Peninsular Place

The Magazine

January 29, 2012

A Conversation with Matt Jones [Video]

Matt Jones

Musician, circus dreamer and amateur historian

The elevator door opens with a squeak and a rattle to reveal two blond-haired musicians: Matt Jones with his guitar and Colette Alexander with her cello. It’s a cram on the way up to the fourth floor, but they’ve seen their share of tight spaces. From the cozy confines of Ann Arbor’s The Getup to packed vans to tiny Philadelphia stages, Matt Jones and his bandmates have grown accustomed to delivering their folky, story-laden baroque-pop through any means necessary, but I think they’re about to get a little more elbow room.

There are dozens of impressive acts brewing in our local music scene, but Matt Jones – along with friends and musical teammates Chris Bathgate and Misty Lynn – is one of the few to bubble to the surface. I don’t need to spend too much time convincing you that there’s a much larger audience for his music lingering around the corner. A spin through his 2009 release “The Black Path” or a night spent at one of his shows gets that point across. But tonight, they’ve come to play for an audience of two in our Ypsilanti office.

With a speaking voice appropriate for his six-foot six-inches frame and flannel-chested, bespectacled appearance, the voice that shows up in his songs can be unexpected. It’s a soft, almost crooning tenor, like how that little voice in your head would sound if it were to sing, but not without the ability to belt it out at times. And there’s another layer of deception: beneath the inviting vocals and whimsical, strings-driven soundscapes are stories of sadness and regret, dark history lessons and resonating commentaries. All told in poet’s words, of course. It’s not a stretch to compare Jones to the history-obsessed Decemberists or a more sped-up Death Cab For Cutie, but I wouldn’t say these comparisons really prepare you for what you’ll hear from the Michigan-born musician.

As Jones explains, his eccentric background plays heavily into his musical interests: “My mother’s side of the family were all musicians, including musicians in the circus. I’ve actually been asked to do that as well… I would love to, but maybe a hundred years ago.”

The circus lore embedded generations-deep in his family is perhaps evidenced in the spooky, almost quirky quality of his story-driven songs, which evoke imagery in a Sufjan Stevens-esque way. Jones recalls growing up in Adrian, Michigan, where “there was nothing else to do except play music,” so it makes sense that his lyrics take a sort of hard-working Midwestern narrative, told from the perspective of someone with a fairytale imagination supplemented by a tall stack of history books.

While his mom’s side gets credit for the circus influence, Jones’ obsession with the Civil War was initiated by his dad, who was always trying to get him to read. “It wasn’t until I got extremely sick one weekend and couldn’t leave my bed that I picked up one of the books he gave me and started reading,” Jones recalls. “I’ve always been attracted to history – things that are old and have a little historical character to them.”

This obsession seems to crop up in his music as well, with snippets of historical imagery and themes of tragedy and destruction interacting with stringed instrumentation that produces a haunting, spirits-over-battlefields vibe. Embedded in his poetic writing are lines that have the ability to stun, such as this one from “Holy Light” where Jones sings, “you took the soul from my songs cause the soul was bad / I cried treason and trials were had / but defense was trite.”

Today, however, Jones and Alexander are performing new songs from “Half Poison, Half Pure,” which will be released in March. “It’s a lot different from The Black Path,” Jones says. “I actually let a lot of other people put their hand in it. It came out really good, but it came out as something I’m completely not used to. I thought you had to love your own album before you put it out, and I don’t think that’s true anymore. I’m gonna put it out and I know I’m gonna continue to like it even more.” New instruments and band members were added for this “less spooky” album, so the ensemble is collectively named Matt Jones and the Reconstruction. That last word refers to the noticeable but not-extreme change in musical style, and, of course, the Civil War.

Strapped around Jones is a guitar that’s nearing eligibility for resale in antique shops, and Alexander sits upright with her cello. They perform “Games We Used to Play,” which introduces an unshakeable hook with vocals that are quick and punchy in the verses and longingly drawn-out in the chorus. It’s a mix of dark and delightful – a sound that is sure to win over new audiences as they tour with Chris Bathgate in Europe towards the end of this spring.

“I should have brought my uniform,” Jones says, posing for a picture to accompany this article.

“You actually have a uniform from the Civil War?” I ask.

I immediately retract the question. Of course he does.

About the Author

Paul Kitti
Paul Kitti
Paul is another awesome member of the iSPY team.

Peninsular Place


Jay Nash to play Ann Arbor’s The Ark Tomorrow Night

by Jasmine Zweifler We locals are well aware that the The Ark is basically the gold standard for folk, country and acoustic-y music in the area. The venue plays host to some of the biggest names in the biz and has almost a mono...
by Amanda Slater

Foodie.TheDish.tart play day

Riki Tiki Pies

You may not yet be aware, but during the last few months a fledgling pastry empire has been taking shape in Ypsilanti. Under the watchful eye of head pie maker Theresa Rickloff, Riki Tiki Pies hit the local food scene hard with...
by Stefanie Stauffer


The New Theater Project

The New Theatre Project is one of the freshest and most singular additions to the Ypsilanti arts and culture scene. They’ve been growing little by little ever since their inception in 2010: they’ve found a home tucked away ...
by Jasmine Zweifler


Leni Sinclair Publicity Photo~16.july.2012

Legendary Rock Music Photographer Comes to Ypsilanti

Leni Sinclair, whose vibrant photos of Michigan Rock and Roll, Blues and Jazz luminaries chronicled the local music scene from the 1960s to present, will display her photography and greet fans from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, ...
by iSPY Team

Peninsular Place
photo (1)

Bona Sera

“Bad Women Cooking” proclaims the banner in the window of the Bona Sera Café. Bona Sera, opened in early July on the corner of Michigan Ave and Washington Street in Downtown Ypsilanti, is the newest addition to the flurry ...
by Stefanie Stauffer



Mittenfest Returns to Woodruff’s 12.28.12 – 1.1.13

iSPY Magazine is excited to announce that the seventh installment of our favorite festival, Mittenfest, will be back at Woodruff’s this year to help raise money and awareness for 826Michigan. There are only a handful of t...

Wolverine Grill

Hamburgers and other healthy things The Wolverine has been a staple in the downtown Ypsilanti community for years. It’s more than just a place to get a bite to eat, it’s an establishment. Back in March, it was taken over by...
Kelly Klever Massage


Unwavering Beam of…Light; Nathan K.’s Dishes

The songs in Nathan Klages’ head don’t pay back his mountains of debt but he’s got bigger concerns: like, the meaning of life, or the ghosts of our imaginations and just who paints all these drab colors on hospital wall w...
by Jeff Milo

Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick bring nerd rock to the Ark

Jonathan Coulton (pictured above)                                 Photo by Lauren Atkinson   by Jesse Atkinson Normally if you told me that you’d been to a concert that involved a crowd sing-a...
by Amanda Slater

black jake & the carnies artwork by jenny harley

Black Jake & the Carnies Welcome intrepid travelers Home to Ypsi; keep energy up!

Joe isn’t looking at genres, he’s looking at energy. Joe, as bassist for Black Jake & the Carnies, is often looking at the energy when it comes to live musical performances; often, if you’re standing too close, you’...
by Jeff Milo