With strums on an acoustic guitar and the blend of folk lyrics and a raspy tone, Matt Singer relays the poetry he calls his music. Singer shares the stage with two straightforward lyricists that make up the group Great Elk. After years of crossing paths at various open-mic nights in Brooklyn, the duo and the solo artist are now touring the Northeast. Singer and Great Elk performed at Felicia’s Atomic Lounge on Saturday. Staff Writer Alexandra Palombo spoke with Singer and Great Elk vocalist Paul Basile about influences, authors and some interesting choices in cover tunes.
Alexandra Palombo: How did you guys hook up to tour together?
Matt Singer: Paul and I actually met a few years ago temping for a pharmaceutical company. Maybe two or three years after that, Paul approached me at an open-mic night that we go to in Brooklyn. So about four or five years after we worked together at this agency, he said, “You are Matt Singer, and you used to work with me representing Pfizer in all sorts of class action suits.” It was a soulless part of our lives.
AP: How did you come up with the name Great Elk?
Paul Basile: It was a long journey. We had a hard time coming up with anything. What the name really comes from is the Great Irish Elk, an extinct animal. I learned of it from Shauna Feeney, an Irish poet. The context of [the Great Elk in Feeney’s poems] are just a powerful symbol.
AP: I was listening to both of you on MySpace, and one of the songs that stood out to me on yours, Matt, was the “Stacy J” song. I want to know if that was a true story.
MS: I tell people that sadly, only the boring parts of “Stacy J” are true. I was sitting at an open mic, watching this girl fuddle her way through a few really cheesy songs, but she was … despite the fact that her music wasn’t particularly grabbing me, sort of appealing in her own way. She seemed sweet and vulnerable, and I just kind of made up this love affair with this person who had her eyes set for the stars but wasn’t quite talented enough to do it. Honestly, the good parts are pure imagination.
AP: So I was listening to your song “Jesters in June” and “Vibrations,” and it reminded me a little of Damien Rice. Would you compare yourself to anyone?
PB: I think that’s hard. I think some of the bands we would like to be grouped with are people like Justin Timberlake, that’s one.
MS: I would love to be able to play some songs with David Sedaris. That would be my dream thing. David Sedaris or Dave Eggers — a chunk of their book at Carnegie, that would be my dream show.
AP: What would you say was one of your biggest musical influences when you were writing your own music? What made you want to be a musician when you were younger?
PB: I guess as long as I can remember. I’ve been playing music from when I was a little kid. [I was] playing saxophone and the violin for a few years. I was more interested in making things up and making my own music. I wasn’t very interested in learning other people’s songs. As soon as I knew the chords, I started making up my own.
MS: I think I was a songwriter before I knew I was one. I used to sing to myself. I used to make up songs when I was a little kid. I didn’t have the courage to write anything lyrically until I went to my friend who was a bit more of a poet, a tone-deaf poet, and I asked him to write some words. And once I saw that the stuff he was doing wasn’t all that elaborate or special, but still sounded pretty cool, I gathered the courage to do a little bit of lyric writing myself. I would come up with melodies, then he would put the words down. And since then, I’ve been sort of a lyric geek.
AP: Who would you like to cover one of your songs?
PB: My answer is Kelly Clarkson.
Matt Singer and Great Elk will perform together at 7 p.m. Friday at the Kerova Bar on The Commons.