AN NRT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
The Jellyrox: Synthetic Sounds for Real Life
Eleventyseven frontman Matt Langston's solo project releases a five-star second EP, Embellish, and Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock chats with him about the new album, its recurring themes and Matt's unending sonic quest.
 


The Jellyrox is easily one of the most underrated acts in Christian music. One-man band Matt Langston (of Eleventyseven fame) tweaks knobs and bangs keys to make some of the most infectious electro-pop in music today--Christian or mainstream. 

But what makes the sonic ear candy even more pleasing is the lyrical depth that accompanies the happy synths. Don't let the happy-go-lucky sounds fool you; Langston is singing about very deep issues, from mortality to reluctantly growing up. 

On his second EP as The Jellyrox, Embellish, Langston has produced one of the best pop collections of the year, which earned him a rare five-star rating with NRT. 

I was able to jump on a video chat with Langston to talk with him about the new album, its recurring themes, his sonic quest, and all from the comfort of a college music department's practice room. 

So where are you right now?
 
I'm teaching music business seminar courses at a college in North Carolina. And I'm actually in one of the practice rooms, because nobody's using them right now. (Laughs.) I've literally got my computer on the piano here.

That's awesome! So what college is that at?
 
Montreat College in Montreat, North Carolina. Yeah, Billy Graham lives here. It's a pretty cool place.

Wow, so you're even more diversely talented than meets the eye, teaching college classes and all. Tell us what life has been like for you. What's going on--besides obviously being a college professor?
 
Well, just like really busy. With Eleventy, everybody's kind of wanting to grow up and start families and do their own thing, and it's gotten gradually harder for us to kind of tour and get on the same page for that. I've been wanting to do this Jellyrox thing for a long time, so it seemed like a good time to start transitioning out of that. Not that Eleventy's breaking up or anything, but The Jellyrox is something where I can I have total creative freedom to kind of start over in a way and do something that I really like to do. With Eleventy, people have kind of come to expect a certain sound, and the last thing I want to do is throw a wrench at that.


The new Embellish project is awesome; we're loving it. The sounds are just fresh and yet familar sounding, either from the future or the past--I'm not sure which. This is your second EP; how have you changed since the first one?
 
I feel like I'm always sort of chasing this sound, which is everything that I remember as a child listening to on the radio. So obviously like '80s new wave plays a really big part of that. I just never feel like I'm there, though. It's been like that since the beginning, like with Eleventy, it's like I've been chasing this elusive dream sound that's happening in my head. Every now and then I get bits and pieces of it, but I'm never quite there. But it's the chase that makes it really fun.

Do you feel like you're getting closer and closer?
 
I do. And I've always been like a massive analog synth fan. So the more time I spend with those machines, and the more time I spend getting to know them and learning how to manipulate them and wrangle them into submission, the closer I am to being able to get that sound that's in my head.

You mentioned Eleventyseven growing up, starting families and whatnot. That kind of matches a theme I noticed you have going on the EP--this theme of begrudgingly growing up. 
 
Yeah, it's such a complex kind of thing to get into. But I'm always in that headspace, always asking myself if I should be acting more like an adult. Should I tone down the fart jokes? Should I grow up a little bit more than I am now? And so I don't know what that line is; I just know at some point I act too mature, and I start to feel uncomfortable, or like I'm lying to people with how I'm behaving. I really just want to make pop music and sing about what I want to sing about, and be able to share that with people. Yeah so there's definitely that sort of coming of age theme. I guess it's probably like in almost everything I've done, I'm always asking myself that question. Do I need to grow up a little more? I don't enjoy that at all! Hopefully that makes sense.

"Rebel Tide" is an absolutely earworm song for me right now. What's the headspace you were in when you wrote that? It's probably the most poetic song on the EP.
 
I think it ties to what you were saying earlier about the coming-of-age theme. I feel like I'm always kind of thinking about dying. I'm not really sure why; since I was a little kid I've always wondered if I would live very long in my life. There's always this sort of itch in the back of my mind. What if I die really young? It never really goes away. Maybe that's a little bit paranoid, but being able to write about it is a way for me not to be afraid of it, or sort of come to terms with it in a way. I'm viewing life in terms of it not just being this unending thing; knowing that at some point it does end, it brings things into perspective.

Your songs "Made for Forever" (from Heta Himlen) and "Fade to Fiction" have that theme, too.

Yeah, they definitely do. Besides coming to terms with mortality, I've been at this place so many times where I pour so much of myself creatively into something, only to have it be met with criticism, or where people don't understand it. You always take that chance when you write something and put it out there. I put so much of myself into these things, it's hard to constantly be shunned, or to be pulled away from everything in the Christian music industry. At the end of the day, though, I had to come to a place where I decided I'm going to write what I feel like is on my heart. I'm not going to write things to try to be marketable, to try to get signed to a label or publishing company, because I'm miserable doing those things, and I feel like it comes out in my music if I'm doing that. I just want to honor the Lord in the things I'm saying, and hopefully encourage people along the way.

Where do you get your sonic inspiration?
 
I remember hearing these sounds that were what new wave was as a kid and just being completely enamored with them. Then by the time the '90s rolls around and I'm able to perceive what's going on, I'm hearing these sounds I lcan't get out of my head, and become completely addicted to. And then I realize oh they're using synthesizers. These are brand new instruments at the time, and people are still kind of trying to learn how to make songs with them, and it's like changing the face of popular music, and still is to this day, and that's really exciting. I can play power chords all day on a guitar and make pop-punk songs out of them. When I sit down at a synthesizer, I can do a whole song out of one piece of equipment, if I know what knobs to turn. That excites me to no end; I always feel inspired when I'm doing that. 


A song that's really spoken to me is the first track, "Someone Else." Everyone's felt that way, right? Talk about the feels there.
 
You know, a lot of these songs I write as reminders to myself, because like as a teenager I struggled really heavily with depression. I went through the whole thing of pill after pill, seeing doctors, this that and the other thing. Finally, over time started to gain this realization: If what I believe about the Christian faith is true, then the moment that I accepted Christ I got everything that I needed in that one moment. I don't need a book, I don't need a counselor, I don't need anybody to give me direction, I just need to go to Christ. When I started to see things that way, I started to develop an intolerance of myself. It was like, why do I feel so depressed all the time? It's because the only thing I'm thinking about is me, and I'm like a black hole of depression. 
 
Part of having a brain is being able to logically reason with yourself, and begin able to come to that point where, if I'm going to be able to enjoy life--and obviously there are so many things to enjoy that the Lord put here for us to enjoy--I've got to stop thinking about me. And it's funny that the moment you stop thinking about yourself, everything begins to start falling into place. And all of the sudden you get more happier, and you start having regular bowel movements.
 
That's true enough!
 
Yeah, so that's it. You know, "Someone Else" is a reminder to me that I just have to be happy with who I am. I can take joy in who I am and how I was created. When I'm not, it just makes me miserable and everyone around me miserable, too.

What do you want people overall to take away from the EP?
 
I write music like for people that kind of struggle with the same things I do, and who need to wake up in the morning and put on a CD that helps them start their day. So, if anybody derives any sort of joy from that, it makes me so happy. 

NRT Editor-in-Chief Marcus Hathcock has been a newspaper reporter/editor and Communications Director for a large church. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and one of the worship leaders at his home church. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.

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