Happy Thanksgiving Weekend, guys and gals! We here at the Soundtrack hope you all enjoyed a wonderful day with those you care about, or at least were liquored up enough to tolerate the family. We also hope you’re able to reflect a bit on what means the most to you. It’s sort of cheesy, I know, but it’s good to realize what we value in life, and what we do not. If you’re a frequent reader, I can almost guarantee that music comes in beside such more popular items as family, friends, jobs, etc. I know it does for me. This Thanksgiving, in fact, I have a specific thing to be thankful for: a little 90s band named Self, returning for a one-off show in New York City.
You shoulda known Self in their Vietnam Days, when they could save the planet. Now, sadly, they’ve become a one-man occasional-release factory of anticipation and corporate-bureaucracy-stalled albums. In the day, they were a jazzy, soulful, funky, incredibly musical and catchy rock band. Matt Mahaffey, lead singer and songwriter, has produced for Pink, got his music in the first Shrek movie’s soundtrack, and wrote the Expedia.com jingle. Yes, that one. Beck has taken him on tour to play in his band. All this, and Self once made a CD entirely of toys and a Michael McDonald cover. Who are you to not love them? Personally, I’ve loved these guys since the 90s, and snapped up tickets for this current show without thinking twice. I really recommend you consider it if you love good music and can get to NYC. I couldn’t help myself… after all, I’d once traveled to Nashville solely to see these guys. The story, as she is told:
I found out about their secret underground fan community some time after Gizmodgery, the aforementioned toy album, came out in 2000. I became a member years later. There was something beautiful about finding myself surrounded by people who actually had heard this music. See, Self is, by nature, an almost impossible band to Google (see also: Live, The The, and at the time I was getting into them, Stars). They also got a very small piece of the airplay pie. I heard them on the Z-Rock for a few weeks. People closer to TN, from which the band hailed, had heard a lot of “KidDies.” Past that, though, they were quintessential no-hit wonders. Fodder for the common “If you remember this, you get a prize” contests on your local lunchbreak radio show. If I hadn’t bought their first CD (the only easy one to come by for most of the band’s existence), I might believe they weren’t real. Yet here we were, maybe hundreds of actual people who would testify that this was a band that had been real. A band that they loved like I did. And hell, there was even an album in the works: Ornament and Crime. That album still doesn’t exist. For a long time, no one was supposed to admit they’d heard the very leaked files. Still, being a part of the community DID mean access to downloads of the four or five albums worth of B-sides Self had recorded over the years. High quality stuff. We’ll talk about them another day.
Right around the point when Ornament and Crime was just starting to be something people could admit to having heard, despite being held in limbo, Mahaffey lost his brother, Mike, the band’s guitarist. This was obviously a huge blow to the family, and because we were a group of people who felt a bond with this musician, who had been releasing music under the radar for so long, we felt it too. Eventually, this led to a one-off show being planned in Nashville as a benefit for his brother’s family. The Selfies board mobilized to attend. Meet-ups were suggested, and there was also a brunch planned, in honor of the band’s EP Brunch. I got tickets to the show and the plane immmmmmmediately. It felt like the most important concert I would attend… the culmination of a decade loving music no one cared about after the singles died out. I met up with my friend M’rita for the show, which was pretty awesome of her since she wasn’t really familiar with the band.
The show, even in my bias, was amazing. I won a coat, which, given flight restrictions, was way more exciting to me than the guitar which was also being given away. Really, though, the experience bordered on religious. Something that I never thought would be real happened up there. It was so unreal, I didn’t even think to shake hands with the band when I won my prize. Chalk one up for social awkwardness.
Brunch was the kicker. I met lots of great people from the boards*. I sadly don’t know them personally anymore, with the closure of Selfies, but good people to hang with for a bit, and good people to potentially run into at this next show. The best part, however, was that Matt, his wife, his mom, etc, showed up at the fan brunch to hang out and chat. It is hard to put the scene into words: the loyal fans were excited that someone they respect so much graced them with his presence, but on the other hand, there was the family of an under-appreciated musician, not to mention the musician himself, equally honored and excited to be around the people who have stuck by him all those years. It felt like what music fandom should be. For a few hours, we were all family, purely because one man’s music moved us all, and that man showed us what our own value was. Those years of feeling like the only one in on a secret turned into a realization of how powerful that secret could be. I am excited to see if the same flame exists this time around, in a bigger city. Surely one thing is true: Brunch will be all the easier to plan in NYC.
Want to learn more? Take a listen to “Sucker.” It’s a perfect pop-song, from the carnie-via-luau sample which carries the chorus to the wonky electrofuzz solo, from the well traveled trope of being fooled in love to the well-timed Star Wars reference that starts the song. Mahaffey’s voice is smooth at times, imperfect at others, allowing him to straddle the pop/rock divide. The subtle touches, like the record crackle under that old-timey sample or the xylophonic flourishes here and there, or the Prince-influenced backmasking immediately following the track proper, tell us plenty about the man’s influences and attention to detail, as does the mixture of bouncy pop alongside self-critical lyrics (a common thread for Matt). Of course, maybe you’d rather float over to Gizmodgery, the toy experiment that transcends gimmick even at its most self-consciously gimmicky, or the much darker and groove-heavy Half-Baked Serenade, or the first album, Subliminal Plastic Motives, the 20th anniversary of which this show, and one in Tennessee, is celebrating. There are lots of avenues into Self, and they’re all worth exploring. This just might be the most well-rounded single track, but the band probably has a little something for you no matter what you’re looking for.
*I would like to note that, upon trying to confirm some info in this account, I learned that a member of the Selfies board, Spencer Wysinger, has very recently passed away. I did not get to meet Spencer at the last “family reunion” (I don’t believe he could make it), but I remember him well for how integral he was to keeping the fan sites afloat. It’s weird how people can gain importance and meaning without knowing them (and also weird that both of these shows come after losses to our little community)… I was dumbfounded when I saw the announcement. If there’s an ever-after, Spencer, that allows you knowledge of what we’re all doing down here, know that you were a part of the noblest pursuit of man: not only the preservation of amazing music, but the structuring of real connections… of something that truly has become a family for many.
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