Ducktails is the companion piece to the sun soaked tunes of Real Estate, fronted by their lead guitarist Matt Mondanile. The two acts have always been side by side releasing music roughly at the same time pairing well together with their drenched in nostalgia pop. Ducktails is a throwback to the Disney TV show and his newest record opens up with “The Disney Afternoon”, named after a program block for the network in the 90s airing shows like Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, Gargoyles, and yes of course DuckTales. Mondanile has come a long way though from his lo-fi bedroom stoned out tropical jams to cleaning up his production and becoming more confident with his voice. St. Catherine is the fifth LP in his solo discography and is his most pristine sounding album yet. The production is clear, not fuzzy and Mondanile’s vocals are at the front of the mix.
Recently he played a sold out show with Real Estate opening for Belle and Sebastian at the 6000 capacity venue, Radio City Music Hall. It’s strange to see them in a setting where they are introducing themselves to people who may not have heard of them and honestly judging from the crowd it didn’t seem like a lot of people were aware of who the opener was. Two days later Matt played a solo show at the Elvis Guesthouse, packed in a sweaty room and crammed into a corner with just a guitar and a laptop at what essentially felt like a house show. Elvis Guesthouse is like a hallway. “It’s so much harder to play smaller shows than bigger shows,” he says sounding stressed out. “Because there is so many less people and they’re just all looking at you and you know a lot of them. So that’s tougher for me. I get stage fright when I play a smaller show.” Matt doesn’t say much throughout his set, other than thanks. The songs on St. Catherine however are bigger more expansive and have more lush arrangements. Ducktails has outgrown venues like the Guesthouse and Matt Mondanile opened up for Panda Bear on a few West Coast tour dates, but it is always cool to see an artist play a more intimate show. Meeting Matt at Domino’s office, outside of a show setting, he’s still quiet, but more at ease and has a lot on his mind.
“I wanted the record to seem like you were walking through a garden or a museum,” Matt says trying to come up with words to describe his latest LP. “Walking through the Huntington Gardens in Pasadena is a huge influence on the record,” he later adds in with excitement. St. Catherine, has a very cathedral type sound, it’s very airy and dreamlike. Making a Ducktails record is a long process in between tour commitments with Real Estate and running his own label, but his music never sounds rushed. Just right where Mondanile wants it perfect for a breezy summer afternoon. “I start making the demos and recording the songs, some of them don’t even have lyrics yet and they’re just instrumentals. I go on tour with Real Estate a bunch so I’m listening to the demos, writing down ideas and going back. When I get to the point where I want to start overlaying them with stuff in studios then I bring them in and dump them into the computer and start overlaying stuff like drums and keyboards in professional studios to get a better sound. That really is when the record starts sounding a little better. I’m playing most of the stuff on St. Catherine,” he explains. Mondanile’s last LP, The Flower Lane, was more of a full band effort and St. Catherine isn’t without its fair share of collaborators such as lovely guest spots from Julia Holter and Rob Schnapf (co-produced Elliot Smith’s Either/Or and XO) helping out on the production.
“This record took me the longest to make out of any record it took me over a year to make. I just wanted to take it to the next level and try and make something people didn’t think I could make,” declares Mondanile. You can tell it’s Matt playing on the album, but it’s not the same old thing. There’s more string arrangements and synths littered throughout. “I started out recording while I was learning piano, so I wrote it on keyboard which is immediately different than writing on guitar. I’m really into synthesizers so I have a lot them and so I was like hey I want to learn to play these and not just screw around,” he says.
Mondanile was studying abroad in Berlin when he found his inspiration to start Ducktails. He met a group called the Skaters who were releasing drone music on cassette all the time. “I was really influenced by that because I wanted to make something I could release. I always felt the need to make something and put it out in the world,” he says. When Matt returned home to Massachusetts to resume school he formed Ducktails in a shed that he occupied that summer which is why his earlier material sounds a little rough around the edges, but still cozy. The first release under the Ducktails moniker was the 1992 demo. “I wanted it to sound like a demo from the 90s for a band, I wanted it sound like a band not a solo project.” The name stuck as he wrote Ducktails over a piece of artwork that showed a tree split into four displaying all the seasons.
Berlin has had a big effect on Matt’s work. In addition to studying there abroad for a semester in college his emphasis was on German language. He penned the track “Kinder Blumen” (translates to Flower Children) off Real Estate’s Days which sounds like if Brian Wilson produced a more chilled out guitar driven pop song. There’s also the synth heavy and dreamlike “Krumme Lanke” on St. Catherine which is named after a lake in Berlin. “It was really inspirational for me and it’s almost like a utopia for artists in the middle of Europe. The arts and creativity are the main focus there,” Mondanile mentions.
“Music doesn’t get that intense until I’m really trying to get something done and finish it,” Mondanile says nervously knowing his album release is just a month away. St. Catherine took over a year to make and the moment it clicked for Matt that his LP was finally shaping up was at the beginning of this year when he was mixing it with Rob Schnapf. “He was like these sound similar, these can fit, this all sounds like it is from the same person,” he says optimistically. Matt is excited for the release of his latest record and for fans to pay attention to it. “This one is so much more intense and elaborated on the sound than my previous records, and I just hope people pay attention to that, not just journalists but listeners. Which I know they will, but it’s always hard to get your shit across there,” says Matt.
As Real Estate continues to grow and play to a bigger audience it’s difficult to maintain all the responsibilities Matt has on a regular basis. “There are certain things that I can’t attend like shows for artists on my label or opportunities for Ducktails. Sometimes I have to do stuff with Real Estate because it’s a bigger show.” Right now Real Estate just wrapped up a summer tour and St. Catherine was just released on Friday which means Matt is about to embark on another tour as Ducktails in support of the new album. “Doing music it’s weird because you’re busy then all of a sudden you’re not. I try to make it that I would never be that empty of things to do. I want to keep pushing on and on.”
07/31 Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia, PA, US
08/02 The Bishop, Bloomington, IN, US
08/03 Schuba’s Tavern, Chicago, IL, US
08/04 The Loving Touch, Ferndale, MI, US
08/05 The Garrison, Toronto, ON, Canada
08/07 The Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY, US
08/09 Great Scott, Allston, MA, US
08/30 Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR, US
09/01 The Chapel, San Francisco, CA, US
09/02 The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz, CA, US
09/04 The Echo, Los Angeles, CA, U
09/06 The Casbah, San Diego, CA, US