Go ahead, ask Matt Jaffe anything. Just know that your question will likely lead the young singer/songwriter from Mill Valley on a musical detour before he gives you the answer you’re after.
For example, ask how he and his band, The Distractions, were chosen to support Blues Traveler, the Eighties jam band, on their national tour and he’s reminded of one of his influences.
And that sends him deeper, adding more detail.
“For the uninitiated, there’s a wonderful Los Angeles punk band called – X. Just the letter X. Not The xx, which is a contemporary, sort of electro band. Anyway, they have a terrific song called, ‘It’s Who You Know.’ And the title’s sort of self-explanatory.”
He’s right — who you know counts, but having talent and drive is essential. Jaffe has shown that he has both in his willingness to play as often as he can, whether in an asphalt parking lot for a school benefit or opening for such substantial musicians as R&B veteran Mavis Staples, Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol, or Blues Traveler on their current 23 city tour.
Jaffe will see familiar faces at his stop in San Francisco at The Fillmore on Thursday. Does that make a difference?
He pauses before saying, “There is something … a little bit liberating about a totally fresh audience” because “being on stage is an opportunity for self-invention, or re-invention.” Nothing against the locals, mind you: “I mean I absolutely love performing in the Bay Area for people I know, so I don’t mean to denigrate that in any way.”
His study of popular music gives him plenty of music-makers to inspire self-invention. His band name, The Distractions, is a wink to Elvis Costello & The Attractions. And artists such as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Talking Heads — and F. Scott Fitzgerald -— inspire his lyrics. And now he’s discovering Hank Williams. But wait! There’s more!
“In the last year or so I’ve become really interested in the Southwestern music scene,” he says. “Just sort of the aesthetic: the landscape and romanticizing about the cowboy frontier lifestyle.” Then he reels off a list of Texas singer/songwriters who he’s immersed in at present.