From The Santa Barbara Independent, August 21, 2003.
Music for the Intermission
The Curtain Opens on International Pop Label Matinée Recordings
by Sean Mageean
A three-man band from Melbourne, Australia, brought a much-anticipated night of live, stripped-back indie-pop to Goleta’s Mercury Lounge a couple of Saturdays ago. These purveyors of introspective poetic pop were The Lucksmiths, featuring the charismatic Tali White on vocals, standing up, and playing the barest bones of a drum kit. He was flanked by Marty Donald on lightly-strummed guitar and Mark Monnone on solid bass, both providing background vocals. Melodic, soft pop, folkish crooners (older music fans might imagine Peter Paul and Mary meets The Kinks), The Lucksmiths have opened for such artists as Morrissey, Belle and Sebastian, and The Go-Betweens. Two weeks ago they brought fans from L.A. and San Luis Obispo to Goleta, played their hearts out to a packed house, and were the talk of the town in the days beforehand and in the weeks to follow.
The Lucksmiths fit perfectly into the indie-pop niche carved out by their Santa Barbara-based record company, Matinée, a six-year-old label that settled into town last September when founder and entrepreneurial force Jimmy Tassos moved here from Washington, D.C. Not a typical Santa Barbara music business, Tassos runs a sizable “stable” of artists, having worked with 28 bands from seven different countries over the past six years, releasing 70 records. The label specializes in the modish indie/folk/pop genre made famous by legendary English labels Sarah and Creation Records and by U.S. counterparts K Records and Slumberland. The sound is British in flavor, influenced most heavily by Tassos’s favorite band The Smiths, along with equally cultish Brit-groups The La’s, The Sundays, The Housemartins, Belle and Sebastian, and Orange Juice. Combined, their legacy has created the rough blueprint for the Matinée label. This is the “quiet is the new loud” neo-Merseybeat, crafted of mellow melodies and introspective lyrics, with a self-conscious innocence in the face of rock’s strident themes: sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of Matinée’s artists are British, although several Aussie bands, and one band apiece from Sweden, Brazil, and France, have inked deals with Tassos – and just three groups from the United States. The Fairways, a San Francisco-based band, are the only California act to have dealings with Tassos. Currently, he receives many more demos from overseas than from North American bands for the simple reason that indie-pop has never enjoyed so much popularity in the U.S. as it has in England, Europe, Japan, and Australia.
The Lucksmiths are Matinée’s most accessible and successful band, and boast perhaps the nearest thing to the label’s signature sound. They embody the melodic tune-smithing and guitar chording influences of The Easybeats, The Jam, The Smiths, and The La’s. Dressed in casual Mod attire and jamming with lo-fi élan, The popular band drew on fans spread all over the Central Coast, from San Luis Obispo to Simi Valley, all clearly stoked at the antipodean band’s presence at the intimate Mercury Lounge. Touring in support of their recent Matinée CD release – Where Were We? – they boasted witty, catchy, pastoral songs played with sincerity by musicians possessed of humor and humanity. Their forthcoming mini-album A Little Distraction will be released next month.
London, Stockholm, Madrid, Washington D.C., New York, and San Francisco all have vibrant indie-pop scenes. For Jimmy Tassos, it’s time to put Santa Barbara on the map by encouraging a local scene, and by bringing more Matinée events here. Releases by Matinée Recordings can be found locally at Buffalo Records and Just Play Music, and Tassos has worked out arrangements with several of Santa Barbara’s more bohemian locales to feature Matinée bands together with cool bands from other labels. July 9 saw the London-based pop duo, Matinée’s Pipas – as well as two other indie-pop bands, Evening Lights, and The Frenchmen, bring the freedom of indie-pop choice to Café JoJo, while the Mercury Lounge hosted The Lucksmiths and The Flower Machine on August 9.
Matinée Recordings has just released Matinée 50 – in celebration of the production of their 50th single (not to mention scores of albums) – featuring 20 cover versions of Matinée artists’ songs covered by other bands on the same label. Pipas and The Lucksmiths join other Matinee bands with names like Kosmonaut, The Liberty Ship, Simpatico, Pale Sunday, Harper Lee, Airport Girl, The Snowdrops, The Visitors, Lovejoy, The Pines, The Windmills, Would-Be-Goods, Slipslide, Sportique, The Guild League, Melodie Group, and Gregory Webster on this showcase.
Tassos has also been busy this summer bringing international acts to the West Coast for extended L.A./S.B./S.F./Portland/Seattle tours. Several Matinée artists were featured at this year’s San Francisco “Pop Holiday Festival” – a four-day event which ran July 10-14 and featured 30 bands. The Festival was a smashing success, drawing indie lovers from as far away as the U.K., Sweden and Japan. Jimmy would love to stage a similar event in Santa Barbara, if a suitable venue could be located, and if international pop aficionados were willing to trek to S.B. to make the scene. Meanwhile, he’s making the rounds to London, Paris, Madrid, and Stockholm, conferring with artists who are part of Matinée Recordings’ coterie, and always searching for new bands to sign. Matinée Recordings will release 20 new albums (on vinyl and CD) this year – and the release schedule is booked up for the next 12 months – but Jimmy Tassos is open to receiving demos by any fledgling indie-pop bands, especially those in Santa Barbara.