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Daisy

Interview with Matt Howden in June 2015

Ham hock and sauerkraut dinner conversations...


Interview with Matt Howden in June 2015
Genre: Ritual Ambient
Verlag: Redroom
Medium: CD / Digital
Kaufen bei: Amazon


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Daisy:
Sieben. The German word for the number Seven. A prime. So meaningful. So magical in its implication. The week has seven days. In a lot of fairy tales, proverbs and sayings the magic seven can be found conspicuously often. Like Snow white and the Seven Dwarfs behind the seven mountains. And Sinbad, the Sailor had to go through seven journeys in the story from the Arab culture. Pretty soon there is the day what we in German call “Siebenschläfer”, a belief in the meteorological phenomenon, that it will be raining for seven weeks, as it is raining on that very day, the 27 June.
Then we have seven senses. The Seven Wonders of the World. The Seven Year Itch. The Seven as the number worshipped by the old Babylonians, they understood the Seven Holy Planets as an expression of divine demonstration and constituted the Seven Seas of the World, the Seven Rivers, the Seven Winds, the Seven Metals and the Seven Colors. And besides the Snake with Seven Heads and the Seven Heavens there are the Seven Gates to the Underworld in the Babylonian culture. Also the Persians, Indians and Chinese give the Seven a special meaning.
In the Christian symbolism of numbers the Seven stands for the human, the Three for the Mind and the Soul, the Four, as the number of the elements, for the body. In the behavior therapy experiments show, that the most favorite number is the Seven. Also in the Cognitive Psychology the „seven phenomena“ was discovered 300 years ago by John Locke.
The number Seven really has an exceptional position; the magnetism of it seems to have an immense effect.
And you hit upon the Seven in many many more relationships. Just think of many movies and novels. Last but not least the (East) German Rock band Karat sings “Über sieben Brücken musst Du gehn” (“Over seven bridges you have to go”) and the (West) German Punk band Die Toten Hosen dedicated the number Seven the song titled “Die 7 ist alles”. Did you actually know that there is a German Hip Hop band called Sieben?
You can easily go mad, when you follow the magical endlessness of the Seven. What is your idea behind “Sieben”?

Matt:
He he, well my reasoning is far less complex and mysterious than your question ;) At the time of starting Sieben much of my work was based around writing to visual stimuli. Many of the early songs were written to photographs, or paintings, or simply (and most often) a landscape which the music conjured in my head. In the same way, the ‘Sieben’ name was a visual thing- I liked both the shape of the number when written, and of the combination of letters and how they stood on the page. I was also aware of certain ‘magical’ or mystic connotations of the number in various cultures, which seemed to fit thematically with the kind of music I write, and the subject matter I choose.

Daisy:
Sieben. The musical project. On the website http://matthowden.com/ is written: “Sieben is the one-man, violin-looping work of Matt Howden. He beats, plucks, tickles and layers voice and violin.“ You are able to play songs on just one instrument, the violin, pretending that the listener hears a full orchestra. On top you add sounds made by your voice - singing, whispering, groaning – and by your beard, scratching at the violin. How did you start? Was the idea born because you just like looping and playing around with effects or you just don´t like playing with a full band (anymore)?

Matt:
Sieben was initially three members, though still pretty much my band as I conceived and set it up. By the third album (Our Solitary Confinement) and ever since, it has been a solo project. At this time I was also playing, guesting and appearing with a lot of the bands, both on the scene and other scenes. I became increasing happy with working alone, as I had many band projects on the side, which satiated my desire to play with others. Around this time I also discovered the joys of the loop pedal, through Chris Eckman (from the US band The Walkabouts) who was using one to loop background guitar effects on an album we were working on together in Lisbon, with The Raindogs. I’d also just fitted a new pickup to my violin, and this one could be struck to produce a percussive noise from the violin. All things came together beautifully and I was off on a path of solo looping, with the violin. The percussive element was the final decider – I’d tried some looping but missed having ‘drums’ and hadn’t thought that I could use the violin for all the sounds, as I do now. Liberating!

Daisy:
Sieben. The Mighty Sieben. You like to distract people, huh? 
Why did you change the name? Does that go along with changing your sound? You wanted to create something more powerful? Please bring light into the darkness!

Matt:
‘The mighty” Sieben came about when I released Star Wood Brick Firmament. The cover image has me with a horseshoe moustache, looking a bit ‘evil magician’ and it seemed to fit with that. It wasn’t really intended as a name change, though it did make it easier to net-search for that album, and for Sieben generally. When originally conceived as a band name I hadn’t really figured that ‘Sieben’ would be so normal in German (though it seems damn obvious, if I’d put any thought into it whatsoever!) as it sounds exotic in English. Dimmer English people often ask me what it means; or write Seiben or Seben on the posters if I don’t check, or they’re not familiar with the musical scenes I’m playing on in Europe.

