From Bristol with a pistol
Matt Elliott’s musing is an amalgamation of more or less conventional singer songwriter songs, Slavic melancholy and thrifty electronics. His songs sound like an old station on a cloudy autumn night, shimmering and glazing. The rusty steam train echoes old melancholic stories of fortune and misfortune, while drowning in a curtain of drizzle. With a glance of a passionate yet forgotten past. A shrieking sound of iron against iron. And the ability to discover the world. Poetic and heart-warming.
This interview would be published at the end of October, we said to the man from Bristol (residing in Spain). Empty promises of hope! The interview was done in September 2007, on the celebration of (our friends of the) French Community in Belgium. Anyway, as your servants always strive for (and predominantly accomplish) timeless articles, we publish it. We still have a Shora interview from 2006 lying around. If enough readers send us a mail we’ll feel pushed to publish it.
Elliot – a cultural pessimist – has firm and alternative methods in mind in addressing to politicians and their tendency to corrupt. We say it in camouflaged terms. What would he tell today, in the middle of the worldwide economic cricis. But whether it is about music, politics or any other topic, in both his analysis and answers speak a very negative view on the 21st century (schizoid?) man. He finds most of the shear beauty that characterises his music, in the fruitful past. Which doesn’t mean that his compositions bade in sentimental eruptions. A great paradox!
Several years before he started his musical escapades as a singer songwriter, the man with the old soul had already released a handful of impressive albums under the banner of The Third Eye Foundation. Not that we’ve told him, but it was – together with a few others – Elliot’s vehicle that opened our musical perspectives. It made the surprise even bigger to hear his answer on our question when he did start writing music. “Writing properly, I didn’t do until 2000. Before, I don’t consider as normally writing music. Writing music is the process in which you have an idea that you translate to an instrument. As a 16 year old I already played guitar, bass and piano. Of course there is a difference between writing music and putting things together on the base of samples. The thrill in the last is to find good stuff that works together. There’s a lot of luck involved there. I don’t sample anymore. Never. On Failing Songs there’s a sample of a chimpanzee. That’s the only sample I think. Drinking Songs had a few samples, but mainly just sound-effects.”
A Fundamental Reality
You still use looping as a technique?
Definitely on Drinking Songs. On Failing Songs I tried to move away from that. With what I do today, I’m moving further away. It’s so boring to use loops. It’s nothing more than a formula. Music is such an amazing universe. There’s so much I can study. Why should I limit myself to sound collages.
Does that mean there will never be Third Eye Foundation again?
I think about it from time to time, because one guy from the record company keeps asking about it. I could do it very easily. When I did it, it was very hard, but today, with computers it’s too fucking easy. It would take a month to knock off an album, but it wouldn’t be challenging and I would only do it to keep everybody but myself happy. I’m not interested in recording what others expect.
What does the concept imagination mean to you?
I’ve got more interested in that concept through making drugs. As a young person I used to take drugs quite often, which made me think of music in a more visual way. Tripping makes you hear and feel quite differently. For sure, it did change my ideas about everything: music as well. I don’t take them that often anymore. I smoke some pot from time to time, but that’s it.
Can you visualise now where you used to need drugs?
No, I didn’t use drugs long enough to accomplish that. Discovering acid and mushrooms made me use drugs a lot, a lot. At the other hand, it’s impossible to make music when you’re tripping. I tried that once. I was staring to the material for about two hours. I did everything with my head, but not with my body. It was a pointless waste of time. It just opened a little door in my head. Talking about this always makes it very cliché. It’s good to see the world in a slightly different way. You realise that the fact you see it, doesn’t mean it is there. I think you can link this to relationships. You have to be aware of the subjectivity. Of course there’s a fundamental reality, but you’re a filter.
Fucking Fascist Prick
You’ve called progress a myth.
I meant that progress is an empty word. Progress is about moving forward and development. I don’t see that happen in society. We’re going backwards, especially culturally. Progress is a word that people use to force other people to do things that they don’t want to do. We’re not moving towards a society where people have a worthy existence. That should be possible if you see how much technology we have. The American dream has turned into a system that chases money. Today, that’s the biggest motivator. Why should I try to develop a drug to cure aids, when there’s money to be made of it? I like to think that at least between the last two centuries people came up with ideas like communism because they wanted to progress society. Of course, they got corrupted, because humans are corrupt. Especially in the fifties, there were a lot of philanthropists who tried to work about that. They tried to build museums, schools and public education. When you ask someone anywhere in the world what they would like to do, they would answer typical things, like doctor or animal surgeon. We’re not encouraged to do the things that we would like to do. My parents worried about me being an artist. They wanted me to be qualified. As long I have enough money to eat and to have a roof above my head, I’m happy. Owing your own property doesn’t help you. It helps banks, economy and so on. In a society driven by money, things that are good for humanity aren’t rewarded. When you’re progressing, the question is where you’re progressing too.
Where is it progressing to?
