As scavenger hunts go searching decades old computer drives for music is a daunting task, but that’s the story at the heart of Matt O’Connor’s tale, one that brings together Andy Panik of The Abusers fame (the band that once boasted a young Johnny Depp among its ranks) and the sound engineer of the world renowned Whiskey a Go Go.
We’re talking to Matt O’Connor of Matt7
“First of all, I have to thank you and the magazine, so much for having me and even thinking this is a good story to put in the magazine.”
Thank you. To be honest, you’re so enthusiastic about this. We can’t leave it out.
“Oh, great. Well, the guy’s a punk legend. I mean, that’s the whole point. I mean, the song we covered. Okay, so also, first of all, before we go on, I need to give some shout outs. I need to thank my late friend Greg, Zera,, and Shelly Smith, because Greg’s Zera introduced me to Shelly Smith, and Shelly Smith introduced me to Andy Panik. If it wasn’t for them, God bless them, this wouldn’t have happened. So, um, I also have to thank Andy Panik so much for letting me be in his band. You know, basically, he didn’t have a band at the time and neither did I. And Shelly introduced us, and I had never been in a punk band before. I wasn’t a punk in the first place. I’m an adopted punk.”
To be honest, I came into punk myself. I started off listening to Iron Maiden and heavy metal. But my family actually has a very strong punk connection. My brother used to paint the backdrops for the U.K. Subs.
“That’s great. That’s great that they did that. You know, I’ve heard of that band. They’re big. And then also, I have to thank Andy Blade of Eater. You know, I have to thank him so much, because, you know, like, Andy Panik introduced the song, and I had never heard of them. You know, that song really wasn’t played on the radio over here. So, it was all new to me. And he was like, “We’ve got to learn this song!” you know? And it was like, his favorite punk song and his favorite punk band of every band. You know?”
We’ll start off at the beginning. How did you start off with music?
“Well, Shelly (Shelly Smith) introduced me to Andy Panik. He had an apartment in Hollywood called the Commodore. It’s kind of a low rent building.”
And stepping back further than that. What do you play?
“I sing and play guitar.”
Picking up a guitar, you would have been quite young at the time?
“Yeah. Oh, well, you know, it’s funny. So, I started singing for bands in 1984 when I was 15. And then, you know, I started writing songs on like, a piece of paper with words and people were like, “I can’t learn that.” So, I had to start guitar when I was 18, in 1988 or so, or 1987.”
You would have been listening to all the main metal bands coming out at the time, I suppose?
“Well, yeah, I would. You know, the funny thing is, you know, going back to me being an adopted punk, you know, the kids in my neighborhood didn’t have punk records. You know, they had like Sabbath or Ozzy or Iron Maiden or, you know, metal records. It was a metal blues neighborhood I was in, so I didn’t end up getting into punk until Andy Panik.”
You’ve been basically playing heavy metal music for quite a long time, then?
“Well, yeah, I’ve been playing a long time. But I still consider myself like a junior level musician. I’m an intermediate. I’m not great. But I do what I’m supposed to do. You know? Yeah.”
Good to know, that you can be given a punk riff and you can pull it off.
“Yeah. Just you know, Andy had a huge work ethic. He made us practice that song on acoustic guitars, like four or five hours a day.
Yeah, that’s certainly one way to make sure you get the finger movement on it. So you would have met Andy when?
“I met him in the year 2000. 21 years ago.”
How did you get introduced properly?
“Well, you know, Andy happened after the Rock City Angels broke up. He had an apartment in a low rent building in Hollywood called the Commodore and Shelly was just a goofy, nice old lady who everyone loved, and she talked to everyone in the building. And, you know, she had met him and said, “Matt, you you’re in between bands right now. So is this guy, you’ve got to meet him!” And I said, okay. You know, and that’s how it happened.”
A serendipitous meeting of like-minded individuals in a way then.
“Oh, it was it was a miracle. It was Hollywood magic. I call it you know. Yeah. So with that, I did actually carry on from then.”
Well, I guess you just hit it. I guess you guys just hit it off.
“Well, yeah. What happened was, you know, he was cool to hang out with and he didn’t allow me to play my own guitar. He said “Have an acoustic, show me what you can do.” And you know, he showed me the song and we would play on the acoustics. He didn’t have a bass then, but he got one later, he played bass on the record and sang. And so we would jam on the acoustic guitars, and he would sing the song and I’d sing backups and we got it together. And then we got a house in North Hollywood, we rented a house and then he introduced me to Phil Christ, the drummer and Erik Ross, the guitar player. And that was the band.”
