An interview with pianist/vocalist Matthew Ebel and drummer Runtt, one of the musical acts of Anthrocon 2013, a record-breaking-in-attendance Furry gathering held in Pittsburgh, downtown at the David Lawrence Convention Center last weekend, July 5th through the 7th. If you haven’t heard of the spooky subculture known as Furries, it might be for the best. They’re pretty dangerous.
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Matt: Before I forget, GarageBand did not shit itself this time, so we actually got a recording!
Runtt: *growls triumphantly* Yes!
Pittsburgh Music Magazine: So are you guys Furries yourselves or just entertainers of Furries?
Matt: I’ve been a bird since I was fourteen. I’d love to be able to do a show in costume, I just don’t have a head that I can do it in.
Runtt: I’ve actually done it. I drummed in a progressive metal band, songs like nine minutes long, in a full red panda outfit. Complete with head and gloves. I’d do it again!
PMM: That’s impressive.
Matt: They need to make, like, a sweat valve…
PMM: You were in a progressive metal band, eh?
Runtt: Yeah, By Blood Alone. Very, very different from this. I actually played a smaller kit with them, and in a fursuit! They were good, they were really cool about the whole Furry thing.
PMM: Were you the only Furry in the band?
Runtt: Yep, I was the only one.
PMM: So you were a red panda, and everyone else was dressed up like metalheads?
Runtt: No, well our lead singer Melinda made a man-o-war costume out of a crystal umbrella. And dangly things…
Matt: Bizarre, man.
Runtt: She’s an amazing artist. She’s in Portland, Oregon right now.
(I learn from the guys that man-o-wars aren’t just old large ships, but also massive Portuguese jellyfish, the largest jellyfish in the world, they don’t sink are the size of beach balls, and very deadly.)
PMM: Sounds like an interesting looking band, to say the least.
Runtt: Oh yeah, and our keyboardist dressed up as Hit Girl.
Matt: That’s more fun than any band I’ve been in, man…
Matt: We both come from pretty diverse musical backgrounds
Runtt: I pretty much listen to everything, except anything that has robotic voices
Matt: Like, Katy Perry, auto tuned crap.
(Runtt describes the dissolution of his old band By Blood Alone, a nice mutual break-up, not, to quote Matt, a “**** you, I’m leaving and taking my sound equipment with me!” kind of thing.)
Runtt:…then during all this I get an email from a friend named Andy, said ‘check this out, if you like it tell the guy Andy sent you.’ And it was Matt, a video he put on his site, and it was like “this is a plea to replace my robot drummer.” And it was the funniest thing I’d ever seen in my life. I thought, I actually dig this… listening to the music I could hear the influences: Billy Joel–I love Billy Joel–Elton John, and Ben Folds, big time.
Matt: A lot of Ben Folds.
Runtt: Plus quirky, like, They Might be Giants lyrics. It was right up my alley.
(And so they met, sparks flew, musical history was made.)
Matt: I grew up in Washington State, I started off doing Christian music, and released a couple of really terrible albums (laughs). I interned at a Christian record label, the label that had Jars of Clay and bunch of big Christian music names, and moved to Nashville immediately after that, once I realized I shouldn’t be in the Christian music world. I mean, you have to write about the same subject every song, every album, for your entire career. And what have we covered tonight? Cows. Trees. Uh, Pirates! I got ninjas. I got robots!
PMM: Pretty much any eight year old’s Halloween fantasy concert
Runtt: Well, I mean, you were here in the audience. This is every eight year old’s Halloween experience. Only with way more expensive costumes.
PMM: What is it that you think dressing like this does for people? Why is it such a big phenomenon?
Matt: Well, um, It runs the gamut… (Suddenly transcribing the interview I have the urge to look up “gamut.” On top of meaning “a complete range or extent” it also means in music all recognizable notes. Matt and Runtt have taught me so many fun facts tonight.)
Runtt: It’s very specific to the person.
