The latest “15 questions” feature is with guitarist Matt Stevens. Matt is a talented guitarist who embraces a modern twist on promoting and performing his music, heavily utilising the Internet and Social Media. Guitar Jar catches up with Matt to quiz him on his influences, techniques and his thoughts on sharing music online.
…building a community is more important than trying to make money. You can’t build a career if you haven’t got an audience…
Hi Matt, before we get into the details of your equipment and technique, can you give Guitar Jar readers an insight to why you first picked up the guitar and how long you’ve been playing?
Hello, thanks for taking the time to interview me. I’ve been playing since I was 14 and I started because I wanted to be in Guns N Roses or Iron Maiden. At the school I went to you were either into metal or rap, so I went metal. I had a tape with Europe on one side and Public Enemy on the other. It was that kind of school.
In the first few years in learning the instrument, which guitarist(s) were you influenced by the most and why?
Initially it was metal stuff so Maiden, Slayer, Slash, Bill Steer from Carcass, Randy Rhodes, people like that. Then I got into John McLaughlin’s playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Robert Fripp’splaying on Red era king Crimson. That stuff sounded as dissonant and exciting as the metal stuff to me. The chord progressions on the Mahavishnu material really stayed with me, the inversions and odd timings. The guy who taught me, Richard Beaumont was also a big inspiration; he was a real chord person as well.The Smiths and Radiohead really influenced me, the layering of guitars, and the different sounds. Also Husker Du and The Pixies, Bob Mould’s song writing and The Pixies using unusual length chord progressions. The Beatles – great chords once again. It’s all about the the chords with me.
It seems you’re an advocate of “live looping”; you play over a bed of chord & picking progressions. Why did you adopt this technique, what’s your loop pedal of choice and do you have any tips?
I adopted it purely for practical reasons to be honest, the band I was in spit up and I was left alone with acoustic guitar and a delay pedal. But its worked really well for me and its really practical for me for gigging – you don’t need to lug lots of stuff around, for instance. You can do some great stuff with guitar orchestration in this format.I use the Line 6 DL4, it’s a great pedal. It’s also a very cool delay and if you record the loops in half speed you get double the recording length, top trick that. I do wish there was an undo on it though.
Can you tell our readers what your current equipment set up is for a live performance?
Sure. Two Line 6 DL4’s one for loops, one for delay, a Digitech Whammypedal, mainly used for playing bass lines. I use a volume pedal for fade-ins, for fake string sounds, I have a Line 6 Filter modeller that I use for weird analogue guitar synth type noises. A EH Big Muff for fuzz is in there also. For small gigs I may just take a couple of pedals, I like to alternate and change to keep challenging myself.My guitar is a broken £100 Ibanez acoustic – I just like the sound, it’s on all my records. It has a LR Baggs pick up in it which is awesome.
I really enjoyed listening to your album “Ghost“. It perfectly highlights your influences and techniques. In particular, the track “Lake Man” really appealed to my tastes. How do you add your drums, percussion and bass when recording and do you also try to add these when performing as a solo artist?
I’m really pleased you liked it. The drums, percussion and bass on “Lake Man” are from a Korg Kaossilator which is little synth with a Kaoss pad style interface, we did cut up some of that in Pro Tools thou. It’s actually a bit of a tough one to do live, syncing the loops. Most songs are OK. To be honest it’s getting to the point where I will need a band to play some of these songs live, I don’t want to be “the loop guy” forever, I want to keep pushing the sounds forward, keep evolving.On “Ghost” Stuart Marshall plays drums on some songs and Kev Feazey or I overdubbed bass and synths and percussion and glockenspiel. It does make it difficult to recreate the whole thing live but the live version is a different thing, more improvised. Some people like that and some don’t. I see the studio and live as different things.
With the emergence of Social Media in recent years, one could argue we’re living in a time where human behaviour is radically changing; communities are being forged online and an individual expects information, entertainment and resources at a click of a button. Brands and company marketing are now in the hands of the consumer. Do you think that both artists and record companies need address how they engage with consumers, embracing the rapid developments of the Internet and change in social behaviour?
