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In Extremis

Panic Attacks And Pythagoras: Team Brick Interviewed
The Quietus , January 27th, 2010 09:37

Bristol one-man band Matt Williams talks to Ash Dosanjh about hallucinations and the blood of the Greek Gods

When a musician describes their debut as “unfocussed, just unfocussed” it seems extraordinary that anyone in their right mind would be willing to foist their metaphorical weight behind it. After all, there aren’t many labels in the UK that are willing and able to put out music that isn’t, on face value, chart-friendly indie/pop/rock ephemera. But one-man-band Matt Williams, aka Team Brick, and Bristol-based Invada, aren’t your archetypal musician and label. True, it may not be the easiest record to sit down with on first listen, but a modest Williams is being overly harsh on Alogon. There’s much melodic beauty to be teased out from the discordant rumbles, wandering time signatures, lyrical abstractness and free-form jazz chaos within this record to see why Invada are putting their faith in the experimental noise exploits of one of music’s eccentric secrets. It’s time you did the same.

For the first time since the infamous ‘Bristol-sound’ emerged from the city in the 90s there seems to be a community of like-minded musicians pushing things forward in the city. It’s a far cry from what was going on a few years ago when indie wank posers Chinkini were lauded as being the next big thing.

Matt Williams: Really? Ah, man, Chikinki. I remember them. It’s strange that you think that. I think the music scene probably picked up in 2002 and it was amazing. I think it was probably at its best in 2004. Everyone was really helping each other out back then. It was really nice with bands like Ivory Stringer, Madnomad and Hustler being there for each other.

The local and independent music scene in Bristol has been severely arse-raped of late. The demise of records shops Imperial and Replay a few years back must make it difficult for a music community to grow organically?

MW: Yeah, that was a real blow when both those shops closed. It’s so hard getting hold of independent releases now. Fopp is okay but it’s all pretty light.

Your new record Alogon is a massive sonic step away from your debut single 'Alsatian', what with the latter’s caustic punk rock backdrop. What was the catalyst for that change?

MW: Yeah, that song’s really old. There’s not really a track on the record like it. I’ve never seen it as a massive change in direction because everything I do, especially on record, is different. I try not to repeat myself.

Opening track 'Monoxordh 0:0' has a certain monastic quality to it.

MW: It’s Greek for monochord. It’s based on Pythagoreanism.

Are your songs always based in some abstract idea like that? Not many people are gonna be familiar with the ins and outs of Pythagoreanism. I for one know fuck all about it.

MW: Not always. It can just be a tune that I like or I can just have an idea. It really varies. A lot of the time, especially with things I’m doing now, which are based on the colour of records. I want to give it a more consistent feel. If I can bag any appropriate set of contexts to it afterwards that makes more sense then I will. But I rarely come from an abstract idea anymore.

How exactly does Pythagoreanism correlate with sounds and music in the same vein as you’re making?

MW: Pythagoras was the first person to determine that he found the ratio for harmony. Through a series of experiments that he did he found the 12 notes that we use in western music today. But they were imperfect. So if you play a C and then play the C above it, by using the Pythagoreanism you’d be a little bit sharp. No one’s been able to perfect it but that’s what everyone’s been trying to do since. We’ve stuck on western tuning for so long that it’s become more and more not right.

You’ve got a track on the record called 'Ichor', what do you associate with that song?

MW: Ichor is the blood of Greek gods. I wanted to move on the Greek stuff with the rest of the album with that track really. I kinda wanted something gloopy. Around the time I was making the record I was into reading a lot of obscure texts about music. They all point to the Greek tradition and Pythagoras in general and I got very into reading as much as I could about Pythagoras and getting it out of my system. I was looking at really strange archaic text by people like Johannes Kepler, a German guy and expert on Pythagoreanism.

You’ve got a track on the record called 'Wimping Out'. Strange given that your record isn’t the easiest of albums to get to grips with on first listen. In a sense you’re being more than courageous with Alogon.

MW: Wimping out is actually another way of saying ‘having a panic attack’.

Do you have many of them?

MW: Yeah, way too many of them. I’ve got to the stage that when I feel them coming on I just leg it. Normally they happen at gigs that I go to – during them. I’m not very good at being in a room full of people and stuff.

You’re obviously a fan of fantasy writer HP Lovecraft given that you’ve named one track ('Alhazard') after a character from one of his books. There’s definitely a sense of otherworldliness on Alogon. Is that what you were aiming for?

MW: I found a copy of Necronomicon by Lovecraft when I was 15 and got really into it. I wanted to incorporate a bit of that on this record. A lot of [Alogon] is based on hallucinations. And trying to recreate hallucinations I’ve had in a way. Not so much otherworldliness.

What’s been the worst hallucination you’ve ever had?

MW: They’ve only ever been auditory. I’ve never really seen stuff. The worst one was when I was at school, it just sounded like the whole room was being crushed around me, which normally I’d quite enjoy the sound of, but it just felt unreal and it was horrible. There was someone playing a circus organ in the background as well who was kinda making fun of me.

Are they induced by anything?

MW: No. They kinda just come out of nowhere. Without me really noticing. They normally happen when I go to bed. Some of them just come out of nowhere, whilst I’m going about my day. They’re often really beautiful, but you just can’t place where the music is. And the notes aren’t even real. You couldn’t play it on any instrument or sing it.

I read somewhere what Alogon means the ‘irrational soul in man’. Do you feel this album is a series of irrational sequences in your life?

MW: Really? I didn’t know that. I got it from another Greek book that said that Alogon meant the unutterable, which referred to the discrepancy in temperament regarding coming back to the C and being a little sharp every time and if someone was trying to tamper with it you weren’t allowed to talk about it because it was unholy.

You’re currently in the band BEAK> with your Invada benefactor Geoff Barrow [co-founder of the label and member of Portishead] and Billy Fuller [member of Invada signings Fuzz Against Junk]. How would you describe your sound?

MW: It’s messy krautrock stuff really.

Do you find it tricky to filter in and out of different musical projects? What’s the attraction?

MW: Probably because I’m such a massive spod. I can’t comfortably limit myself to one drawn area really. I have to keep busy on something and I always like to make different kinds of music because I love so many kinds of music. It just feels silly to limit yourself.