by Andy Gesner, Pete Konczal,
and Jennifer Doktorski

MTV's Matt Pinfield recently sat down with New Brunswick Underground to wax poetic and nostalgic about New Brunswick's long history as a music city. Known to the nation as the host of the popular Sunday-night show 120 Minutes, around the HUB city, Pinfield is still "Matt." And so, one Sunday night in May with the tape rolling and the sake flowing freely at Sapporo on George Street Pinfield unlocked the filing cabinet of rock and roll anecdotes and memories he keeps below the surface of his unmistakable smooth head. In a gravelly voice that sounds as if it's been finely tuned with Jack Daniels and unfiltered cigarettes, Pinfield talked about everything from his days with the popular local cover band Opium Vala to hanging out with U2 in Brazil.

Who else but Pinfield would get a call from an apologetic Bono explaining that he was too indisposed to go out with Pinfield, the Edge and Adam Clayton? "I had a great time with U2 in South America. I went down there to do some interviews for MTV Brazil," Pinfield said. "I flew out to the site in this fucking crazy helicopter I thought I was going to fall out of and Bono greeted me there. We started talking about shit and rapped out."

Unfortunately, Bono and Pinfield didn't get to chat much more than that during the visit. "Bono called me, he couldn't do the interview part. We hung at the show but we all got sick. We all got dysentery. We all got the shits, like beyond belief. Me, him and Bill Flanagan from VH1. So, I'm flying back in the plane and I call the voice mail and it's like Matt it's Bono, the fucking stage was hot man, especially for an Irishman. I wanted to come down and hang with you afterwards but I was so sick, I was sitting in my..." (No need to go there Bono). Adam and the Edge told me they had the fucking greatest time with you man. I can't wait till I get to hang with you in America.'"

Before Pinfield began hanging out with the likes of Bono and the Edge -- before he was "MTV's Matt Pinfield" -- he was New Brunswick's. Pinfield began honing his interviewing skills on college radio stations at Rutgers and Princeton when he was just 16. Of course, his foray into the medium began even sooner -- at age nine -- when he launched his own pirate radio station from his basement. (By age 13 he had a spot on the AM dial.) For 10 years, Pinfield spun tunes at the Melody on French Street, exposing people to that new thing called alternative rock and helping to build the club's cutting-edge reputation. The best part about Pinfield is, through it all, when you ask him where he came from, he's not ashamed to tell you. "Of course I didn't deny it," he told NBU. "I put it in the nation's face."

NBU: This is your home and you don't deny that this is your home. Because you know there's a big New Jersey denial thing going down. People deny they're from New Jersey. Remember Crossfire Choir? Remember they were from New Brunswick but the minute they got signed to Geffen all of a sudden they were a New York band. Remember that?

MATT: You know, I've never denied being from New Brunswick, or Jersey, because I'm proud of this area. New Brunswick is such a goddamned melting pot of cool people.

People neglect to realize that some of the most talented writers, actors and musicians and creative producers all come from and reside in New Jersey. This is a really interesting state of people and New Brunswick has always had such a great vibe, obviously. Although I'm not necessarily completely fond of all the rebuilding in this town. I think it sucked some of the spirit out of some of the areas, that bothers me. Other the other hand, New Brunswick is still great because you still have the University, you still have the bands, you still have the creative people and you still have the Budapest, the Court, and the Melody to play in which keeps it fucking great. You know what I mean? And that's the real thing. I love New Brunswick, because New Brunswick is my history man.

It's not even just my history, it's still my present because I always find myself coming back to it, you know? I've gone and sang at four or five of Keith Hartel's acoustic Wednesday nights at the Court and had some of the greatest nights. It was just me and him doing, like, Bowie and Alice and Chains songs and bustin' in to like, you know, Oasis "B" sides, just fucking around having a good time. Plus there's the Melody, which I love.

Those around the HUB city who know Pinfield (and there's hardly a person who does not at least know "of" him), know that Pinfield's own history is intertwined with the history of the area's music scene on the whole.

Ever since his college radio days, New Brunswick musicians and music lovers alike have benefited from Pinfield's unabashed passion for rock and roll. Pinfield always got the local bands on his Rutgers and Princeton radio shows, making him a popular radio personality.

At the Melody, Pinfield began spinning bands like Nine Inch Nails and Nirvana before people knew who those bands were and in 1984, Pinfield became a DJ at the "new" alternative rock station WHTG in Eatontown. During a decade-long stint there, Pinfield eventually became music director and turned the small station into one of the most prominent alternative music radio stations in the country. At the 1992-93 Gavin Convention, Pinfield won the award for Best Music Director for Alternative Music Radio.

In 1993, Pinfield was asked to guest co-host 120 Minutes with Depeche Mode in 1993. Two years later, in 1995, he became manager of music programming and helped select video programming for MTV. The station became increasingly impressed with Pinfield's true love for music. Making him the new host of "120 Minutes" seemed like the logical next step.

NBU: Let's talk about the love you brought to New Brunswick.

MATT: The thing is, I always believe in giving back, reciprocating, and bringing things full circle because I think it can only help everybody. I despise people who come out of a scene, and are raised up and get their support from people in a scene and all of a sudden they pretend they're someone they're not. I think that's complete bullshit, you know what I mean? And 90 percent of the time it comes back and bites them on the ass and if it doesn't? Well, you know, whatever. Somewhere, there's a karma.

NBU: Talk a little bit about when you sang in Opium Vala. (Matt was the lead singer of the popular cover band in the late 1980s early 1990s. The band always featured an all-star cast.)

