A lot of my stories will be music related, if only in the sense that a musical life affords one many opportunities to travel and be vulnerable to uncommon situations. My path as a musician has been to learn about the world, about myself, and help dislodge stuck emotional energy.
While I am a professional, I have zero dreams of fame and fortune. Music is my religion – and as such offers community, insight, hope, and answers to great mysteries. I’ve performed in hundreds of cities in dozens of countries around the planet – from Siberia to Santiago, Saskatoon to Sofia, and Sarajevo to Santa Fe. I highly recommend touring to whatever extent you can, even if the shows absolutely suck. Hit that road. Hit all the roads.
What instrument do you play?
This question always feels like somebody doing a rudimentary psychological analysis – as if my instrument of choice means I’m a certain kind of person.
I mostly sing and play keyboards, guitar, bass, and drums. I’m more of a composer than a performer, and therefore try to be as proficient on as many instruments as I can. I feel like if I were a poet, I’d aim to learn as many other languages as possible to really get inside how language works and affects people. Same with music and the different instruments, each having their own grammar and unique idiosyncracies.
I started on piano at age 3, and eventually took lessons for ten years studying classical piano and composition with the incredibly brilliant Arthur Cunningham. I went to college and got a music degree (while simultaneously getting my math/computer science degree), mostly focusing on jazz bass. While I always wore the multi-instrumentalist hat I largely concentrated on drums and bass in my 20’s, then flailed on guitar in my 30’s, and fell back into my keyboards & bass roots since.
What kind of music do you make?
The worst question ever, but the most efficient description would be “curious.” Aesthetically I’m all over the map. Generally though it’s all somewhere in the rock realm, maybe jazz, maybe avant-garde, maybe pop, maybe chamber music… Basically I dabble in all forms.
Given my schooling and penchant for weird/complex forms, people automatically assume I’m some kind of snob. Fuck that. If a song has a discernible intent, and the artist succeeds at that manifesting that intent, then I’m into it. While contexts are fun, and labels encourage interesting philosophical discussions, there are no hard fast rules about “good” or “bad” music. It’s all good, really. Just try to avoid faking anything. Enjoy what you like, and do what you can. Always aim to inspire others, no matter what the pursuit.
What’s your band’s name?
First and foremost, I put most of my musical effort into various solo projects. These go by various names, including: Matt Lebofsky, Bodies Floating Ashore, Loud Stupid Americans, and Midline Errors. You can get at all these acts on my bandcamp page.
Regarding collaborations… Throughout my adulthood I’ve been in several bands simultaneously. It’s how I roll. Some of them I co-lead, others I’m along for the ride. Regardless of my position I get a kick out of digesting whatever vision and making it happen. Here’s an incomplete list of some of the groups that keep (or kept) me the busiest: Monstrika, Secret Chiefs 3, miRthkon, MoeTar, The Fuxedos, Faun Fables, Mumble & Peg, Fuzzy Cousins, Three Piece Combo, Dropsy, Species Being…
I played in a lot of cover bands, which was a fun challenge, though the hardest part was finding appropriate attire. I’ve also done a lot of one-off guest appearances on stage or on record. All of these are like windows into other alternate realities, and afford one a welcome chance to act against type.
Other fun distractions over the years include: being an active member of the “Origin Lodge” of the Immersion Composition Society since 2001, accompanying comedy improv shows, and a side gig developing levels for the popular iPhone game Tap Tap Revenge.
I admit being in a zillion bands and side gigs has been detrimental to all, given my finite time and attention. This is a choice you have to make. There are pros and cons opting for this kind of life. Personally, I want it all.
If you have a day job, isn’t music just a hobby?
There are a couple things that are special about working at the Berkeley SETI Research Center. First, it’s all soft money from grants and donations. Second, there are no hard deadlines for research. So if I need time off to work on a music project, I just take it, and it isn’t really hurting anybody. On my busiest years I’ve taken up to four months off to tour and work on music things.
Even when work is keeping me busy I still have my nights and weekends to practice a couple hours a day, or rehearse, or play local gigs. And yes, there are times of conflict but I have survived those thus far, though it can get pretty dicey. For example I once diagnosed and fixed a corrupted RAID in between soundcheck and a show in front of 2500 people.
This all said, I’m 100% in awe of my musical friends and colleagues who manage to do this full time. I never had the fortitude for that kind of life, though I regret not giving music more attention during my youth when I had a bit more energy and ability to withstand abuse. Still, it’s kinda funny how much busier I got as a touring musician after I turned 40.
Since you are such a computer geek, you must like techno, right?
I find techno and other computer-assisted music fun, but it’s not my main calling. While I am a huge fan of technological tools that aid in the realization of musical ideas, I generally find music that relies too much on novel technology or other people’s algorithms to be somewhat lacking. Obviously there are counterexamples. Let’s just say it’s usually not my cup of tea.
Look. The computer stuff appeals to my brain, the music stuff appeals to my heart. That’s all you really need to know.