A Conversation with Matt Hamer of Mr. Golden Sun


I was sure when the chorus dropped, that Kansas City was the will of God.

(Place and Time, Mr. Golden Sun)

I get a lot of suggestions for music. Like any art, music can be all levels of good, but true art stops you in your tracks. It compels you to share it. Good art is gospel.

Matt Hamer is the man behind the band and project “Mr. Golden Sun,” and a new friend I’m thankful to know. When I first heard the first song on his EP “Central States” I felt like I was listening to an audio version of my journey to Kansas City. Matt’s music is like if Flannery O’Connor started a band: It’s chillingly endearing in its depictions of death and hardship, articulate, yet relatable in its vignette of story, and irreverently lighthearted at times.


Catch Matt and his band Mr. Golden Sun at the Rino, April 4th, The Brick April 13th, and at Mills Records April 27th.

You can listen to the entire “Central States” EP on Spotify or Bandcamp.

Sign up for the LISTENING NOW weekly music newsletter here for all the best music discovery delivered right to your inbox. 


The Role of Place

Matt’s work is, at its heart, literary. The album is full of characters and stories that sound similar to a Wendell Berry, Marilynne Robinson, or Flannery O’Connor short story. He considers himself a writer first, and a musician second.

“Songs are the medium that makes the most sense for me,” Matt said. “I enjoy the challenge of condensing something huge into the confines of a song structure and applying melody to it.”

The album is a look at the stories of the midwest. In some ways, its an ode to the midwest and central states, but Matt said it’s also a play on the word “state” since many of the songs are written to immerse the listener into an immediate place and time, often in the middle of a story or combination of feelings and ideas.

Diving deep into one thing can produce a lot of fruit, Matt said. “Central States” tells many stories of neighbors east of Troost, moving to Kansas City, and even Matt’s marriage. “Those are stories that don’t get told a lot,” Matt said of his Midwestern tales. “It’s easy to name-check New York and LA—a lot of songs get written about those places. But I’m more interested in writing about the people I see every day. And I’ve never been to New York or LA, so I have no idea what I would say about those places.”

A Central State of Fear

“[Central States] is a reference to a place but it’s also about living in an in-between “state” emotionally. Of feeling like you’re caught between two decisions or conflicting beliefs. Like you’re on the edge of something or stuck in the middle,” Matt said. “If anything more than fear, the EP focuses on people that are under extreme pressure and not sure of what the right decision is to make. But fear is definitely one of the elements of that.”

In many ways, each song is a vignette of modern Midwestern life. Or just modern life in general. It’s a look at the state of mind that Matt was in when he first moved to Kansas City a few years ago, set in the landscape of Kansas City and the city’s struggles, woven into Matt’s personal stories and reactions or lack thereof to his emotional and physical responses.

“There’s a certain desperation with a lot of the characters, which I think makes for interesting listening,” Matt said. “We latch onto conflict in the stories we read; you can put yourself in those situations and resonate with them. If I were in that position, I would want to know that someone else is feeling that. When I’m lonely and having a hard time connecting with people or it feels like everything is falling apart or like there’s a storm coming, it can feel like you’re the only person who’s feeling that way. This EP was me allowing myself to write about those things without having to resolve it. It’s also about being in a state where I was unsure about how to relate to God and feeling like my faith was crumbling.”

“There are days when I feel like I can get past anxiety, but others when I don’t know if I can,” Matt said. “But I think it’s good to chronicle the feeling of being unsure about what the future holds or what you believe. I couldn’t really write about anything else at the time, and I became less and less interested in trying to answer the questions I was posing within the songs themselves.”

Song Deep Dive: “Place and Time”

The first line of the album’s first song sets the tone for this state of mind, dumping the listener into “breaking down on the interstate.” For Matt, this song is a straight autobiography, a Midwestern love song, he said.

Each verse in the song “Place and Time” chronicles a different scene of what was going on. The opening line itself is about a spiritual experience that Matt had just a couple of years before he got married. “I heard a song and it just hit me, and I had to pull over in the car because I was sobbing so much because it seemed to hold the answers to some big decisions we had to make. It was weird, and I can’t explain it, but it stuck with me. I had this intense experience that I was putting a lot of weight in.”

The second verse is about actually getting married. “We were way too young,” Matt said. “Thankfully we’re both stubborn and have stuck with each other through some crazy hard stuff. I’m thankful for it, but that’s been a huge learning curve for us. I wanted to take snapshots of both the innocence of young love and what happens when the veil is lifted.”

It’s a culturally midwestern thing to married young, Matt said. He married his wife Megan at just 20 years old. “Just three years out of college, our life in Wichita fell apart. We had just had Wren, our oldest. We moved up to Kansas City and I didn’t have a job. We lived with my wife’s folks. A lot of these songs started then, from a place of change and uncertainty.”

