In the decade since he moved to Grand Rapids, multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer Matt Ten Clay has undeniably helped shape the sound of the city.
With his studio, Amber Lit Audio (240 Front St. SW), Ten Clay has recorded nearly 100 different artists. His work with close friends and likeminded bands, such as Heaters, Coffin Problem and Lazy Genius, has helped grow the city’s expansive psychedelic rock scene. Last year, he also won WYCE’s Jammie Award for Best Engineering/Production, thanks to work on albums by area artists as diverse as Hannah Rose Graves, Haunted Leather, Hollywood Makeout and others.
“I didn’t always want to start a business,” Ten Clay said about owning and operating Amber Lit. “I moved here with a friend about 10 years ago from Holland in search of a more open-minded and embracing community as far as music goes, and we found that.”
For years,Ten Clay played with his band The Howlers and many other outfits, including Nathan Kalish & the Wildfire. There, he found there was a need in Grand Rapids for a studio where musicians could record at a decent quality for a decent price. He took on the task himself, part-time at first, balancing the business of starting a studio with a steady day job, while consistently dabbling with music of his own.
“I feel like my niche in the music community is an easy-going approach and atmosphere for musicians who don’t have all the money in the world to get a solid product that they love out into the world,” Ten Clay said.
Currently, he has between six and eight projects in the works at Amber Lit, ranging from solo acoustic performers to gloomgaze bands.
The Pyramid Scheme
“It’s been amazing, humbling and initially underestimated in my own mind,” Ten Clay said about being part of the Grand Rapids music scene. “There is such a camaraderie and social value, beyond the therapeutic and invaluable joy of creating and participating in a music scene. It’s overwhelming and beautiful, and I do feel right at home, right where I belong.”
This month, three releases will emerge from the aural confines of Amber Lit Audio as Ten Clay releases the latest EP, Outta Sight, Outta Mind, from his own band The Howlers. Then there’s work from his friends in the rising GR psych-rock bands Suzies and Trash Hounds, all appearing at a triple-release concert at The Pyramid Scheme Oct. 8.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Ten Clay said. “Those guys’ sound and energy really resonates with me, and it’s really awesome to have them around in town.”
Ten Clay started The Howlers in 2007. The band’s earlier work was influenced by acts like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre and The Velvet Underground. Over a half-dozen releases, and nearly as many member changes, The Howlers’ robust blend of rock, pop, shoegaze, psych and drone has grown into something much larger than they anticipated.
“We weren’t as wall-of-soundish,” Ten Clay said of earlier incarnations of The Howlers, which fluctuated between three and four members. “The songs were a bit lighter in nature altogether, less overdriven in the guitars, and also a bit less dark in the material, lyric-wise.”
Outta Sight, Outta Mind follows last year’s All I Had. The EP loosely grapples with the conflict between faith and reason amid an array of distorted guitars and other atmospheric textures.
Currently, The Howlers are a five-piece made up of Ten Clay on guitar and vocals, Patrick Wieland on drums, Adam Cavanaugh on bass, and both Sean Sterns and Dan Fisher on guitar. Like all of their previous releases, the members recorded Outta Sight, Outta Mind at Amber Lit Audio, where they have the flexibility to record however they want, day or night.
“With having the space and equipment to do what I want, when I want, and for as long as I’ve had that ability, it’s hard to say exactly how that influences the work,” Ten Clay said. “It definitely gives me plenty of options, [which can be] overwhelming at times. Luckily, the band has invaluable intuition and input on the songs, especially if the song is headed in too murky of a direction.”
These days, The Howlers only play a handful of live shows, but Ten Clay said he hopes to continue to release at least one EP each year with the band while keeping busy in his studio.
“The path that we’ve been on and frequency of shows feels right-on for the last couple of years,” he said. “So we’ll probably keep rolling in that direction.”