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
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
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
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
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.