GENEVA-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Mathews has played on stage and in clubs across Switzerland and Europe with the groups “Exphase” and “The Exciters”. His first solo album “Promised Land”, released in May 2016, received extensive air play on Radio Swiss Pop, Rete3, Radio Chablais, TVM3 and Leman Bleu.
Matt’s new 4-track EP will arrive early in 2019 and he’s booked for a series of live concerts with his band in Carouge through November. His intimate, sensitive lyrics, sung in both English and French, connect with listeners through the memories, feelings and hopes they inspire. In this Q&A he talks about where he finds inspiration and what’s important to him in life.
Matt, you’re so multi-talented, how would you best describe yourself? Which of your skills is most important to you?
I’m a musician, a singer, but above all what is most important to me, almost vital, is the creation, the composition, the songwriting. I learned several instruments (guitar, drums, keyboards, bass, cello …) precisely in order to be as comfortable as possible to compose and create the musical worlds that go through my head.
Do you compose and play a particular genre of music? Have you always stayed with one kind of music or have you evolved to embrace various styles?
Currently my music is a mix of folk, pop and electro sounds. But I think that the essence of my musical approach is the songwriting: I love this microcosm that’s a song of about 4 minutes in which there are some rules that we can follow, or not, modify, play with, invert, twist, and so on.
A whole universe is contained in a small musical piece, which can take any form and use any musical style depending on the subject and the “message” it contains. So to answer your question, my music is constantly evolving and can take different stylistic colors depending on the periods and topics covered.
When and why did you decide to make music your professional focus?
I have always made music, my parents are classical musicians and they put me in front of a piano at the age of four. But it was in adolescence that the passion for music took hold of me. I wrote my first songs at around 14 or 15 years old and decided to pursue a musical career at 18.
Are you self-taught or did you study music? How did you develop your musical skills?
Both mon générale! I followed the whole classical route during my childhood and adolescence, playing cello at the Conservatoire de Musique. In parallel, I taught myself the drums and guitar when I was 14 years old and then the singing, the piano and the bass at the same time that I recorded my first compositions on an old 4-track cassette.
Did you have a mentor to help guide your development?
No, I didn’t have a mentor to guide and help me, except my teachers at the Conservatoire, of course. And I don’t know if that’s because I was studying music with a lot of teachers, but when I started playing music, it was more out of pride to do things without help or advice and to trace my path by myself. Which today I find a pity because it has also complicated my journey … but hey, that’s the way it is!
Who or what is your source of inspiration, especially for your lyrics?
In fact the inspiration can arise anytime, anywhere … a word, a feeling, a situation, an encounter, a taste, a place … everything can inspire me. I just need to be touched, moved, jostled, transported.
“Inspiration can arise anytime, anywhere…a word, a feeling, an encounter…”
Is there an artist in any field who has inspired you and if so, why?
Yes, there are many. I will mention only a few: in music, Prince and David Bowie for their uncompromising approach, their independence of spirit, and their multi-form talent that allowed them to create many facets of their art and to manage the various aspects of the profession. In French, Serge Gainsbourg for his mastery of the French language and for mixing classical culture and pop culture. And poets or writers such as (Charles) Baudelaire and (Haruki) Murakami or filmmakers like (Paul Thomas) Anderson and (Hayao) Miyazaki.
What are you favorite themes and subjects when you’re composing music or lyrics? What are you trying to inspire in your audience?
I don’t know if I have favorite themes, as with every new album I try to begin from a blank, pure sheet. But when I look back, I see that some topics and a vision of things recur without reflection in my texts and songs. I like two-way texts for example, where the important appears only after several plays or listenings. I also like to create an intimate link between a song and its listener, so that the listener feels that I’m telling a story just for him, that the song was written for him and him alone. I like to talk about human character traits in general. I could describe my artistic universe as a humanist universe!
“Being an artist is something that chooses us, and we must follow it without having the choice.”
When you lack creative inspiration what helps get you back on track again?
I am lucky to have, or have had, until now faithful and rich inspiration, so in general I even have too many musical ideas compared to what I can use. But I also force myself to write and compose very regularly, as a kind of continuous breathing, and it helps me to keep the door to the Muses wide open.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a musician/songwriter?
Oh, I would not have the pretension to give advice … but the most important is, from my point of view, to go for it, not to think too much and to go deep. I think that beyond being a profession, being an artist is almost a vocation, something that we don’t choose but that chooses us, and we must follow it without having the choice. Being and living as a musician must be the consequence of a compelling and uncompromising inner need in my opinion.
If we do not feel every day, every hour, and every moment this inner voice forcing us to create and apply ourselves to our work, we would probably not have the strength to overcome the difficulties that are specific to an artist’s vocation and we would get discouraged very quickly.
“What is most important to me, almost vital, is the creation, the composition, the songwriting.”
You’re releasing a new album with your band next year. What can you tell me about it?
In fact I’ll first release a 4-track EP in January 2019 as a preview of the complete album and CD that will come out at the end of 2019. Its main theme is to enjoy life here and now because life not only passes very quickly, but also because we find ourselves in a world today where we must take things into our own hands. I won’t say anything else now, but to find out more I suggest you come to my concerts and follow my news! 😉
Mark your calendars: Matt and his band will be performing live next week, Thursday, 1 November at Le Box, 15, Place de l’Octroi, 1227 Carouge. Entry is free (collection), doors open at 8:30pm and the concert begins at 9:00pm. ♠
To discover more about Matt Mathews, his upcoming concerts and album news, visit his Homepage. You can also Friend him on Facebook and listen to him on YouTube and Soundcloud. His new EP will be available on his website, on iTunes, and on all music platforms.
Main photo caption: Matt Mathews, photographed by Katarina Boselli.