Life of Art/Art of Life

March 2, 2017 |

Matos CA cover_webMark Matos
Lonesome Desert Records, 2017

Gorgeously soul-weary and deeply personal, this 9-track album features acoustic guitar and vocal-driven narratives of remembrance, connection and loss. The introspection is carried with gentle tension; there’s pain, delivered with acceptance.

Matos offers mythological motifs1 from ancient stories that are still universally applicable in modernity. He writes about addiction2 and death3. There’s a yearning beautifully balanced vocally with Buddhist temperament4. Matos’ lyrics bring magical realism5, and musings on rebellion6 that culminate in self-realization7 and wry reflections8.

Written between 2011 and 2015, and recorded at the end of 2015, Matos verifies the songs “are almost uncomfortably autobiographical. Maybe why I recorded them the way I did: lo-fi, by myself, sparse.

“I was alone with an 8-track recorder and a couple of guitars and would wake up and make coffee and start recording; 12 or 14 hours later I would fall asleep and then wake up and do it again. I didn’t see or talk to anyone during the recording, I was in a kind of fugue, in a parallel universe of my own design. Sitting in the kitchen of my youth, floating through my memories, a 40-year-old art lifer staring at the odd fitting pieces of his personal puzzle and slowly, methodically, trying to put the puzzle together, to see the picture.”

To craft these recordings solo, to do his own backing vocals and layer the sounds into a delicate aural tapestry is stirring. His mental/spiritual disposition and recording process created an emotionally affecting album that sonically lulls the listener into a contemplative, day-dream state. It echoes in our souls’ imaginations and individual experiences. We know who these people are. They are us, and our friends, as we collectively navigate life’s confusing intricacies.

Matos performs a free show on Sunday, March 5, 4 p.m., at Che’s Lounge, 350 N. 4th Ave. Visit for information on Matos and his current projects. Preview and purchase the album at

  1. There’s an oak tree up ahead/And it’s burning in the night/Adding fire to the darkness/And spirit to the fight – “Visions of You”
  2. Fire to glass, but it never lasts/That’s the bitch of it, just one more hit – “Fire to Glass”
  3. Behind you the gates are locking/Native son – “Season of Impermanence”
  4. You are the water, you are the fountain/You are the climber, you are the mountain/And we can ride/Side by side/Looking for a home where the light always shines – “California”
  5. You keep stones in your pocket/To protect you from this noise – “Little Wind”
  6. But he won’t be long for that farm/He’s a country boy with a hunter’s song – “Show Me a Gun”
  7. I’d like to get back to planting in the moonlight/Working on the house/Walk away from this Greenwich Time – “Had It All and Lost It”
  8. But the locks on the doors of your mind leave you nowhere to run – “Collateral Mind”
Mark Matos Photo by Basil Glew-Galloway

Mark Matos
Photo by Basil Glew-Galloway

Following is an edited Q&A with Matos, conducted over email.

Are the individual songs composites of experiences or do they reflect particular moments in time? Thinking about “Season of Impermanence” and “Fire to Glass.”

The answer is yes to both parts of the question. The songs are both composites and reflective of particular moments. “Season of Impermanence” deals with a particularly tough 2015: my longtime soundman (Kyle Lesley, who recorded Trans Van Santos’ “Moon Mirage”) passed away after a 2-year, fist-fight with cancer. My roommate ended up in San Quinton on a 2-year bid and another bandmate fell off the wagon and got caught between the Hell’s Angels and the SFPD and got 5 years out of it.

“Fire to Glass” was written on the same day as “Season…”  I returned to SF to play the Dia De Los Muertos memorial show for Kyle after he passed away and found my community in spiritual disarray. A couple members of the road crew and band were holed up, I was told, in a motel in the Tenderloin smoking crack. “Fire to Glass” is kind of my “Needle and the Damage Done” (Neil Young), my cautionary tale, my “try not to smoke crack because it sucks” song.

“Show Me a Gun” and “Had It All & Lost It” feel like different moments in time with the same character, are the songs related in that way? 

“Show Me A Gun” is the protagonist at the beginning of the journey, leaving home, venturing archaically into the future. Rejecting the hand he was dealt and becoming human. “Had it All & Lost It” is the protagonist at the “end” of the journey, looking back at the sacrifices made for a life of art and evaluating the consequences. The artist is considering a future where he sacrifices his “life of art” for a pastoral, solitary “Art of Life” approach.

Who brings the backing vocals? Other collaborators? 

All of the vocals and instruments were recorded by me. The album probably feels so personal, in part, because of this. I had never written and performed my own vocal harmonies before this album. I think the solitude of the recording process and the personal nature of the material opened a window for me where I felt liberated to experiment with singing my own parts. I think this ends up being a big part of the “feel” of the record. I had a lot of moments of spiritual liberation reaching for and hitting those harmonies. A real sense of discovery for me personally. 25 years into this music thing and I feel blessed to still be pushing at the edges of my capabilities, to still be capable of wonder and growth.

Tour? Other news? 

I gave up my room in the bay area last year and have been living a regional nomadic life for much of the past year. I had to “recalculate my course” and sacrifice stability for a while so that could keep writing, recording, connecting the dots, reaching for the magic. My tour never ends but it is the world’s Slowest Tour, I am feeling the turtle magic. I would like to go on tour sometime as a solo support act for someone I know and admire, someone like Sonny Smith or Howe (Gelb), something like that would appeal for the opportunity to keep learning from and stealing from those guys.

I am out in Joshua Tree in April to finish the new Trans Van Santos album with my running mate Matt Adams (The Blank Tapes, Burger Records). We are mixing with Nathan Sabatino at the new Loveland Studio location Joshua Tree (Saba moved the longtime Tucson studio to Joshua Tree last year.)  Then to LA after the Dead Meadow tour to finish the Old Mexico album (Old Mexico is a new project co-led by Jason Simon of Dead Meadow and myself, with members of both of our bands). In spring, I start a 6 month stint as Resident Artist in Grass Valley, CA. I am going to use the time and space for a large scale project called the “Anthology of the New, Weird West,” a post-modern, pre-flood, update of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music wherein I am cast as a Gonzo John Fahey/Harry Smith and my friends are cast as the folk singers for the future myth.