By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — With a musical career stretching back over 30 years, onetime Far frontman and fiercely DIY singer/songwriter Jonah Matranga headlines his own 50th birthday party at the Bottom of the Hill Saturday.
Raised in the Boston suburb of Brookline, Matranga got his start making music while attending Pitzer College in Southern California starting in 1987. Armed with just an acoustic guitar and a boom box playing drum tracks, Matranga got his first taste of performing in front of audiences singing a mix of original songs and covers (full disclosure: I first met Jonah when he opened for bands that included his childhood friends from Brookline who I came to know at UC Berkeley).
He would relocate to Sacramento, founding the band Far in 1991. Embracing a heavy post-punk sound that nodded to bands emerging from the Seattle scene and contemporaries like NYC outfit Quicksand and fellow Sacramento locals Deftones, Far balanced the heavy riffs of Shaun Lopez with Matranga’s impassioned delivery and heartfelt lyrics. The band built a significant regional following, releasing a demo and a pair of independent albums that eventually led to a deal with Epic/Immortal Records for their major label debut Tin Cans With Strings To You in 1996.
While the album didn’t find a wide audience, it would later be hailed as post-hardcore landmark that heavily influenced emo punk bands like Thursday and Jimmy Eat World. Far reached a wider audience after playing tours supporting Deftones, paving the way for the greater success of their fourth release, Water and Solutions in 1998. The new material produced by noted studio guru Dave Sardy shifted the focus to melodies but added to the band’s sonic heft. Despite scoring a minor hit with “Mother Mary” and building on their cult of fans playing additional tours with Deftones and Incubus, the band would split up in 1999.
In the wake of the split, Matranga would pursue a solo career under the moniker onelinedrawing, returning to his stripped-down roots with a series of home recorded EPs and one-man shows, though he would also perform full-band versions of the same tunes fronting New End Original, a quartet that featured members of bands Texas is the Reason and Chamberlain.
The songwriter would retire the onelinedrawing name after 2004, putting out a steady stream of self-released recordings under his own name and embracing the internet as a way to connect more directly with fans and supporters, offering handmade CDs and even custom recordings as well as booking solo tours across the U.S., the U.K. and Europe playing non-traditional venues and house concerts. While he has returned to working with groups on occasion — he became a member of the band Gratitude for an album and EP that came out on Atlantic in 2005; Far reunited for their celebrated 2010 album At Night We Live and first live performances in a decade — Matranga has largely stuck to his DIY solo modus operandi.
Recent years have found the songwriter exploring other creative outlets: issuing an album with the collaborative band project I Is Another with Rival Schools/Cardia guitarist Ian Love in 2013 and self-publishing his memoir Alone Rewinding: 23 Years of Fatherhood and Music in 2017 that came with an accompanying 65-song soundtrack of recordings dating back to his teens. Last year, Matranga celebrated the 20th anniversary of Water and Solutions with an extensive tour revisiting that career landmark.
To mark his 50 years on the planet, Matranga will be hosting “Halfway to a Hundred” shows on both coasts that he envisions as more a casual, communal get together featuring the songwriter onstage by himself and joined by a number of friends and fellow musicians. For this hometown edition of the concert at the Bottom of the Hill Saturday night, Cleveland-based acoustic punk band McCafferty and Lancaster, PA pop-punk crew Carousel Kings will take the stage after Matranga’s 8 p.m. performance (a similarly themed show takes place at Harlow’s in Sacramento Sunday night).
Jonah Matranga: Halfway To A Hundred
Saturday, Aug. 10, 7:30 p.m. $13
Bottom of the Hill