If I’m correct, Galbraith, the great economist that came up with neo-conservatism, is now saying that capitalism is a failure, a mess. The current economic system doesn’t work, so it’s pointless. Why don’t build another system? There are more and more little stupid rules. If you go outside you can’t smoke, even though there’s fresh air and the diesel of taxis is killing you. Fuck rules. They would make sex illegal, if they had the chance. The rule should be that corruption should be severely punishable. If you’re in a position of power you use it. I’m not a fan of the Chinese system, but they did sentence people to dead who took money that should have been used to make medication safe. The punishment should be severe enough.
When is a punishment severe enough?
Peter Mandelson, a high ranking politician in Britain (currently British Commissioner of the European Union for Trade, red.), was caught twice. All that happened was that he has to leave his cabinet behind. He went to a small place in Northern Ireland were he started all over again. They are enemies of society. Not the people who live in suburbs, and that end up stealing a car to live. You never accidentally end up being corrupt. If you cut away corruption a lot of problems would be dealt with. If you should be a politician you should have the purest motivation.
And if they don’t?
People who steal from the poor should be killed. I know it’s an extreme view, but I couldn’t care less if Blair, Cheney and others would be put against the wall and killed. When Ronald Reagan died I had a big party. I got really drunk, celebrating that there’s one fucking fascist prick less.
How do you see progression in relation to your musicianship?
Getting bored is the moment I start doing something else, like making music. I study music, not in a conservative way … but I listen to music actively and then take what I want. I don’t sample it literally. This music inspires me to explain things. It goes on and goes on. I’m really progressing as a musician. I can play guitar like I have never done before. I’m working more song-based now. Music is just an expression of emotion, expressing things that I couldn’t express in any other way. It’s really hard to convey these emotions through electronic music. The only way that I managed to channel some emotion though it, was by putting some pieces of classical or Turkish music in it. Somehow that worked. Squarepusher is technically amazing and belongs to the most astonishing Drum & Bass ever done, but in fact that is just good constructed music without emotion. It only says that Thomas Jenkinson knows a lot about programming. Electronic music of course has it place, but there are limits to it. I’ve enjoyed my share of xtc and dancing, and you could argue that it’s emotion as well, but there’s nothing more touching than a person’s singing. It’s the voice that really communicates and that breaks your heart. When I listen to Maria Callas, I have to stop after a while. I can’t stand it, literally, because it’s way too emotional. I don’t listen to music very often, because I listen to it in an analytic way. But, I have realised that in the end it’s always about the same broken heart feeling, whether it’s old Egyptian or Romanian music. That’s why Shakespeare is that great.
It’s a universal subject.
It’s about life. If you go back two hundred years in time, similar things were happening in relation ships: love triangles, children separated from their parents … In music however, I think things have changed. I doubt about the motivation of a lot of contemporary musicians. Where is the new Nina Simone or Jacques Brel. You have Coldplay, that displays a lot of emotion but don’t go beneath the surface. Today I have listened to Tim Buckley. I had to put it off, because it was too much. Bands like Keane and shitloads of others just push the right buttons. The only one that goes beyond today is Tom Waits: his voice, music, lyrics, and arrangements. All just amazing!
Would you say that you were distracted when you did Third Eye?
I was more hiding and going in circles. I was afraid of really showing my soul, so I hid behind noise and beats. It was a mystery to surround myself with. The first time I sat on stage was the most horrible thing I had ever done in my life. But at the same time it was the most rewarding. When I saw the guys from Mogwai come off stage a couple of years ago, they were so exited and happy. I had never had that before. Now I take risks. It can be real shit, but also terrific.
Does Failing Songs display the fact that perfect songs don’t exist?
It’s more about the fact that I was at a certain point in my life when I realised I failed in certain aspects of that life. The only way to know who you are is to be in a situation. As you can read in my blog on myspace, I see this society and this system as a fucking failure. Everywhere I look I see failure. But, I do think there are perfect songs. Tom Wait’s songs for example.
Don’t they for 100 percent express imperfection?
In general, that’s something I’ve been explaining with Drinking Songs. I tried to make these songs as perfect as possible. I think you’re right. When I went into the studio, I wanted to record them in a different way. Because of financial restrictions, I had to live with the mistakes. Most of the outcome I now love most. In a way you’re constantly compromising. You could record the same songs during your whole live, but that is ridicule. At a certain point I start to hate it, which is a good thing. If you’re pleased too much, you make the same album over and over again.
Million Dollar Guys
Do you want to be a guide for your audience?
No, I don’t have a right to guide. I don’t know more than my audience. As you can see from my blogs, I’m really pigeon headed, but my opinions aren’t more worth than others. I love to discuss things, but I’m no guide. I love my life like I’m living it, but some aspects are just a mess.
The firm anti-establishment message isn’t that literal in the lyrics.
Well, I have done some lyrics about Million Dollar Guys, but I don’t want to do it too literally. I present it more generally, in a way that is related to folk music. In that way everybody can find his or her own thing in it. It has happened that someone told me I wrote a song about his father that I had never met. I don’t know what Maria Callas is singing and basically I don’t care. Her voice is enough. Music is good enough.
I think some people see you as a musical guide.
That’s their choice. I never thought: “I’m going to show these fuckers what I can do musically”. I’m never happy with what I do. It’s thé attitude to move forward. Being a guide is the last fucking thing I want to be.
Interview by Peter, Brussels, 2008