Emperor X is the project name of American songwriter and noise pop saboteur, C. R. Matheny. In 2004, Matheny dropped his pursuit of a master’s degree in physics to self-release a string of critically-acclaimed lo-fi speed folk. His releases debuted twice in one year in the top ten on the CMJ New Music chart (6/2004, 3/2005) and grabbed the attention of NPR, Pitchfork, All Music Guide, Tiny Mix Tapes and many others. The UK’s Plan B magazine called his music “a swollen interfusion of capricious brilliance.” Blogs and zines compared Matheny’s tracks to The Microphones, Black Dice, and early Modest Mouse, and Coke Machine Glow even suggested that “indie may well have its own Prince.”
Dozens of frenzied tours followed, including several international forays into Mexico, Canada, and Australia. The performances – half Billy Bragg-inspired anarcho-electric singalongs, half Lee “Scratch” Perry lo-fi dub live sessions – brought Emperor X’s music to art galleries, bars, bookstores, university symposiums, college radio stations, garbage-strewn pedestrian tunnels, and one very confused laser tag arena in Connecticut. Sometimes Matheny had the aid of a ramshackle, revolving lineup of friends on drone guitars and marimbas; sometimes he employed little more than a shoulder-mounted battery amp and a delay pedal. Emperor X shared stages with indie luminaries like Sebadoh, Nada Surf, Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, The Hold Steady, and John Vanderslice, who dubbed Matheny “a serious genius” on his photo blog after they toured together. Matheny’s reputation as a producer also grew — he co-helmed the 2008 album Bits by Brooklyn jangle punk mainstays Oxford Collapse on Sub Pop Records alongside Eric Topalski of Don Caballero.
More recently, Matheny’s quiet release of the ambitious album series/geocaching art project The Blythe Archives garnered spontaneous acclaim across the Internet with zero PR push save word of mouth and frequent touring. Emperor X tracks placed high on many “Best of” lists in 2009 and 2010, including that of Said the Gramophone founder and McSweeny’s contributor Sean Michaels, and found their way onto the in-store playlist of American Eagle Outfitters.
In 2010, Emperor X composed music for a parade float commissioned by the Cleveland Art Museum for its annual Parade the Circle event in collaboration with Guggenheim-exhibited artist and Animal Collective costume designer Liza Goodell. The upcoming independent feature Lone Tree Couch features diegetic music by Emperor X. Most recently, Matheny was a featured vocalist and percussionist on Australian neo-grunge songwriter Adam Harding’s new album alongside Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow. A recent story on NPR’s nationally-syndicated Weekend Edition featured Emperor X, highlighting Matheny’s habit of burying master tapes at geocache coordinates around the world as he tours.
Matheny lives in Los Angeles where he writes and records new music from the top floor of a tenement building overlooking the megaphone preachers, fake ID salesmen, and tamaleros of MacArthur Park.