The first time I saw Matt Goff create was in the back of an old wooden ski lodge at Lost Sierra Hoedown, a music gathering of ski bums, music pro’s and hippie locals deep in the chilly bosom of the Sierras. A fire crackled behind me, a small crowd hushed beside me and Goff rippled his snare, toms and cymbals with ambient fury in front of me. He set the warm, spacey tone of the night for his brethren in surrealist blues-folk outfit Marty O’Reilly and The Old Soul Orchestra and they played one of the most powerful sets I’ve ever seen.
I had never witnessed such a borderless expression of drumming up close, where there was no needed distinction between form, genre and technique; it was just necessary sound. After that intimate display of music and passion I walked away a firm believer in the band, especially of Goff and his creative instincts to go beyond borders.
If you look over the vast and growing body of this California artist’s work, you’ll definitely begin to understand there aren’t any real boxes in which he puts his abilities or any filter he places on his influences or any borders to what he wants to experience. He plays music, shoots wildlife photography, designs album covers for friends like The California Honeydrops, Whiskerman, Caitlin Jemma and Maya Elise, and illustrates for climate activism. All of them are interconnected ways in which Goff can just be himself in his natural state of creation, whatever that might look like.
“I try to be a chameleon with my art direction and design direction. My goal is to be not limited by one vision or style, to me that is terribly boring. I am revaneous creatively and I want to make things in every visual aesthetic and conceivable style. I’m always drawing from different influences,” said Goff.
The headwaters of Marty O’Reilly and the OSO trickle down from the lush traditions of blues, folk, gospel and jazz, though it all comes together amorphously into a wash of sound and spirit as it continues to flow downhill. As a river takes the form of the channels, gulleys and embankments that mark its journey, so does OSO’s direction take the form of Goff’s terra-rhythmic percussion.
The band’s latest album Signal Fires is another gorgeous example of the band’s synergistic sound and Goff’s drumming (he also shot and designed the album cover). From leading explorations into hidden hollows of sound “With Me When I’m Gone” to sweeping minimalism on “Alexandria” to the easy trail swing of “Sleeptalking,” his rhythms are undulating landscapes from which the rest of the band’s sound grows.
The wild places he goes in music mirrors the wild places he goes out in the world. A natural wanderer and photographer, he finds ways to appreciate the interconnectedness between humans and nature on an ecological level. There’s certainly the grand vistas of places like Alaska and Glacier National Park, where he can be rocked by the fact the glaciers he enjoys now will not be there for his grandchildren. He also recognizes that even the trees in your backyard invite as much inspiration as the trees in Sequoia National Park; there’s no need to distinguish between such shallow comparisons when we as humans are connected and dependent on both.
“Wild spaces are always going to exist in changing ways and there is something special about the places we intertwine. The wilderness is something of a myth because humans have always interacted and co-created the environment. It’s liberating to see the spider in your backyard as awe-inspiring as those glaciers – which are definitely melting (chuckles) – and to see us as more interconnected than not to the whole. Humans are a part of the ecological system,” said Goff.
He goes about capturing these connections on film, which he’s been doing pretty exclusively for the last five years. He believes the analog disposition is a much richer finish and the limited exposures force him to strengthen his general design eye and artistic direction because he doesn’t have the opportunity to edit or review in real time. It also allows him to be more present and engaging with his wilderness souries as he’s not continuously fiddling, shooting and hoping for the perfect shot from a digital camera. View, shoot, move on.
These experiences outside flow and inform his other creative endeavors, especially Goff’s climate activism and work for organizations that are doing what they can to fight the world’s inertia on the issue. “My experiences as a backpacker are really catalysing for me as an activist because connecting with wild spaces is the most fruitful, beneficial thing I’ve done,” said Goff.
He studied ecology and sociology in school and can’t disconnect his values and knowledge from how he interacts with the world and expresses himself. So he attends climate-oriented rallys, protests and lends his illustrative mind to the cause. He’s very passionate about working with activist organizations and often provides discounts or pro bono work, working recently with organization Extinction Rebellion to help protest and raise awareness about oil pipelines.
His instinct to communicate his ecological and sociological values can also be found in work outside the political or activist spheres, though done with a little more glitz, glam and winking. Take for example his work with fellow Bay Area band Whiskerman for their single “Running Out of Money in America.”
The song’s tongue and cheek economic bleakness is magnified by Goff’s design work, fixing a bikini-clad woman on a motorcycle at a dilapidated navy yard as money rains down on her. The implosion of late-stage capitalism will at least be theatrical in this artist’s world. “As an ecologist and sociologist I see our country as in a state of slow but seemingly inevitable collapse. But the people paying me money are just looking for an album cover,” laughed Goff.
And Matt Goff is just looking to express himself, no matter the context. “All the work that I do is one piece of work. I don’t see any distinction between my music or my personal work or stuff I do with clients or backpacking trips and pro-bono work,” said Goff. There are no creative boundaries for this artist and it is why his work is so fresh and free-flowing, as natural as the creative state he is in.