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Alive At The Same Time

Softening The Blow: Kinsey Matthews of Sleepy Sword in Conversation with Kelly Xio

I went for a long walk with Kinsey Matthews and we discussed taking L’s and starting over on a spring day in the Greatest City In America. On a breezy but idyllic spring day that was warm in the sun, we grabbed coffees at Bird in Hand in Charles Village and set out for a walk with nowhere in mind but descending and winding through an iconic neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a beautiful day and our walk took us to Station North before we circled back up to a little bar spot called Fadensonnen where people flooded the outside patio with pickle martinis and a local legend named Slippy was boiling crawfish.

Bird in Hand

Kelly
It’s been a thousand years. So many lifetimes lived and more to come–we’ve been reincarnated, we grew up. I’m not sure when we last saw each other. I guess it’s been a thousand years.

Kinsey
Ooh. I’m not sure either. Some things haven’t changed–

Kelly
We’re both nerds.

Kinsey
Oh, deeply.

Kelly
I’ve also been 5’2 since the 5th grade.

Kinsey
Are you really that short?

Kelly
I’ve got this big personality. It’s like a shoe insole that gives me four inches.

Kinsey
(laughter)

Kelly
Before we start - is there anything controversial you’d like to get off your chest?

Kinsey
I’m not a potato guy.

Kelly
What do you mean?

Kinsey
The potato is overrated.

Kelly
Do you want this to be off-the-record? You can say OTR at any time.

Kinsey
I really don’t fuck with potatoes.

Kelly
This could ruin your career.

Kinsey
Honestly, I’m ready.

Lafayette & St. Paul

Kelly
So even before I knew-knew you I’ve been following your music–hell, I was a listener on the last.FM days and is it accurate to say you’ve been playing music your whole life?

Kinsey
It does feel like that. Time’s a construct.

Kelly
When did you learn the guitar? What made you pick it up?

Kinsey
I was 11 years old. It was my first instrument. I wanted to learn bass initially because I wanted to be the guy from Limp Bizkit.

Kelly
Wes?

Kinsey
Yes! At the time I thought he was a bassist but it turns out he was a guitarist. Luckily my dad got me a guitar for Christmas and said if I kept up with it and still wanted a bass later we’d figure it out.

Kelly
I love knowing that because I think of you as a guitarist, honestly. So this thing–do-hickey-thing-a-majig you’re gonna debut April 7th, this is a new project. I remember you in Us & Us Only and hell, I got to witness its infancy on a porch in Catonsville. I’ve learned in my small time on Earth that most things you do for a long time qualify as a relationship and when they end it kinda feels like a break up. Can you tell me about how you started out on this new venture after a fairly anticlimactic end of a long-time project.

Kinsey
It’s not easy! This was one of the hardest things I’ve done. I moved, started over with new people and had a lot of work to do personally and still do! Sleepy Sword’s name even comes from the fact I love trying to soften something terrible. A tired weapon.

Kelly
It softens the blow of the act of hurt or the thing doing the hurt. That’s life, hell, that’s a microaggression–tiny paper cuts, stepping on a lego.

Kinsey
For sure! When I wanted to come back to making songs I was trying to soften a hard time and the new lows of the pandemic. A lot of the songs were written during and around that time and like so many it fucked me up. It was the support of people in my life to get me back out there–here–especially after the pandemic.

Kelly
The pandemic intensified the feeling of loss–of anything–on all fronts.

Kinsey
Oh, hell yes. I never stopped tinkering and making things but I just didn’t think it had anywhere to go.

Kelly
What changed?

Kinsey
Honestly it wasn’t me, per se, but my friend Tommy Coleman offered me an unconditional amount of support. He’s my best friend but he was adamant about these songs needing to come out and even said to me that he’d help front it. It didn’t come to that but it’s just the energy, you know?

Kelly
I’ve got this friend James Walkton and he’s got this project called Friendship Is A Verb (We do it everyday.) I think about it all the time. Friendship is an impetus, it’s a problem-solver, it’s an iron lung when you can’t breathe. Even in my last interview with Muscle, one thing I kept thinking about was that their friendship was the heart, the muscle of the band. The gathering. Having a friend like that is incredible.

Kinsey
Absolutely. I had these songs. This is March of 2020–I started recording some and by mid-2021 and things were starting to loosen up. Tommy popped up again and was like it’s time and so I started playing a few shows. Really small shows. Toward the end of Us & Us Only, it was such a struggle to want to do anything that was outward facing. It’s sorta the double edge of touring. Writing music wasn’t just like–write the songs and you’ll feel better. Write this song because you’re going to play it for someone and hopefully it’ll make them feel better. It’s a gamble.

Photo by Michael CrowePhoto by Michael Crowe

Kelly
So 2020–Tommy tells you to get the songs out. 2021–he tells you to play shows.

Kinsey
The very first Sleepy Sword show was with my friend Austin, who is an artist I love and admire who performs under Lefty Bey and it was in my friend Leora’s backyard. She’s also a beautiful and talented musician who plays under the name Acraea. I was so nervous. Typically I had been doing solo shows with an iPod and sampled noises–rain and nature sounds–but now I wanted the real thing. I wanted something interactive.

