As a longtime R.E.M. fan, singer-songwriter Matt Tarka says it was sublime to have Mitch Easter (who co-produced the band’s first two albums) play a key role in his latest EP, Vision Hazy.
“He was incredibly gracious with his time,” Tarka recalls. “It was cool to hold my breath and say, ‘This is really happening right now.’ ”
Released in late September, the four-song Vision Hazy was tracked with producer Ted Comerford at Low Watt Recording in Savannah, Ga., and later mixed by Easter at his Fidelitorium facility in Kernersville, N.C. Tarka breaks down each song and goes into detail about the extra effort Easter put into one of the tunes.
1. “Vision Hazy” — The title track makes a passing reference to a mural of Jim Morrison. When and where did you experience that, and was it easy to fit into this song melody-wise?
Matt Tarka: “It was easy to fit in. I went to college in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and I spent a couple of years there. A dear friend of mine who passed away in the late 1990s, he had a real affinity for Jim Morrison. Me, this friend and some other guys would go to these waterfalls and get into some extra-curricular activities. It was a beautiful late spring afternoon, and we were in the moment of this psychedelic experience. And there was this very ornate painting of a bust of Jim Morrison’s head on these rocks, and we couldn’t stop staring at this thing. The four of us just couldn’t stop staring at this thing; we weren’t sure if this was real or a figment of our imagination at the time.
“There are a couple of references within that song that we may have considered ourselves a bunch of people who were discounted at the time. We may not have necessarily been included in some ways with the rest of the student body, and this was one of our places where we escaped to every once in a while.”
2. “Midnight Sun” — Did anyone in particular inspire the line “baseball player in his prime”?
Tarka: “A majority of this song was written in the late ’90s. It was more like a poem that didn’t really fit with the project I was working with at that time. A lot of Vision Hazy was informed by that period of time. I think that baseball reference was either Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, during that steroid-crazed home-run chase of 1998. I guess I thought at the time that these guys were on such a roll, that even if steroids were involved, they’re going to shatter Roger Maris’ single-season record. … This was before social media and still in the early stages of the internet, and I felt there was a sense of, ‘Let’s watch these guys break this record and move on to something else.’ But at the same time, everyone watching was thinking, ‘This isn’t exactly right.’ ”
3. “Time Travels” — Is this song, about losing a family member suffering from dementia, based on someone you know, something you overheard or something you read?
Tarka: “This was inspired by a family relative — my wife’s grandmother — who was going through dementia and passed away, about a year and a half ago. The chorus came to me before all of the lyrics. I was quietly writing this while we were in the backseat of my wife’s parents’ car. I shared it with her, and she seemed to like it, so I started working the words out and paying close attention to the fact that maybe things will turn around. That was probably the most vulnerable song that I’ve ever written.”
4. “Selling Roses” — Talk about the use of steel guitar, which lends great atmosphere and a layer of sadness to the music.
Tarka: “It was kind of a happy accident. The song was written with me on an acoustic guitar. I had these three ambient verses, and I had envisioned some kind of solo. I wasn’t exactly sure if it would be pedal steel or an electric guitar; I just wanted something to fill the air that was a little whimsical. And it was actually Ted Comerford’s idea. He said, ‘Mitch might be interested in playing some pedal steel.’ … I kind of disappeared for a couple of hours, and when I came back, I could hear these very light, dulcet tones from the pedal steel, and I thought, ‘Maybe he’s hearing the same thing Ted and I did.’ ” Mitch really seemed to take to the idea and put together an amazing solo.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Photo by Ted Comerford