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Herb Sundays 34: Matthew Schnipper
Writer/editor/curator Matthew Schnipper shares a pull of tunes that show why his Deep Voices substack is so compelling. Art by Cina.
Matthew is a beautiful writer, the kind I want to be one day. He’s honed his chops as Fader’s editor-in-chief, Pitchfork’s executive editor, and now as an editor at Vice. The music he finds is often incredibly “rare” and I’m reminded how much deeper I need to search.
I see Mr. Schnipper as a musical optimist, an enthusiast. To me being an enthusiast doesn’t make you easily pleased, in fact, quite the opposite. You have to be game to hunt, even if the odds are against you. You accept that there is plenty of theorizing to be done, lines to be drawn, but finding pleasure is a form of sport too. The art of chasing it down.
Matthew shares this process in his Deep Voices playlist series and Substack. Deep Voices started in summer 2020 and now counts around 59 playlists. What’s fun about DV is that it chronicles the music discovering process, there’s a handpicked quality that makes it warm and personal even if the names are often obscure. Talking about music with heart, not as a way of keeping score or showing you’re up to speed.
I’m a bit of a sucker for Matthew’s taste as he shares in Herb Sundays 34: IDM-tinged slinkers (Arovane, Mouse On Mars, Casino Versus Japan), recent meditative electronic fare (Motoko and Meyers, Echostar), and crinkly spirituals (His Name Is Alive, Annette Peacock) and yes, the first Stephen Malkmus record which is sick and that I had never really peeped.
Understanding your taste, challenging it, learning how to live with it but also push it, is a huge part of a music lover’s life. It is a way of understanding yourself and the world and learning what you value, even if others seemingly don’t.
I've often justified the hunt of finding music as "collecting feelings" or building a literal monument of meaning to steel oneself against an uncertain world (Herb Sundays is this perhaps just other with people's bunkers!). Like the protagonist in Simon and Garfunkel's "I Am A Rock” music and art can help us hide away from our own feelings while soaking in the emotions of others.
I have my books
And my poetry to protect me
I am shielded in my armor
Hiding in my room
Safe within my womb
I touch no one and no one touches me
The “stakes” of Deep Voices are usually intentionally low: A batch of new and often unconnected music, and maybe an interview. They are the diaries of a music lover working through the process of discovering music. Inevitably the substack covers Matthew’s personal life as the two can’t really be separated. I had only properly been connected with Matthew in 2020 by our mutual friend Jon Coombs. I really appreciated Matthew’s ambidextrous taste and sense of wonder instantly. As both men entering the parenting phase of life, I also immediately looked up to Matthew as a colleague. You look at other people who are parents and try to imagine if you can do it too. In an unimaginable turn of events, Matthew lost his beautiful son recently and he bravely shared his experience in Deep Voices:
“My son Renzo died on Christmas Eve. Two and a half days before, he had an aneurysm caused by a rare condition in his brain called AVM, which we did not and could not have known he had. Though what I suppose would be called extraordinary measures were untaken, he did not survive. He was 22 months old and the absolute love of my and my wife’s life.
Though Deep Voices is ostensibly a newsletter about music, I’ve written about Renzo here before, as my understanding of and need for music are impossible to disentangle from my personal life. Before Renzo was born, we joked about naming him Arthur Russell Schnipper or Frank Ocean Schnipper. We settled on Renzo, to honor my wife’s Italian heritage, and his middle name is Rollins (after Henry). I had hoped being named after Henry, a hero of mine, might give him strength. I think it did. Renzo was a charming, sweet, funny, strong-willed little boy. And like Henry, he was a real hunk. I miss him desperately.
It’s been a month or so since I wrote those above two paragraphs. I originally wrote a sentence about how the pain of his loss was “unbearable,” and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that word. Because it’s wrong. The pain is incalculable, but I am choosing to bear it. The other choice is to recede, take to bed, to die, and as tantalizing as an abyss may sometimes seem, I am choosing to survive.
And I like making this newsletter and I’d like to continue it one day in a more standard fashion. Fifty-five editions of me trying to convince you to embrace the weirder side of sound, urging you that there is so much humanity in the nooks and crannies of art, a mission I want to return to. But that seems impossible without talking about Renzo’s death. It’s something I need to go through, not around.
As I have in most other times of pain (though now past pain feels like no pain at all), I have tried to find solace in music. That has been more difficult than I imagined. Many things have sounded not right, I don’t know how else to describe it. I put on albums I have loved and find them to sound grossly haunted or indelicate and uncomfortably angular. For the first week after Renzo died, I pretty much only listened to Bill Callahan. He has a deep, clarifying voice, up there with James Earl Jones and Morgan Freeman as a candidate for god’s narrator. So for a little while, I let him be mine. His songs with images of birds fleeing, horses sleeping, brambles, voids, wells, of feelings of being hot and alone, carried a little bit of the heft for me.”
Matthew’s willingness to survive and grow is emboldened by music, and his sharing of his music and his emotions help us survive too.
As I watched ambient CNN the other day the phrase “Putin’s youngest victims” caught my ear and pictured were kids with cancer forced to take shelter basement of a children’s hospital, awaiting surgery that may never come.
The arc and violence of the heartbreak that we all will face is unknown, but perhaps music prepares us for it and sculpts our capacity. In a world that can show up as very dark, art shows us the human spirit is indelible, and our shared love of it is a strength beyond borders.
Link in IG bio to credible support gestures for Ukrainian kids. If other or similar aid programs cross your radar, i’d be glad to know and will share.