The Salt Lake City quintet draws upon traditional Western stringed instruments for their sound but distinguish themselves with the use of a slew of Chinese ones, as on The Morning Market, their lush, harmonious debut album. However, in an interview feature with the Chinese-American folk-hybrid band, they bluntly stated, albeit with a smile, that they were hacks.
They were, however, accepted to become artists-in-residence at China’s Sichuan University, where they will study traditional instruments for one month. In Sichuan, they also plan to record an EP with six new tunes and additional live tracks—all written and recorded there—and accompanying music videos. They were able to fund the project via Kickstarter; you can read more about that here.
So, the foursome seem to have already settled in nicely during their first week in China (stay tuned for more Tour Diary updates from the band). Bagley-Chipman writes to City Weekly from Sichuan on May 31:
“When I first started playing erhu, I did nothing but play open strings every day for a month.” This is saying something when the instrument you’re learning has only two strings. We’re sitting in the corner of a concrete room. I can hear the plinks and plucks of the other members of MATTEO, each in the midst of their own two-hour daily private lesson. Loose wrist! Lead with your upper arm. Pressure only with your thumb! Good! Again. Again. Again! All at once I understand Karate Kid in a whole new way.
My teacher’s English name is Melody. And she is as sweet as her name sounds. But she loves her erhu and will have it played correctly.
None of our teachers have ever heard of foreigners learning these instruments, and all seem eager to help us understand as much about them as possible. Every day, I hear Eric’s teacher practicing the same note with him -- over and over. “Hold your pick like a tiger holds her cubs. Gentle, but with courage!” One time, he started playing a bluegrass lick for fun and his teacher, in genuine awe, exclaimed “Wa! I did not know the Liuqin could do that!”
We live in wood-floored dorms near the east gate of Sichuan University. Campus is less like campus and more like a walled little village within a massive city. Crumbling cobbled roads with heavy hanging trees wind through rows of apartment buildings, libraries, tin-roofed huts, empty fields and lotus ponds. White-haired Nainai’s carry their round grandchildren and farmers sell the day’s harvest from carts, while hip college students and quiet professors walk between classrooms. The pace is slow. The air is wet.
We all agree -- the place where you are a true beginner, that frustrating humble spot we find ourselves in every day here, is what we love. It’s why we came.”