Kelly
Maybe you were craving connection? I think after long periods of isolation, I came out of the pandemic with this hunger for connection, to know I was real. I feel like going back to your songwriting process–I’m a bard more than a poet. Making things to go to the reading was a huge part of my art practice and when I didn’t do that anymore–while I switched it up, I craved those tools that came with being in-person and with the tiny noises–grunts and laughter. I needed it.

Kinsey
Oh, definitely! It can get tiring to make things as a product but making something for people to enjoy, to feel something with you–that’s the stuff. That first Sleepy Sword show was so interactive and experimental for me. I remember having the audience participate and I was shocked it worked and they were shocked they were open to it.

Kelly
Oh, man, I totally understand. It’s like something about shows and music and performances. I love when you’re given permission to wiggle. We are just worms and it’s cool when someone is like the dirt’s good, get the wiggling.” Other worms look at me like is it safe?” and I’m a worm with a lust for life and I’m like let’s go. Get a toe in or not because we are worms and don’t have toes or we are one long toe. I’m not sure but yes, sometimes it takes encouragement.

Kinsey
(laughs) Absolutely, we are one worm being just trying to live a dream. It was time to move and it was the right time and space.

Kelly
What was it like working with a band again?

Kinsey
After years playing music with people who I’d known most of my life–it was strange and confusing to start over and this process was different. You have to get used to each other. It’s like dating after being married. You keep comparing it to how you remember it, whether you wanted to or not. I’d show up with a lot of stuff written and we have a different orientation to creation and contribution, but it’s been really rewarding. I’ve had a few solo releases under Sleepy Sword but this new record memorializes the start of new relationships, making a new band, leaving New York City.

Kelly
While I think making a new band, venturing out on your own is daunting for many artists–hell, separating yourself from the bigger thing can be damned near impossible but to have a rewarding new beginning–I guess Tommy was right! You needed to get out!

Kinsey
There’s a handful of people in my life who know what’s up when I do not and I trust them. My friend Suica has made some incredible calls in my life and he’s a good guy.

Kelly
On the record.

Kinsey
Absolutely on.

Fadensonnen & Chachi’s

A local cook named Slippy was serving up a crawfish boil in partnership with recently opened Chachi’s, which resides within the outdoor suite of the beer garden and wine bar Fadensonnen.

Photo by Michael CrowePhoto by Michael Crowe

Kelly
Talk to me a little about your routine to stay productive, to stay active creatively. I feel like you’re always dusting yourself off and trying again–to quote Aaliyah.

Kinsey
Rest in Peace to a legend. My guitar is always in front of me. You just have your instruments out so you always want to touch them. Any song I’ve ever put out gets written in a day because if it’s not done by then I’ll put it in my drafts and move on. I don’t fall in love with the songs too early on so it’s easy to scrap and come back.

Kelly
Was it the same for lyrics? Talk to me about the poetry chapbook that’s coming out with the album [out April 7 on Baltimore a collective and independent label Shiny Boy Press]. I love the idea because it reminds me of elaborate boxsets and liner notes that would come out with cd releases.

Kinsey
Shiny Boy Press has taken such care with the record and book—I got lucky. The lyrics for some of the songs on the new record were inspired or pulled from some of the poems. I was in New York and it was before I was spending time with anyone. This was even before the pandemic–New York City is in some ways the loneliest place on Earth.

Kelly
I’ve definitely heard that–you can get lost in the sea of what’s happening and people.

Kinsey
Totally, it was a rough time. I was already struggling with anxiety and isolation when the pandemic had come along.

Kelly
I recall when you guys moved–you guys announced you were at SXSW and then suddenly came out that you weren’t going to do it.

Kinsey
Yeah, I was having a hard time with anxiety at the time and it had gotten crippling where I couldn’t even imagine going to the grocery store much less going to Texas. This was before the pandemic where now this seems so common but back then it was hard to explain.

Kelly
Anxiety is the flesh eating virus that causes sepsis in the soul and you feel like every day is your last–in my experience. I feel like I’m in the throes of decaying in real time a la Death Becomes Her and I’m like there goes my arm but I’m more worried that someone saw me fall apart than like the fact I’m falling apart.

Kinsey
Hell yeah, being perceived fucking felt like a death threat. Don’t bother putting a hit on me–just perceive me. Every day I would wake up and think that I need to leave everyone alone because I’m causing so many people discomfort. Anxiety plagued me. I kept thinking I had to go. I had to spend a lot of time alone and in that time I started reading and writing poems again.

Kelly
I spend so much time alone because my brain tells me I’m vermin–my newsletter alone in my room came from how I spend my days mostly alone and deeply mundane while I’m unraveling in late stage capitalism. I recall and I talk about this all the time–the Andre 3000 interview with uh, Rick Rubin where he talks about how spends so much time alone.

