Fort Collins-based quartet Matson Jones is poised on the brink of greatness, hovering at the precipice of mainstream adoration, toes on the edge of the diving board of rock stardom.
But first, they have to finish college.
Borrowing the pseudonym that painters Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg used while designing department store shop windows in the 1950s and '60s, Matson Jones brings plenty of don't-mess-with-me attitude. And they do it with an unorthodox lineup featuring two cellists/vocalists/Colorado State University art students (Anna Mascorella and Martina Grbac), an upright bassist (Matt Regan) and a drummer (Ross Harada).
Matson Jones is creating quite a hubbub on the Colorado music scene, and lately have been garnering national attention as well. Their self-titled album was re-released this month through Sympathy for the Record Industry, the indie label responsible for discovering the White Stripes, and recently they scored a rave review on Spin magazine's Web site as its Band of the Day.
The ten-song CD sounds as punk and rock as music made with orchestral instruments possibly can. Lyrics like "I've got people to see and places that I need to burn down/ Secrets that I need to burn out of my head" from the song "A Little Bit of Arson Never Hurt Anyone," are sung with a quiet sort of detachment before the song goes full-assault. Mascorella and Grbac cover topics that recall PJ Harvey, without the histrionics, but the comparison to fellow cello-rockers Rasputina is one they hear more often. It's something of which Matson Jones is highly aware.
"We think they're great, but we quit listening to them, because we're afraid to follow their path too closely," says Grbac. "Other than instrumentation, I think we're pretty different in general."
One of the main differences is Grbac's use of vocal distortion via microphone, which lends an eerily confessional, lo-fi quality to her vocals. Initially, Grbac sang into a paper cup to remedy her singing shyness; though she is now more comfortable, the band still tapes a Green Bullet harmonica microphone to her mic, in the name of experimentation.
"It's a sound that's still in process," Grbac explains. "We have a friend who recently made me [a mic] using an old drive-through mic."
Luckily, their label accommodates the process. Grbac sees signing to Sympathy as a definite move up. "Well, it's definitely more exposure, and a lot less work -- we used to hand make all of our CDs," she said. "Plus we're keeping a lot of our creative control.
"I think the whole thing is based on challenging ourselves," says Grbac. "Some people ask us how far can we possibly go with what we're doing, but I don't feel restricted -- we'll do whatever we can do to keep it interesting."
Matson Jones has gotten a huge reaction on- and off-stage, but the group remains grounded, if a little bewildered by its success.
"We're in denial about this whole thing. Anna and I were talking about it, about how it doesn't seem real. We keep thinking 'It's not that big of a deal.' Our cupboards are still nearly empty, so not much has changed," she says.
But c'mon -- as celebs, they'll have the rock-star weight to enforce ridiculous demands. An all-white hotel suite? Bottles of Cristal? Only blue M&Ms backstage? The idea makes Grbac laugh.
"I guess we might want some hair spray," she says. "That'd be nice."
-- Kara Luger
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