An Interview with Matthew Barouch of Above the Sun
For the next 7 weeks, Siblini will be sitting down with 7 different young creatives—artists, technologists and entrepreneurs—to discuss how and why they pursue their passions. This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Matthew Barouch, a member of the band, Above The Sun. The alternative rock band hails from Staten Island and currently can be found playing shows all around New York City, including the Viper Room, Arlene's Grocery, the Delancey, the Bitter End, and many more.
Hi Matthew! Thanks so much for speaking with us today. Can you start by telling us how Above the Sun came together as a band?
There are four of us in Above the Sun: me on vocals and rhythm guitar, Shaun Gold on vocals and lead guitar, Omar Chowdhury on bass guitar, and Gary Boardman on drums. I’d been wanting to pursue a career in music for years and loved the allure of being in a band and being a part of something larger than myself.
Gary is my cousin and we’d been playing together since we were kids. Shaun and I went to high school together and he was a tremendous guitarist and musician even then, so he was an obvious person to ask to join. We were looking for a bass player and Omar was recommended to me by my guitar teacher. I later found out at our first rehearsal that Omar and Shaun go way back, and that Omar helped Shaun with his guitar work when he applied to various music programs. We’re all from Staten Island, and it’s funny how small of a world it is. And of course, above all, we just love music.
Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations? Which of your inspirations had the most profound influence on Above the Sun's sound?
As it often does in these situations, it started with the Beatles for me. The variation of their sound is probably the single biggest impact any artist has ever had on me. I also love Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon (who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting twice, and whose personal interaction with me is what galvanized my belief that I could do this for a living) Green Day, the Killers—the list goes on and on. My inspirations tend to be artists from the 60s and 70s with a smattering of 90s/00s rock acts, but I really listen to almost everything and enjoy something in every genre of music.
If I had to encapsulate which of my inspirations most influenced Above the Sun’s sound, I’d say it’s a bit of a combination between Paul Simon and Green Day with the stylistic variety of the Beatles. We’re working on an album of ten songs right now, to be released in the fall of 2018. Each track has a different vibe—there’s punk rock, there’s a bit of psychedelia, there’s something sort of like reggae. This variety comes about by making active listening to music a habit. Often there’s a particular song by an artist that will spark a new song or musical idea for us to use. If you keep your ears open and really listen to songs when they’re playing as opposed to letting them float by as background music, you never know how they will affect or inspire you. Having an open mind when listening and writing is a major key.
One of the great things about being in a band is the influence each member has on the songs. I wrote the basic structures for the songs on this upcoming album, but everyone puts their stamp on it, and the songs end up sounding like nothing you could have imagined if you just did the whole thing yourself. There’s a song on the album called “You Have It All,” which I initially intended to be a Killers-influenced alt-rock song, but it morphed into more of an atmospheric, floaty 70s rock ballad because of this cool guitar effect that Shaun started using when we played it live. Inspiration can strike in ways you can’t imagine.
How does the local NYC music scene influence the sound of the band?
I wouldn’t say the local scene affects our sound at all. At most of our local shows, we’re on the bill with several other bands. It’s great to hear the truly vast array of sounds and styles. I don’t see much, if any, cross-influence happening at that level, but there’s always a mutual respect among the bands. We support each other because we’re all in it for the love of the music, no matter how different we may sound.
What’s it like to be a relatively small band competing for the spotlight in a place like NYC?
I’m also not sure that there’s much competition going on at the club level, or at any level, really. That may sound naive, but I think one needs to consider who would be competing, and with whom. Of course it’s an uphill battle to make yourself stand out among the hordes of artists today, but the more I see live shows and listen to new music, the more I believe that there truly is a niche for every sound and style. Find out what it is that you provide the music world, and make that as good as it can be. If you really want to be in the spotlight, compete with yourself.
In a time when pop and hip hop dominate the music charts, how do you make your classic rock/pop punk sound feel relevant?
Referring in part to my answer to the previous question, I’ve found so far that there’s plenty of room for every sound to flourish and connect with its fanbase. Pop and hip hop are certainly dominant forces, but they are by no means the only ones. For instance, I was just at the final day of the Panorama NYC music festival, and the lineup on the main stage was as follows: Robert Delong, an electronic musician; David Byrne, formerly of new-wave band Talking Heads; the xx, an indie pop rock band from the U.K.; and the Killers, a huge arena-rock band from Las Vegas. Despite the fact that these artists might not be what many people might consider chart-topping pop music, tens of thousands of enthusiastic people of all ages were in attendance and loving every second.
Another instance of a band with inspiration rooted in classic rock is Greta Van Fleet. This is a band that could enter a time machine and plant themselves in the middle of a 70s rock concert and nobody would bat an eyelash. They have a rapidly growing fanbase and were just on Jimmy Fallon.
I truly believe that all music can be relevant at any time. I think the best way to make your music feel relevant is to believe in it and to say things that resonate with the listening public, with the human experience. Bob Dylan believed that the answer was blowin’ in the wind, and that’s why millions of people still do, too.
What do you want to achieve with your music?
A few months after I graduated college, I heard Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks album for the first time. It left me utterly dumbfounded. It struck me in such a way that nothing else has ever struck me. It was a strangely religious experience to hear it for the first time, and sometimes still is. I knew I had never heard it before and yet I felt as if I’d heard it a billion times and had known all along that it must have existed. It connected me to the loving spirit that inhabits music and everything else. So that, in a roundabout way, is what I want to achieve with other listeners through my own music.
To be a little more down to earth, I want my music to resonate with people. We all have songs that accompany us in our lives, that are connected to specific moments like a soundtrack to our own personal films. If my music can provide that comfort, that emotional significance, then I will have succeeded. And of course, I also want people to have fun listening to it too.
Where do you see Above the Sun in 5 years?
I see us making music and performing live with that spirit of joy and love and community. It’d be a dream to perform at Madison Square Garden or headline a major festival. We have lots of ambition and have been working tirelessly to improve. Music at its best is a cathartic experience, and to provide someone with that experience is the greatest accomplishment I can imagine.
—Interview conducted by Kelli Galayda & Ashlyn Lackey. Edited for clarity & length by Ashlyn Lackey & Kat Neis.