The Cat’s Wild Ride: an Interview with Matthew Larkin Cassell

Matthew Larkin Cassell is a Californian musician who released one LP, one EP and one 7” single between 1977 and 1980, all as private vinyl pressings in very small quantities. The records fell into obscurity for many years, until they were unearthed in recent years by avid crate-diggers to become extremely sought-after collectors’ items that can fetch over $1700 per copy. Cassell’s music was soon discovered by hip-hop producers, and was notably sampled by People Under the Stairs on “You” (2006) and Madvillain on “3.214” (2008). The respected Stones Throw label, home to Madvillain, is putting out an anthology this week that includes all of Cassell’s rare releases, making his music available to the masses for the first time (i.e. the masses that can’t pay thousands of dollars for an original copy or tens of dollars for rare imported Japanese CD’s).

On the eve of the release of “Matthew Larkin Cassell – The Complete Works”, we got Matthew to tell us about his music and how it feels to discover you’ve been sampled.

WhoSampled: How would you describe your music?

MLC: I’ve been trying to answer that question accurately for years. Basically it’s pop, with infusions of rock, jazz, funk, soul, and something ethereal. Ironically, I’m grateful it’s not an easy question for me to answer.

Tell us about those original, vinyl-only private pressings. How were they recorded? Who did you record them with?

I write and produce my records. We tracked ‘Pieces’, (LP ’77) the basics in one session – I’m on Rhodes/grand piano, with pros Jimmy Hobson on drums, and Gary Arluck/bass at a 16-track in San Jose, California. I performed all the overdubs, vocals and guitar, and the final mix, with a great engineer, Harn Soper, in his smaller studio in Palo Alto. George Horn in San Francisco did the Mastering and lacquer.

On ‘Matt The Cat’ (12” EP ’78) I added (7) sidemen/women (cello, trumpet/sax, 2 back vocals, a 2nd guitar, conga). The Cat was tracked at a state-of-the-art studio, the Music Annex, Menlo Park, Ca. using the same basics combo of Hobson and Arluck, engineered by Soper again, and Mastered by Kendun in SoCal. The 7” 45 (’80) was recorded on an obsolete format; a half-inch 8-track Teac, in a garage studio in Oakland. We recorded using the house drums/ Hobson, and spinet piano (I used the Rhodes, too) with another pro, Mike Olivola, on bass. The owner, Wilson Dyer, was at the controls, and I didn’t master it… and funny, ‘cause the pressing, at least for me, is huge and it kicks ass.

In 2008 I released a single-sided, 2-song 12” EP with Hobson/drums, with Jack Sayers on stand up bass, recorded at Marinwest studio in San Anselmo, Ca., mastered and lacquered again by George Horn, who’s now at Fantasy in Berkeley.

Why were those releases limited to private pressings? Did you seek a record deal back in the day?

Of course the industry environment was a bit different then, but sure, I wanted a deal, but it came to a point where I just didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to capture what I had and get it down on wax.

Your original releases have become extremely sought-after, rare collectors’ items that fetch hundreds and even thousands of dollars per copy. How many copies were pressed of “Pieces”, “Matt the Cat” and “Love To Love / When I Go Down”? Do you think all copies still exist?

For Pieces I pressed 500, the Cat and the 7” 300 each, and the latest EP 100. I’ve heard reports of Pieces and Cat copies turning up in some exotic locations: a flea market outside of Mexico City, in rural France, the local dump in Santa Cruz, an abandoned storage locker in Ohio, and your typical 50 cent bin in places like Arizona…

Have you been writing music continuously since the 1970’s, even as a hobby?

Yes, I’m always composing. In ‘84 I had a jazz trio working with some very swing cats here in the Bay Area – gigging for many years, but I wasn’t performing much original material.

When did you first find out that your music was sampled by contemporary hip-hop artists? What did it feel like?

I first heard an mp3… Madlib and MF Doom’s ‘3.214’ a few years ago and I was floored. I thought it was way cool (still do) but they hadn’t cleared the sample with me (we’re cool now) so I did have a very curious mix of emotions, and remarkably I had the exact experience with the PUTS sample shortly thereafter, with the same amicable result. I can tell you one thing, it’s definitely a trip to be blindsided by a hip-hop re-take of your material.

What do you think of sampling as a creative artform?

There’s creative energy involved in editing, that’s certainly an art form. Definitions, applications change and broaden…in the end, as long as you’re putting something down, who cares what other people think.

What role did the Internet play in getting exposure for your original records?

First of all, there are some cats who found my vinyl, then through the digital medium, pushed my sound, some are now my good friends like Kon & Amir, cat named Wermser and dudes like Herm in Arizona, bsides, so the Internet is huge in my case, and a paradox. From an analog world, my music is reaching out so far. And, the Internet has helped me connect some of the dots, and retrace how my music was passed along, and blogs, forums… it’s such a wild chain of events. This interview is a great example.

What can we expect to hear from you in the future? Would you like to collaborate with hip-hop producers? Will your future releases be on a label (such as Stones Throw) or just private pressings?

I’m very pleased with the way Stones Throw has treated me – the releases are fantastic, I hope to do more with ST in the future, and given my history, another private press is always a possibility. And working with other artists or producers – yes… most certainly, my voice, keys, songs, samples – whatever. I always have some new ideas cookin’, so we’ll see. I’m up for it.

“Matthew Larkin Cassell – The Complete Works” is now available on Stones Throw in 2xLP vinyl, CD and digital download.

Click here to buy from Amazon.

2 comments on “The Cat’s Wild Ride: an Interview with Matthew Larkin Cassell

  1. DJ Anubis
    May 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm #

    Just noticed the interview on Youtube with TechfluffTV, great stuff… Might be fun to feature this on the blog too?

  2. The So-So Gatsby
    May 26, 2010 at 3:41 am #

    Dude is underrated!

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