[Interview] A Trip Down Memory Lane with Pasadena
Pasadena is a band that has garnered a strong following among the Atlanta crowd of Americana-loving hipsters, but never really extended their reach beyond this city. They had not performed together at their home venue, The Vinyl, in seven years, so the crowd was packed with familiar faces and the conversation was full of memories as they made their comeback of sorts. This show wasn’t intended as a full revival, just more of a one-off trip down memory lane, but for me and several others, it was a full rewind to memories of 2011. Pasadena was joined by The Howling Tongues and The Beggars Guild for a night of music, beer, and remembrances. I got to sit down with the three founding members of the band, Matt Wells, Mike Fogleman, and Carson Ray. As I began recording, I introduced myself to the band and mentioned a few mutual friends we had and some memories I held of some of their shows years ago, and we started talking about some of their shows from way back.
Matt: All of our shows could be put into one of two categories: good or bad. And sometimes it was about when we played, cuz there was too much alcohol involved before we got up there, and other times it was just a lack of rehearsal, and then other times we were really on fire!
Mike: If you have no bad memories of us, then you didn’t go to The Star Bar.
Matt: The Star Bar was like us falling down a flight of steps. We started at the top, and then we just dove.
Alright, enough bad memories. Tell us about the good times.
Matt: Me, Mike, and Carson started the band. I’ve been the chief song-writer from the jump. Carson has a bunch of great stories. For a long time the plan was to just have Carson tell the same three stories at every show, because we like them so much and we kinda figured that would become his thing. He wouldn’t do it, so I started.
To Carson: You must have some good stories, I saw the photo of you with the ducks.
Carson: I brought some to Matt, he cooked ‘em and ate ‘em. We killed a lot of ducks that day. I’m basically a redneck. I live 40 or 50 miles from here. My house is so far away it’s hard to get to. It’s almost in Alabama.
Matt: It wasn’t always like this, though, Carson. You hit a point and decided that you were gonna be a man of the woods.
Carson: Me and Matt are from the same place. We’re from Jacksonville, Florida, which is technically a city. So, I could say I voluntarily fell into redneck life, but it’s fun. And that’s really the only thing to do when you live as far out as I do.
What’s it like having another, arguably more famous, band with the same name as you? It’s really confusing actually, because iTunes and Spotify both get your discographies all jumbled up under the same name.
Matt: They kind of have it right, because that band has put out a bunch of records, and they’ve been Pasadena for about the same amount of time that we have, but they’ve continually played. But, the good news is that we have myspace.com/pasadena because we were before them. We would always tell them to cease and desist because we had the Myspace. They were a bad Sublime thing for a long time, and then they started doing other stuff. They’ve done really well for themselves, those sons of bitches.
Mike: So, we haven’t done the best at connecting digitally. And we also haven’t played a show since February of 2011 or something.
Carson: We played a few more shows than that.
Matt: Yeah, we were doing this weird acoustic thing at one point where we would only take shows if it was the full band, but completely stripped down. I don’t know what got into our heads. We were playing the upstairs bar at the W hotel, sitting on our amps. It was a very weird thing, but we did a lot of that. Being 100% serious, when we started the band, me, Mike, and Carson had all been in bands for our entire teens. When I came to them and said I wanted to start this band, it was like, look, this band will be about family first, job first, and the band will come after that. We had put music in front of everything we had done for so long, that it was just time. We were older. If we weren’t married, we were about to get married. If people wanted us to play, we played, and we enjoyed it, and I wrote songs. I found a lot of solace and a lot of release in writing songs, and we were playing and having fun… I don’t know if it was an Americana resurgence, but I think we were a little bit ahead of some of the people here in town on that. People responded favorably because it was familiar. It was rooted in American music, rooted in country music, but it was guys that had played in rock bands, and it was still fun. In saying that, our priorities were completely not in line with a band that had any interest in being successful. Someone told us at one point, “I want to start this label to sign you” and we said, “Oh, we’re not signing. You can put a record out, but we’re not touring. That’s not what we’re doing.” So, a lot of that was the plan from the beginning, and we stuck true to it, probably to the detriment of the band.