Matt: Ask ten people you’ll get thirteen different answers. For me, and I’m assuming for a lot of people… like… I have trouble making eye contact with people….
(Of course, out of instinctual awkwardness, I that very moment I try to make eye contact with Matt. It happens, he doesn’t seem phased.)
Matt:…I’m real insecure, because I grew up as a nerd. In case you hadn’t gathered that by now…so if I’m wearing those pompous, pretentious Bono glasses that just have those blue lenses that wrap around, I can look at people. I become a slightly different person just by putting those on. I think that’s why Bono wears those, why rock stars do that. Some people become a different character when they put on an animal costume. And they are more comfortable that way. They’re able to interact with people because there’s a lack of pretension when you’re dressed up as a coyote.
PMM: There’s no way you can be cool.
Matt: Weellll, there’s coolness in the fandom, you know…
PMM: I mean, like, mainstream cool, like sexy.
Matt: Well some people think that… but I can’t imagine…how hot that must be! You know, for the people who are into, like, sex in costume.
Runtt: *Laughs* That’s a fraction of one percent…
PMM: How is it even possible? All these costumes seem to go out like six inches on all sides, I mean physically…
Matt: Well some people get ‘em skin tight.
(Gloriously goofy sex scenes involving all sorts of whimsical Furry combos run through my mind.)
Matt: It’s amazing…there’s some world class talent in this building right now in costume design, sculpting, artwork, some ridiculously talented people.
(I think he was really trying to skip the subject, which I was cool with, because my escort to the event–who according to the big bold letters on my badge and the glares from the doormen could never leave my side, they really lock it tight for the non-payers it seems–is nearby and I don’t feel like he’s the type to joke around with strangers about weird sexual fetish stuff. Especially if it might be printed somewhere later.)
PMM: This all reminds me of Burning Man.
Matt: Yeah, no kidding!
PMM: It seems like people spend all year working on these crazy art projects.
Matt: *whispers* only there’s air conditioning!
PMM: And you don’t have to sign a waiver because you might die!
Runtt: And no patchouli…
Matt: Nothing against the hippies. Just… take a shower.
Runtt: The patchouli and the b.o. is not a good combination
PMM: Is this a travelling thing? Are there Anthrocons other places?
Matt: Oh, God, there’s practically one every weekend now.
Runtt: “Fur Fright” in Conneticut…
Matt: “FWA” in Atlanta…
Runtt: …San Jose…
PMM: Every meet anyone who just follows these gatherings all the time, makes it their life?
Matt: Oh yeah, there’s people for whom the Furry fandom has changed their lives. They have shitty jobs, they have trouble interacting with people, and they come here, become someone else, and get to play. This is their vacation, every chance they get. There’s tons of these, it’s just like anime conventions, comic book conventions, Star Trek… same caliber of nerd, but the things that bring them into the fandom are Disney movies, Pokemon, My Little Pony, Digimon, Sonic, you name it…
PMM: Is there a rule that you can’t dress like an actual cartoon character?
Runtt: No, no, no, I just saw the Swat Cats. T-Bone, Razor, and Viper,and a couple of ponies from My Little Pony.
Matt: The bunny from Rise of the Guardians… and Jack Frost!
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Yes, even Jack Frost, who most certainly does not have fur, made it to the party. I don’t know how he didn’t melt. Outside, while the Furry stragglers in blocks adjacent growled and posed for pictures, the sun beat down like a sledgehammer on me in my short sleeves. No human could survive that kind of heat. Their otherworldly strength against the sun reminds me of this vampire convention in New Orleans. Their slogan was “Vampires Pretending to be Humans Pretending to be Vampires.” I’m dying in this sun and humid air. And they’re acting full of cheer in massive fursuits. Maybe, just maybe, some of them aren’t faking the fur–
(…this article is unfinished….author found dead seated in front of typewriter, large toothmarks in throat, bright purple hair caught in broken window-glass only evidence found. Case remains unsolved.)
— From PittsFurgh Police Report, 7-11-2013