Hi Matt, how are you?
Well, physically a bit rubbish I’ve messed my back up, slipped disc and all. Hopefully I will be up and about soon, I’ve got a lot planned for this year.
What have you been up to recently?
Well for the last year I’ve been recording a new album and playing gigs. My first album called Echo came out last year and has been well supported by the lovely people of the internet, the podcasters and the bloggers so that’s great. Its been a real word of mouth thing which is lovely really.
Since I had my back injury I’ve had the time to sort my archive of live stuff, remixes, spoken word and collaborations. I’m using this to give away one track a week on a podcast feed called the Sunday Free Noodle, its an ongoing project and in between that I will release my second proper album and play at some of the festivals this summer.
What made you decide to be a solo artist and not want to be in a band?
I was in a band for years but we split up and I was left in London not really knowing anyone so I just used the tools I had, an acoustic guitar and some pedals. I have a band project on the go at the moment, all improvised stuff called The Fierce And The Dead – we have a 19 minute long single out later in the year!!!
Did you always want to be in a musician/singer when younger?
When I was a kid I wanted to be Slash from Guns N Roses – didn’t quite work out. Then I wanted to be Tom G Warrior, Nick Drake, East Bay Ray, John Lennon, John Barry, John McLaughlin, Johnny Marr and Robert Fripp. Lots of men called John. Now I just want to be me.
What music did you listen to while growing up?
Metal stuff then my guitar teacher got me into Jazz/Rock stuff like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, then US Hardcore, indie stuff, Radiohead, The Smiths and the Beatles and Power Pop stuff, a lot of the post rock stuff, John Barry, Burt Bacharach and Django Reinhardt. All sorts.
How long have you played your instruments?
I’ve been playing guitar for the best part of 20 years, Keys for 15 years, bass for 10 years and drums very badly for a few years. I’m a guitar player really.
What was your first music making experience?
Hitting a guitar trying desperately to play Black Sabbath riffs on my 20 quid Argos guitar. I was rubbish, I had to put in lots of practise to get anywhere but I wanted to be able to play so much I put in 8 hours a day.
What is your current equipment?
An old Ibanez acoustic guitar that’s broken with a hole in it connected to a Line 6 DL4 looper pedal, Filter Modeller, Volume Pedal and a Whammy Pedal(for bass lines). Just all the rubbish I have collected over the years really.
Are you self taught or did you have lessons?
I had Jazz lessons for about 10 years, which I highly recommend. I was taught by a guy called Richard Beaumont who is amazing. I think the more you know about harmony and music in
general the more options you have.
If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
Ooh – now your talking. I’d like a Telecaster with humbuckers and a Line 6 M9 – one of the top end loopers. Ahh one day. Really I’d like more money to spend on studio time with an orchestra, I don’t think that’s likely though.
Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
In the studio I treat it a bit differently – it’s a different thing. . Live it’s just me and the looper and a volume pedal and a few other bits. On the first album Echo we tried to get all the sounds just hitting, strumming and banging an acoustic guitar so its pretty much live. The second album that I’m doing at the moment features lots of layered instruments – bass, drums, a few synths, glockenspiel but the focus is still the guitar
instrumentals. I’d like to get into Ableton Live and vocal samples in the future as well.
Do you record at a purpose built studio or do you record at home with portable digital equipment or pc/mac with audio software?
I demo at home then go to see my friend Kev at Pinna Studios, I think recording acoustic guitars is an art and its so useful to have someone else there to say - “that’s crap” or tell you when you’ve got something really good.
Do you have a set routine when writing and recording or does it depend on each track and the inspiration?
Each track is different really but I don’t like to layer too many instruments, I like to keep the instrumentation fairly minimal to focus on the harmony parts.
Which software do you use?
I am just learning about Ableton Live at the moment and I demo stuff on Garageband. In the studio Kev uses Pro Tools.
Any new recordings planned?
Oh yes, - 52 songs from the archive free on the podcast feed this year and the second album proper will be out this summer, probably.
Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
I love putting on the icing once the basic tracks are down but I find the recording process incredibly worrying and stressful. That’s why its so important to have a producer you trust and I’m really lucky with that.
Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
Well the first album is pretty much as live give or take a few things and album 2 is more layered so I think both approaches have there merits.
Really my current thinking is they are two different things and should be treated as such. Live I will sometimes do long improvisations that I wouldn’t get away with on record where I like to keep arrangements short and to the point.
Do you have any favourite tracks on your albums?
