The Current's Rock and Roll Book Club: Matt Pinfield's 'All These Things That I've Done'

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'All These Things That I've Done'
The Current's well-marked copy of Matt Pinfield's 'All These Things That I've Done' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

You might not recognize "Matt Pinfield," but for music insiders, it's a household name. In a long career that's included everything from a stint as an influential VJ on MTV to a radio host and record company executive. He's "the ultimate music fan," according to the back of his new book All These Things That I've Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life.

Recently, Pinfield talked with The Current's Brian Oake and Jill Riley about his new book and his favorite music.

Brian Oake: Matt Pinfield, you've done time all over the map. You have been a radio DJ, you have been a club DJ, a record label A&R guy. I think most people know you from MTV but you've done satellite radio, you've done different projects on the web. You've done basically have done all the jobs there are to do that give you proximity to the music, the experience, and the rock-n-roll thing. You have had all this and now you're chronicling the best of it in this new book called nAll These Things That I've Done: My Insane, Improbable Rock Life.

The story is pretty improbable. In fact, you have a great quote here where it says, "sometimes [you've] broken down in tears, contemplating the journey, the sheer improbability of it, because there are guys [like you] everywhere." Record fairs, used LP stores, [guys] that want to be close to the music. Guys like to argue on the internet about music and you've asked yourself "How the bleep did I get here?" How did you get here, Matt?

Matt Pinfield: College really was a big part of it for me because I was always looking for music, since the time I was a kid. Always looking to turn people on to music, until I was doing that at the Ruckus radio station. There was no one really perpetuating a local music scene there. You know how Minneapolis has always had a creditable music scene, with Twin Tone, or of course Prince, and so many artists that I love from there...Soul Asylum, but I always thought it was so important to perpetuate local music and create something around it. That was the opportunity for me.

There was a night club in Trenton, New Jersey, where Jon Stewart worked as a bartender — Daily Show Jon Stewart. He was going to Glassboro, which is a college down in south Jersey. It was an old, beat up, warehouse, in a very bad area of Trenton, New Jersey. I had a friend there named Randy who was booking the place. For me, as a college kid, it meant that I got to go see everybody for free because I would promote the shows and give away tickets. Jon was bartending, eventually even James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem became a bouncer there underage!

There was a four mile radius from Princetonnjunction, where John Popper from Blues Traveler, Trey Anastasio from Phish. Chris Barron from the Spin Doctors, and James Murphy all grew up in that same small area, believe it or not. There was so many great bands to go and see.

I started pretty young wanting to interview artists. I wanted to know what was behind the songs because I was so in love with it. As long as I could remember, being three years old, music was my number one love and fascination. Eventually, I got a job at the music department at MTV. It's been a pretty incredible ride for me. I'm very blessed and I'm very grateful, to be honest with you.

Oake: Obviously, you've always been passionate about music. Were you able to help influence the videos that were played, the artist that were curated there, to help bring these artists out into a bigger audience?

Pinfield: Definitely, without a question, some of them, always. I was able to fight for certain bands. There were other bands that already existed for a while that I loved very much. I just felt like that was a perfect home for me, that's where I wanted to be. I think that's why I loved 120 Minutes. That's where I wanted to be. So many artists on there, I spun them on the radio, in New Jersey, spun them in the nights clubs, I was an alternative club DJ. That was my show, my go-to show.

I was a part of a committee of ten people that picked videos. We picked our battles and we fought over stuff. It's in the book, there's a story about the radio thing, where the other record companies were upset with us because a band would sell 10,000 more that week than Radiohead's The Bends. We stuck by our guns and stuck behind Radiohead because we loved and believed in the record. There were certainly times, always, where you went in there and picked your battles. I didn't pick every video in 120 Minutes, but I definitely was involved in picking a lot of them.

Jill Riley: Matt, you've had a front row seat for so many things in the music industry. You've played the music on the radio, you're the ultimate music fan, just consuming and taking in music. You've punctuated your book with list of 50 essential albums from the '60s to the 2000s. Music heads love to make lists, argue about lists, and go back and fourth about lists. How long did it take you to narrowndown each decade to 50 albums? I imagine that was pretty hard.

Pinfield: I have a deadline on myself. I look back and go "Oh, I can't believe I forgot that!" It's one of those things I could pain myself over for forever. I really wanted to do 100 from each decade, 50 is very hard for me. It's like five albums a year, it's certainly so many great — I don't look at music that way. I'm always looking for an album, a song that cuts through me and feels like the soundtrack of what I'm going though or just something that moves you. That's the difference and the beauty of it.

I really hope you guys enjoy it and I hope everyone listening to The Current will give it a shot. It's definitely an interesting book and an interesting journey.

Interview transcribed by Erianna Jiles

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