Thanksgiving comes early
And Jonah Matranga’s new band, Gratitude, is not taking back any day of the week
The word popped into Jonah Matranga’s head while walking down a city street to a video store. Gratitude, he recalled thinking—that might make a good name for a band. So, when he got home, he checked the Ultimate Band List site. “There was some hippie band called Gratidude,” he said, laughing. But Gratitude was ripe for the taking.
The band is relatively new, with Sacramento native Matranga on vocals and acoustic guitar, along with Mark Weinberg, a veteran of San Francisco band Crumb, and Jeremy Tappero, who’s played with Matranga on past projects, on electric guitars; Robert Lindsey on bass; and Dave Jarnstrom, an old buddy of Tappero’s from their native Minnesota, on drums. “Three guys from San Francisco and two from Minneapolis,” Matranga said.
The result of their congress, the self-titled debut of Gratitude, will be released by Velvethammer Music/Atlantic Records next February. It was recorded this past year with producer/engineer Jim Scott, who has worked on a lot of records with producer Rick Rubin, like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers. According to Matranga, Scott was perfect for the project. “He was really into, not an understated performance, but certainly not an overwrought performance,” Matranga said. “He really kinda wanted me to just shut up and sing.”
Ergo, Gratitude, cut in Hollywood at Cello Studios—where the Beach Boys’ 1966 classic Pet Sounds was recorded—is a straightforward modern-rock long player, in the way that Matranga’s earlier work, both with Far and as the extended solo project Onelinedrawing, is not. The record’s 12 songs evince the kind of streamlined focus that coalesced when Matranga and Weinberg teamed up to write three songs for fun—“Sadie,” “Drive Away” and “If Ever”—at the beginning of 2003, and the result surprised and excited the duo enough to build a band around these new songs. As Matranga put it, “The assignment for this band has been to really let go of, like, needing it to be a certain level of clever, or idiosyncratic,” he explained. “And just sing—you know, really sing the melody, and try to adhere to that as a creative and fun discipline.”
Matranga and Crumb recorded the three songs and presented the demo to Jason Bernard, an A&R man who played the songs for Velvethammer, the company that manages Deftones and has a custom-label deal with Atlantic. But Matranga, who already paid his dues with Far, wasn’t too excited about starting over at square one. “I told them, I’m not going to get in a van and go take it to the streets and prove it to the label that we’ve got what it takes,” he said. “I said, Look, if these songs are as special as I think they are, then they’re gonna stand on their own.” Upon listening to the CD, it’s apparent that Matranga possessed enough chips to back up his gambit.
As the voice of Far, Matranga made an indelible mark on the local music scene. Far, a local quartet active through the 1990s, released one album on local label Rusty Nail and two on Immortal/Epic; the second, 1998’s Water and Solutions, was recently re-released with a bonus DVD. After Far’s demise, Matranga moved to the Bay Area—he currently resides in San Francisco’s Sunset district, just south of Golden Gate Park—and began releasing solo projects as Onelinedrawing through the Delaware-based indie label Jade Tree.
Matranga recently dropped the Onelinedrawing moniker, however. “For the first time in my life, I had the experience of a musical-entity name becoming too associated with a specific scene or genre,” he explained. And what would that genre be? “That would be McEmo,” he said.
Not that emo is a bad thing; it’s just that Matranga’s already been there and done that. So, for anyone with a phobia for bands whose name includes a day of the week, Gratitude’s music won’t put you off, even in its formative stages. “We’re sort of still becoming a band, in a strange way,” Matranga admitted. In fact, the band is so early in its evolution that its first full public gig will be at the Boardwalk this Tuesday.