It varies from time to time. Burning Bandstands has been fantastic in that it has opened so many doors for me because people really like it and its always fun to play live. I really like the feel of Snow off of the first album, that kind of icy ambient Floydy thing and I like Dolls House for the way it builds. From the new album I really like the song Moondial because of the glockenspiel and live drum action.
Do you write songs/tracks only about personal experiences?
The whole of the first album is basically the soundtrack of my life in Rushden, Northamptonshire. Spencer Park is a real place, as is Jubilee Park. Burning Bandstands is about Hall Park. West Green is more of a London song.
Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
It depends on the individual song really some take 5 minutes, some 10 years. Crazy – I wish it could just happen the same way each time.
Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with on writing songs or performing?
Portishead, Phil Wain, Kevin Feazey, Neil Alexander, Thom Yorke, Bob Mould, Steve Lawson, Robert Fripp, Lee Dorian, Derek Cotter, Catstalker, Russ Russell, Justin Hemmington, John Marchant, Dan Wilson and Stuart Marshall.
Who are your favourite song writers?
Thom Yorke, Lennon/McCartney, Bill Steer, Bob Mould, Robert Fripp, Burt Bacharach and John McLaughlin.
Which countries have you gigged in?
Just the UK – I’ve had some amazing offers from all over the world but nothing that makes sense yet. I would love to play in the US.
Which countries would be at the top of your list to tour?
America, Germany, Italy and I have some great supporters in South America so there as well. I’m going to start using Eventful to work out where the people who want to see me are.
How do you promote your music and get your music to new fans?
I talk to people on the internet – that’s it really. I send podcasters and bloggers I like, my music and they write about it and I talk to people on Facebook and Twitter. I’m doing a few things as well at the moment, The Sunday Free Noodle music give away, offering the stems of my songs so people can use them and do remixes and my music is in a computer game called Jam Base – you can play that online on my website.
I also give loads of free music away in exchange for email addresses. I am really interested in building a cool and interesting online community really. Generally the people who like my music tend to be really interesting people.
Do you use any websites like ‘Reverbnation’ or ‘Soundclick’?
I have a Soundclick page but I don’t really remember getting much out of it but I’ve not really made much of an effort with it. Reverbnation is awesome for all the free widgets you can use and their online distribution to itunes, emusic etc rocks.
Do you think such sites are good for independent and unsigned artists?
Someone very wise said those terms are kind of out dated now we are living in a post major label era. We’re all just Musicians now. Yeah – social networks are a great place to meet people and start conversations. Its all about the word of mouth really and being in places where people hang out and people just happen to currently hang out in social networks. I think Facebook is well on its way to being the next Google, a hub for all your online activity. Not that Facebook works very well.
Do you think the internet overall is a good or bad thing for new artists?
It’s a double edged sword – people can hear your music but it’s all largely free. But I’d rather be heard than obscure, so I’m not complaining.
With all the various websites out there for independent and unsigned artists, is there still something that is missing from them that you think would benefit unknown artists?
Aside from a workable funding model, not really.
You recently have been involved with doing ‘live’ gigs/shows on Ustream. How did you find this experience?
Amazing really – because what I do is fairly unusual and esoteric it’s wonderful the way the Ustream gigs unite people from all over the world. It’s great when everyone is talking in the chat room, it’s a really great community.
Is it something you plan on doing more of in the future?
Oh yes! As soon as my back is sorted I’m going to do loads more.
How do you relax?
I do music and talk to people on the internet and spend time with my wonderful wife.
What’s your best/worst experience at a gig?
The best was Spratton Folk Festival last year – amazing audience and atmosphere, I’m amazed as I don’t really do folky stuff. Brilliant. The worst one was a pub in east London where the “PA” was a broken guitar amp jammed on distort I played 3 songs, broke a string and walked off. Horrible.
Do you get nervous before a gig- how do you calm down?
I used to have a couple of pints of Guinness but as I’ve stopped drinking now I have no idea, I like to listen to Miles Davis or something inspiring improvisation wise.
What else do you do apart from being a musician?
I have a job I enjoy that keeps me busy.
Would you like to be a full time working musician or are you happy with things as they are?
Just take one step at a time, we shall have to see.
Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
Yes – the award winning short film Daddy’s Little Helper which was great fun to do.
Is it something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
Yes I would love to depending on what comes along. I am so inspired my soundtrack stuff would be great to do more of it.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
See you at www.mattstevensguitar.com – come and have a chat, always nice to meet people.