Embracing My Inner Alt-Rock Auteur: The Cinematic Journey to 'Family Plot'

Maybe you’ve noticed I’ve branded myself as an “alt-rock auteur.” What does that even mean???

If you’re a fan of film like me, you’re probably familiar, at least somewhat, with the “auteur theory.” Basically, it’s the idea that the director of a film is the equivalent of the author of a novel; they are the primary and singular creative force behind a given project.

According to this view of filmmaking, a director’s unique personal vision is the principal influence shaping the film’s aesthetic, tone and themes.

So there’s that.

There’s also my realization that I prefer to work on music the way an author works on a book: Mostly alone, in solitude, having done much rigorous research.

Now, the “auteur theory” of filmmaking is kinda bullshit, actually.

Films are made collaboratively. There is no one person who could be considered the “author” of any film. That’s sort of absurd. It’s tied into “rugged individualist” ideology that I don’t subscribe to. It ignores the writers, the cinematographers, the set dressers and everyone else who has a say. And it tends to recognize the “greatness” of white men while ignoring the massive and crucial creative efforts of women and people of color.

In music, the “auteur theory” is also kinda bullshit. And it’s been applied to some pretty unsavory people like convicted murderer Phil Spector and disgraced rapper/producer Kanye West. Oof!

Even the good-guy music auteurs like Brian Wilson never really authored anything by themselves.

Like film, music is a collaborative endeavor in most cases. Some would argue it’s even more collaborative than filmmaking. Arrangers, engineers and instrumentalists – among many others – contribute quite a bit to any music project, typically.

But for me, I really truly do it all by myself. Alone in a room. For better or for worse. I think mostly for better. For now, anyway.

I acknowledge that I stand on the shoulders of giants, but I’m also the one who plays every single note on every single one of my recordings (apart from Annie’s vocal contributions, of course).

And goddamn, I sure do love those auteur films – have you watched Hitchcock’s Vertigo recently? Wow!

I revisited it last week and I think it may have inspired a whole new direction for me, but that’s a story for another time.

So it feels appropriate to brand myself as an “alt-rock auteur.” Feels right. Feels like me. And these days, if you haven’t figured out your branding, what are you even doing???

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Some People Say Story Is Everything and I’m Not Sure I Disagree

I think “alt-rock auteur” is a nice little shorthand. It tells a story. It separates those who are “in the know” from those who are not. It paints a picture of me as someone who takes a unique approach. Hopefully, it conveys that I’m not your average rock and roller.

Music is my main thing. It will always be the case. And yet, I cannot shake these cinematic aspirations of mine.

Consider my album Family Plot, which arrives this Friday, June 21, 2024.

The title of the album is (among other things) a nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, which premiered about six months before I was born. Like Hitch’s movie, my record captures a strange mixture of serious suspense and irreverent humor. The tone might seem odd, but it is absolutely my vibe and it is absolutely intentional. Authorial, even.

Where and when did I become attracted to these ideas? How did I get music and film so mixed up? You’ll have to rewind to 1983 and turn on NBC’s Friday Night Videos.

My interest in music was starting to pop off around this time. FM radio hits were everywhere and they sounded so fucking cool. I started becoming intrigued by the records owned by my much older siblings. I was probably being exposed to a lot of inappropriate stuff, but what kid wasn’t back then?

Where I grew up, miles from civilization, we didn’t have cable TV. So no MTV. And I felt that. I really noted the absence. Thankfully, Friday Night Videos came along at the perfect time for me. It was a lifeline to the coolest music, the raddest people and the culture I wanted to be a part of.

Looking back, I can see now how music and film fused together in my brain, planting seeds that eventually grew into big-ass trees with complicated root systems. And those trees are finally starting to mature.

Making Music Is Making Movies Is Making Music

Today I’m on the brink of releasing Family Plot, a project that merges my musical ambitions with my cinematic aspirations in many ways.

Three of the record’s songs feature music videos created by my friend, the artist Austin Hille. These videos don’t just offer cool-ass visuals; they’re absolutely integral to the storytelling of the album, expanding on the record’s themes and providing punctuation.

There’s also all this short-form vertical-video content Annie and I have been making. Instagram “Reels.” YouTube “Shorts.” You know the deal. I might even add Tik-Tok to the rotation. We’ll see.

And damn, turns out everyone is a filmmaker these days. You kind of have to be in order to gain any traction on social media. Sometimes I resent it. Why can’t I just focus on the music? But then I remember my overarching goal of marrying music to imagery. And so it’s actually kind of fun. Chaotic, sure. But mostly fun.

Bite-sized, irreverent snippets of my lip synching, moving my body and acting out. Showing off my moves. And then applying my authorial signature by doing crazy shit with filters and backgrounds and all that stuff.