Daisy:
Sieben. It´s not just about music. It´s about lyrics at least as much as it´s about the music. Your albums are concept albums. Topics are soldiers suffering in the first World War on „The Line and the Hook“, or traces of absent people in rooms on „Our Solitary Confinement“. You also soundtracked your father´s lyrics on “The Matter Of Britain”
What is your latest album „Each Divine Spark“ (2014) about? Looking at the booklet every song seems to have his own story, that pictures help to transport.

Matt:
I like to weave patterns within both the music and the lyrics, and consider each of my albums as a work in themselves, rather than say ‘a collection of songs I wrote in 2015’. Many of the early albums are what some might call ‘concept albums’, though I don’t particularly like the term and associations people often have with that. As said I go at, and consider each album as a cohesive whole and like musical, lyrical and artwork themes to tie closely together. Some, inextricably so, as with High Broad Field where each song is an Act in a kind-of Medieval Mystery Play, such the York Mystery plays that we have a tradition of here in England: Those pagan-meets-Christian bawdy plays where the Devil, God and The lamb all get together for a good sing-song at the end of a lewd and moral play! Each Divine Spark is seemingly less ‘concept’ than earlier ones, but the sonic qualities of the album are very specific, as are the approaches to the song’s arrangements, and the method of recording. Thematically, there are also links, with songs about people’s lives, inspiring lives, and inspiring acts that people have done in their life.

Daisy:
You are incredibly creative! In only 14 years (Oh, multiples of seven!) you released 11 albums as Sieben and 6 albums as Matt Howden and the album "Anthems Flesh" with 7JK (Sieben plus Job Karma). You made string arrangements and remixed for many artists across the world. Music for film and TV, dance companies, and exhibitions. I am sure you even can/want to make more. But you want to give the world the time to catch up… What inspires you?

Matt:
I’ve been thinking as much myself- that I should give the world chance to catch up with my recorded material! But I so enjoy writing music and being creative. Perhaps less so, the ‘being your own label’ and getting stuff manufactured, hence my latest release being digital only. There are only so many hours in the day, but I’m loath to give up the writing part- that’s the reason I do it all for. I like the label side too, but more as a 'means to an end' – the end being starting writing the next one ;)
All manner of things inspire me- previously it has been the weight of history, the power and grace of nature and language, great books, great ideas. More recently still it has been interesting people, fascinating ideas, incredible acts, the good that people can do in the most extraordinary of circumstances. It could equally be a tv programme, book, poem, conversation, a word that trips off the tongue pleasingly, or a phrase that conjures a deeper feeling, or sets off a train of thought within me. Travel, time to think, time to sleep enough, and interesting conversations fuel these things.

Daisy:
You played over 1,500 live shows in 30 countries. You still seem to enjoy being on stage every single time and offer your audience an individual performance each concert. Sometimes your performance is powerful and galvanic. Sometimes shy and temperate. Sometimes you lay down in the middle of the stage. Sometimes you walk through the audience. Sometimes you laugh. Sometimes you cry. Sometimes you scream. Sometimes you whisper. Sometimes you seem to be lost in the loop world. But you are always holding the relationship with your audience. Are you a born performer? What do you like more? Being in the studio arranging or being on stage playing?

Matt:
I like both! And they are very different animals. I start with the studio, writing the music. Always on my own, I won’t work with other people around. And certainly can’t write lyrics with anyone around, certainly if they talk -  Then it is all lost. I love the solitude of the studio, and the blank page that can be filled however I choose. The first song I write for an album will take roughly four times as long as each of the rest will; it sets the tone, the theme and the new ground I wish to explore on the latest record.
Live, I love performing and the ‘release’ of the songs out into the world. This is the only time you see their true effect- you are not there when people unwrap and listen to the record, and I will have spent the best part of a year to write and record that music. Live, you see its effect. I often write music in the studio, then record it, then play it live- then re-record it, using what I have learned along the way people engage with it. I wouldn’t say I was initially a natural performer at all, but now have a certain confidence (and some say 'flair') born of playing hundreds of concerts, in many types of locations, to all sort of different people and vibes. For me, at least, it has taken a number of years to settle into the material, how I deliver it, what head-space I have left whilst doing all of these; being free to sense what emotions you are giving out, the mood of the audience, the vibe of the place. There are many things to consider. And before all that I needed to be properly on top of my instrument, my equipment, my nerves, my initial shyness.

Daisy:
You just played a concert in a Church in Berlin. A woman, who was walking by and was attracted by the sounds, stopped by and asked me if you were the vicar and the people were the Christian community. Would you like the idea?

