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A Quietus Interview

I Told A Lie: Mathew Sawyer Doesn't Talk About His New Album
Kev Kharas , May 4th, 2010 07:12

Matthew Sawyer meets Kev Kharas for beer and they circumnavigate around his excellent new album, How Snakes Eat... All art by the artist...

The truth’s dull, isn’t it? It’s one of those things that's retro by nature – things are only really true, in an objective sense, if they’ve already happened, and once things have happened they’re gone, aren't they? Adrift in the past, they tend to stop moving: lose their energy. The truth is dead as soon as it’s born. The future is just a series of untruths waiting to die.

Maybe this is why I’ve started to find music overly keen on its own sense of 'truth' increasingly tedious, whether it’s the balladeering agitprop of those reeling off secret war death tolls like atrocious receipts, or that heart-on-sleeve music made by oedipal campfire men with guitars strung from gastro-pubic beard flax.

Opposed to that distaste is the fact – rarely stated, thankfully – that I, like most of the writers at this site, wouldn’t be here unless we were convinced of music’s ability to communicate purer, more resonant truths than mere words made available. But human nature dictates that, over time, the listener will start seeking out stranger gateways: ones more honed to the tight angles of own empathy – at this point, everyone’s been through Ian Curtis’s eyes. So you start looking for other, less bustling portals leading to what are, essentially, the same old, un-sayable truths. Mathew Sawyer’s music gives me fresher heart attacks that don’t arrive in tandem with a trillion others – partly because he hasn’t sold any records yet, but mostly because his music’s a rare blend of candid, hopeful and strange that somehow makes those truths more amusing, and occasionally joins the dots between them in odd ways so you can see how they graze and grind up against each other.

In Mathew Sawyer's world, love is important, but seems less important than the circumstances and details of itself.

Just because Mathew Sawyer's voice is odd, doesn't mean he'll fall back lazy on sung melodies. Originality squared is something infinite.

Mathew Sawyer says and does things that feel right at the time. In this way, his work belongs to moments and as such renders regret illogical.

Crucially, perhaps, Mathew Sawyer's honest about what he wants to happen, rather than just a walking, mewling activity log reeling off reports of broken glass and kebabs. His lyrics and music are evocative of those desired futures to the extent that they worm their way out of being really truthful, because The Universe Means They're Bound To Unfold Differently. He’s also an “internationally-respected” visual artist, and played drums for Dan Treacy when the Television Personalities man first wandered off his crack boat those years ago.

Blue Bird’s Blood was Mathew’s fantastic debut album: three years on, at the rate we’re moving, every song from it would officially qualify for ‘Lost Classic’ status if we hadn't already condemned 'truth' and 'objectivity' as tiresome. We'd move to How Snakes Eat, his fantastic follow-up, (out next month through Fire Records) if that hadn't already been written and recorded. There was never much chance of this interview being an ‘interview’, really; and was conducted in keeping with the candid and wholly un-contrived spirit of those records.

And in a pub. Have some music:

Have you ever done a face-to-face interview before?

Mathew Sawyer: No, and I probably won’t do again. It’s a very vain thing to do, I think – to want to talk about yourself at such length. Anyway – cheers for the pint. How are you doing? Not been on the phone to Paul today, then [he says, referring to earlier text message]?

No, that was last time I was here. A friend had somehow gotten hold of Paul McCartney’s phone number. I tried to prank him, but couldn’t think of anything to say.

MS: Did he actually answer?

Yeah - that plummy, jowly voice is a giveaway.

MS: He’s going to turn into one of those frogs, isn’t he? Do you like his music? See, I think he’s a genius, but I think he’s a genius ringtone writer. ‘Penny Lane’ just sounds like a ringtone to me. It’s amazing – he’s an incredible melody writer… but he’s just such a massive knob. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing him once on TFI Friday – he had a band with him, but the band was Paul McCartney. So he had big video screens and [on one] he was playing drums, [on another] he was playing guitar. And as each part came in, he’d point at a certain video screen – the guitarist would come on and he’d kind of wink at himself. Imagine that!

Imagine what sort of universe you’d have to inhabit to think you could pull that off.

MS: Imagine being able to think, ‘Oh this is a great idea, everyone’s going to love it, because the band’s just me’. And it had been orchestrated so that he knew when he had to nod and wink to himself, too – imagine having to rehearse that.

There’s always been a certain goofiness to The Beatles that I’ve found repulsive. A bit like…

MS: Dad humour.

Yeah, if your dad was a huge stoner. Not that there’s anything with wrong stoner dads per se, but I imagine they’d be pretty insufferable if they’d once been in the most famous band of all time. You’d get kids topping themselves, wouldn’t you? Looking back, you could say that performance was always destined to be the apex of his career maybe – just him, playing with other versions of himself to a load of braying morons on a light entertainment show.

