Cult Status

This is Day 28 in my 30-day blogging journey.

The “why” is on Day 1.

In 1994, I had graduated high school and would be attending college in Nashville, Tennessee at Belmont University.

Around the same time that I would be starting school, there was record label starting up in nearby Murfreesboro called Spongebath Records.

Had I not been in the area at that time, I likely would have missed the band that will forever be linked to that label: Self (often styled as sElf).

There was a Tower Records location close to Belmont and I would go there frequently with friends from school.

I recall one particular visit in 1995 where they had a CD single from sElf, featuring the songs Borateen and Stewardess. I was able to listen to both songs and there was something about them that I really liked.

Shortly thereafter, sElf would release their debut, Subliminal Plastic Motives.

I absolutely loved that album and I’ve been following sElf ever since.

I would hear friends talk about them and, more specifically about the talents of singer/guitar player/multi-instrumentalist, Matt Mahaffey.

In addition, Spongebath started to release music from other up and coming acts like Fluid Ounces and The Features.

In 1997, I had the opportunity to see a Spongebath festival at a venue in Nashville where many of the artists they were featuring at the time could showcase their tunes. It was my first of three times to see Mahaffey perform.

At that show, they would be performing songs from SPM and the newly released The Half Baked Serenade.

I’d be leaving Tennessee that same year to return to Ohio and, as a result, not be as close to that scene.

Over the next few years, Mahaffey and band would put out three more releases: an EP called Brunch, and two albums: Breakfast With Girls and the wildly unique Gizmodgery which was recorded using all toy instruments.

It was during the recording of their next album, Ornament & Crime, that output from sElf began to fall apart. The label they were on at the time (Dreamworks) folded and with it, O&C was shelved indefinitely (it would finally see release in 2017).

I had always felt that if Beck hadn’t become as popular as he had, that Matt Mahaffey and sElf would have been the perfect act to fill his spot. Mahaffey and Beck both were multi-instrumentalists and they both had a knack for quirky pop/rock songs.

What’s interesting about that is, somehow their paths crossed and Matt would join Beck for some of his performances. One notable appearance would be on Beck’s Saturday Night Live performance of Clap Hands. You can see Matt on the table playing spoons directly to Beck’s left.

Throughout the last nearly 30 years, I’ve tried to follow every possible project that Matt has been involved in. He transitioned away from his work in sElf to focus more on production work with other artists, jingles, soundtracks (like Shrek), and most recently through work on Henry Hugglemonster and Rise Of The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He’s even been nominated for Emmys and Annie Awards.

Some time after my wife and I started dating, we happened to be back in the Nashville area and were able to catch a solo performance of Matt one evening. It was a relatively small crowd and I had the opportunity to walk up to him to thank him for so many years of great (albeit sporadic) music. I’m embarrassed to admit that I was completely tongue tied when I started talking to him. I guess my nerves got the best of me! You’d have thought that I was walking up to Paul McCartney (who I also would likely stammer around).

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of Subliminal Plastic Motives, Self embarked on a very small series of shows and I drove to NYC to see them play the album in full. It was worth every minute of the drive.

It’s hard to express what it’s like following an act who never made it as big as Beck, or any other stadium sized act. You’re left with very few releases to savor which means that anything new can take years upon years to flesh out. Suffice to say, Mahaffey does much better financially as a producer and someone who scores movies and TV shows than he did as a performing artist (not unlike Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh or Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman).

But that’s kind of what makes it special. It’s the cult status of a band like sElf that makes it seem like I never really left Nashville and he remains the “best kept secret” of those of us who still follow him.

If you’re looking for something to dive into, there’s not really a bad place to start but you can check out early videos from sElf with songs like Cannon and So Low. Or, perhaps you’ll enjoy the insane sounds he makes on Gizmodgery.

As for me (and the rest of the sElfies), we’ll be anxiously awaiting his next proper release.

Thanks to Matt for nearly 30 years of great music and memories.

(Pictured below, the cover of the CD single that started it all for me.)