As a member of The Rapture, D.C.-born Brooklynite Mattie Safer made soulful, critically-acclaimed dance-punk music—“House of Jealous Lovers” is a song that still invites frenzied dance floor excitement. Now with Safer, his latest rhythm-ready rock outfit, the veteran bassist and vocalist released Sleepless Nights in July, a four-track EP that sounds familiar to both Safer’s D.C. musical roots and The Rapture’s beloved legacy. Safer and the band play Comet Ping Pong on Friday, Dec. 6 at 10 p.m. He spoke with City Paper about spending part of the summer opening for Kacey Musgraves, tapping into his network of gifted friends to pull together his new band, and why you should come out to Comet Ping Pong to see them play.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
WCP: How long has your band been playing shows, and how have the live events been so far?
Mattie Safer: Well, we’ve been playing shows since May. I was also on tour with Poolside opening for Kacey Musgraves and Tycho this summer also, so it’s made making time for Safer a little bit difficult. We’ve just been trying to get the music out there. So far, the dates have been really nice.
WCP: Kacey Musgraves and Tycho? That’s a wide musical variety.
MS: Yeah, the big lesson of those tours for me was being able to connect with so many people who really care about music and putting great amounts of thought and care into it. There’s an art to making material that people who connect to it will be immediately receptive to hearing.
WCP: What led you back to this dance-punk direction after The Rapture?
MS: I was just running out of patience with my more soulful solo work, as far as producing and making the records and sustaining attention for the project. It was just starting to feel like a job that I was trying to make work. It was frustrating. I was also at the same time watching what I was doing with pulling together some reunion shows for The Rapture falling apart, so I was generally at a loss for what to do. Then, one night while I was walking home from a bar, I heard Joy Division being played in another bar. That inspired me. I decided I’d go home and make something like that. Once home, I pulled out my computer. I laid down some simple drum machine drums, played some bass and guitar, just letting the music flow out. For a long time, I’d been trying to shut down certain parts of my musical history. What I found though, is that once I re-engaged with the sounds that The Rapture made and other music, there was a lot of creativity and music that flowed out naturally. The reaction these tracks as demos received was strong and exciting.
WCP: What went into pulling the band together in the studio and for the live sets, and how did they flesh out your creative vision?
MS: I connected first with my friend Prince Terrence. He’s an amazing drummer and musician, having played with Santigold, Diplo, Heartsrevolution, and his own band, Hussle Club. He stopped, got more into DJing, had a kid, and got involved in a few other projects. We reconnected to create the record label and online culture platforms Cell Laboratories and Cell Vision, respectively. Leslly Almeida, the guitarist—who’s very pregnant and won’t be with us live in D.C.—had great advice, plus added some background vocals. Also, for the live band, I’ve added another guitarist, Darren O’Brien. Plus, we have a live saxophonist, Haley Maiden, who I saw play [in Brooklyn] and adds some elements that I feel are inspired by how a live saxophone aided both Poolside and The Rapture.
WCP: How did Sleepless Nights come together? And, if there was one track on the EP that really speaks to what Safer is all about, which one is it and why?
MS: The writing and recording of the EP took about a year. We recorded the EP at the studio owned by Vito Roccoforte of both The Rapture and Poolside, which was a nice way to continue to bring my roots back into this project. The EP taps into a lot of musical influences and ideas I’ve always had. From growing up in D.C., being able to both hear and go and see great bands like Nation of Ulysses, Slant 6, Fugazi—a lot of classic Dischord bands inspire this. Also, sonically, Safer brings back the simple guitar-driven stuff, incorporating soul, disco, and R&B into it.
The song from the EP that’s the most signature to what we do is “Good Things.” It’s built around a bassline, and it’s just about frenetic dance energy, with a certain amount of fatalism involved, both lyrically and vocally.
WCP: How would you convince people to come check out the show Friday night at Comet Ping Pong?
MS: On Friday we’re playing with Light Beams, which is Justin Moyer‘s band. My bands in high school used to play with his old bands all the time as well. I also feel like I know what I’m doing here [with Safer]. I’m working with awesome, supportive, fun, and easy going people. There’s a cool scene of bands happening in New York, and there seems to be a good scene of relatively young bands in D.C. right now, too. It’s exciting. These things come in cycles, and I’m happy to be making music with and hearing bands again.