Matt Papich, 26, is an artist. But Papich’s tools are instruments, not oil paints or wood. He does use his hands, but he manipulates sound for your ears, not colors and shapes for your eyes. To a conceptual artist, perhaps there isn’t much of a difference.
Ecstatic Sunshine began in art school where, for a class project, Papich’s instructor paired him with Dustin Wong and told them to work together. The band was born within the walls of the Maryland Institute College of Art, or MICA, in Baltimore, MD.
Wong has since left, he’s a founding member of the band Ponytail, leaving Papich basically a one-man band. Through the years he’s collaborated with many musicians, most recently Joe (White) Williams, but ES is his project, his work, his life blood.
Recently over cured meats (including beef tongue), olives, cheese and beers at Spuyten Duyvil in Williamsburg, Papich explained how he composes/writes songs, the nature of sound and instrumentation and what it’s like to be in the thick of the Baltimore music scene.
Some art school kids are pretentious, some musicians are cool, some people are losers, but Papich is none of these things. He, like his music, defies convention and stereotypes.
Some may call the music of Ecstatic Sunshine noise; others may call it noise-pop and still more may say it’s experimental. To Papich, this isn’t really important. What’s important is what the music does for the audience—and the creator.
“I’m interested in sound’s ability to sculpt space, how it will affect the environment,” he said. “It’s a shifting of awareness.”
How one achieves a shifting of awareness is up to them, he said.
Papich’s live set-up includes a “chaos pad,” which “works with intuition,” Papich said. It’s understandable why he uses it.
When describing sound, Papich doesn’t only get technical—he gets philosophical.
“I think a lot of bands that use tapes use them as an effect to inspire nostalgia, I’m nervous about a nostalgic setting,” he said. “Walter Benjamin said ‘Nostalgia is an opiate of the masses.’”
Later that night Ecstatic Sunshine played a show at Death by Audio with three other experimental acts on the scene, one of which was Nonhorse, a one-man band (these were all one-man bands) who manipulates cassettes. After the set, Papich agreed it was not a nostalgic performance, bolstering his own theory that there is no set way to experience, or make, music.
Papich doesn’t have a formula for songwriting either, most musicians don’t. But asked if he hears melodies in his head and then plays them, Papich quickly answered, “no.”
“It’s not that clear,” he said. “When writing music, you’ll get to something that sounds right, and maybe it just happens.”
So by thinking through sound, by making music contextually, and also relying on the human attributes of a machine, Ecstatic Sunshine makes its case.
The Baltimore music scene has been compared to Brooklyn’s—it’s an arena of creativity, underground and underage shows and collaboration. But Baltimore is much smaller than Brooklyn, reminded Papich, who lived in Williamsburg for about eight months last year while working with Williams.
And that smallness is what makes Baltimore more of an incubator, and less of a scene.
Dan Deacon, perhaps the biggest act to break out of Baltimore, exemplifies the city’s good vibes. He still comes out to see shows all the time, said Papich.
“After Deacon and Ponytail got big, a lot of new bands that were influenced by them popped up, and people were worried about this empty party music,” said Papich. “But no one supported those bands…We have high standards.”
Another big distance: in Baltimore, all the venues and spaces to hear music are basically within walking distance.
Papich is from Allentown, PA. Growing up he listened to Guns N Roses, thought Cat Stevens was “god” and loved “Kokomo” by the Beach Boys. He “played music seriously” in high school, in hard-core and punk bands.
He plays music seriously now, too. The most recent Ecstatic Sunshine record, Yesterday’s Work, is out now on Hoss Records. Get it here. Check out the track below, “Conch.”
Ecstatic Sunshine: Conch
Ed. Note: Usually I like to listen to the music of the band i’m writing about. With Ecstatic Sunshine this is close to impossible because the sound is so challenging. You have to pay attention. Yes, you can get lost in it, but really, you should follow the music. It’s on a path, to somewhere.