Home Music Drummer Matt Tong on chasing moods in Algiers and Bloc Social gathering : NPR

Drummer Matt Tong on chasing moods in Algiers and Bloc Social gathering : NPR

Drummer Matt Tong on chasing moods in Algiers and Bloc Social gathering : NPR


Drummer Matt Tong (second from proper) with the members of Algiers. The band launched its fourth album, Shook, in early 2023.

Ebru Yildiz/Courtesy of the artist

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Ebru Yildiz/Courtesy of the artist

Drummer Matt Tong (second from proper) with the members of Algiers. The band launched its fourth album, Shook, in early 2023.

Ebru Yildiz/Courtesy of the artist

Take heed to the opening minutes of Shook, the 2023 album by the Atlanta-born, transatlantically primarily based, globally minded quartet Algiers, and also you would possibly surprise what’s turn into of the drummer. For a tune and a half, the one pulse is machine-made: first, a shopworn pattern from “Subway Theme,” the click-clack beat that raised the curtain on cult hip-hop movie Wild Type in 1983; then, a twig of hi-hat artillery mined from Zambian rock however solid within the digital furnace of Ableton Stay. It is solely within the ultimate 60 seconds of “Irreversible Harm” that sticks meet skins in actual area: Following a verse from rap-rock warhorse Zack de la Rocha, the tune’s industrial rattle pivots to the free double time of Mediterranean people, and a cloud of bashed cymbals and swung toms rolls in, nudging these inflexible intervals off the grid.

Matt Tong’s fashionably late arrival to this celebration hits twice as exhausting for individuals who keep in mind him from his outdated job. The British-born New York drummer launched himself to the world in far splashier trend with “Like Consuming Glass” — the cannonballing opener from the 2005 debut by his earlier band, Bloc Social gathering — on which he builds from a faint murmur to an insistent garagelike loop that withstands dozens of exhausting swerves, useless stops and unsettled fills whereas solely gaining in momentum, till it seems to lap itself. On his 4 albums with the band, he minimize a slim lane via post-punk’s nice millennial revival: detailed however by no means cluttered, with a martial focus that by no means excluded the listener. He’d clearly grown up with the identical blacklit ’80s data as his friends, however onstage, he typically appeared to be having essentially the most enjoyable.

These instincts weren’t misplaced on the members of Algiers, who recruited Tong in 2015 after he’d left Bloc Social gathering, first as a touring anchor for his or her fractured preparations and shortly as a real bandmate. Shook finds him as embedded as ever within the egalitarian imaginative and prescient conceived by singer Franklin James Fisher, bassist Ryan Mahan and guitarist Lee Tesche, which extends past their progressive politics: Within the studio, any member would possibly choose up any instrument they will get a sound out of, and songs emerge as city-sized quilts of concepts, not often spotlighting particular person chops. The brand new album options visitor appearances by a dozen exterior contributors, from Dungeon Household soothsayer Large Rube to Future Islands growler Sam Herring, whose names fill a block of textual content on the album’s entrance cowl. (In a number of spots, it is not even Tong you hear behind the package — the drummer entrusted producer Matt Ricchini to carry out the components he could not be within the room for, after Shook‘s manufacturing schedule collided with the start of his first son.)

For such a particular, exuberant participant, raised within the period of college-radio darlings gone Hollywood, Algiers’ collectivist vibe would appear an unlikely match. Tong, now 44, says it is precisely the place he must be. From a tour cease in Austria, Tong joined me on Zoom to debate the fluid position of the rock drummer and the worth of treating the music business like a neighborhood, even when it is exhausting.

This interview has been edited for size and readability.

Daoud Tyler-Ameen: Once you carry out with Algiers, you are typically enjoying together with pre-recorded samples. To do this, you form of need to give up the drummer’s canonical position as timekeeper: The playback has ultimate say over how briskly or gradual you go, and in the event you drift away from it you will be in bother. Is {that a} restrictive feeling, or is it releasing in some methods?

Matt Tong: It is restrictive insofar as there are many heart-in-the-mouth moments. We’re a really bold band, and very often we attempt to do extra onstage, and produce extra tools, than a bunch of individuals in a van actually needs to be carrying round on tour. It would not take a lot for a misplaced limb to disconnect one thing: The opposite evening, Ryan by chance ejected the SD card with all of the tracks on it halfway via a tune, so we needed to fudge our means via it. However one thing that is liberating for me is, that a part of my mind that has to consider timekeeping simply switches off. And I do naturally begin enjoying slightly forward or behind the beat given no matter temper I am feeling; you’ll be able to nonetheless subtly affect the way in which a tune comes throughout reside doing that.


You recognize, I am notoriously sloppy at timekeeping. You do not have to wade via too many reside Bloc Social gathering critiques to search out somebody going, “Matt Tong sucks! He is enjoying the songs too quick! It is in every single place!” However I used to be all the time rather more of a temper drummer, I suppose. For me, it is completely pure to hurry up a bit through the refrain, or if the viewers are actually into it. I am like that, and I am completely pleased to suck up any flack that comes my means due to it. The drummers I all the time seemed as much as had been like that.

Do you consider what you do as serving a tune — as in, there is a composition that already totally exists, and also you’re including on high of it? Or do you view it extra as co-creation, the place your drumming is as a lot part of a tune’s essence as anything? As a result of Algiers is a kind of teams the place the strains between songwriting and association, between composition and instrumentation, appear extraordinarily blurred.

