In my senior year of college – when I was still heavy into hip hop production, a buddy of mine, B-Sides (or, more familiarly, Brendan), passed along an MP3 to me excited over the crisp drum break that occurred midway through the song. At this time, drum breaks were clutch to us because we could sample them and use them as backing tracks for beats we’d make. The break — a section within a song where the drums play a straight ahead pattern and are soloed out — was loud, clear, and really in the pocket. But I was surprised by the next section of the tune. The repetition of those three words over and over “iiiiin my life…… iiiiin myyyyy life….” over that rhythm — the whole thing was just so soulful, dramatic and, well, deep.
I started the song over after getting lost in it for a few moments and was really thrown off when I heard the first few bars. It was this light, folky sort of fare, and it didn’t at all go with that heavy percussion bit at 1:45 — they were two completely different swings and much different tempos — nowhere near each other on the map. But it was so good. I remember those goose bumps, that oh-so-rare feeling us music junkies constantly search for and only every now and again can obtain. But I had found something great. Finally, something to geek out over with friends who weren’t in the know, as surely, none of them had this bad boy.
So I passed it around to a select few of my fellow record nerds and would watch minds get blown at 1:45. Surprisingly, though, these uber geeks (myself included) were actually really digging the track — it was more than just “something cool to sample”.
“Man — this is some shit” was the most common reaction. “Who is it?”
I could only respond with what little information I had — “I don’t know the dude’s name, but I’m assuming his or the band’s initials are MLC and the song is called “In My Life.”
“Oh yea? Do you have any more?”
Nope. I could only imagine what the rest of the record sounded like, if there even was one. But, unfortunately, I was sort of screwed when it came to acquiring info on the artist — all I had was three letters and a song title, one that could have even been false as to mislead other enthusiasts and producers as to never know the source — what some of us refer to as a “secret squirrel”.
To shed a little light — the story goes that my buddy, Brendan (pka B-Sides) had gotten the track from a fellow collector by the name of Herm who was based in Arizona. Herm had apparently purchased the LP on a whim from a local charity shop for $0.50. The title of the song, presumably, was the only thing we knew for certain. It couldn’t really be deemed any particular genre — we couldn’t even begin to guess what ethnicity this guy could be — let alone if he was a solo act or part of a band. I had to ask and ask my friend to try and find out whatever info he could, even if it was just a last name. After a few weeks of constant nagging, a small portion of the mystery had been solved — MLC = Matthew Larkin Cassell.
Finally, a link in the chain. This didn’t prove too helpful, though. No matches came up anywhere online using that name, and none of the record nerd internet forums were helpful. I eventually sort of gave up on the whole thing, imagining it to be some mythical LP that there were maybe a handful of left, scattered in basements and storage units around the world.
During this time, though, my buddy Kon, of the well-known DJ duo Kon & Amir, had also fallen head over heels for the tune after I’d played it for him. I gave him a copy of the MP3 and he went ahead and pressed up a few hundred 45s featuring the song and gave it away as a gift to those who purchased his Uncle Junior’s Friday Fish Fry comp via the Turntable Lab site. Pretty cool. Maybe I’d even hear someone put it into a mix or something like that. So the song got some love — I was satisfied.
A little over a year later, when I had settled into a gig at a record label, I was listening to some music on my computer when “In My Life” found its way into the shuffle. I was immediately taken back to that first listen. Goosebumps, my crappy college apartment, the whole nine — I was transported. But I wasn’t sated — I needed to hear more from this guy … or group.
So, even though I thought there was no chance, I used my recently acquired record biz wherewithal and went to the BMI and ASCAP websites and did a search for songwriters whose names bore even a close resemblance. BMI turned up nothing, and knowing that ASCAP was pretty much my last shot, I typed the name slow and steady, making sure I wasn’t misspelling anything. No songwriters matched, and I assumed it to be a lost cause, but tried searching for performers as well. Shockingly, there was a match.
I figured there was no way it was the same guy. He didn’t even have any works registered from what I could see, but I called ASCAP anyway to find out what steps I could take to possibly find out more about the elusive Mr. Cassell, if it was even really him. I was instructed to send them a letter written to him and they would forward it to the address they had on file.
So I did. I hand wrote a note saying something like “I’m not sure if this is you, or if you’re even alive, but if you are, ‘In My Life’ is one of the most infectious songs of all time…” and a bunch of other psycho super-fan stuff. I asked him whether or not he had more material, how I could get it, everything I wanted to know. Signed and sealed, I sent it off and only hoped that I would hear back.
A month later, while watching TV in my apartment one evening, I got a phone call.
“Hello?” A strikingly deep voice asked.
“This is Matt Cassell — you wrote me a letter?”
Floored. I was completely floored. The whole spiel actually worked — and that he was one and the same Matthew Larkin Cassell — composer AND performer of “In My Life”. He told me that he barely even thought about his music since the early 80s, and that he currently lived in Marin County, CA, and worked as a teacher, but that he spends the majority of his time surfing. He hadn’t been in a recording studio in 25+ years and had totally ditched music as a profession. Wow. And more music? There was a whole album from which “In My Life” came, and another album followed, plus a 45 some years later. And, most importantly, he was going to send them all to me as a gift — a way of saying thank you for such an unexpected complement. I mean the guy had paid NO mind to his music for 20+ years — he was as shocked as I was, if not more. It was so cool talking to the guy behind the music — it was such a trip.
