The Specific Heats:
The band that had the most impact at Indietracks 2009, to these eyes and ears at least, was The Specific Heats. Their set in the packed church was delayed when their reverb unit rebelled against the UK voltage and caught fire in protest, filling the stage with smoke. Once the offending unit was removed, the band, in matching capes, played a spectacularly energetic set of 60s garage-influenced indiepop, with guitarist/singer Mat’s leaps and keyboardist Marisa (ex-Besties) head shaking a particularly fine sight. The Specific Heats began in Boston as a development of a solo project by Matt Patalano, and are now Brooklyn-based. Mat has been the constant in the changing lineups of the Specific Heats since the band first appeared in 2004. They’ve released one album The Specific Heats Aboard A Space Ship of the Imagination (Total Gaylord Records, 2006) and the ‘Back Through Thyme’ EP in February 2009 (Total Gaylord Records/ Hugpatch), and have a further record Cursed on the stocks, waiting for release (so any labels offering…). Any band that can list as influences Herman’s Hermits and the 13th Floor Elevators as well as Judy & The Loadies is pretty cool in our books. We spoke to Mat Patalano in October 2009.
SXP: The band has been around since 2004. What’s the current line-up?
Mat: It’s myself on guitar and vocals, Keira Flynn-Carson on drums and occasional back ups, Marisa Bergquist on organ and vocals and Julie Kowalchick on bass.
SXP: You were known early on for dressing up in matching outfits which seems to have carried on; at Indietracks you all wore very fetching capes. Why do you go to that trouble?
Mat: I just think it's something fun that I appreciated about bands in the 60s really. I like the idea that a band is a team - a united force. Most of my favorite bands (especially as a teenager) were amazing bands in their own right but also had some sort of gimmick or theme that added to the overall performance. (the "contemporary" bands I'm referring to are Man...or Astro-Man?, Servotron, the Mummies, the Phantom Surfers). I also like the idea of assuming an identity and something like a cape is not only kind of insane looking but it really helps me to assume a particular role. We are there for the audience - we're there to perform as well as to share.
SXP: Your dad was in a 60s band The Lovin’ Kynd. What was their influence on the Specific Heats? And was dad’s experience of the music biz a good or bad one?
Mat: When I first heard the Lovin' Kynd as a kid, (he played drums, sang back up and sang lead on the songs he wrote), I was already into The Beatles, The Monkees and a lot of that sort of stuff. I think it really showed me that I could do it.
It just happened that it had a sound and style to it that I was already drawn to in the first place. And my dad was in a band again in the 80s when I was a kid and I loved being allowed to skip church to stay home and play on his drums which were set up in our basement together or to go with him to his band practices and do my homework there.
Unfortunately, they hired a PR guy to shop around, gave him most of their limited promotion runs of records and he basically took their money, their records, told them something like "oh Columbia might be interested..." and then took off with it all. And so the band disbanded and my dad (a high school drop-out) went into the service. One thing I really want to do is a split 7" with the Specific Heats and some original Lovin' Kynd recordings - I only have 2 of their songs but they had a couple of singles and an EP. I hope I can reissue (or issue) it all someday, but we've had no luck tracking down the other recordings.
SXP: The first album ‘The Specific Heats Aboard A Spaceship of the Imagination' was apparently inspired by Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos'. What is it about space and Sagan that inspired you?
Mat: I've always been into space and science (hence the name of the band). The thing I admire about Dr. Sagan and Cosmos is his passion and way of presenting science in a wondrous way. People tend to think that breaking the universe, people, nature down into scientific & mathematical components/facts strips it of its beauty or wonder, but he believed it just made it all the more awesome and magical. So it was that sentiment more than just space itself - which to me does represent a place of great mysteries and events and possibilities that we can only just barely poke at.
SXP: That album is indiepop but has a more melancholy feel than you might have expected if you’re a late convert to the Specific Heats. Is that fair, and was that a reflection of the mood of the Heats at that time?
Mat: From the beginning, most of our songs I think have been myself trying to stay positive and daydream about good things while in less than ideal situations. There's always been a lot of pining & longing in Specific Heats songs. Which is not something that if I heard about a band would make me want to listen to them, ha ha. You should have heard my solo stuff! Plus, my favorite type of music for the past 10 years or so has been moody mid-60s American garage. Minor-keyed melancholy songs with great melodies even if played or written on quite an amateur level, not the snotty, affected, aggressive, tighter garage-rock that generally resurfaces and is generally associated with the time.
SXP: Your 'Back Through Thyme' EP is a mix of that earlier sound and surf-rock/ garage-pop. Did you intend that to be a transition between the more indie sound and the garage sound?
Mat: Yes, the EP took forever to finish because the recordings kept getting lost and delayed due to hard drives crashing, having my computer stolen and other factors, but I didn't want to abandon it because I felt it was a necessary bridge from the Specific Heats of 2005 (‘Aboard…’) and the Heats of "today" even though by now the Heats are different from that EP.