Mike: And I think it ended up being a benefit. If we had wanted to make this more of a thing, we would have invested in a website. We would have invested in CDs.
Matt: We would have music. We’ve only recorded a couple times. We had tons of songs, we just never did anything with them. It was like, look, unless we’ve got money that we’ve made from playing these shows and we can spend that money, I’m not taking anybody’s money. We’ve all done that, and so we were kind of the anti-band. People just seemed to want to hear what we were playing. So, we had to at least show up and plug in.
Mike: Opportunities came to us. We weren’t seeking out to tour or play shows. The calls came to us, and we weren’t ones to say no. It wouldn’t have made sense if we had had a plan, but we ended up playing with De La Soul, and we played something in Centennial Olympic Park and then Atlantic Station.
Matt: Yeah, we played during a festival. We played Underground Atlanta for a peach drop one time. We opened up for Jason Isbell during his first tour at Park Tavern. We did the Virginia Highlands Summerfest on the Dave 92.9 FM stage with Marc Broussard.
Carson: It was all about the experience. We never thought about who was seeing us or if we would be noticed.
Matt: I don’t know if you remember Jay Heron, who signed Manchester Orchestra, but he called me when he heard he first Pasadena stuff, and asked if he could send it on to Sony Nashville. We got a call from a dude who said he wanted to come see us, so we booked a show here at Vinyl, and in typical record guy form, he wasn’t there, and then showed up and asked if we could play again. So, we played a weird 3-song set at the end of the show, and I think at that point, Mike and I sat down and had a beer and said, this was the one shot, and we’re not doing this again. I don’t care what this guy says or likes.
What’s it like playing a show after all those years? Is this getting the band back together or just a one-off thing?
Mike: This is kind of a weird story. The Beggars Guild, who’s playing right now, reached out to us and asked if we wanted to open up for them at Smith’s Olde Bar. My response was “probably not," but I sent a text to Matt and Carson. The response I got back was just the same as “probably not." Like, “I’ll do it if you guys are into it.” So, it was like this weird feeling of, “I guess we’ll do this."
Matt: My thing was, if we were gonna play, we gotta play at Vinyl.
Mike: Right. This was our home base for years. This was the place we played our first show. This was the place we played our last show.
Matt: Brandon, the talent buyer here, has been a bigger champion for our band than anyone else in the city.
Mike: So, we knew immediately, if we’re gonna play a show, we can’t not give it to Brandon. He’s be pissed at us if we said we were a band again and then went and played at Smith’s Olde Bar. So, we kinda flipped the tables, and turned it back around on The Beggar’s Guild, and said hey, we’d love to play, but what if we were to do a Christmas show? That was a thing we did several years here, and Brandon said yes.
Matt: Yeah, I don’t know if we can do this again. The place is full of our old fans, and I think we’ve exhausted the option.
Mike: I think once a year is enough, if we were to do it again. It just takes a lot of work at this stage in life. We like hanging out together, and it was never about chasing the dream. It was about getting together to play some music, drink some beers, and tell some stories.
Carson: Oh yeah, definitely. Rehearsing for this show has been as much fun as the show will be. Just getting together and getting to hang out, and tell stories, and waste time.
Mike: Yeah, so when you reached out to us, my response was… why?
Well, you guys were an important story in the Atlanta music scene a few years back, and we wanted to tell that story.
Mike: And we appreciate that.
These guys are obviously just good friends, and the band seems more like a vehicle for their relationships and shared passion than any other direct goals. Their story is one shared by a lot of Atlanta bands and artists. Making art purely for its own sake, they’ve gathered a fan base and managed to have a lot of fun in between raising families, work, and other responsibilities. This town could use a lot more art for the sake of something other than money, in my opinion. During their show, the crowd sang along to every word they knew, and it felt like no time had passed at all between 2011 and today. At the end of the night, all three bands got up on stage and sang together, with our old mutual friend and songwriter Josh Fletcher joining in the mix. It was a wonderful moment of a musical family, and they closed the night singing the chorus “may all your favorite bands stay together.”
Photos by Sarah Htun for Bullet Music