Matt:
He he, I’m not sure I’d be the traditional message, but its an entertaining and perverse idea indeed. I’ve also been likened to a Shaman, Druidic Bard and a poetic orator. There’s something innately spiritual in what I do- the ritual nature of repetition, the lyrics and ideas are often puzzling the non-physical, the moral, the ‘otherly’ so I guess it might come down to one of those ‘figures’. I certainly don’t preach, in my music. There are musings, for sure, though. And if the Church is keen for me to lead the congregation to sing “I’d just as soon warm my balls, by a burning church as by the gates of hell” I will happily lead them in joyous version of The Cat’s song from my High broad Field album ;)

Daisy:
You told me you have your violin since 32 years (right?). What kind of a violin is it? Who gave it to you and why did you never change it against another one?

Matt:
Indeed. The only violin I use. I briefly had a five string, with an extra string lower, basically a violin and viola in one, or quintern, as they are sometimes called. There’s a real specific muscle-memory to playing a violin, and its hard to get used to a new one even if its pretty much identical. They sound better as you play them more, the wood adapts to you. You also bend and shape to it, as my sore neck and shoulders will testify to ;) A girl at school gave the violin. I only started with it because I liked the sound of the violin, and it was easier to go on a pushbike with than the electric bass which I’d been teaching myself before that. It never felt right to get another violin after the one I have; like cheating on it, somehow. And I am at home with it, know its every sound and angle. And some people make too much of the instrument, you have to have ‘this’ instrument, bow,  amp, pick-up, speaker etc- I’m not so fussy, except when it comes to the sound that my fingers make. Here’s the point to be exacting – the obsession with equipment and instrument are just ‘boys with toys’ generally. (Hence all my pedals, I suppose ;) Though a good mic really does make a difference…

Daisy:
There is this legend about you, teaching yourself the violin by locking yourself into a room and only leave it when you got to know the instrument from the inside and outside. How long did it take from the beginning until you knew to play the violin your way? You opposed learning from violin teachers, because you didn´t just want to copy the skills, but to raise your own style and now you show students the way to music yourself. Can you tell how this works for you?

Matt:
I did indeed teach myself the violin. A girl at school gave it me, and I thought it'd be good to play and easy to go on my bicycle with! Then I fell in love with playing the violin soon after. I played at least four or five hours each day for the first year, keeping a diary and recording myself each week. I just didn't really want lessons, nor learn to play it 'properly'. In fact I made a point of never learning other people's songs; I wanted to find my own way of doing things, and not pick up too much influence whilst learning. So that I'd be myself. This helps with my students too, and is a practice I have carried into my teaching - I never tell them how they should or shouldn't work with their songs, or what notes might be 'better' or worse, 'wrong'. I simply try and show them various ways and techniques for getting the effect they want. I teach students who come from all sorts of backgrounds who like all different sorts of music. I just aim to improve their skills and confidence, their 'range'. I also use many of my own works to show how I achieved a certain effect or 'feel' within a track, and show them the 'inside', the 'workings' of a particular mix, or lyric, or melody, or production, or mastering.

Daisy:
Why the violin? Do you think, the violin fitting your character? What other instruments do you play besides the guitar? Did you ever try playing the cello?

Matt:
I chanced upon the violin, then simply began to love the expression that was possible on it- due in part to the lack of frets, so you can almost be as expressive than the human voice, the most expressive of all instruments. And with pedals you can be a whole orchestra ;) I did try playing the cello a couple of times, and loved it! One thing I miss about the violin is the lack of bass frequencies, and the rumble that goes through your body whilst doing so! But if you've got an octave pedal you can get a pretty mean bass range out of a violin, too ;) Would love to play the cello, but wouldn't like to be carrying it around with me! I have enough to carry with loopers and merch ;)

Daisy:
You have this live project RASP together with beloved Jo Quail from London. Partly improvising, partly putting together composed parts, you wed the violin with the cello on stage. Great combination! The performance took place in The Lantern Theatre, Sheffield. The experiment can be heard on the CD „Radiate Power Words”. Any chance you have another concert together?

Matt:
I think we will be playing more Rasp sometime, but I set up Rasp more as a 'concept' thing- the idea was that whenever we played it would be the next album and we'd involve local artists from wherever we were playing; write the songs in a live workshop; no rehearsals; all themed around the surroundings. Not sure it can remain as such a concept, though, as that takes an extreme amount of organising and energy, as you can imagine. Actually, I'm just itching to do a Rasp concert with Jo Quail once more, is the main reason it won't happen like that! We don't want to do the normal things with Rasp, still, at least – we can both play on the bill at a festival anyway, as Sieben or Jo Quail – we wanted it to stand for something different, and a different way of doing things. We're both also incredibly busy, which is why Rasp was conceived as it was. And I can't abide rehearsing for things, generally. Though I do make a good number of rehearsals before I play a Sieben show...

