Matt FX Travels A Winding Road To Music Success – Forbes
Matt FX is a musical polymath. The NYC native is best-known for his work as a music supervisor for television shows like Skins, Broad City, Detroiters, and Difficult People. But Matt is also a DJ, producer, and was even an on-air host for MTV’s show Wonderland. His newest venture is a just-announced podcast with Spotify called Unpacked, which premieres March 14. I sat down with Matt at New York City’s Soho House to figure out how he makes it all work.
Shawn Setaro: You started out singing classical music, and have obviously gone in a much different direction. How did you manage to get such a good grip on contemporary music, when it wasnât what you were raised on?
Matt FX: I owe a lot to high school. LaGuardia High School was such a diverse place culturally and socioeconomically. Ironically, Azealia Banks [who was a classmate] did a lot for my knowledge of hip-hop. She said, âYouâve got to listen to A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.â
I met these key people in high school who were like, âNo, this is the wayâ all at the same time, so I was getting this indie rock and hip-hop and electronic knowledge. I was hungry, it’s safe to say.
Setaro: Before you started music supervising for television, was that even something you were aware was a job?
FX: There are three memories I have of even thinking of the intersection of music and picture in the first place. Yeah, I’d seen music videos and Iâd seen great examples of music supervision, but they never triggered anything.
I remember walking down the street listening to The Killers while I was still in boarding school. It was one of the 10 CDs I had. I was listening to âMidnight Show,â and I was thinking, I know exactly what the music video should look like. That was the first time.
Around that same time, my dad took me to see Kill Bill in theaters, and I remember thinking, the use of music in this movie is mind-blowing. And the third time was watching [the original UK version of] Skins, in high school. That was the craziest thing. When I got to meet Bryan [Elsley, the showâs creator], it was not like, oh, Iâve got to music supervise. It was like, I just want to meet the guy who chose the music.
Setaro: How did you get the job at the American version of Skins? Iâd imagine it took a little bit of finessing.
FX: Finessing and hustling. I wish I could take credit for it. I was so green that thereâs wasnât any sense of planning. Meeting Bryan was all kismet.
Iâm a college dropout, Iâm not doing anything with my life, and an old friend who Iâd introduced to the show looks me up out of the blue to be like, âMatt, Iâve tracked down the creator of Skins, and Iâm working for him now. We do this thing in the writerâs room thatâs a focus group where we have teenagers and young adults come in and read scripts and tell their stories. Are you interested?â It was kind of a thank-you for introducing her to the show.
As soon as I got there, I said, âCan I meet the music guy?â Not can I be the music guyâcan I meet him? Bryan goes, âYeah, just make me a playlist.â The next day I came in, and he asked me, âCan you do all the genres?â I thought, Iâm not even sure what youâre asking, but Iâm just going to say yes. And he says, âGreat. You can quit your day job.â
There was no plan. I wasnât asking for it. I ordered 500 business cards that said, âMusic curatorââI didnât know that the title was âsupervisor.â I was this 18-year-old kid who didnât know what publishing is. I didnât know any of it.
Setaro: How did you parlay that into working on other television shows?
FX: I completely failed at getting other work. While I was on Skins, everybody wanted to talk to me, because it was going to be the biggest show. And then as soon as that show got cancelled, it was like I became an untouchable. I was rendered completely useless and irrelevant. No one was interested. I was washed up at 19.
So I thought it was a fluke. I started DJing and going back into trying to make music. I spent a few years doing that. The interesting thing looking back is that the relationships that I forged DJing and throwing parties directly saved me as a supervisor. It was three years later, I was playing 15-20 gigs a month and I was so broke. The assistant editor of Skins called me out of the blue and was like, âIâm working on this new show. Itâs not going well with the music. Weâre going to air in three weeks. Are you interested?â And that was Broad City.
Immediately, 80% of the music I used in the first season were producers Iâd met DJing at parties in the years priorâand if not them, people who were one degree away from them. I still try to keep that ratio. Even now, I feel like itâs an obligation to keep 80-85% of the music in the show unsigned, right on the cusp.
