A Conversation with Matt Mihalcin | Local Vocal | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A Conversation with Matt Mihalcin

Check out the brain on Matt. For Matt Mihalcin, 31, ultrasonic engineering and married life go hand-in-hand with playing drums in a punk-rock band. And not just any band: For 10 years, the Monroeville native has dished out the primal thunder for area vets The Human Brains. You could probably see him as symbolic of the larger negotiation that takes place when punks grow up -- or when perennial outsiders find their place in the world. But why analyze it?

So, what does ultrasonic engineering entail?

If I thought that nobody from work would read this, I'd say I was the right-hand man to the main man, and I'm also a problem-solver. But I don't wanna be too egotistical about it, because there's a lot of right-hand-mans in my group. ... I pick up anything that falls by the wayside. Anything that doesn't fit into a nice neat box, I do.

We build ultrasonic flow meters primarily for two applications: The one is to very accurately measure and meter steam-mass water flow in a nuclear power plant. The other application is a measurement device for what they call "custody transfer" of oil from one company to the next company. Company A wants to sell company B so much oil; company B wants to buy so much oil from company A. They're gonna send it through some super-accurate flow-measurement devices.

What's the gnarliest thing you've encountered?

I was responsible for some leak-detection systems. ... I was working 32-hour days. We'd start testing this pipeline at 7 or 6 in the morning, and we wouldn't end until the following day at noon.

So are you one of these "knowledge workers" that we like to talk about, pushing to make Pittsburgh a technology hub?

Anything that helps the economy in Pittsburgh, I'm for. And having cool stuff in Pittsburgh, like cool jobs and smart engineers, and cool art, is definitely beneficial.

And ultrasonic engineering goes hand-in-hand with punk rock?

I'm proud of that -- I'm proud of my lifestyle. Definitely the one always hampers the other, but I'm proud of the balance I've kept. ... I would've literally been a bum had I not gotten this job. Literally.

But for as straight as that's gotta be -- and I gotta play that game really straight -- it's gotta come out somewhere else. So for a long time it was coming out for me through the Brains. I was able to go play for the Brains and let my emotional, "feel" side take over for at least that 45 minutes, and it was a total release. At that point, it was one of the few things I could really do that I knew was totally right. Because in my job, nothing is ever totally right. If we knew all the answers, there wouldn't be an engineering company, just a straight-up manufacturing company. There's always problems; there's never any resolution ...

But with rock 'n' roll ...

With rock 'n' roll, it's a "love comes in spurts" kind of thing. Just go out there and fuckin' blast as much energy or emotion out of me and into the drums or into the feel of it or whatever. ... I wouldn't call myself a true music aficionado, or whatever the word is. I'm not a total collector, and I don't know every punk-rock band that ever played ... but I was a skateboarder, and I always knew what punk rock was.

What about now?

I always thought that my dad totally loved his job, and when I was younger I thought that I'd never ever be like my mom and dad. And I'm exactly like both of them, at the same time. ... He's a civil engineer, and owned a small civil-engineering company and did relatively well, and he's basically retiring now. I was out with my dad the other night and I was like, "What are you gonna do, you're gonna be bored!" He was like, "If it wasn't work, they wouldn't call it 'work.' I'm sick of working -- I'm going fishing for the rest of my life." And I was like, "That's what I want to do -- I'd rather go fishing too!"

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