The promised package finally showed up a few weeks later. My girlfriend at the time was visiting from New York and was a little taken aback by how all my attention suddenly shifted to what had just come in the mail. I ripped through the cardboard and pulled out Pieces, the album with the now infamous track. It looked nothing like what I’d expected — a white jacket with a painting of a horse under a tree (which I later found out Matt painted himself) . His second LP, Matt the Cat, a black LP with a big white drawing of a cat’s face (still sealed!) was also enclosed as was the 45 — the latter having cover art of a picture of Matt as a baby. It was so surreal, sort of, to have looked for that music for so long and to then be holding an actual copy, about to listen to it, in my bedroom, just under two years after originally being introduced. It was like going on a blind date.
Now I definitely had hopes and assumptions as to what the music was going to be like, but those were just hopes. There was the chance that the music could have sucked — a lot. Such had certainly been the case before. You hear some tune off a really rare album, finally hear the record in its entirety, and its garbage. Well, I’m sitting here writing about the record five years later — so suffice it to say, it didn’t disappoint.
The music was exactly what I had wanted it to be — sort of like late ’70s Paul Simon meets Steely Dan, but way more minimal and jazzed out — you could hate both Paul Simon and Steely Dan and still like this. I know, weird. From the first guitar notes of “Rendezvous,” to the moody and somewhat eerie intro of “Heaven” (and the ridiculous groove) to the sadness and masterful drumming and feel of “Ecoutez Moi,” I knew I had struck gold, and that, I now owned my most prized record.
It didn’t stop there though. Now that I could record “In My Life” to a much better quality, I sent Kon a newer rip of it, which came just in time as he had decided to showcase it as the star track on his forthcoming compilation The Kings of Diggin’
that he and Amir had done with Japan’s most famous collector, DJ Muro, for the BBE label. I put Matt and Kon in touch so they could chat and clear the tune. They also became friends and Matt sent him the same three pieces he sent me, and happily cleared the track, completely stunned that yet another chapter was unfolding with his music after 30 years.
After The Kings Of Diggin’ was finally released, the track was everywhere and Matthew Larkin Cassell’s Pieces became an EXTREMELY sought after LP. Six months following the release of The Kings of Diggin’, a copy of Pieces made its way on to ebay and sold for $1,700. Another then sold for $1,300 shortly thereafter. Copies of the second LP, Matt the Cat, then started popping up on the auction site as well and would go for $750.00. The 45 still hasn’t found its way up on “the bay”, far as I know, but I’m expecting it to.
Fast-forward to a year and a half after all this, both Pieces and Matt The Cat had just been re-released in Japan by the label P-Vine (!!!) and Matt couldn’t be happier. His music, 30+ years after the fact, was being heard all over the world through the internet and had been officially released (for pay!) all the way across the world. I was pretty thrilled myself, what with people from all over getting to experience that same feeling I felt on that very first listen.
Then, about a year ago, shortly after the P-Vine release, during an online chat with Kon, he mentioned to me that LA based producer/fellow record enthusiast Madlib had sampled “Heaven”, a tune off Pieces, for a track from his Madvillian project with MF Doom. I found the track “3.214” online and took a listen and loved what he’d done with Matt’s work, slowing it down and meshing together some of the various ethereal elements of the song that make it such a standout on the LP.
I quickly passed it along to Matt who was thrilled to hear that his music was reaching more and more people, especially other musicians who loved his material so much that they wanted to in turn sample it within their own work. He did also wonder, though, if there could perchance be a small amount of money he could stand to earn from the usage.
So, I put him in touch with Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, the general manager of the highly respected Stones Throw Records (who released the Madvillian project), and what ended up happening is why I write this today. It turns out that Madlib had no idea where the source material came from, so they didn’t know to whom the credit belonged. But, instead of settling it the traditional way, Egon had an even better idea: “Why don’t we just release your whole catalog in one collection?”
And so, this very past Tuesday, the 18th of May, 30 years after Matt recorded his now infamous Pieces LP, Stones Throw has released Matthew Larkin Cassell: The Complete Works , domestically and internationally on CD, vinyl, and for download. The collection contains all his music from 1976 – 1982, has all been fully re-mastered and is presented in a package containing old pictures, a full interview, and a few anecdotes.
And Matt — well he’s in awe. He just couldn’t be happier — so much so that, 28 years after last recording, he has made his way back into the studio, recording a few new tracks and pressing up one-hundred 12″ singles of two of them. Even those have found their way into the ebay market place, selling for $50.00 plus. Just three weeks ago, he even played a gig in San Francisco – his first since the early 80s.
And for me — I’m just so honored to have played a small part in this rare chain of events – and thrilled that people are getting to hear this music I’ve grown to love so much.
It’s sort of crazy, right? Pretty amazing what can stem from one guy sharing a simple MP3 with another.