What was the band called at that time?
“It was called Matt7.”
This whole story is basically centered around this one song, isn’t it?
Tell us about this song. When it comes songs to play, everyone covers Iggy Pop, I Want To Be Your Dog.
“Of course, is that a bad song?”
Everyone covers that. Everyone also covers Anarchy In The UK and Pretty Vacant as well. All the Sex Pistols stuff. How did it latch on to this one song?
“Well, it was all Andy. He insisted. He was like, “We’ve got to do this one. It’s my favorite. Let’s go.”
He’s been a huge punk fan. How can you be a fan of yourself? I guess that’s pretty much been his life.
“Well, it has. I mean, we’ll see. Okay, so that what I know of him is, he had a band called The Abusers, which was a glam punk band in Florida. And then he got into the Rock City Angels. And they had their big record. They were gigantic. That was another thing I didn’t know about him. When I met him. You know, he just seemed like a regular guy. But he opened for Jimmy Page, dude. Yeah, so he was a real rock star, whereas I was just a junior. Nobody is from Worcester, Massachusetts. Nobody famous is from there. You know it was all crazy. And he insisted on this song. That was his favorite song.”
You’ve got this song recorded?
“Yeah. And I haven’t gotten I haven’t got the email input in front of me. So I can’t remember the names of them. All the bits.”
That was a cover of which band?
“It was Eater. Yeah. And you know, what’s so cool, also, is that Andy Blade himself who wrote the song, loved our version and put it on his wall on Facebook. You know? And he’s got a book out called the same name.”
How did he come across the song?
“Well see Andy Panik, you know, he was at first real old fashioned old school and didn’t know how to use Facebook. But he finally got it together. And he found him on Facebook and wrote to him, and then told me to write to him and I wrote to him and sent him the song. And that’s how we got it.
It sounds like one of those dream moments where you’ve done a cover and he says, Wow, I’ve got to listen to this.
“It’s a huge honor for me. You know, I mean, you know, the whole thing is huge. And the other thing is, is that, you know, he was such a nice down to earth regular guy, too. That’s what was so cool. And in fact, he said that I didn’t have to pay him royalties for the song because of course you think about that, right? You think gee, you know, if you want to use somebody else’s song, you better pony up some money. And he said, he’s not going to charge us anything. And our version is now up for sale on Bandcamp. And, and Rocky App and you know, he says, you can buy that and people can buy that for me and make what I can make whatever I want off it but I told him, he can have it, I told him “I will saw off my right arm and mail it to you if you need it for the money for this song. I’ll give you anything. I don’t care!” And he doesn’t want anything.
This is part of the great punk ethos though, isn’t it? Everyone is there for everyone else.
“Well, I mean, yeah, it’s kind of like, I think it’s like the golden rule. Like if you’re a punk, you’re not a dick, you don’t you don’t give people crap about whatever. And that’s what he’s doing. And it’s like, I’m learning how to be a punk from a punk legend. Two of them actually, because Andy Panik with The Abusers is another punk legend. So it’s so great.”
So where’s it all going to now with the song, you got it up on Bandcamp? And obviously, it’s doing quite a bit of publicity with being shared out, and everything’s all good. Is it as popular as you would hope?
“Well, I mean, you know, um, when I told my mom, I was gonna be a musician. When I was a kid. She said, “I hope you don’t expect to make any money.” So I mean, I don’t have any illusions about any of this. I mean, it’s all gravy to me. You know?
It’s not the money side of things. It’s basically, are people enjoying it? That’s the main thing.
“Yes. I mean actually that’s one real good part of it, is that, you know, people like our version. And I just, you know, all I’ve ever hoped for, is to record a song and have it sound good. And people like it. Then anything else is gravy. I mean, that much is its own honor. You know?
So with this in mind have you got anything else coming up? Now that you’ve got this one down, you’ve got a cover which is liked by the original artist. You’ve got it recorded with basically punk legends. Where else can you take this?
“Well, the song itself, I can’t do much with the song itself. Unless and until Stuart, who recorded us. We recorded this 21 years ago. And, you know, he is looking through all of his hard drives, to see if he can find the original sessions because we recorded a whole album that day. You know, Andy had written a bunch of original songs, and we recorded them plus that song. But you know, because him and Stuart, the guy who recorded us, he used to work at The Whiskey at the end. In Hollywood, by the way, he was The Whiskey sound man, he came and recorded us. And, you know, he’s searching through his old hard drives, if he finds everything, then not only will we reproduce this song and make it better, we’ll also put out all that other stuff. And then also, Andy said, and that alternate version, for some reason, he doesn’t like his voice and wants me to replace it. And I don’t know how I feel about that. I think that’s kind of weird. Like, his voice seems to me like it’s more punk rock than my voice because mine is like clean and nice. And his is really like, “Yeah!!!”, you know?
