The Franklin Electric

Photo by Levi Zortman

The Franklin Electric gets back together with Montreal at Osheaga

Jon Matte on his band’s new album This Time I See It and how the pandemic changed his life.

With a new LP out last week and a summer of leisure not too far behind him, Jon Matte is sounding like a man at ease on a grey Monday morning en route to rehearse with his band, the Franklin Electric, who return home to Montreal this Friday for day one of Osheaga Get Together. 

The album, This Time I See It, finds Matte looking inward for understanding, outward for universal guidance, and forward in relationships and with interpersonal reconciliation. 

The Franklin Electric excels at offering folk without the hokeyness and intelligent rock for grownups, free of the angst and regret that seduces listeners in our youth but that later lacks the insight needed to mature in life. Their  new album is no exception, and Matte’s songwriting and lyricism continues to evolve in kind. 

It’s also perfect music for autumn, arriving just in time to lend all the more anticipation to hearing new material live at this special, sweater-weather edition of Osheaga – the band’s first hometown show in nearly two years, and a soft kickoff to a Canadian tour later this fall.

Here’s what Matte had to say about how the pandemic taught him to let go of identity, intention and external validation and gave him the freedom to just say yes. 

(And also, about what happened when some guy lost all of his cows.)

Darcy MacDonald: First off, how was your summer?

Jon Matte: I have a little camper van so I explored as much as possible. I went to Gaspesie and Charlevoix. That was beautiful. And we played the Festif (festival) so just kind of camped out there and I hung out for about a week and a bit. They sort of create this festival where they put different stages in different areas in the city. So one was a sandpit, I guess it’s like an old mine or whatever. And we played on a dock right on the river, which was really pretty. It’s an artistic little kind of almost-hippie town, except it’s an expensive hippie town. 

DM: Festivals are a good place to start! Any thoughts on Osheaga Get Together and your band’s role in it? 

JM: It’s been almost two years since we played in Montreal, and we have a relationship to the city and there’s definitely something special every time we play (here). I don’t know what to expect but I have a feeling that people are craving that interaction. People miss shows and that human thing that we haven’t had. I got to see a few shows, and we’ve gotten to play a few shows and you can see that there is excitement. I don’t know what to expect, but we’ll see. Montreal is our home, so it’s like coming home. 

DM: What are some of your thoughts on the lineup and any artists that you enjoy that are playing this weekend?

JM: There’s a lot of great bands. I was looking at the Sunday lineup in particular. I’ve always looked up to our friends Half Moon Run. Another talented performer is Geoffroy, and Stars is coming in from Toronto. It’s nice to see. I think Sunday is gonna be a nice day for the indie bands.

DM: When did you start writing for This Time I See It? Was it before or during the pandemic, and what was your headspace like?

JM: It was right around the beginning of the pandemic. One or two songs may have been a little bit before, but generally I wrote it at the beginning. I think a lot of people were going through this period where everything that they knew of their life came to a halt. It was sort of like an identity crisis, bringing out a lot of mental health issues among people, too. 

Because (I could say), “I’m a musician. I identify as a musician. I’m busy all the time as a musician.”

“I’m this, I’m that.” You’re a journalist. Some people are doctors or lawyers or whatever the fuck they are. And when you strip that away from somebody, it’s like, who are you now? 

It forces people to realize that all of the ideas and things we think we know about ourselves can be completely stripped away from us at any point by one thing or another. And it could be death. Life is so precious. From your career, to people passing away, to things changing. I think that we live in a society where we’re so motivated and ambitious to reach a point of accomplishment and so forth. 

But if you read any Buddhist (texts), there’s not really that much to do. I read a story recently where there was a bunch of Buddhist monks in a field and a guy was running around going, “Hey, have you seen my cows?” And he’s all stressed out. And they’re like, “Sorry, we haven’t seen your cows.” And he walks away. And one monk looks to his buddies and goes, “See what happens when you have a lot of cows? You’ll suffer like him.” (It’s about) simplifying things and looking inside instead of to the outside world to fulfill your idea of your life. 

So that was the thing. I just saw everybody, globally, going through this sort of crisis and this change of what they did. And a lot of people used it as an opportunity to adapt and change, and a lot of other people didn’t and stayed stuck on the way they wanted their lives to be, and the way it was. I was trying to see this as an opportunity. So I wrote the songs with that in mind. The title of the album is This Time I See It and it speaks about letting go of these old beliefs and these ideas of self. Learning and seeing not through screens — not through your ego or your ideas of who you’d like to be — and actually seeing what’s really going on. In other words, not using your eyes as projectors. 

DM: I have to remind myself of that often. And I mean often in a day.

JM: Yeah man, it’s daily work. And I didn’t do that intentionally. It was just what I was living. I’ve always written semi self-reflective, deeper stuff, but this time I went past the idea of willpower and intention. I just let the universe take me. 