Kinsey
Oh, yes, I loved that one. It’s definitely affirming. You think he’s going around rolling deep but he’s just like us. A hero. When I moved to New York my anxiety didn’t get better, but I got lucky. I met my friend Tommy years ago when I played a house show in Florida but we really became good friends when I bumped into him on the street and he looked at me and said I’ve got an extra ticket to Pile tonight, you in?” Changed my life at the time because we began to kick it all the time and honestly sometimes one good friend is all you need. He and I would have a lot of solid hangs.

Kelly
It’s funny because I get that feeling of luck. I remember when my friend Z. offered to come visit me and he didn’t really offer he just said I’m coming over, send me your address. It’s good to have people who will interrupt the silence. Do you think you had a conflict in identities? Going somewhere new after being in one place for so long?

Kinsey
It’s hard for me to compartmentalize that shit. I constantly wanted to go home. I’d be at a spot eating spicy vegan General Tso’s and I’d have bad eye contact and I just had to get out.

Kelly
Yeah, I had times where I couldn’t even get on the train because I was afraid someone would see or say how are you? I grew weary of small chat. Fearful of it but having gone through it two years before the pandemic–sometimes I felt prepared because I was lonely already in a hole of my own making. I was just like gang’s back in time. Loneliness is my passion project is what it says on my LinkedIn.

Kinsey
Party of one, let’s fucking go. But yeah, the identity as an artist and the mental burden of it–it’s an odd cross to bear. I absolutely had a hard time adjusting from being a band guy” and having this built-in community and existing outside of a band. It goes back to the whole starting over. I had this band and it was a thing. It’s hard to even want to start over because you now know how much work goes into the thing. It’s not just a thing but it’s a beast. Could I face it again? Also New York City is hard but I think I came to it with a bad mindset and I got to do some learning and growing and I got to process a lot but damn. It really screwed with me coming out of being a band guy. Like you said earlier–I’ve been making music with others for as long as I could remember and in New York I had to just be Kinsey and I don’t know if I knew him. I read this tweet by Hether Fortune that perfectly summed up the experience of struggling with the overthink of band identity to your like civilian state.

It was shocking and of course it goes easier and it’s a lot of fun there sometimes but it wasn’t the place for me. It had to happen and a lot of those feelings and that work went into ultimately Sleepy Sword.

The pandemic gave me time to consider what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Each poem, each song seemed to tell me that I was leaving and that the present, at the time, wasn’t what I wanted. I needed to leave when I left Baltimore and then it made sense to come back–I think anyone who’s been here and done that understands.

Kelly
The +1 Damage of it all. There and Back again.

Kinsey
Funnily enough - I love fantasy shit and read a lot of it. There’s probably some elements of a quest in this album.

Kelly
So is it a hopeful album or is it one of those quests where it’s better to have loved and lost than to have not at all but it’s a bummer? Sonically it sounds more like Low than Final Fantasy (video game, not Owen Pallett) but I think of listening to Low as like when you’re on that one level where things really die and phoenix downs don’t work. Tell me about the sound of Sleepy Sword and what you want people to take from this record.

Kinsey
Dude, haha, definitely. I think it’s a simple record of realizing one’s truth but it’s that hard pill to swallow. Nothing is forever, things change and you have to move on all the same. I think I was a lot more hopeful after it was finished and I had left New York and I hope someone can listen to this and think I can move on too.” I realized I write short songs (the punk in me) and I love slow songs (the drone in me.) They’re unfussy songs.

Kelly
It’s an epilogue, maybe? A goodbye note.

Kinsey
Yeah but I’m already gone, you know?

Rapid Fire

Kelly
So I’m sad to say–tomorrow you die.

Kinsey
Totally.

Kelly
What animal are you reincarnated as?

Kinsey
A Field Mouse.

Kelly
Wow.

Kinsey
Think about a field mouse. So small. So fast. Can you imagine being able to stand on a flower? They’re so tiny. One of my profile pictures used to be a field mouse smelling a daisy. Imagine if something that delicate would look so big to you. Imagine being the size of 40 blades of grass–it’s overwhelming.

Kelly
You’re stranded on an island. It’s the holidays, Christmas-y time. Somehow you can tell by looking at the sky. You get nostalgic. What song do you want to hear play?

Kinsey
Look, I don’t fuck with Elvis but Blue Christmas. It’s the Wicked Game” of Holiday songs. It’s my shit. I’m a non-religious person but I do love the idea of being together with someone you love on Christmas and the yearning of Blue Christmas” gets me.

Kelly
If you were an emoji, what would it be?

Kinsey
Salute emoji. It’s a new one but it means so much to me.

Kelly
If you had to eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Kinsey
My dream version would be my dead Grandma’s chocolate pancake. If I’m being put to death tomorrow, chocolate pancakes from Denny’s.

Kelly
What do you think was the secret ingredient in those cakes?
Kinsey
It’s either being southern or love.
(we clink our glasses, as we’ve sat down in the outdoor Patio.)

Kelly
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Kinsey
Leave.

Sleepy Sword’s new album I Will Love You in the Next Life and accompanying zine Dream Home will be available April 7th via Shiny Boy Press

Kelly Xio

IG
@ohgeography

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