INTERVIEW: Matthew Byars of The Caribbean on Deconstructing Pop, Nostalgia, and Watching Netflix with Bigfoot!

Pictured above: The Caribbean are trapped in a ditch.

For the last 16 years, The Caribbean have made some of the most playful indie pop out there. Hailing from Washington, DC, the band has put out a string of albums that have garnered some well earned critical reception, lauded for their mastery of pop form and appreciated for their relaxing tone. This is mild music, like what you’d listen to late in the summer sitting in a float in a pool with a cool drink in your hand and the music on, but, of course, at a moderate volume. They’re playing here tomorrow evening at The Haymarket Whiskey (show at 9pm) with the always amazing Lydia Burrell, whose most recent record is an impressive show of talent, and local bleep-blopper Shedding, who has shared a record label with The Caribbean in the past. We caught up with drummer/bassist Matthew Byars to talk about their legacy, nostalgia, and Metallica. Listen below.



Never Nervous: How did The Caribbean form and how has it evolved over time?

Matt Byars: Michael and I were previously in a band together and we grew tired of the “play live and then record a live session in the studio” lifestyle, so The Caribbean was a studio focused collaboration from the onset. To live in studio versions have a sense of all the view times, with Michael, Dave, and I being the most consistent members.

NN: Considering that your first EP was recently re-released, how do you balance nostalgia for your earlier material, versus moving forward with newer material?

MB: I don’t think you feel any nostalgia for our earlier material; there are just songs we like, and songs we like more than that. But we stand by everything we’ve done and are still proud of every bit of it.

“I don’t think you feel any nostalgia for our earlier material; there are just songs we like, and songs we like more than that. But we stand by everything we’ve done and are still proud of every bit of it.”

NN: Relative to that, how do you compose? Is the work of one individual or a collaborative effort? How has it changed with time?

MB: The primary approach is Michael writing something and recording it, then Dave and I weighing in with comments and/or adding our parts, either at our studio or our own homes. There’s usually a lot of conversation, either by email or in person, about everything we do. Lots of discussion. We definitely act with intent.

NN: Given the theme of my last few questions -time and change- what advice would you give to the youngest incarnation of the band and why?

MB: Something about this question implies regret, and I don’t think we have any. So honestly, nothing.

NN: What would you like to be your legacy as a band?

MB: That we stuck to our guns.

NN: What comes next? When should we expect a new record?

MB: Nothing in the works now, but Michael has a new side/solo thing called Washington Hebrew that he’s been working on, Dave has been doing some solo drone/loop stuff, and I have a project with Clinton of More Humans called The Jarvik 6 that will be putting out an EP on my label, West Main Development.

NN: Not to say that your band sounds tropical, but there is a breeziness in your sound that certainly makes you think of calm waters and soft beaches. In naming your band The Caribbean, do you think that helped shape what is a pretty relaxed sound? Did the name inform and/or reinforce the sound, or is a reflection of a particular atmosphere that you hope to engender?

MB: Nope. We just wanted a name that didn’t sound like any other band’s name at the time.

NN: Your bio refers to the band as as “experimental pop group,” notably one “acclaimed for its deconstructionist approach to pop music.” What does that mean to you? What is it to be experimental in the context of your music? What are you deconstructing compositionally and how?

MB: I’ve never loved the modifier “experimental” because it implies that it’s uncertain if the results are affected or not, and we have no such self-doubt. I would call us deconstructionists, though, because we’ve always found conventional sounds and structure pretty boring, and don’t really have any interest in doing something that someone else has already done. So if something is veering towards a well-worn path, our collective instinct almost always is to subvert that.

“I’ve never loved the modifier “experimental” because it implies that it’s uncertain if the results are affected or not, and we have no such self-doubt. I would call us deconstructionists, though, because we’ve always found conventional sounds and structure pretty boring, and don’t really have any interest in doing something that someone else has already done.”

NN: You all have played here a number of times over the years. How has your reception been in Louisville? Are you received differently throughout the country, perhaps per region? If so, how?

MB: We’ve had some really good shows in Louisville, and some that were not so great, but there’s not a particular pattern. Connor is always great about helping us out of there and going above and beyond to help make the shows as good as possible, so it’s always fun. As for how we received elsewhere or in certain regions, again, there really aren’t any patterns, although in recent years we’ve had a lot of success in Milwaukee, for some reason.

NN: What is your relationship to touring? How do you prepare? What are the stresses involved in the road, and how are they attended to?

MB: We love touring and would love to do more of it, but our jobs and busy home lives preclude it for now. The only real preparation is just making sure we’re well rehearsed. Stresses are the often less-than-healthy diet and drinking routine, and of course being with each other pretty much nonstop. Nothing unusual about that last one, but of course everyone has to learn to navigate that at some point in their lives when they’re in close quarters with other people.

NN: Are you a full time musician? How do you balance music and your other responsibilities?

MB: No, we all have full-time jobs, have marriages, and Dave and I both have kids. It can be tricky and challenging to balance those responsibilities, but I think what we’ve all learned is that if you’re really into doing something and really want to pursue it, you’ll find a way.

“We all have full-time jobs, have marriages, and Dave and I both have kids. It can be tricky and challenging to balance those responsibilities, but I think what we’ve all learned is that if you’re really into doing something and really want to pursue it, you’ll find a way.”

NN: How does The Caribbean fit into the Washington, DC scene? Growing up, I always wished I could work with Dischord or play with a number of DC bands. What has that been like for you and how is the community there?

MB: Our previous band started in the early 90s and was always outside of that, but as we’ve been around and evolved into The Caribbean, we’ve become more connected with that community, in part due to our association with Chad Clark of Beauty Pill, who produces our records. Like most places, everything is so splintered now and so vast that it’s hard to say what the community is like, exactly, because there are so many of them; i’m not actually sure that scenes exist in the way that they used to, but we certainly have a fairly large collection of close friends, although they’re spread out all over the country and even the globe.

NN: If you could play a show in Antartica, but you had to open for Metallica and could only hang out with James Hetfield and Lars, would you do it?

MB: Sure, why not? They and their audience would be baffled by us, but I’m sure it would be fun.

NN: Would you party with Bigfoot? You can answer this as either Bigfoot the mythical creature or as the monster truck. And feel free to define party as you’d like.

MB: Not likely unless he really likes Netflix.

NN: What non-musical things have you excited lately and why? Read, watched, eaten, or drank anything interesting?

MB: I just watched the documentary Harmontown, which was really interesting, and I’ve just gotten into Rick and Morty on Adult Swim. Dave and his wife are renovating the kitchen and it’s turning out really cool, and he also loves hanging out with his three-year-old son. Michael has to think about it.

NN: Last but never least, what have you been listening to lately and why?

MB: Warne Marsh, Holly Herndon, just saw Steely Dan (a collective band favorite), the new BATTLES record, and the song Funny Business by our DC/LA friends Bluebrain.