Making these videos, I’m reminded of how I am not a filmmaker. I’m reminded that yeah, music is where the talent is at with me. But still, it’s fun making little movies.

Something else that occurred to me recently is that the themes of Family Plot – childhood trauma, family estrangement and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) – are typically tackled in media like memoirs and movies.

And so I’ve realized some people write books about this stuff; but I made an album instead. Is that even appropriate? Did I just make the first self-help album? Probably not. But still, it’s interesting to think about.

“You’re Going to the Source and I’ll Be There To Guide You”

Now I’m thinking about Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" video.

The title track from Jackson’s monster 1982 album features an expensive short film, directed by John Landis, as its video.

Recently I learned that the video didn’t come out until after the album was already more than a year old.

The record had been doing well, but sales were starting to slip. Jackson decided he wanted to do something big and cinematic to rejuvenate interest in the record. It was a huge risk. Close to a million damn dollars were spent making the video, and it required financing from the aforementioned nascent MTV. Jackson put his career and reputation on the line.

And it worked! The video became extraordinarily popular, breathing new life into the album and ushering in a new era of music video excellence.

For Christmas 1983, I got a copy of The Making of Michael Jackson’s Thriller on Betamax cassette. And in the 166 hours that existed between weekly airings of Friday Night Videos, I watched that fucker over and over and over again. It contained the full-length video, yes, but the bulk of the program material was about the creative process. Amazing.

Shit. There are a lot of things happening here in this memory. I feel like I need to break it down:

  • I was the perfect age to be inspired. My brain was forming around the images and sounds I was taking in, shaping me as a person.
  • Michael Jackson was the coolest person I could imagine. I wanted to be him. I recognized that he wasn’t just good at music; he was the music. I aim to be the music, too, versus simply making the music. The guy could sing and dance and just BE THE MUSIC. He was better than everyone else.
  • ZOMBIES!!!! I got into horror movies at a very young age, most likely because of my interest in Thriller. Would there be a “Zombies Of The Heartland” without it? Probably not.
  • I love learning about the making of things. I miss DVD director commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes. I am rarely satisfied by merely experiencing a piece of art; I need to know more about the process of making the art. I thought everyone felt this way for a long time. But they do not feel this way. It’s me and, like, about a dozen other people, I’m pretty sure.
  • I learned how to do the moonwalk around this time. And breakdancing was becoming huge. Even in tiny Bancroft, Wisconsin, somehow. In 1984, I went to see both Breakin’ movies in the theater. The original and its sequel, famously subtitled Electric Boogaloo. I was there. I wish I could revisit my little-white-kid mind and survey what he thought about the class and race dynamics presented in those films. Hmmm. I think I just thought those motherfuckers “Special K,” “Turbo” and “Ozone” were really goddamn cool and I wanted to be like them, and I wanted to help fight the forces that were preventing them from living and dancing the way they wanted.
  • This was also around the time my interests in music and art and dancing and Michael Jackson and Electric Boogaloo and being a fun-loving, creative, peculiar kid were developing into signals that assholes interpreted as invitations to abuse me. You fucking crushed my spirit for a while there, you fuckers.

Such a time. Fuck. And it’s all still with me today. It’s why I am the way I am. It’s why I made the album I made with Family Plot.

Lights! Camera! Music!

And so what’s next? This album is coming out. It’s done. I’m going to be talking about it and promoting it for a while. Highlighting certain songs. Making more videos. More Reels and Shorts and stuff.

At the same time, I’ll be writing more music. Storyboarding the next project. In secret. Well, I can tell you now that its influences are Goodbye Yellow Brick RoadLondon CallingVertigoBack In BlackSave The CatJust as I AmDo Ya Think I’m Sexy? and Raiders of the Lost Ark. That’s the stew for now, anyway.

But whatever happens, I feel like I need to continue to ride the wave of cinematic inspiration. There is no Matt Kollock music without it, I’ve realized. It goes way back. It’s in my bones. I would be just as happy winning an Oscar or Emmy as I would winning a Grammy. So I’m going to keep thinking like an auteur (even though I know it’s all bullshit, yes).

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy Family Plot. For the music, for the videos, for the story it tells. For the cinematic feels. All that. I worked really hard on it. It’s a culmination. It’s the end of a road. It’s a destination.

It’s shadows on a wall with an alternative punk-rock soundtrack.

And check out the little film my friend Austin put together for “Zombies Of The Heartland.” It’s a wild ride, not unlike this blog post you’ve almost finished reading.

Keep your eyes peeled, friends, for more cinematic content. You won’t want to miss a single frame.


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