By Nicholas Jason Lopez
In March 2020, when the hospital became the inevitable destination for many last year at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Matt Jatkola found himself there for a different reason.
His Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis as a result of a swollen lymph node in his neck forced him to undergo chemo and radiation therapy.
Reality set in.
Simultaneously, the world began to shut down and the hospital he was at banned visitors, all in order to prevent the spread of Covid.
Now cancer free and with the chance to see “tomorrow,” he knew that many who were in that same hospital as him, hopelessly hooked up to ventilators, didn’t have the same fate.
Jatkola has used his recent cancer journey to pen some heavy, celebratory tunes that are about as emotionally authentic as it an get, as his power-pop project – under the moniker JATK (pronounced “Jack”), alongside drummer Matthew Glover (Lights) and bassist Kiel Szivos (The Bynars) – dropped their debut single “When Tomorrow Comes,” off their four-song EP and it took off from there.
The Music Bugle had the chance to speak with the Boston-based singer-songwriter about the EP and more.
Music Bugle – What inspired the styling of the JATK name?
Matt Jatkola – JATK is in reference to my last name, Jatkola. I’m often asked how to pronounce it and I usually just say, “Pretend the T is silent,” so in that same vein, the band name is pronounced “Jack.” JATK is a band in the sense that it’s collaborative, but it’s not in that I write all the songs and there is no set lineup of musicians. There are different people who collaborate for recordings and performances and it can change from song to song. With that in mind, it just felt right to call it JATK because that name sounds like a band, but there’s a big part of it that’s just me, literally and figuratively and I like to stylize it in all caps because I think it looks better that way!
Music Bugle – Given its emotional backstory, are you proud of the way “When Tomorrow Comes” turned out?
Matt Jatkola – I’m very proud of how “When Tomorrow Comes” turned out! The song is about how I felt when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, the news of which came last year within days of the COVID-19 shutdown and kicked off months of chemo and radiation therapy during the pandemic, as well as all kinds of uncertainty and heavy emotions. It’s about that journey and my outlook going through it. To be on the other side – a year later, now in remission – and to be able to share a piece of art inspired by it is very meaningful to me. There’s also a lot of pride I take in its production. We all recorded and engineered parts separately in our own studio spaces. I’ve never recorded anything quite this way before. Drummer Matthew Glover, bassist Kiel Szivos and mix engineer Adam Taylor did an amazing job helping make this music come to life, even though we weren’t “together” in a physical sense. All three of them are longtime friends, so there’s an added layer of meaningfulness there too. I wouldn’t have recorded it with anyone else!
Music Bugle – How would you describe Boston to someone who has never been there before?
Matt Jatkola – I would say it’s true that no one will say hello to you, but it doesn’t mean they’re a jerk. It’s just how we roll.
Music Bugle – What excites you the most about your style of music?
Matt Jatkola – I feel like I haven’t had a proper rock band for a long time, so I’m glad to unapologetically rock out with JATK. “When Tomorrow Comes” rocks and there are more rock songs coming, but there’s also material that’s kind of all over the place – from acoustic to synthy to jangly pop stuff. We’ve been owning the power-pop tag, since that feels like the best way to describe it.
Music Bugle – What creative advantages do you feel come with being a singer-songwriter?
Matt Jatkola – I guess the biggest creative advantage of being a singer-songwriter is that I have autonomy over all the songwriting all the time. I also like working alone, so that part appeals to me, but there comes a point where I need help and part of JATK is an exercise in not being afraid to ask for it. I think a songwriter generally knows what’s best for the song, which, funny enough, is something I’ve only learned through years of working with other people, but I still like to get others involved. You can’t do everything on your own. Allowing other writers and musicians to help shape a song is a good thing.
Music Bugle – What do you hope for from the rest of 2021?
Matt Jatkola – I think we all need to allow the levels on The Hope Meter to rise. If you hadn’t lost hope before 2020 in one way or another, I’m sure you did after living through it. At the very least, I’d like to see our collective attitudes go from “We’re doomed!” to “Okay, we’re only sort of doomed!”
Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?
Matt Jatkola – Oh, that’s a loaded question! I think social media helps musicians since you can get word out to people who want to hear from you. It’s quick, easy, direct, interactive, there’s no real middle man and when it’s done well, there’s a certain creativity to it. That’s all good stuff, but on the other hand, they didn’t build Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or TikTok for musicians. They built it for people, visual content, text-based content, commerce… It incorporates music sometimes, but it’s not for music. The most beautiful thing about music is that it needs no visual accompaniment to exist! It’s just in the air, so as a musician on social media, I’m constantly in a position of translating my work into a visual or literary medium when it was never intended for that. That is certainly a challenge for musicians, but it isn’t intrinsically hurtful. I guess the hurtful part is getting lost in that and further extracting your greater purpose or getting your self-worth from social media. That is dangerous and can definitely hurt. I struggle with it all the time and it isn’t a musician-only issue – it can apply to anyone. You stay on there long enough and it becomes your reality and soon enough you care about how many likes you got, what people are saying or not saying about you, how you’re going to feed the beast next and you measure yourself against those metrics. It’s a strange world to live in, which has nothing to do with making music.
Music Bugle – What’s a quote that motivates you to keep doing what you do?
Matt Jatkola – “Here lies David St. Hubbins and why not?”
Music Bugle – What’s the best advice you have ever received?
Matt Jatkola – My 8th grade social studies teacher Mr. LaRose told me, “There is some good music from the 80s!” I didn’t believe him at the time, but it turns out he was totally right!
Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?
Matt Jatkola – I’m listening to Ruth Good from Richmond, Virginia – their “Haunt” EP that came out last year is amazing and I play it constantly. I can’t get enough of the new Beach Bunny/Tegan And Sara collaboration “Cloud 9” – super catchy and I love the pronouns-be-damned-ness of the lyrics. I’ve been digging local band Divine Sweater – their latest album is excellent. I picked up a vinyl reissue of the 2003 album “Somnambulists” by There Were Wires, one of my all-time favorite bands and was reminded how perfect it still is. “Tighter, Tighter,” the marginal 1970 hit by Alive and Kicking has been on repeat. I just recently learned that it was co-written by Tommy James, who is definitely a JATK influence.