Daisy:
Matt Howden is the more Classical solo project, Sieben the experimental one, Pigsix 4 is a Synth-Pop project with Jane Griffiths and Jason White, 7JK is a more Dark Ambient project together with Job Karma, RASP together with Jo Quail… One project for every passion or style of music? You have also played in bands like Sol Ivictus with Tony Wakeford, Duo Noir with Andrew King and Tony Wakeford, The Glass Hammers, HaWthorn with Tony Wakeford, Raindogs with Pedro Temporão and Roland Popp, Stiki with Dave Cowling, Jane Griffiths and Jason White… (feel free to add more)!
What band/musician would you like to play with, but haven´t played (yet)?

Matt:
Arvo Part, Tom Waits, Kate Bush, and Sage Francis :) The different projects, I suppose, reflect the different expressions and feels I want to get - usually with an 'album' as the framework for this. I'm currently starting on the second 7JK album with Maciek and Aurel from Job Karma. Going to explore some new territory with this, for sure :) I may well start work on another music-and-poetry work with my father, too, using his work Handless Man as the basis the music. Generally I'm happiest working on my own on something – with 7Jk they are in Poland, and we exchange files by internet, and it develops from the ping-pong back and forth of files and ideas. With my father, he comes and reads his work and I record it. He goes away again and I start to compose the music, often first just listening to the lines and getting an idea for the tempo and rhythm (and meanings) of the words.

Daisy:
This month you released the EP „Lietuva”, which is available as a digital-only release. You introduce the new sound, a mix of Classical and Dark Ambient elements with contorted voice. An interesting meeting and melting of opposites, that are ending up in a very rhythmic dance as well as in a soft embrace. You have developed your own style in the past years in an interesting way. What was pushing you? You created a new sound. Is this because of the new looper? What is, in understandable explanation for no technical educated people, different/special about the new looper?

Matt:
I always aim to push myself, develop my sound, and the styles and timbres I use. Don't want it getting samey! The new looper has helped me achieve some new sounds, and arrangement-wise allows me to do slightly more developed things with arrangements. For instance I can now have one loop running with 'bass and drums' that I've just played in, and open a new loop, of a different length if I like, with the 'top lines' of looped vocals and strings that I play in. I can make one of the loops stop, and therefore make more complex arrangements whilst looping live. I chose the new equipment to match the things I wanted to do next, with my music. Am enjoying my new vocal processor too, though- I like the other-worldly sound of vocoded vocals, when blended in subtly they fit well with the new Sieben 'ritual' and beefier sounds :)

Daisy:
You take the listener to Lithuania, you sing about the MENUO JUODARAGIS-Festival in the North of the country, where play Baltic bands and international Neofolk bands, about Užupis, a village of artists in the capitol Vilnius. What do you like about Lithuania? Is this some kind of travel advertisement?

Matt:
The first track I wrote to celebrate the MJR festival which I played in Lithuania last year. The festival name roughly translates as 'Black Moon With Horns'. Being that I'd had a lovely time the previous time I'd played, and with really nice people running the festival, I decided to write and dedicate them a song. Not only that, I wanted its first performance to be at the MJR festival, which it was. The second song from Lietuva EP draws inspiration from Uzupis, the self-declared art-state whose mottos is “Don't fight, don't win, don't surrender!” Love the ethos and the idea of what they have done.

Daisy:
You are a teacher in college, you have family, you compose, you record in your own studio, you go on tours, you pack and sell your merchandise online yourself, you are connected with a many musicians and promoters, you write lyrics, you like playing soccer, you like eating and drinking with friends, you like watching horror movies, you write blogs, you update and edit your homepage and social networks constantly, you give interviews… What is your secret? Is all that giving you your energy, so you don´t feel the need for sleep or is your day longer than mere mortal ones?

Matt:
I really could do with some sleep, actually! Truth is, I like working and I love being creative, I am driven to be so. I'm beginning to question some of the many activities I do, as there is simply not enough time, to write music, or just enjoy life a little, at times. I've decided to do less, for the moment as a label - with physical copies for instance (CD, vinyl, books etc) as this was very time-consuming, and leaves little time for the music. I figure I'll give people chance to catch up with my back-catalogue ;) Same with concerts – I'm just taking the ones I really want to do, and when the conditions and location are right. Same also with playing violin for other people – I've kind of cut down the amount of that I do, too. There just aren't enough hours for everything! Give me some more lives, please, and I could really perfect this music thing ;)

Daisy:
Thank you, Matt!

Matt:
My pleasure – thank you :)

 
Daisy für nonpop.de


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