, as you have done in the US and Europe?
As much as possible! Australia is similar to the U.S. in its PT paucity in rural areas, but Melbourne suburbs seem pretty well-served. Sydney made a big mistake voting that monorail down, though. Unforgivable.
Are you working on any new material at the moment?
Constantly. I'm singing ten new songs tomorrow night at my farewell show in Berlin.
What are your plans for the rest of 2018?
More of this. I plan on touring for a few months, completing my new album that I'm hoping will come out in early 2019, teaching classes in Berlin, running my music venue bar in Neukölln, and that's about it.
Emperor X Tour DatesThu 15 Mar - Via Studios (Brisbane)
Fri 16 Mar - The Bearded Lady (Brisbane)
Sat 17 Mar - The Record Crate (Sydney)
Sun 18 Mar - Petersham Bowling Club (Sydney)
Fri 23 Mar - Grace Darling Hotel (Melbourne)
Sun 25 Mar - Aeso Studio (Melbourne)