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Bloodshot Briefing: Brighton, MA

By Matt Harness

In an effort to move forward and keep things smelling fresh, Beachwood Music is branching out from the Bloodshot Records tree. We aren't going too far away, and we still aspire to be the top spot for all things Bloodshot with the weekly Briefing.

But there's other Chicago-based music that deserves some attention.

Last week, Beachwood Music brought you an inside look into Coach House Sounds, which has recorded two Bloodshot artists.

Recently I spent some time with Matt Kerstein, singer, songwriter and leading force behind Chicago band Brighton, MA. Bloodshot fans maybe know him as a founding member of Scotland Yard Gospel Choir along with Elia Einhorn. Kerstein lives in Wicker Park and loves Piece's pizza.

Beachwood Music: You're from Brighton, Mass., the name of your new band. What brought you to Chicago?

Matt Kerstein: I came out here for college at 18 years old and stuck around. I went to Columbia, initially for music. I did two years of music concentration, and then I went into English and I did some journalism for the paper. I got a liberal arts degree.

Beachwood Music: That's where you met Elia Einhorn, at college, and formed Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, right?

Matt Kerstein: We both were kind of in the same crowd, and we just struck it up as two of the few guys at Columbia focused on songwriting. We lived near each other and became good friends. He was the first guy I knew who had written a bunch of songs. It was a good period.

Beachwood Music: You were with the band for one LP I Bet You Say That To All The Boys before leaving to form Brighton, MA. What caused the break?

Matt Kerstein: It was such a huge learning experience. That album we made totally reflects the mish-mashing of our tunes, and I discovered what I wanted to do. I tried to mold the Choir that way, and I realized it wasn't going to be that way, which was cool. But I felt like I was at a point where I had to keep following my path.

We were going farther away from each other, and we knew we couldn't keep doing that. We saw the future going more separate, so we did it sooner rather than later.

Beachwood Music: You guys shared a big stage for the first time this month since the split when your band played a benefit for Scotland Yard Gospel Choir at the Hideout. How are things with you two now?

Matt Kerstein: It was a hard break-up, but everything's under the bridge now.

Beachwood Music: You definitely are a Chicago band. You live here, you work here, you put out an album on a local label and recently played a month-long residency at Schubas in February. Also, the Subterranean talent buyer Derron Swan loaned you the money to make your EP. Chicago treats you right?

Matt Kerstein: I don't get how these rock bands live in some places, even like Brooklyn. Or San Francisco. I mean, I tell my buddies to look into living in Chicago. But some of the people on the coasts don't give it the time of day.

Music-wise I can't put my finger on it, but there is a certain thing out here that's hard to explain. Maybe it's because it's down to earth and not a lot of bullshit. The music is more matter-of-fact.

Beachwood Music: You are working on your second LP right now. When's that coming out? Are the folks at Chicago's Loose Tooth Records going to be involved again?

Matt Kerstein: There's no release date. We're taking a little break now, we are going to begin getting out every weekend, maybe 10 shows a month. We then want to hit SXSW.

We don't know who will put it out. We kind of want to explore and see what else is out there.

We're not against putting it out ourselves, but it's all up in the air right now. We just want to make a great record, book a tour and see what our best options are.

It's nice, of course, to have a certain amount of backing, certain name recognition and weight behind you. You miss out on all that when you do it yourself.

But I don't know. We've come a long way. We are curious how it can be. I guess the grass is always greener.

Beachwood Music: What's the new record going to be like?

Matt Kerstein: The first EP was fast and all feel. The next album we spent some money on and got carried away with all the toys. We had a few too many guitars, and we had a few too many vocalists. I think we will go back with a bit more care and thought than the first, but we will try not to overthink it. We do want to take a step back and try to be more intimate.

Beachwood Music: Having a steady live show in the city where you live must have given you some validation and not too mention a cheaper chance to get more music out?

Matt Kerstein: Schubas was great. It's tough to see what kind of effect it has. But we did see a spike in iTunes and CD sales. Also, the shows grew from the first to the last. I expected the first one to be the biggest.

Beachwood Music: A decade ago if you asked me what I thought about my favorite bands selling music for commercil use, I probably would have broke a guitar. But in this age, bands have to find ways to make money, one of which is licensing songs to TV shows and commercials. Among others, I've heard songs from the Dodos, Black Keys, Vampire Weekend and Langhorne Slim all on commercials. Brighton MA had a song on Gossip Girls as did Scotland Yard Gospel Choir. I don't blame them at all, as long as the music comes first and licensing second. What's your position?

Matt Kerstein: Is it selling out? When you're younger, you think that way. But I don't feel like we have a choice. My No. 1 goal is to make the next record, and we pay for that through gigs, CD sales and licensing.

Yeah, I hope one day we get to the point where we don't have to do that, and we can make decisions based on some sort of principle. But we ain't there yet.

Beachwood Music: Okay. Time for Jukebox Heroes. It's 1:30 a.m. on a Tuesday night. You're drunk. You have enough money in your pockets for five songs to send you on your way home, or at least be the soundtrack to the bartender tossing you out on the street. Name those tunes.

Matt Kerstein: "Five Years" by David Bowie first comes to mind. "So Long, Marianne" by Leonard Cohen. Something by Neutral Milk Hotel. How about something rocking, "Holland 1945." Some AC/DC for good measure. Anything. Bob Dylan "Highway 61 Revisited," "Queen Jane Approximately."


Kerstein and Co. next play in Chicago on Jan. 22-23 at Schubas.


Bloodshot Briefing Notes
* Hey fatso, put down the leftover turkey leg and turn off the TV. Go to FitzGerald's on Friday night for the Bottle Rockets. One of the best rocking bands at one of the Chicago area's best rocking places.

* Say what? Twlight author Stephanie Meyer caught a Ha Ha Tonka show and then talked about it on the red carpet at the premiere of her new movie New Moon. Here's guessing she thinks they're hot. See from yourself.

* The Dex Romweber Duo has released a video for "People, Places and Things" from Ruins of Berlin.


Matt Harness brings you Bloodshot Briefing every week. He welcomes your comments.


Posted on November 25, 2009

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