Interview With Musician And Music Producer Matt Starr
now, most of you know me as equal parts artist and audiophile - someone who
creates the music (well, some of it, anyway) that you listen to on your systems.
As such, I've found myself in a very unique, nay, special position in the audio
industry, and thus I've made it one of my missions to bridge the gap between pro
audio and hi-fi (and high-end audio). One of the ways I do this is by
researching. For me, researching runs the gamut from traditional means like
speaking with experts, looking at social history, etc, all the way to getting on
the audiophile group boards on Facebook late at night when I get to see all the "delightful"
<cough cough> comments that some trolls post up. Of these comments, some of the
more common ones revolve around the idea that professional musicians and music
creators aren't audiophiles.
That somehow, we aren't "qualified" to be audiophiles because we are so concerned with making the music. Rather than go down the dark rabbit hole of responding to those comments, I thought to myself, "I have a lot of good friends in the music industry who are bonafide audiophiles and who are absolutely qualified to bridge this gap!" What if I were to call our delightful and beloved Creative Director, Steven R. Rochlin, and pitch him a series of interviews on my well-known music industry friends who are also audiophiles? Need we surmise what Steven's answer was? You're reading this, after all.
Let me introduce you to my friend Matt Starr. I first connected with Matt about six years ago when I made the coast-to-coast leap of faith to officially become an ex-pat New Yorker and plant my flag in the City of Angels. I was working with a music education program and Matt had reached out about some clinic and masterclass possibilities. If you don't know Matt, I can guarantee that you've heard him play.
He's an incredible drummer - so incredible in fact, that he was snapped up by the likes of Mr. Big and Ace Frehley and has been playing with them for years now. When Matt is not on the road drumming, he spends time producing artists and writing songs that you've seen in movies. I had the chance to sit down and have this dedicated chat with Matt a little while ago about one of our favorite topics: Hi-Fi!
Emiko: What got you into hi-fi?
Matt Starr: I had a suitcase record player that
had detachable speakers on the sides. One day I was listening to an Aerosmith
record and all of a sudden I heard it in a way I have never heard before. I
realized that one of the speakers went out so I wasn't
hearing Joe Perry. From then I started listening to only the right speaker or
only the left. I was fascinated by what was coming through or what wasn't
coming through and how it all fits together. I think that was the start of my
journey. That was around age 10.
Emiko: Do you consider yourself an audiophile?
Matt Starr: I think if you can spend an hour
reading online forums about speakers cables, you're
either an audiophile or insane! Yes, I definitely consider myself an audiophile.
It's enabled me to listen to a lot of
different kinds of music and different artists because sometimes just hearing
the sonic quality of a record is the gateway to a whole other world of music.
Emiko: How do you feel your professional
background in the music industry has affected your journey in audio/hi-fi?
Matt Starr: I have a better idea of which
instruments are making which sounds. Also, as my system has gotten better over
the years I can tell which brand/model of instruments a musician might be using
or even how it was recorded and what type of treatment the producer did. So I
think ultimately it's a deeper
understanding, however, it doesn't
always translate to a deeper enjoyment. I can be listening to something
objectively but not really getting lost in the music, and that's
ultimately the goal.
Emiko: Have you ever met any audiophiles or audio
enthusiasts on the road? What is some feedback you can share that they gave you
- either about live performances or recorded music?
Matt Starr: I haven't
unfortunately. Our front-of-house (FOH) guy is NiteBob. He started with the New
York Dolls, Aerosmith he's worked
with KISS, Ted Nugent, steely Dan, Paul Rodgers, basically everyone. We'll
talk about audio once in a while but it's
a type of different conversation.
Emiko: Does anyone else you play with consider
themselves to be an audiophile?
Matt Starr: I don't
think so. Most of my musician friends have turntables and listen to records, but
the audiophile thing is another level. We're
like the Star Trek fans of music.
Emiko: Okay - now everyone is going to want to
know this.... Drum roll please! What's your system now?
Matt Starr: Clearaudio Concept table with concept MC cartridge and satisfy tonearm and DC power supply, EAR 834P phono preamp with 1950s / 1960s Mullard and Telefunken tubes, Jolida 1000 power amp with Vintage Siemens, Telefunken, and 8 SED winged Cs in the power amp section to Magnepan 1.7 speakers with Mye stands. Everything has HiFi Tuning fuses.
