Nic Matthews shares a word with one of Bristol’s most acclaimed musical exports, star-collaborating electronicist, Zoon Van Snook.
A passion for genre-spanning melody, field recordings, found-sound and electronics – combined with the utility of guerrilla techniques (encompassing household objects) – has seen ZvS create affably sinister sonic sketches and ambionic audio montage. After releasing his debut 12″ on acclaimed Brighton label, Cookshop, towards the end of 2008, a perfectly honed relationship was achieved by signing to legendary LA label, Mush Records. The debut LP ‘(Falling from) The Nutty Tree’ was released around Christmas of 2010, to the delight of album and gig reviewers alike.
The subsequent remix album boasted collaborations from the venerable Daedelus, Grasscut, Tunng, Cian Ciaran (Super Furry Animals), Fujiya & Miyagi, Yppah, Ape School, Alka, Lost Idol and Bristol’s own Woos. Second LP, ‘The Bridge Between Life & Death’ – named after a bridge in Kópavogur, Iceland, so-called by locals because it has a nursing home on one side and cemetery on the other – will be released on Lo Recordings (UK), !K7 (US) and Kimi Records (Iceland) on Mon 20 May.
Could you tell us how and why you started making music? I had been playing in bands around Bristol and the South West since about the mid-90s, but due to a mixture of members either touring with other bands or having serious illnesses, I decided to start writing my own music in the summer of 2007. I had always played in bands with my older brother, Sean, who taught me the subtleties of writing and arranging songs – so I built a little studio in my spare room in Bedminster and off I went. Luckily, due to my friend Owen of Canola Tenderfoot sending my tunes to Brighton’s Cookshop label, my first set of songs got signed almost immediately. This EP led to an infamous interview with Stephen Merchant.
What have you got going on at the moment? My second album ‘The Bridge Between Life & Death’ is being released on two of my favourite labels: Lo Recordings (UK) and !K7 (US). It is based around 12 field recordings that I took when I was in Iceland at the end of 2009, and is 12 songs for, about and inspired by Iceland. I have collaborations on there with some of my favourite Icelandic artists such as Amiina, Sin Fang and Benni Hemm Hemm. Múm (a huge influence on my music and life) are contributing a special remix for the second single, along with Ulrich Schnauss. Halldór from the band Seabear has painted the album and single artwork.
What inspires your song writing? I get inspired by hearing the natural rhythm in everyday situations (the first LP on Mush Records incorporated lots of found-sound recordings); I also love snippets of conversations – subject matter unknown – that I hear when I’m out and about. The songs on the new album are largely built around the field recordings that are included in each. More often than not, I would play the recording and then write the piano chords around it. With ‘Inclementine’ I started with the guitar parts over the recording, ‘Lyre! Lyre!!’ I played the lyre part and then found the best recording that fitted with it. ‘Thufur Thoroughfare’ was built around an iPhone app that I recorded in and then manipulated – it also includes a specially recorded field recording from Benni Hemm Hemm of his family in the mountains of Iceland.
Who are your role models/idols and why? Other than my brother, who did two ’50 States in 50 Days’ tours of the US with Kevin Montgomery (son of Bob Montgomery, who co-wrote and played with Buddy Holly): musically, Super Furry Animals have been my biggest contemporary influence – Cian Ciaran, the keyboard player, especially. His mixture of folky piano/electric piano and squelchy synth lines, coupled with his techno rhythms, was a revelation when I first heard them in the mid-90s. For me, there is a huge comparison between the way the Welsh and Icelandic languages sound. When I listen to SFA Welsh stuff and Sigur Rós Icelandic/Hopelandic, I don’t need to know what the words mean, the vocal intonations just become another harmony instrument – I can create my own meaning each time I listen. I’ve also spent a lot of my life wishing I was in The Small Faces – the tunes, attitude, lifestyle, clobber, Hammond organ…it’s all there
What do you have planned for the future? I’m building my new live set as we speak, which can be quite difficult to do as a solo show, due to the multitude of acoustic instruments on the album. I’m using Ableton with the Launch Pad, sample pads, keyboards, Kaoss Pads and melodica/percussion, etc. It will be less danced-up than the first set, but the songs will definitely still be re-worked and improvised live. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to (or even want to) recreate my songs live, but I tried it and got a really positive reaction from the audiences at NXNE in Toronto, and in the Netherlands when we toured there with Bristol’s Inner City Grit Records. We’ll see how it goes, but I’m talking with a French booking agent at the moment, so hopefully there will be a European tour around the time of the LP – summer time.
I’m just finishing off the new live set as we speak. I did NXNE in Toronto, a week-long European tour and an exclusive live radio session for Tom Robinson’s BBC6 Music show on the back of the first record, and hope to be touring extensively with this one, of course including Bristol.
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