Matt Elliot

Miss Fliss 06/01/2009

Electronic pioneer (Bristol's experimental tone-setting acts Flying Saucer Attack, and Third Eye Foundation) and long-standing musical mind in the Domino Records stable, Matt Elliot is a solo artist in his own right - and on his own terms. He left his native Bristol for the more receptive (and politically, more attractive) climes of France and now Spain, where his intricate weaves of introspective folk music are ecstatically welcomed. With tinges of eastern European dolour, his loops of guitars with a voice that this time around 'howls', Matt Elliot's recent album took in a political edge (his sleeve notes show outrage at terrorism and war, pointing the finger at American and British Governments and delivers lyrics like: If you're going to top yourself anyway / then why not bomb the stock exchange). Just don't ask about 9/11, warns Matt, as GIITTV's deputy editor Fliss Collier interviews him about music, sadness, and politics.

I was wondering if you could tell me a bit about those who you worked with on the new album Howling Songs, and how the songwriting process was?

Well, first of all I recorded this album mainly in a studio which was a first for me but the engineer was really great, and he worked hard, poor guy. I think if he knew what a logistical nightmare it would be he perhaps wouldn't have taken the job. In fact the people I work with - as soon as I meet them, sometimes before - I have a light that goes on, it was the same with Patricia (violin), and with Aurelien (cello, clarinet, double bass, trombone and more). With Nicolas Dick (engineer), I only heard someone talking about him and I thought: 'I have to work with this guy.' Patricia I first saw in Vigo in Spain, I was bringing my equipment in and just heard this wonderful violin music playing, and as it was I was looking for a violinist and by pure chance I gave one of her band members a CD, and thank god she got in touch. We work very well together. Then Chris who plays drums is an old friend and the greatest drummer I know...he recorded his parts at his house. Aurelien I met at a friends show, he was playing with Centenaire and i really liked the way he played, I wanted him for Failing Songs [Matt's previous album] but he was too busy, anyway for this album he was available and did a great job. So for the working method I only had the basic guitar structure and most of the lyrics when I went to record - initially the plan was just to record that and the rough vocals but we ended up doing a lot more in the first session. For me it was great because I only had to think about the music and not the engineering, mic placement, etc. So, in fact it was a pleasure to record this, then I came back a few months later, finished the overdubs, arranged all Aurelien and Chris's parts, and recorded Patricia's violin parts. We work very well together and she is really an amazing player.

What is it that spurs you on/inspires you to make songs the way you do - is it a mood, feeling, thought or something else?

I don't really know where it comes from in all honesty. I just found my little place in my world of music and just let it happen. There is rarely an initial thought or inspiration. It just comes from playing and playing and playing.

Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thoughts, says Percy Shelley... Can you relate?

Yes, because although I listen to all kinds of music, the music that means the most to me personally is the music that makes you weep. I don't know why. My earliest life changing musical experience was with very sad music and I think I just prefer it, because it is sometimes your only solace in this sad, frightening, unjust and uncaring world. Sometimes it just reminds you that other people feel the same, although not all the time - in fact I'm quite a happy person, I have a wonderful life. But writing sad music is like therapy for me, as is howling on stage and wailing. It's a wonderful solace, and I recommend it to anyone to just go and howl. Let it out. It feels much better.

I was wondering about your feelings on mixing music and politics - your own music isn't as political as your blogs on Myspace, for example, and yet you vocalize really effectively about things thereā€¦

I think it's difficult to be political in music. I used to think the two are separate but if you look at folk songs over time they are often about the political situation but as an allegory or a story. Anyone who knows me knows I love to rant and there are so many things to rant about. Our system is f*cked, it's medieval, technologically we've progressed a lot over the last 100 or so years but intellectually, generally I think we are regressing, and perhaps that's even deliberate. Although it is an interesting time at the moment. I think perhaps after enough people have lost everything people might start seeing that this system is a scam and actually want to change it for something new which benefits each and every human on the planet, this way we can truly progress as a species instead of stagnating in this corrupt, inefficient, outdated system.

On the topic of politics, I ought to ask you about your feelings on the US election result as that's pertinent - and how you see the future of America shaping up?

In fact I'm enjoying this moment before he utterly disappoints which I'm sure he will. I have this vague hope that he will actually change something, that he will remember some things from his old friends in the Weatherman Underground and that when (as Clinton did) he presents his ideas to the FED and they (as they did to Clinton) threaten him with very high interest rates, he decides to shut it down as unconstitutional and truly reform the US government. And also that he invests in getting the US free renewable energy, as this would surely be the best thing for the economy, that instead of bailing out GM he works with car companies that are seriously developing electronic car engines, etc, etc, BUT as well as being a Utopian optimist, I am also a realist, and I'm quite sure that soon enough, I will be bitterly disappointed and in fact we won't be much better off.

Do you see any kind of solution to what's going on in Gaza at the moment? In particular, what do you think people in the western world can or should do, if anything?

The only solution I can see is Israel adopting a policy of benevolence, and instead of spending money on bombing Lebanon and Gaza they could help the Palestinians, it is the very least they can do. I do know that airstrikes and ground offences will only exasperate the situation not only for Israel but for Jews all over the world - Anti-semetic violence is increasing world wide, more rockets are falling on Israel's claimed territories than before, and support for Hamas and more outrage towards Israel is going beyond all levels. A lot of these problems are allowed to continue because of the way the mass media present things. Most Americans I'm sure just think it's some kind of war as opposed to a massacre of mainly civilians. As I write this, they are counting the bodies from a bombed school, this will make the next generation of militants. Also as I write, the protests and riots continue in Athens and Thessaloniki as they have almost non stop since the 6th of December - but they are not reported in any of the major news networks.

Getting back to music - what new music are you listening to at the moment, and any new artists to recommend for the coming year?

Well, right now I'm listening to a lot of stuff I listened to when I was in my late teens, right now I'm listening to The Smiths but I'm quite interested in the whole dub step thing. And of course I play with many bands and I frequent some wonderful independent festivals like Tanned Tin and formerly Rhaaaa Lovely where I see many new acts. New artists, it's tricky - normally artists I like sadly disappear into obscurity. I loved the Director sound album but sadly there were no labels to take him on and this is more and more often the case these days. Many people ask how downloading effects me and it has to some degree but I just change my attitude, I play and tour as much as possible, it's the only way BUT downloading has f*cked my record company and many like them so it is in fact the next generation of talented artists that will fall by the wayside because there is no one for them.

How do you find out about new music, any particular sources?

Well, I think more and more music is about playing live and as I said I go to many festivals or am supported by some new acts & this is a great way to see new music, I also use the internet a lot, things like Last FM.

You're gigging in the UK for the first time in 4 years this year, but when we last spoke you said you'd never set foot in this country ever again, why the massive change of heart? How do you feelabout the UK these days?

Well, you caught me towards the end of a pretty miserable tour. I didn't say I'd not set foot in England full stop though, because I have family in England but there's no change of heart - I still hate what England has become and will keep on hating it until after the revolution.

What can we expect from your UK gigs in April? Looking forward to it?
Me, my guitars, and loop stations singing sad songs.

Howling Songs completes the trilogy you started in 2005, any thoughts/plans on where to go next musically?

Well, I tend to just drift along. There are various projects I'm involved with so it keeps things interesting.

Matt Elliot does a mini tour of the UK in April, including dates in London, Brighton, Newcastle, and Coventry. Keep an eye out in GIITTV's listings for more details