Matt Ferguson Of Goldtooth Talks Albany Area Hip Hop
GOLDTOOTH is one of Albany’s best emerging bands, a can’t-miss live ensemble whose rich soundscapes and propulsive rhythms provide the perfect backbone for Emcee Sev Statik’s energetic delivery and killer rhymes. I was able to catch up with Matt Ferguson, one of my personal 518 music heroes who rips guitar and plays synthesizers. He has played everything from hardcore to folk-tinged rock to electro-punk. Here are his thoughts on everything from the local hip-hop scene to Jay-Z to a certain local rapper’s empty threat to perform without pants.
DL: What are some of the distinctive elements of Albany’s hip-hop scene? Is it a pretty tight-knit crew?
MF: Yeah, definitely, it can actually be really overwhelming at times because, even though I knew a lot of people in the local scene going into GOLDTOOTH, it had mostly been in the context of the local scene in general, not specific to hip-hop. Old bands of mine had played with all sorts of genres, and I knew some key figures, but I'd never really gone to an ALL hip-hop show. I had to step up my game. I was so used to knowing everyone in the room at a show, but suddenly there were hundreds of names to remember. And everyone's treating you like family cause you're rocking with Sev and he's like The Godfather of 518 hip-hop or something.
But it's so cool cause there's a lot of talent in this area and I think it tends to get looked over by our local press. And I'm not saying that because I play in a hip-hop band now.
We've got an insane amount of talented emcee's, producers and DJ's in this area and I didn't really have a feel for how much was flying under my radar until GOLDTOOTH started up. I think it deserves more attention, but the beauty of it is these guys are all doing it because they love the music and the culture whether anyone is paying attention or not. That's true art. They've built their own scene from the ground up and that's pretty impressive.
DL: When you compose the music for GOLDTOOTH, do you do you ever do so with Sev's stylistic sensibilities and flow in mind, or does he sort of organically come up with rhymes that tend to fit the production particularly well?
MF: I'm going to get this out of the way right up front: 95% of the songs Goldtooth has been performing live over the last year were songs that Sev had in his back catalog. He's put out a number of albums in which he worked with a producer who created the beats and then he writes his lyrics over them. He's worked with some phenomenal producers over the years, many of them regional, and I gotta give the credit to those guys (Vinylcologist, Raw Threat, DJ Tone, PJ Katz, Dust, check 'em out!). We started off learning them so we could work on building chemistry as a band.
It actually takes a lot of effort to transform some of these beats into something that translates well in our live, rock-band-type setup. We’re trying to keep the essence of a song that might be entirely built out of samples or cut and edited in a way that's not easily recreated live. After a while those songs kind of took on a new life and we just decided to start playing out with them.
We're currently working on a ton of fresh material, but we're all super busy people: families, work, other music ventures, so our schedules line up very infrequently, but when they do things come together nicely. The stuff we've been working on lately is a little scatter-shot as far as our approach. We've been working on ideas that I'll come up with at home, or songs that come out of very focused jam sessions. Our latest song was just kind of a random epiphany that sprung out of something I was warming up with at practice. Sometimes Sean, Dan and I will work on something and then record it and show it to Sev and he'll work on it at home, but usually he hangs out and kind of curates our ideas. Things like "oh no, that riff - that one should be the hook, not the other one,"or "keep that, but make it longer". He'll try stuff out away from the mic until he starts getting a starting point and then he goes from there. Most of the refined lyrics get worked out on his own time, but he usually has a spark for an idea while we're all in the same room.
DL: Your rhythm section is absolutely killer live. What's it been like to play shows with those guys?
MF: Sean and Dan kill me. It kills me to play with them. They're so much better musicians than I am. It's been really awesome. I was really intimidated at first, but they're fun, goofy fellas so I got over it pretty quickly. Hip-hop is all about the rhythm section, so they're dynamic is crucial. They've been playing together for many years and it shows. I've never been in a band where I'm the only one playing guitar or synth, so it's been really liberating not being forced into one corner of a song, Dan and Sean hold things down and keep them moving, and I get to do whatever makes sense - atmospherics, melody, rhythm. It's a little nerve wracking, too. No one else is there to cover up my mistakes, so that definitely took some getting used to, but in general it's a really nice dynamic. We've definitely been developing a good chemistry that way.
DL: If you could only listen to one hip-hop album the rest of your life, what would it be?
MF: Oh boy. I'm going to get myself in trouble for this one. Here goes: I don't listen to hip-hop for the emcees, typically. For me, the heart and soul of hip hop is in the music, the beat. Whether it's a producer, a DJ or occasionally a band, that's usually what gets my attention. For me, most emcees take away from the music. Whether it's their flow or their content, most of them just don’t do it for me. Sorry. I'm a musician, not a lyricist, so I tend to focus on the music and the production. I listen to a lot of instrumental music - hip hop or otherwise. Most rappers tend to be too flashy for me, over-confident, self-important, but I know you didn't ask me this question to have me give you a list of favorite producers or my favorite instrumental hip-hop album. So if I had to pick one album that is the whole package - emcee, music, and production, as well as the extra heft of being a hugely commercial cornerstone for my generation plus a touch of nostalgia, I would say Jay-Z's The Black Album. Yeah, it's too over-confident, flashy, and self-important, but he does it so well. Plus, I know he only produced 99 Problems, but Rick Rubin. Even if the rest of it wasn't that strong (most of it is), that one track alone would carry most of the weight. It's typically not the type of thing I gravitate towards, but that was such a monumental album. Musically, I could say Beasties, Talib, Mos Def, or even a lot of more contemporary stuff, but they've all got their flaws as rappers. Jay has never done it for me on anything else, but he knocks it out of the park on that record. He's got a new record coming out though, so maybe we'll have to revisit this in a few weeks.
DL: What capital region venue that GOLDTOOTH hasn't played yet would be a good fit?
MF: 5. This is tough, because I think we've played all the places, locally, that I think we're a good 'fit' for. We've been pretty fortunate to get to play at the places we want to play at. I love playing Valentine's. I love playing 51 3rd in Troy. I used to never like Red Square just because it was such a pain to get people down there from uptown, but the hip hop community comes out and represents down there, so the shows we've played there have been great, good beer and good sound. We even rocked a packed house at the former Northern Lights, so we got to see what that was like. I'd love to play some place crazy like the Palace or the Egg or Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, but that's from a self-indulgent perspective; it would just be ridiculous, I don't think we'd really be a good fit at any of those places. Maybe. But I think we're the type of band that just connects better in a smaller, darker place. It's more fun. Big stages are tough, and if the band isn't having fun it's hard for the audience to have fun. I've always wanted to play at a bowling alley though, so maybe that's a good answer? Sev get's motion sickness or whatever, so we can't play on a booze cruise or anything silly like that.
DL: What do you wish I asked you, but didn't, and what would your answer be?
MF: Sev is always talking about how he's not going to be wearing pants at our shows. What is with that? I've never seen him take his pants off, does he ever actually do that? Dan, I really don't know what his fascination is with saying that he's not going to be wearing pants. I mean, he's a family man, so he never actually does it. I don't know if he gets too nervous, or if he just forgets... I really don't know. He's never actually done it, so I don't know if it's code for something or if he's just all talk and no follow through. He's a weird dude. A real loose cannon, that one.
GOLDTOOTH is: Dan Beck - Drums
Sean Fortune - Bass
Sev Statik - Emcee
Matt Ferguson - Guitar and Synths