Notes of questions were scattered around the table as the clock slowly ticked its way to noon.
Once the clock reached the 12, a silent buzzing signaled the interview’s prompt start. With an allotted 15-minute time frame, pleasantries were quickly given out before it was time to start asking questions.
Mat Kerekes, the lead vocalist of Toledo and Michigan-based punk act Citizen, is as laid back as one can be the day before starting a 20-date trek across North America. In fact, the upcoming tour wasn’t even at the forefront of his mind, rather, something else entirely.
“I’m building a bird cage right now,” he offered with a laugh.
The ice was pretty much broken after the simple explanation of his plans for his last day home, and soon enough, he eased his way into talking about his work with Citizen and his solo career, how he finds a way to differentiate the two, his writing process and his love of recording music.
Rewinding back to December of last year, Kerekes announced his decision to sign to Black Cement Records to release an album for his solo work.
Shortly after the freshly inked deal, he dropped his first single off of the sophomore release, which marked fans’ first taste of new solo music from the singer since his debut album, 2016’s Luna & The Wild Blue Everything.
Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of information regarding the forthcoming effort, aside from the fact that it’s due out sometime this year. While information is pretty limited, it seems the air of mystery surrounding the second LP is something that Kerekes doesn’t mind continuing.
“Expect the unexpected! You know, I always just try to do something new. I play with a band called Citizen, and I feel like our albums always kind of drastically change.” Kerekes said.“[For this solo record], I learned how to play piano, so I always try to push myself, and that’s what you can expect, I guess, and if that’s not enough, then whatever (laughs)!”
All jokes aside, Kerekes quickly went on to explain that he had always wanted to learn how to play the piano, and this record seemed like a good place to start. But, he noted, that feeling of inspiration didn’t happen until after he started listening to artists like David Bowie and the other “stuff my dad likes.”
After seeing and hearing all of the things that these older bands were able to accomplish during their careers, things that he didn’t know how to do, it made him want to learn.
That will to learn some of those techniques soon translated into the making of his album, which he found helped add a new element to some of the tracks that he’ll be sharing on the latest release.
“Writing a song on piano feels so much different than guitar. I can play the same chords, in the same rhythm on the piano as I do on the guitar, but it’ll feel like a completely different song,” Kerekes said. “So, I wrote a lot of these songs on the piano first, and I feel like that creates a different element.”
As for the writing of this record, and any of his work, Kerekes has found that not forcing himself to write is usually the best, and most organic, option for him to come up with songs that he’ll use for any of his given projects.
He explained that he’s not one of those songwriters that have 100 songs just sitting in the bank to be used at a later time. Instead, he writes his songs to use them right then and there, so any of the B-Sides he has are already mixed, mastered and ready to be released for later use.
“For the solo stuff, over time, I’ll just have enough songs, you know? Luna was never planned. I was just doing all these demos that couldn’t be Citizen songs, and my manager was like, ‘hey, like you should just put out a solo record,’ and I was like, ‘oh sure,’” Kerekes said. “Usually, I would just write and record something in my house, post it instantly and then move on. [But now, it’s changed to where I’ll wait until I have some songs, so] I guess the solo stuff is like a collection of songs over time rather than with Citizen, where you’ve got to do a record [immediately].”
Of course, the process switches up after every record, whether that be for Citizen or for his solo endeavors.
“I think the process is changing now. I don’t want to sound dark, because it’s not dark when I say this, but I think everybody in Citizen is exhausted, especially from last year. We just did so much,” Kerekes said. “I think everybody’s really into the idea of not having to cram. We don’t have any studio time set up and we don’t have any plans. There’s no deadline for anything. We’re just kind of going with the flow, and, you know, it feels pretty good.”
When he is in the mood to start the writing process, he usually just starts fiddling around with whatever instrument he’s got with him at the time, and then he begins to mess with the melodies.
He stresses that the process is different for every release, but he’s found that the most general way for him is to write if he’s feeling it and then start building from there.
Of course, the writing behind the process is only half the battle. In addition to writing on his own time, Kerekes has found an interest in recording his own music, which he explains has helped him when it comes to getting songs written.
“[For Citizen], all of our records so far [have been recorded] with Will Yip. Before we go in there, I’ll just demo out the songs. So, we usually have the record finished, or close to finished before we go in. And I would say that’s thanks to me recording, which is cool. So, I’ll just record [a melody I’m working on real quick] and just build the rest of the song around it. It’s all super relaxed, and there’s no pressure. So, yeah, having access to all this recording stuff and knowing how to do it, how to play and just being alone is the best-case scenario for me.”