And it actually was a wild year for me. I ended up recording the album in Vancouver and then living in Mexico in a small town for six months. I was teaching trumpet to locals and doing stuff that I’d never expect to be doing. I was reconnecting on a human level with myself without the same ideas, even beyond the Franklin Electric. I learned how to surf and ended up in this really communal small town. I saw how different cultures handled the pandemic and the beauty in community, things I think many people were missing. I went with the flow. The universe just sort of sent me that way and I said, “Sure.” I was playing in Latin bands and teaching little kids. 

The Franklin Electric gets back together with Montreal at Osheaga

DM: I hadn’t really thought of it that way, how identity has been affected. It was almost like a forced-upon ego death. It’s cool to actually have some hindsight about that period now, and maybe some foresight about what it means if we have to go there again. Regardless of how it’s handled by the powers that be, just to understand that to survive at a time like this, you cannot thrive. You can do as well as you can do, but the reward externally isn’t there. It’s all an inside job.

JM: Well, that’s it. The key word is externally. I think, in reality, there’s actually an opportunity to thrive even more than you’ve been doing for the past however-many-amount of years you’ve been doing what you’re doing. Everything works in mirrors. So when you think you can’t thrive externally, that may be the mirror of thriving internally. I don’t know. It may be. 

DM: I think I accepted pretty early on that there would be no going back to the way things were. There might be a return to some things, but no getting back to normal. And I feel like people that have resisted that are the most frustrated. 

JM: And that’s the key. You’re pretty much in control of how you see things. Or actually, you’re not, because the subconscious usually controls (that) without you even knowing. But a lot of people victimize themselves and repeat a narrative. And there’s an opportunity in everything, to subtle changes in that story or that narrative, to keep you feeling frustrated or victimized by all of these external things that we like to blame on the government, or whether it’s handled right or wrong. And then it divides people. Division is crazy now between people and the funny thing is people on both sides want the same fucking thing, they just don’t know it. 

We seek validation and accomplishment externally and lack faith and trust in the nature of things. At the same time, during this period, I kept seeing stories about, like, thousands of whales are coming back, and the animals are fuckin’ having a great time, and the ozone layer. It was a break for many things, including nature. And it was hard. But we do live in a capitalist society that stole this land and instilled all these things. It’s not even our land in the first place. There’s a lot of different variables that came to mind throughout that. And that isn’t to deny that it was a hard time for people. That would be insensitive. But there’s a few ways to kind of see that, and edit that narrative. 

It’s like society is going through puberty and there’s all of these causes, like teenagehood. And a lot of people aren’t even standing up for a cause. They’re just spewing out poison from their childhood. 

And you can tell, you know, like, people that are against things…I said to somebody, “Make sure that you’re against the vaccine for real reasons, and not your own unresolved issues.” Some people are against the medical system because their mom got bad treatment one day, so now they’re like, “All doctors are bad.” And they’re against the vaccine. And other people are actually conditioned to follow rules, so they’re just for everything, and don’t think for themselves.

But it’s funny, ‘cause it’s like, if you guys are just gonna spew up your unsolved stuff, maybe we shouldn’t even talk about COVID. We should talk about your inner pain that’s unhealed, and we should all go speak to psychologists because it’s not even about the pandemic. You’re being a little bit of a baby. You’ve got some pain on your shoulders. And we all do. But it’s time to deal with it. Grow up. 

DM: Wow, I didn’t think we’d go this deep into this topic, but this is actually the best conversation I’ve had about these times with an artist since the thick of the pandemic. Thanks.

Four albums in with the Franklin Electric, how do you feel the project has evolved creatively and kept you moving forward?

JM: It’s matured a bit. In doing it more, I think the sound has matured and become a bit more refined. I’m definitely better at what I do than I was (at the beginning). Including slowly learning to sing. Because I was never really a singer-singer, if you know what I mean. It was always new, and it was a new thing when I started the band, learning how to sing and how to front a stage, and putting all of my production experience into producing records for myself. I’ve just noticed I’ve been getting more fine-tuned in what I do and in my vision, and understanding my voice and range. 

And I guess just going with the moment and time and seeing what inspires me. Every time I try to do it from a concept or an idea, it becomes too big and I kind of miss the point. So it’s almost like the law of least effort is getting easier. For me that’s a great thing. Certain albums, I feel, were just hard work and an uphill climb, and I didn’t really enjoy that experience. With the experience I have, I’ve learned to let go and enjoy and make the process fucking easy. Sometimes I lose my mind, and other times, I’m just like, “Yes to life!” ■

The Franklin Electric perform on Friday, Oct. 1, 7:50–8:40 p.m. on the Bell River Stage. Osheaga Get Together takes place Oct. 1–3. One-day passes ($85 CA all included)  and three-day passes ($245 all included) and event info are available here.

For more Montreal music coverage, please visit the Music section.