MATT: Opium Vala days were great, I had so much fun. Back then I knew I had to make a decision. Either message or messenger, and I knew I had to be the messenger. The reality of it was, you know what, I loved what I did there, but I loved listening to and playing the records even more than trying to see myself as a serious singer or songwriter. Opium was kind of a rotating showcase for guys in Rockin' Bricks, Null Set, Spiral Jetty, The Blases, and all these cool bands. Opium Vala was basically my forum, my outlet to literally cover over 300 of my favorite songs ever written.

I brought 120 Minutes here before we moved into our last studio. I knew that the studio was going black, nothing was being shot in there, and they were looking for a location to shoot 120. I said "Why don't we do it at the Melody? I spent like over 10 years there spinning records. Give some people a sense of my history and let me bring something back to the town."

MTV said "let's check the budgets." They were like "cool, we've got the budget this year. Let's do it." That shit's expensive, believe it or not. People think it's cheap, man, taking a crew out, it always costs money.

It was the hottest night of the year. It was 125 degrees in the bar. I remember going to rock shows and punk shows when it was the hottest night of the summer and walking in and your clothing was completely saturated. It was like walking into a shower or a warm rain storm. And that's what it felt like in the Melody that night. We had a great time. I was actually proud and happy to bring it back there.

NBU: What about advice to baby bands, bands starting out. Especially New Brunswick bands?

MATT The main thing is, man, don't get discouraged. It's hard. Everybody is going to tell you that you can't fucking do it. Your parents, your girlfriends, your boyfriends, your employers. Your co-workers aren't going to believe that you can play. You're gonna get turned down for gigs, you're gonna do gigs and not get paid, you know? But just believe in your songs and do it. Just keep fucking plugging away. That's what I did. I never stopped trying. I was knocked on my ass so many times. I've had doors slammed in my face, you know what I mean? It's just a figure of speech. I don't remember anybody really ever slamming a door in my face. Same thing. We've all been through that. You just got to keep believing in yourself. Don't stop until you're dead. Don't stop until you have to. Have a good fucking time and do it for the right reasons. Even if you do get signed, don't think it's all gonna be rosey. Learn from the history of New Brunswick bands like Crossfire Choir. They got signed to Geffen and they got dropped before the album even came out. It was a hard road from there on in. Be true to yourself, be true to your friends, be true to you fans, do what you gotta do and don't give up.

NBU: Can we just run down quickly what's happening right now?

MATT: I just signed a six CD deal with TVT Records to put out six compilations called Pinfield's Picks that are going to go out all over the place from American hard core/punk rock, ska and reggae together, a UK punk comp, there's going to be a "sixties psychedelia and garage you should know about" compilation. I'm gonna be doing six really cool CDs... I'm going to do a couple of small roles in some movies that are coming out... and I don't want to mention the name of the band yet because the deal isn't final but I'm going to co-author a book with a major band. I'm exploring a lot of different areas right now. To me, I love music and any way that I can express or put forth my feelings on music. That's worth doing, it's an exercise in baring your soul. It's a cool fucking thing and I'm having a great time.

NBU: Are there any bands out there people haven't heard about that you've heard that you think might be extraordinary?

MATT: I love The Promise Ring right now, I'm a really big fan of the band. I'm waiting to see how the rest of the record grows on me, but I like the Harvey Danger record a lot, I really dig that. I was a big fan of a band that recently broke up who were around for quite a few years called Failure. Their last record is one of the greatest records released in the last few years...Unfortunately, the band broke up due to major label turmoil and they ended up victims in it. They didn't get the support they deserved for what I thought was one of the strongest concept albums I've heard in the last five or six years.

NBU: How was it hanging out with U2 in Brazil?

MATT: I had a great time with U2 in South America, I went down there to do some interviews for MTV Brazil. It was pretty intense... Larry Mullen came up to me and said. "I gotta shake your hand man, I basically gave up on MTV and TV in general and I saw you doing MTV and I love what you're doing. You inspire guys like us man, because you give so much of yourself and you're keeping shit real."

It was kind of funny. I was talking about relationships with the Edge and Adam Clayton. Heartbreaks and shit, it was crazy. It was a great time, they're just real people. I did this great interview with Adam Clayton and the Edge, I talked about every U2 album in chronological order, and B sides and weird stuff. I was really proud of it.

NBU: It seems to me that people flock toward you because they feel that you're real, in a world where there are a lot of things that aren't really real. If you're the last bastion of musical and personal integrity in the music business then what does that have to say about the music business?

MATT: That's a very scary and frightening thought because I don't want to be known as the last bastion. I hope that if anything else I'll influence some other people to have some integrity and to keep their stuff real. It's a compliment in a sense but it's also a very scary label to have. It's a situation where, yes, I am real, yes, I love what I do, and yes, I never expected to be on TV interviewing bands from the past and future. I used to say to myself, you're really good at what you do and you're not a phony. And I used to say, well, if I'm not phony enough, well then, maybe I'll never make it. But anyway it happened. That's the wrong word to use. I don't believe in the phrase "make it" because I don't believe I've made anything. I'm living.

For me success is doing what you love. Being able to wake up in the morning and do what I love to do, I consider myself one of the luckiest people in the universe. I never take it for granted. Every day I remember that anything can end or change any day. I keep it in a very real perspective, which is unlike many people. I think it's the only way to be.

As far as the last bastion question. I know that there's other young people out there, they've just got to break through. I'm hoping that I'm a major influence for the industry and other people. I know one of the biggest surprises to me was to learn that I'm batting one of the highest approval ratings in the history of the channel. That blew my fucking mind because obviously it probably took longest for them to decide to put me on the air after 1993. Here it was 1995. I think it comes down to anything that isn't necessarily the norm, it takes people the longest time to digest but it actually has the longest staying power.

Matt Pinfield can be seen on MTV's 120 Minutes on Sunday nights from midnight to 2 A.M.

This interview was originally published in Issue #2 of the NBUnderground 'zine, in June 1998.

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