The method to his writing and recording madness shows that he’s no stranger to writing a song or two. In fact, he’s got four Citizen records, two solo albums and a whole slew of singles under his belt.
While his impressive catalog of tracks shows that Kerekes has not only been writing songs for quite some time and that he’s perfected the craft of doing so, it also captures something else entirely: a sense of growth.
“I’ve purposely strayed away from the whole really being direct thing. I mean for one, I just don’t think it ages well. When I listen to really old, pre-Luna solo stuff, it’s just so crybaby, you know? I was young and emotional, and with Citizen, you listen to Youthand it’s just so [overly emotional], and in reality, when I think about the things I’m singing about and the situations I was in, [it made me realize that] I was part of the problem too,” Kerekes said.
He continues on by saying, “I didn’t even know [some situations I was in] was a problem, but as you grow older, you’re like, ‘oh man, like I was, I was a huge jerk,’ When I hear those old songs, I’m like, ‘man, it doesn’t feel right to me.’ Because I lived it and I wrote it, I’m happy that it connects with other people, but at this point in my life, I feel a lot more, introspective…I’m not old by any means, but I’m older, and I feel like I have a better grip on life.”
Kerekes’ newfound sense of self, and all the growth he’s done in the past few years, has made him look at how he writes in a different way. He explains that what he’s looking at when he’s writing lyrics has changed from personal to an outsider’s point of view.
“So, when I write lyrics now, I’m usually not writing from my point of view. I think it’s important to grow, and if I just kept being a whiny crybaby and blaming everybody else for all these problems, would I just [have to] write the same songs over and over again? What would happen? So, they just don’t age well.”
Kerekes’ recently dropped a song titled “Hawthorne,” which exemplifies all of the growth and introspection Kerekes talked about in the interview.
“It’s a new song I did,” Kerekes said. “It’s about looking back and realizing the hurt you’re causing somebody. [It’s about] looking at that person, seeing them doing the best they can, trying to be as positive as they can be and also trying to support you, while you’re the source to this person’s pain, you know? So it’s really about pushing and being triumphant through this loneliness that I’m causing you.”
With his growth and development in the music industry over the past couple of years, he has noticed that when working with Citizen, there can sometimes be an overlap in their sound, and it’s not something the guys want.
With that in mind, there have been challenges to ensure that Citizen’s sound is not compromised in the process of Kerekes finding his own voice in the genre.
“That’s kind of been a problem lately. Citizen is due to write a new record, so I’ve been messing around and then I’ll write something and bring it to the guys and they’re like, ‘ah, that sounds like you should just do this,’” Kerekes said.
However, Kerekes is pretty confident that he will be able to keep the two sounds separate.
“Usually, I feel like Citizen is more of a mood, you know? It’s moody and a bit aggressive, whereas the vibe of my solo stuff, I’d say it’s bittersweet—if I were to describe the new [solo] record in one word, it would be bittersweet— and nothing about Citizen is that way. Stuff obviously bleeds in here or there, but I feel like we do a pretty good job of keeping it separate,” Kerekes said.
While the band and Kerekes do a good job at ensuring that things don’t bleed into one another, it can be difficult not to notice the differences between Kerekes’ solo endeavors to his time with Citizen.
The differences between the two are something that even Kerekes himself has noticed.
Whether it’s the mood of the music or the vibe he gets from playing shows, there’s a distinct difference in the style and atmospheres associated with both, especially when it comes to playing shows.
“Citizen feeds off the energy of the crowd a lot, and I think that’s the big difference; I’m not going to be doing that. I’ve played solo shows before, and they are a lot of fun because it’s different, and I’m just there to play and have fun playing. And I mean, I like playing guitar. I’m not very good at it, but I like playing. You’re just there to listen. You’re not there to crowd surf or scream. You’re there to just kind of be there. And if you like the songs, you’re there because you like the songs, you know? And I think that’s a cool dynamic,” Kerekes said.
He continued on, saying, “I love Citizen shows, but this is just different. It’s a different vibe and the people there are just there to enjoy the music and not jump around, which I’m not dissing on, I like that, you know, but it’s cool to mix it up.”
As of right now, Kerekes upcoming solo record is set to be released later this year, and until then, he’s focusing on spending his time on touring.
“I guess I’m just taking it one step at a time. Once this record is out, I’ll figure out the next move and just play it by ear, you know?” Kerekes said.
Kerekes is currently on the road with Jetty Bones and Jacob Sigman, who are providing support for his solo tour.
In addition to this latest headlining run, he will also be getting ready to tour with Citizen on their co-headlining run with Knuckle Puck this May.