SXP: You were originally based in Boston and, after the first album, relocated to Brooklyn. Has that geographical shift changed the Specific Heats in other ways?
Mat: In Boston we played about 2-4 shows a month and practiced once or twice a week, now we're lucky if we can all get together once every 2 months. We loved Keira so much (who joined right before the summer I moved to New York), that we decided to make it work long distance. But also the move to NY sparked a lot of changes in my life which is reflected in the songwriting. I went from a routine with a lot of things established in my life into a lot of chaos and depressing scenarios quite frankly and kind of lost a lot of what I had and had to re-build almost my entire life. That and being totally broke really put a hold on getting records out.
SXP: If Brooklyn was ever removed en masse from Earth by aliens, we'd probably lose about 90% of the bands we listen to. Do you get the feeling, as residents, of it being a particularly vibrant and productive scene?
Mat: I do. It's a great community. When I moved here, I gravitated towards certain people, and now in the past 3 years I've watched all of their existing bands grow or have watched them form new bands and do really well. I think we're definitely a part of the Brooklyn scene with our friends (German Measles, cause co-motion!, Crystal Stilts, Knight School, Vivian Girls, etc... and also The Besties/My Teenage Stride - more pop scene) but not as fully since we play so infrequently and a lot of people get the wrong idea about us and think we're a twee band just because I wrote a couple of simple optimistic songs and we couldn't really play our instruments all back in 2004. I mean, we're just not on the same scope here in Brooklyn. Most of our friends’ bands play a few shows each week here...
SXP: According to your site, you’re a member of three bands as well as the Specific Heats (including the magnificently named Theee Doane-Givvaschittz). Where do you find the time? And are the others similarly involved in bands outside the Heats?
Mat: We need to update the website. I USED to be in Thee Doane-Givvaschittz (a garage punk band with my friend Leah), The Lil' Hospital (with Kevin from Knight School & Frank from the Besties) and I played bass in My Teenage Stride. Part of why so little happened with the Heats was because I was spreading myself way too thin, but it's hard to say "no" when your friends' bands that you already like ask. I also used to just work at a record store, now I have an 8:30 - 5:30 job. Now I distract myself with recording...
Marisa has The Besties, who will sadly be playing their last show in December and Julie had her own band the Vesties (if you can believe the coincidence of similar names!) that ended before she joined the Heats (but now she's back in school full time). Marisa is a song-writing force and her own tastes are a lot different from mine, so she will without a doubt be starting a new project for her songs, and I have no doubt that it will be great so keep your ears and eyes open!
SXP: On your Myspace page you're firm about playing smoke-free environments. I suppose you won't be unhappy if New York bans smoking everywhere! But is there a particular reason for avoiding such venues?
Mat: First of all, I think smoking is terrible and I can't believe it's even still legal anywhere in the civilized world. Part of why I ended up falling into the DIY scene (I used to play in hardcore bands in college) was because it didn't seem fair that people had to go and get poisoned just to see a band they loved. The Boston club scene was terrible back in 2000, totally not intimate and had very little to do with the music. So I started putting on DIY basement shows (and also asked people not to drink at those and there were out of control still, but, if and when the cops ever came by, no one was actually doing anything destructive or illegal.)
And I still don't think it's fair to ask anyone to sacrifice their health. But now I have also developed a strong allergy to it (caused mostly by my grandmother and relatives smoking around me so much as a child) and asthma that just makes it physically miserable for as well. They've both gotten a lot worse in the past few years than it was growing up. I love people and I want everyone I love to live long and healthy lives. [The fact that] we only play smoke-free shows will definitely keeps up from entering a broader scene, but we get to keep our integrity.
SXP: The note enclosed with your EP promises a new album Cursed. What progress is there on recording and releasing the record? And does it have more of the garage-pop sound?
Mat: CURSED! is going to be 13 tracks. All that's left are some tweeks to a couple of mixes and Marisa's overdubs on 4 of the tracks and then for those to be mixed (we plan on doing this in November) and the album will be done! It was originally intended to have more a dark and psychedelic feel to it, but I also kept writing pop songs and those were easier to finish - the straightforward songs. So yeah, it's definitely a mix. I tend to take on very overwhelming arrangements and then want to make sure the lyrics can live up to the music, which leaves my/our most ambitious work unfinished.
SXP: Finally, what's next for the Specific Heats? And following your great summer shows, when are you next back in the UK?
Mat: We've already been invited back to Indietracks for next summer so hopefully we'll have an even bigger euro tour summer 2010! We also already have a batch of songs started and set aside for another full length, which we're calling "Birthright" at this stage, which will have more psychedelic, mid-60s folk-rock renaissance bits to it while still remaining a Specific Heats record. I like to think of it as our "SMILE"...