Yeah, completely. I feel particularly on this band, I am serving the music, and that was all the time my intention going into it. Everybody’s conscious of what I can do: I do write music, and I really feel considerably artistic. I would prefer to suppose by now that the opposite members and collaborators of this band perceive that I am open to performing any variety of roles. However I am not going to pressure the difficulty until somebody actually wants me to. … Typically the job of a musician is not essentially to truly play one thing. Typically it is simply to validate another person’s thought, or to make a suggestion that nudges them into a unique route. It isn’t all the time about enjoying collectively.

It was very completely different again in Bloc Social gathering, as a result of on the time I joined the band, I do not suppose they’d actually labored with a drummer who felt like a peer. And while I wasn’t as technically gifted as a few of their earlier drummers, I appeared to be a bit extra relatable to the remainder of the band, and we may really discuss concepts. There was more room for me to attempt to incorporate my very own imaginative and prescient into the songwriting.

That is sensible — the albums you made with Bloc Social gathering are organized in a means that basically provides every member their very own pedestal to play on. I am considering of a tune like “Banquet,” which begins with 4 bars of simply drums. Then the 2 guitars are available, they usually’re panned exhausting left and exhausting proper. Then it is one other 30 seconds or so earlier than the bass is available in, so it actually proclaims itself.

That method implies that at any time, you’ll be able to clearly discern who’s doing what, and even the drums get a variety of highlight moments. The tune “Like Consuming Glass” has this stuttery, actually distinctive drum half; regardless that there’s singing and melodic components taking place, the drums are successfully the hook.


It is humorous desirous about that tune now, as a result of I in all probability would not method it in the identical means. You recognize, you are in your early or mid-20s and also you’re simply full of those concepts. You suppose, effectively, you are solely going to get one likelihood to get all of them out — I will do as a lot as I can. However I’ve acquired to be completely sincere: Numerous that enjoying was knowledgeable by the truth that I am not significantly athletic. I all the time struggled with sports activities in school. And that drumming, I used to be all the time being requested to play quicker than I used to be ever comfy with.

I heard you had been a heavy smoker on the time.

Yeah, I used to smoke a pack a day again then. The truth is, the very first rehearsal I did with that band, I needed to cease between each tune, roll a cigarette and simply sit there smoking. And so a variety of that enjoying was knowledgeable by the truth that I would get actually drained — so I would attempt to change the components a bit, and write one thing that felt completely different and fewer intense. That is why the drum components form of evolve, or are so scattershot, all through that report. It is humorous considering how one’s means of being informs one’s sense of creativity.

One factor that units you aside out of your present bandmates is, you’ve got the bizarre privilege of getting come via a very completely different period of indie rock — a world I’d argue was slightly extra intense within the 2000s, no less than in the way it tended to create cliques and cults of persona. Listening to Shook, I think about one thing extra like a neighborhood barbecue, the place the person is much less prioritized. Your drumming will sneak right into a tune partway via, then drop out for some time and let other forms of percussion take over. Even Franklin, the ostensible frontman, would not learn because the “star” of this album, since he is continually handing the mic off to the visitor vocalists you introduced in. Each alternative appears to serve a collective best. Is {that a} consolation to you, having witnessed a few of the other ways a band will be?

Yeah, I feel it was actually essential to not likely foreground any of us. One factor that is been odd for me on this band is being amongst a gaggle of people that, for the very first time of their lives, had been starting to be taught what changing into enmeshed in a touring cycle was like. The longer we floor out dates, the extra I may see how exhausting it was for the remainder of the band to confront that there are circumstances throughout the music business that make it nearly not possible for community-forming to exist in an actual, tangible kind. And one thing I actually cherished from the start was this intent to achieve out and attempt to discover a neighborhood, to be open to assembly all method of various sorts of individuals on tour. … You see the way it runs via pop and hip-hop: Collaboration is beneficial and fertile and fascinating, however a variety of the time it is a technique. Right here, there was this actual intent to indicate that we are literally a part of a wider neighborhood.


This can be a bizarre query, however do you consider Algiers as a rock band? I do know that labels are limiting and the style factor can really feel like form of a lure, however I am curious if self-identifying that means does something for you.

I imply, there isn’t any easy reply. We have by no means lived in the identical metropolis, and even the identical nation, so we do not essentially carry that aura of a crew of people that hang around and eat and drink and reside in one another’s pockets. Going into this album cycle is about as ready as we have ever been: We have finished like a month and a half of stable rehearsals, which we have by no means finished earlier than. There are occasions that I’ve actually struggled with that, and it has been fairly exhausting to determine the place I match. However I feel there’s all the time been this hope that perhaps we may function in opposition to a few of the extra conventional methods of desirous about a band, and I feel finally the music displays that.

Has it modified the way you write your components? Do you permit extra adverse area round your self now?

I are usually much more restrained. It is no good me coming in there like I am 24, recording my first report, and simply doing each single factor I can consider — it is not gonna work, you understand? So I save all that vitality for the reside efficiency. And though I am beginning to really feel older in my physique, I wish to suppose that I am nonetheless able to figuring out one thing I can not in any other case talk in day-to-day life as soon as I am up there onstage.



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