Matt Mondanile sounds stoked. When the Straight calls the Real Estate guitarist and Ducktails mastermind, he’s at his brand-new studio space in an L.A. industrial building, and it seems that there’s no place he would rather be. In fact, Mondanile has already begun working on new music.
Part of the musician’s impetus for setting up his own recording facility, it turns out, was the experience of making the latest Ducktails album, St. Catherine. That involved working with Rob Schnapf, who is best known for coproducing several of the late Elliott Smith’s records. Mondanile says he got along well with Schnapf and enjoyed working with him, but admits that he has some misgivings about the final product.
“He mixed it really well, but he didn’t really mix it how I wanted,” Mondanile reveals. “And this is kind of why I got my own studio now and I’m working on stuff, because I never was able to record drums on my own, or record a good vocal take, and now, because I’ve toured so much with Real Estate, I saved enough money that I can buy some nice gear and, like, put it all in a room. And now I just want to make music here and not have to work with a producer, because they’re never gonna get it exactly how you want it, because they don’t think like you do.”
When pressed for details on what exactly Schnapf did during mixing that Mondanile didn’t like, the Ducktails man says, “He used Melodyne on my voice, which is kind of an Auto-Tune, to make it sound more in tune. And I kind of told him not to do that, and he kind of insisted. And people can hear it. I can hear it, and anybody that’s familiar with studio trickery can hear that. I don’t need my voice to be perfectly in tune; it can be out of tune, you know, and sound fine. That was annoying.”
In spite of that, Mondanile stresses that he still likes St. Catherine, and he has every reason to be proud of the album. It’s a more straightforward indie-pop record than any of his previous Ducktails outings, but that is not to its detriment. Fans of his signature watery guitar tone will find it in abundance on tracks like “The Disney Afternoon” and the title track, but it’s joined by harmonically rich vibraphone on “Headbanging in the Mirror”, lilting strings on “Medieval”, and the heart-stopping harmonies of Julia Holter on “Church”.
Holter is now Mondanile’s ex-girlfriend, so it’s tempting to read St. Catherine as a breakup album. That’s too easy, though. The lyrics trace the entire arc of a relationship, from its giddy beginnings on “Headbanging” (“When you caught my eye/I wasn’t the same”) to its numbing end on “Medieval” (“It’s all in the past, my feelings for you”). Mondanile adds some weight to the proceedings by peppering the lyrics with imagery from his Catholic upbringing. (The martyred Catherine of Alexandria, interestingly, is the patron saint of spinsters.)
“I really like, when you listen to music, that you can be transported to a totally different world, and that’s what I tried to do with this record, have it be an all-encompassing thing,” Mondanile says. “And that’s what I’d like to do with my further records, which is make it its own habitable world, and you can get into it anytime you want, and there’s lots of different types of things in the record. That’s my idea of a perfect record.”
Ducktails plays Fortune Sound Club on Saturday (August 29).