Emiko: Wow! Fantastic system! Let's get into
something people consider a bit controversial, shall we? Vinyl or streaming? And
why? Or both? And if both, why?
Matt Starr: Vinyl 100%. Never stream. I like
wires and cables and things that have weight. Streaming is a great convenience
but for objective listening, I'll
Emiko: Okay. So, since you're a 100% vinyl
person, take us back a bit. What was your very first system?
Matt Starr: My dad's giant Fischer speakers, an
old Sony receiver and a Techniques turntable that I had gotten at the Salvation
Army. I got a replacement needle at RadioShack for $20, which was five dollars
more than the turntable cost! The first upgrade I made was purchasing a Project
Debut turntable and it immediately made me realize there was so much more than I
Emiko: Do you have a component from the past that
you wish you hadn't parted with? If
so, what it is and why?
Matt Starr: Not at this point because I keep
upgrading things and it keeps getting better. That said, I really loved my
Goldring 1042 cartridge on my Project turntable.
Emiko: This is something that folks don't talk
about too much in the audiophile world but I'm always curious because I think we've
both traveled a ton. As you are a touring musician, can you tell us a bit about
any record store experiences you've
had on the road? Anything fun or out of the ordinary to share with the readers?
Matt Starr: Japan is the best! There's
lots of vinyl stores and just the nature of Japanese people is to be considerate
to how they take care of things. So you won't
even see a record that is beat up for sale. Sweden also has great record
shopping, England is good as well. Interestingly, the major cities like New
York, London etc. are usually The worst for vinyl. Things are overpriced and
beat up. The only exception to that being Los Angeles and Tokyo.
Emiko: Why do you feel having a hi-fi system and an elevated listening experience is important?
Matt Starr: Well it's important to me, I'm not sure for anybody else. It gives me an opportunity to revisit songs I've lived with my entire life and hear them in a new way. I'm someone who asked the question, "how much better can it get?" And I've learned that the journey is a huge part of that, not just waiting till you get that new piece of gear before you can really enjoy the records you already have.
Depending on your system, you can truly become
immersed in the music. Especially with my Magnepan speakers, the sound is just
Emiko: Is hi-fi something you share with your
family and if so, to what degree?
Matt Starr: My kids know that daddy has a record player and that they can't touch it! My wife will come and hang out with me and listen to records every once in a while. But it's typically a solitary experience which is cool because it is an opportunity to reflect and relax.
Emiko: You know me - I have to get "action-oriented" so let me ask you this: what, if anything do you feel audiophiles and the hi-fi industry can do to help the music industry? And what can the music industry do to help the hi-fi industry?
Matt Starr: I think all of the reissues have brought awareness and new fans to some of the classic bands, so that's good. If the record industry wants to do something to help the hi-fi industry, they could stop putting out reissues from sub-par pressing plants! Regular consumers might not notice but the audiophile community is not having it. EMI found this out the hard way on the first round of Beatles reissues for the stereo mixes. The monos were much better.
I just purchased three different copies of King Crimson's KOTCK Record remixed by Steven Wilson. There was so much noise and those pressings I had to return all of them. That is unacceptable. I wrote to the company which is owned by Robert Fripp, they got back to me saying they would look into it, that was over a month ago, guess they're still looking.
Emiko: I know you are a producer in addition to being a performer and recording artist - what degree does your knowledge and experience in hi-fi play a role in your production if any?
Matt Starr: Because of the age of the records I
typically listen to which is 1970s, I'm
really focused on the depth of the mix. So you have left and right which is
panning, top and bottom which are EQ, but the depth is something that is lost in
modern music. I want there to be a richness to the sound rather than just
slamming everything up against the speakers. That was cool in the 1990s when it
first came out but it's become
one-dimensional. And even if everyone is listening to things on earbuds, it
doesn't matter, we can still have
depth. There are new bands whose music I like, but I would never bother to
listen to them at home because sonically it's
not satisfying, it's exhausting.
Emiko: Last question - you say you're a 100% vinyl person. Can you share with our readers how big your collection is?
Matt Starr: I have just over 3000 albums, thanks
for asking! :-)
To learn more about Matt Starr, you can visit his