Setaro: What about some of the other shows you’ve worked on as a supervisor?
FX: I just worked on Detroiters, and that was an interesting experience. I also came on to the first season very late. There had already been a lot of work done on the music, but it wasnât working out. I wound up replacing a good majority of the music in the show, in part for budgetary reasons.
The most interesting thing was, we were trying to figure out musically what the aesthetic was going to be, and [stars] Tim [Robinson] and Sam [Richardson] had this strong idea that they wanted it to be Motown, classic Detroit soul. But Comedy Central shows, for the most part, have a very modern tone. There were some doubts from people around the show whether we were going to be able to make this work as a more classic, retro sound. We were luckily able to find a couple libraries of music that represented vintage 1970s forgotten soul tracks that didnât become radio hits, but were produced at the same time.
Setaro: What is Difficult People like to work on?
FX: I have a lot of fun working for them. Julie [Klausner, co-star and writer] is great. Sheâs one-of-a-kind. The things she says are hilarious, and she has such a strong sense of music. There were times in season one where we were meeting up separately just to play her music.
Sheâs written books on indie rock, and people really look to her as a beacon of knowledgeâalmost intimidatingly, for me, because thatâs not my terroir anymore. There was a period in the 2000s when I was really interested in what was happening in indie rock, but before that, not so much. I was trying to get an idea of what sounds she considers coolâwhat guitar sounds, what bass sounds. A very early mandate from Julie was, âI will not use a composer.â So if weâre going to put music in the show, itâs going to be real bands. I got to use Lightning Bolt. That was a personal point of pride, to be like, I put Lightning Bolt on a television show.
Setaro: Youâre a composer yourself, and you have a remix that just came out. What can you tell me about that?
FX: Iâve been producing for a long time. Iâm really interested in the classic idea of a producer. What a producer is responsible for is the aesthetic and realizing the vision, where a guitar player might not see past his own fretboard.
What I really want to do is bring together artists, bring together producers of beats. I think down the line, I will probably introduce a moniker for my house and techno stuff. Probably later this year, a couple songs will come out, and they wonât come out under my name. Iâd love to get a dance label to get behind it. But what I want to use my actual name for is strong, good, catchy things.
Setaro: You have a podcast coming out with Spotify. What is it?
FX: Itâs called Unpacked. Spotify reached out to us and said theyâd been developing this concept. The idea is to unpack something that people see themselves as understanding, but donât truly get every aspect of. So for this first series, weâre going down to South by Southwest, and we did five episodes unpacking different aspects of, here are the bands, hereâs the scene, here are the food trucks, and spending time to really focus on each of those things singularly in the hopes of better educating. For someone who did so badly in school, itâs ironic how much time I spend being involved with music education.
Setaro: You have this side of you that is the off-camera music supervisor, and the on-camera sideâthe show you did for MTV, the podcast. Where do you feel most comfortable?
FX: I have this joke that I make a lot: in January of last year, if MTV had told me that I was going to be on television come September, I would have gone to the gym a couple times. When I was on set the first couple weeks and the producers would go, âMatt, how are you feeling?â I would go, âLive TV with no camera trainingâwhat could go wrong?â I was very intimidated by the idea of doing on-camera work. It was something that I thought I would do, but not that soon.
Am I more comfortable doing it now? You bet. Iâm really happy that my first experience was live, because thereâs nothing like live television to scare the s**t out of you. It feels like my first ski run was a black diamond.
Iâm most comfortable in post rooms and studios. More than anything, Iâm most comfortable behind a screen with an editor for nine hours, or sitting next to an engineer for nine hours. Thatâs what I love.
Setaro: Is there an end goal?
FX: Iâm sure you know what an EGOT is. Well, Iâm going to be the first person on the planet with a JBEGOTâthatâs an EGOT with a James Beard Award in the front. And Iâm not going to get a James Beard Award for cooking, Iâm sure. Itâll be a community thing or a restauranteur thing. Iâm not trying to work on a line for ten yearsâIâm never going to be that person. But a JBEGOT is 100% the end goal.