X Marks the Spot: Indie nomad Emperor X tells us about his travels and tunes

Jun 10, 2009 at 4:00 am

Emperor X is the alter ego of Chad Matheny, musical migrant, songwriter and electronic musician. Originally from Jacksonville, Florida, Matheny has toured incessantly and moved all over the country while releasing inventive and purely independent music that's become hard to find.

Matheny's music cycles between lo-fi, acoustic indie folk and intricate electronic music adventures, where effects and tape manipulation create one-of-a kind sound collages. (Imagine someone utilizing whatever might be within immediate reach to create percussive bursts of indie-rock ear candy.) This isn't the homogenized, regurgitated trend-recycling pap that passes for "indie" or "experimental" music these days, but a more heartfelt, imaginative song canon that takes listeners to a singular space in time.

He also finds unique and interesting ways to release Emperor X's music. Matheny's last few albums have only been available digitally, save for one physical copy that includes the record, master tapes and original artwork. Matheny then buries this object and posts rough latitude/longitude coordinates on his website, a technique known as "geocaching." The first person to find the artifact gets to keep it.

Personal circumstances and connections with friends facilitated his move to the St. Louis area, and he has spent the past few months in Edwardsville, Illinois, writing, recording and playing a few shows with locals So Many Dynamos. B-Sides caught up with Matheny as he was gearing up for Emperor X's upcoming tour — after which he'll move to LA.

B-Sides: What brought you to the St. Louis area, anyway?

Chad Matheny: The reason I came out to St. Louis was largely because of the recording studio with Ryan [Wasoba of So Many Dynamos]. I was at a really trying time. I was basically in a lot of trouble. And Ryan just called me one day when I was sort of freaking out about where I was going to live for the next epoch of my life. And he said, "Hey, we have a spare bedroom, and I'm starting a recording studio. You should come hang out with me and hammer foam up on the walls or whatever."

Did you write and record a lot while you were here?

Yeah, St. Louis is making several appearances in some songs I wrote when I was there; there are a lot of angry references to the lack of mass transportation in the area. But it's a good-natured anger, because I love a lot about Edwardsville and the St. Louis area. It was a really great place to be for a while, and I was really able to clear my head and reconnect with old friends.

Tell me about your geocaching albums.

There are four geocaching albums. Two of them are done, and the third one I wrote and recorded a lot of it in Edwardsville, and the cache will probably be located somewhere in Madison County. I'm only going to do four of them, because it's a finite project. It's a lot of effort to find something that's worth burying.

What made you want to release your music through geocaching?

In some ways it was just because I thought it was fun, but in some ways it was like a reaction. I'm more and more convinced every day of the fading relevance of physical copies of music. I didn't realize this when I started [geocaching], but what it wound up being was, "I can release everything digitally and everyone can have a copy of it, but there's still this physical thing somewhere." Whether or not somebody wants it, it exists. That's important in the process of making an album, because if you look at it as, "I'm just going to make a bunch of MP3s and upload them," then you're just going to make a bunch of MP3s and upload them. But if you look at it as an album, and you think about the visual element of the album, that's something completely different.