“I played saxophone from a young age,” says Princeton bassist and vocalist Matt Kivel. “I don’t know why. I kind of liked jazz music and you only have a limited number of instruments to play when you’re playing in school ensemble, so to me saxophone seemed really cool, like, the cool thing to do — so I did that.”
Kivel was fortunate enough to have other aspiring musicians within his family and group of friends growing up.
“Me and my brother obviously were around each other a lot growing up because we lived in the same house,” says Kivel, referring to his brother, guitarist and vocalist Jesse Kivel. “We thought it would be a good idea to start playing rock ‘n’ roll instruments. And [keyboardist Ben Usen] also grew up in our neighborhood and went to the same school with us. He was friends with us and he played piano, and we just thought that it would be nice to play some music together and make a band.”
In the years since then, Princeton has made a name for itself playing small shows during time abroad in London and supporting high-profile, indie acts like Vampire Weekend. The band has gained significant recognition for its dynamic live performances and sophisticated lyrics.
Princeton’s newest album, Remembrance of Things to Come, is set to release Feb. 21 and follows the band’s acclaimed debut, Cocoon of Love, which was released two years after the band members’ college graduation.
Remembrance shows off inspired new writing from Kivel and the rest of the band and marks a difference in the band’s formerly indie shoegaze sound. Kivel cites eclectic influences, such as As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury by legendary author William Faulkner and various musical works by classical minimalists Steve Reich and Terry Riley.
“I think it’s like pop music, but there [were] a lot of orchestral instruments involved when we arranged the record,” Kivel says of the new album. “It’s densely rhythmic with minimal chord changes [and] these pop melodies over it so that it still sounds like a pop song.”
Over years of writing and playing music, Kivel has begun to feel a more emotional connection to his work, which has provided him with a sense of stability.
“I think playing music and writing songs over the last 10 years of my life has been one of the few consistent things that I just really get pleasure and joy out of and feel a sense of purpose,” Kivel says.
Although music brings him a sense of personal satisfaction, Kivel is rarely satisfied with the final product, often harboring mixed feelings toward his work.
“When I’m playing live, I wish I was recording something, and then when I’m recording something, I wish I was playing live,” Kivel says. “You have this vision of how something’s going to sound in your mind but regardless of whether you’re recording or live you never quite get there.”
The process of writing is as varied and challenging for Kivel, but it’s still something he relishes tremendously.
“Sometimes it involves just sitting with my guitar and working at an idea but sometimes it evolves. I tend to just write songs by playing chords on my guitar and then figuring out a vocal and then writing a lyric,” Kivel says. “As time went on, I got tired of the way guitar chords sound. So then I started writing [with] drum machines and keyboarding, even though I don’t play keyboard very well.”
Evolution is an important part of any band, and Kivel believes Princeton’s shift in style and influences is a natural result of time.
“As you get older, certain things that had meaning lose meaning, and things you overlooked become more valuable to you,” Kivel says.
This evolution will likely be paused, however, as Princeton hits the road in support of their newest release Remembrance.
“When you tour, your life becomes so simple,” Kivel says of the band’s new tour, which recently stopped at the Bootleg Bar in Los Angeles. “You literally have one goal for the entire day, which is to manage to drive to the destination and then to play the show at the destination.
“The bad part is that you can’t stay in shape,” Kivel adds with a sigh. “You eat terribly. You spend a lot of money. We all have jobs, so when we go on tour we have to put that income on hold.”
Kivel is largely unfazed by the downsides, however, and seems enthusiastic about life on the road.
“We get to see a lot of interesting parts of the country. We like to sightsee. We saw Mount Rushmore recently and we were obsessed with it,” Kivel says.
But in the end, it’s about the music. And on that front, Princeton appears to have a successful future ahead of it, fueled by passion and forged through strong relationships.
“As we got older, the idea of playing music together and the ambition to become musicians just stuck,” Kivel says. “I feel that when you have friendships like [this], it’s a special thing.”