Not all punk is angry, believe me, not all punk is angry.
“Yeah. I appreciate that. So, you know, if Stuart finds those files, then we’re going to do more. But meanwhile, there’s other stuff, like I have a record I put out after the punk band broke up. That’s um, you know, on the Bandcamp that I sent you. That record is on there, too, Matty O’ Gullibles Travels. I worked really hard on that with some great people. And, you know, that took 15 years to record and put out. And then also, we’re working on a second Matty O record that’s going to come out next year.”
Managing to keep yourself busy over lockdown then.
“Oh, yeah. You know, I mean, it’s one of the only things we have to do is to record. What are we going to do?”
You know, depending on where you are in the States there are some places still playing live, but there’s also the case of do you want to risk playing live?
“Yeah, it’s a whole other ballgame. I mean, you know, there is a place near me that has an open mic that a friend of mine said he would take me to where I could play. And I’m thinking about it, but I’m not sure yet.”
You’ve got, however many hard drives he’s looking through? I know, from my own personal experience, that that could be anywhere between 10 and 15 computers worth of drives that he’s going to have to search.
“Well yeah, he said one of them, he has to get a special power cord and hook it up to a tower. It’s like that old.”
Add into the mix which ones are PCs, which ones Mac?
“Oh, that’s another problem. I don’t know that either. He, you know, Stuart, I mean, it’s funny. Stuart’s very nice, but you know, he doesn’t talk much. I hear from him, you know, once in a couple of weeks. And then who knows when he’s going to write me again? You know.”
We’ve got a potential resurrected album, coming up?
Potential. You can do amazing things with computer hard drives. With the right software and the right equipment, you can recover an amazing amount of detail, providing the drive itself is still workable. So there’s some hope there. So if you can get that out, then you’ve got all of that music. And I’m assuming somewhere, someone knows what the songs were? Well, the worst-case scenario you could possibly have, it won’t be quite the same, obviously, but you could go in and try and recreate the album, I suppose?
“Unfortunately, I talked that option over with Andy last night, Andy Panik. And he actually said, “No, I’m retired.” If Stuart doesn’t find them. That’s it.”
Yeah, you can get to a point where it can be a bit too much after that time.
“Well, it was so long ago, there’s no way. I mean, I remember like bits and pieces off of one or two of the songs, but there’s no way I can remember like, all six or seven of them that we did that day. Yeah. Hopefully, we’ll get those hard drives, but I really liked that. But I mean, you know, people are free to check out my other music I’d really appreciate it. Yeah. I mean, you know, I can send you the links in the email. And oh, and then also, I wanted to say one other thing. There’s a lady named Kat Monroe. It’s spelled K A T like a K. Kat Monroe. She is like the nicest, like independent punk band promoter. She has a show. called Look What The Kat Dragged In. You can search for her on Facebook. If anybody’s in an independent punk band they need to email, firstname.lastname@example.org Kat Monroe. Look her up, any punk band, she’s a godsend. She books a bit at a club that’s called the Doll Hut in LA. That’s like LAs version of CBGBs. I got to play there a couple times because of her. So look her up. She plays bands from all over the world on her show. I had to give her a shout out to I didn’t want to leave that out.”
The scene is good. Some people just say promoting the scene, but it’s more like championing the scene.
“Well, yeah, to people like her. I mean, keep it alive. And you know, the other thing is, there was something else I want to address in terms of what I learned from Andy Panik and Andy Blade. You know how everybody on social media on their YouTube channel are always saying like, “Please like and subscribe!” Yeah, that’s not punk rock. Like, I asked Andy Blade, I said, “Andy Blade is it punk rock to care if people like you, or to ask people to like you?” And he said, “No, it’s punk rock to not give a fuck!” So I mean, that’s like the most not punk rock thing you could ever say, “Oh, please, like me in the name of God!” It’s so desperate. You know? It’s pitiful.”
You get a lot of people on there, and it’s just like, Why? I can definitely see where that’s coming from.
“Yeah, so I mean, you know, that’s why I don’t even have my picture on social media anymore. Because, like, you know they have to put up a million selfies. They have to get famous today. Like, what do you need in life? How about that? Like, I don’t need to get famous. I don’t need to get rich. I have everything I need. I don’t care.”