I think it’s great that everybody’s voice can be heard, but also the problem is everybody’s voice is heard and it’s hard to gain traction so people hear what you do. You can’t spam or shout about it on Twitter, you need to get others to tell their mates, this is the only thing that you can do.The only really authentic voice is that of your friends, the people you trust. You do good work and get others to talk about it. That’s all you can do – and interact and be part of the community around your music, encourage people to share your work by giving it away free and allowing people to share it. I feel so grateful to my audience for helping spread the word about my music.
On your website, you offer visitors to download your music for a donation of their choice. Are you concerned that you won’t make any money from downloads?
People do pay for downloads and I exchange the free downloads for an email address. People want to pay for the music they enjoy, it supports that artists and allows us to make more music – they can torrent it anyway, why not try and engage with people and build a community. I believe I’m still at the stage in what I am doing that building a community is more important than trying to make money from everything I do. You can’t build a career if you haven’t got an audience.
You use websites such as Cafe Noodle and UStream to perform live to audiences as far away as New Zealand. How has this worked out for you so far and is it strange not physically having an audience in the same room as you?
The UStream gigs are amazing really, playing to people from all over the world from your back bedroom. It’s bizarre initially but I’ve kind of got used to it. I love the fact that there are people making friends via the chat room at the gig, people from all over the world. I’m hugely grateful to this audience of frankly amazing people.
Are you still involved with the band “The Fierce and the Dead”?
I am – that’s collaboration between me, Kevin Feazey (who produced Ghost) and Stuart Marshall. We have an album recorded that should be out next year, we’re just deciding which label, if any, we will put it out on. We’re in the in the fortunate position to have multiple offers from record labels so it’s just a case of deciding whether to do it ourselves or put it our through one of them. The Fierce and the Dead are kind of epic post rock stuff, all instrumental and you can download our 19 minute single from www.fierceandthedead.com.
How often do you practice and what do you focus on to improve your technique?
I run through arpeggios in all position on the neck in all keys then tend to work on some standards or classical pieces, some Miles stuff or Bach. I also do some improvised stuff and come up with chord substitutes.
Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
My broken, knackered old Ibanez acoustic – I’ve used it on everything I have recorded thus far and it seems to bring me a bit of luck.
A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hover-board in hand, you’re ready climb in and hit 88mph. Will you go to the past or the future and why?
I really like the present to be honest; it’s an amazing time for music. I’d like to visit the future to hear new sounds but to be honest, the journey of discovery is the most exciting thing for me.
If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
That is a tough one. Bill Bruford maybe – I love his playing on Red, the King Crimson album. My friend Stuart is the best drummer I’ve played with, he’s amazing on the Fierce and The Dead stuff and very easy to communicate with. The communication is the important thing.
Lager or Cider?
I’ll have a lager please. I do have a passing urge for some of those new posh ciders, they are quite cool.
What’s the plan for you musically for the next 12 months?
The first Yonks EP is out early next year that’s collaboration between me and an electronica artist called Lextrical. The process for that is I got to Lextrical’s house and we improvise stuff in his studio, often with both of us on guitar or him programming stuff. The Fierce and The Dead album is out in the spring, depending on how we release it.I played on a track on Jessica Grace’s new album. She’s a very good singer songwriter, featuring Kev again and Seb Rochford from Polar Bear/Acoustic Ladyland. My next solo album is out next year hopefully as well and that will be the last one of the loop based ones, probably. That’s 50% recorded now, with Kev Feazey producing again. It’s very different to Ghost, more electronic, more electric guitars. I’m pleased with where we are at but there’s some way to go – it may not come out until 2012. I want it to be a really coherent end to the three albums, like a trilogy.I’m teaching a short 4 week course on Looping and how to build guitar arrangements via Skype, it’s for a very limited number of places though, join up to my mailing list to find out about that.
Matt Stevens – “Ghost” – Streamed from Soundcloud: Matt Stevens Ghost by mattstevensguitar