Woven into the song and album are references to Kansas City and the struggles the city has. “‘East of the garden’ is a reference to living east of Troost Ave, which is historically a dividing line racially and economically in Kansas City, and still is,” Matt said. “I wanted to talk about that in the context of our story: Renting east of the garden’s edge / Empty buildings and promises. If you’re in a rough spot in your marriage, it sometimes feels like the vows are empty. I made this promise, but how are we going to pull this off? Essentially, [the song is] about a loss of naivety or coming lucid from the fantasy about what marriage or a move to a shiny new city is going to be like.”

Song Deep Dive: “The Comedian”

If you like dark humor, you’ll love the whole “Central States” EP, but especially the last record—a song called “The Comedian,” which is a gothic ode to life’s maladies. Mostly, it’s about the process of digesting how familiar all the terrible things happening in the world are, and how horrible things can be laughed about over time, in a sobering, almost healing way. Specifically, the song covers the tragedies of a friend’s life-altering car accident and the death of a neighbor. 

“The way that we consume news or events like that today is crazy,” Matt said. “This is the first time in history when you can know everything bad in the world if you want to. You can inundate yourself with the worst of humanity at any time. You can have something in your newsfeed that is the most tragic thing that could ever happen right next to a chance of rain for tomorrow. It’s just all news like anything else is, and you let it wash over you without letting it sink in. I don’t think the brain is built to handle it, really. When I wrote this song, I was in a state of “the worlds going to shit” and how is any of this going to be funny? That’s the question the song poses. I’ve seen horrible things become funny before. I’ve made jokes with people about the worst things that have happened in their life because they’ve come to a place where they can laugh about it. It may seem dismal, but there’s hope that all will turn out okay. But I didn’t feel that when I wrote the song and I wanted to capture that when I wrote it. It’s the most accurate picture that I could take at the moment. I don’t know how to deal with the amount of tragedy that is going on in the world. It has probably always been this bad, but we didn’t always know about it. By a lot of metrics the world is getting better, it just feels a lot worse.”

Trusting the Listener 

Though the album seems dark, it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. Catchy rhythm, upbeat melodies, and bouncing bass lines can often add a layer of sweetness to otherwise gothic lyrics, which provides a proper tension between music and lyrics.

“I feel like the hope comes after taking a hard look at the things I’m not hopeful about,” Matt said. “Hope’s hard to write about in a way that darkness isn’t. I’m working on it. I’ve got some new songs that are happier. To me, a lot of the hope comes from the consolation of knowing you’re not the only one that has experienced something. If someone takes hope from my work, I would expect it’s from that. For this batch of songs, I wanted to write about the period before hope kicks in. I also assume that anyone who listens to the music is going to be bringing their hope with it. I want to honor a listener enough to assume that their emotional journey doesn’t end when the song ends. A lot of the work that I’m most touched by is a starting point of hope. I’d rather present an event and let the listener fill in the emotional gaps than be spoon fed how they should feel about something. People are smart, or at least emotionally, fully-formed individuals that don’t need to be told how to feel about things.”


Catch Matt and his band Mr. Golden Sun at the Rino, April 4th, The Brick April 13th, and at Mills Records April 27th.

You can listen to the entire “Central States” EP, released Nov 30, 2018, on Spotify or Bandcamp.


Influences

Matt cites his main music influences: 

Wilco

“I’ve had to shake it to not sound totally like them. I think Jeff Tweedy is an amazing songwriter. The way that they blend traditional song writing structure with more adventurous sonic stuff. They’re a big influence on me as far as how you can arrange a song that might not be limited to rock instruments.” 

 

Radiohead

“Though we don’t sound anything like them, Radiohead is a big influence. They’re a band that evolves from record to record. It’s like career goals aspirationally and artistically. They don’t have any bad records. They consistently challenge themselves and evolve over time. It’s admirable.”

 

Belle and Sebastian

“They’re a big influence as far as just being okay writing a really gentle song. The lead singer treats songs like short stories, which is something I’ve become really interested in—dropping you in the middle of something and making you figure out the characters. Songs tend to be more narrative which is something that I aspire to. I used to like songs that were more essays, but I’ve become more interested in writing and character studies.”


What Matt’s Listening To

Yo La Tengo – And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

Song – Tears Are In Your Eyes

 

The Sea and Cake – Four Corners

Song – Four Corners

 

Belle and Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister

Song – Like Dylan In The Movies

 

Tortoise – Standards

Song – Six Pack

 

Gillian Welch – Time (The Revelator)

Song – Revelator

 

Hiroshi Yoshimura – Music For Nine Postcards

Song- Dance PM

 

Wilco – A Ghost Is Born

Song – Theologians

 

Pedro The Lion – Achilles Heel

Song – The Fleecing

 

Neil Young – On The Beach

Song – On The Beach

 

NEU! – NEU!

Song – Hallogallo

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