MS: Yeah… Did the CD I sent you turn up?

Yeah, it did.

MS: Good. I have every faith in Royal Mail. How was Paris [he says, referring to earlier email exchange]?

It was good. We just sort of walked around for hours.

MS: Is your girlfriend French?

No, she’s from Windsor.

MS: Oh right, and you met in London?

She used to go out with a friend of mine.

MS: Oh right! So he tried her out for you…

Nothing as sordid as that I hope. I did – and I stress this every time I have to explain this to anybody – I did go to him first, before anything happened, to say, ‘This is what might happen – are you OK with it?’

MS: The key is, how long did he go out with her for?

Quite a while. I’ve been with her a while myself now though.

MS: Do you know what? Every time I’ve been out with a girl who’s been in a relationship with someone I know, I always want to reach that point where I’ve been going out with her longer. It really matters for some reason…

It justifies it to an extent, doesn’t it? I know I screwed over my friend and I think about that every day, but if it works, it works… kind of proves I wouldn’t throw away a friendship for something quick and cheap.

MS: Yeah. Yeah. But that person will always have something over you now. ‘Oh yeah, you’re going out with her now, but I know her better because I was going out with her longer.’ The person I’m with now, I’m deeply in love with and I’ve been with her for six years.

Who was your first girlfriend?

MS: My first girlfriend? Sophie… she used to play in Wet Dog…

Which later, during transcription, leads to Google…

No… hopefully…


Sophie [Politowicz], she plays with The Rebel now. She got married to The Rebel – you know Ben, from The Country Teasers. They’re married now.

Is that weird?

MS: No! No. I was going out with someone else at the time, living in some other country.

Did you find out about it on Facebook?

MS: I can’t even remember.

My first girlfriend got married recently.

MS: How long were you going out with her for?

Three days when I was in Year 8. What have you been doing since Blue Bird’s Blood?

MS: Erm… that’s a long time… 2007?! I went to Brazil for a few months, I try to go to Greece as much as I can. My girlfriend’s Greek. She lives here but we try to spend as much time as we can over there, because that’s where you wanna be – in the sun. I really enjoy that. I don’t know, doing art stuff I suppose. It’s a very broad question, isn’t it? What were you doing last month?

I went to Paris. I spent a lot of it feeling as if I was slipping into the clutches of alcoholism, before realising how insulting that was to real alcoholics. I don’t know, apart from that. It’s hard.

MS: So now try to explain what you’ve been doing for the last few years.

I don’t know. I guess gradually losing any concrete sense of myself and slipping into what feels like an ultimately inconsequential, day-to-day existence.

MS: Oh no! That sounds so familiar. I just keep getting happier and happier, I think. More in control… uh, I imagine [laughs, lifts pint glass to mouth].

On the last track on Blue Bird’s Blood [‘Don’t Ever Die Johnny’] there’s that line about you drinking Coca-Cola rather than anything alcoholic. I don’t know why – probably because it’s the last track – but I imagined that as your farewell to alcohol. I was wondering whether you’d want a pint this afternoon or something softer, which is ridiculous really, given it’s been three years since that album was released.

MS: Yeah. I think that’s fair, but you know… We can all mope. I like moping. I’m a lot healthier now than I was then, and that’s got a lot to do with my girlfriend. Being healthier is great. You can get kind of disconnected for a while and not really know why you should put one foot in front of the other.

The new album does sound less mopey than the first.

MS: I wanted to make a happy record, but it didn’t really work. The next one will be so much fun… [laughs]

Is there anything else you wanted to do differently with the new one?

MS: It was kind of a nightmare recording this one, but I won’t go into that. I just wanted to do more of it myself – I really enjoy recording stuff on my own terms. With other people’s studios…

Did JP Buckle not produce this album?

MS: Yeah, he was… but I… yeah…

Have you had a falling out?

MS: Noooo! I dunno, it’s just hard, when someone else is doing it for free and I’m trying to scrape in all the time I can. He’s got his idea about certain things – the way I should conduct myself. He’s probably right.

What were his ideas?

MS: Just… it’s fine. Next time I’m going to have much more free reign to do whatever I want. I don’t know, I don’t know what I’m saying…

No regrets?

MS: No, I’ll never regret anything I shouldn’t think. Never regret anything. Remember that [laughs]. It doesn’t help though, does it? It’s worse when you hear people talking about it. It’s there, do something else. I’d rather think about doing something else than what I could have done differently.

If you make a habit of behaving in a sincere way I always thought regrets were rather pointless.

MS: Yeah. Absolutely. And you’re just living a pointless life really. You’re never really going to be happy, are you? There’s no point looking back. I’m really sick of that. I’m not into that at all.

What do you foresee for the next decade?

MS: Sunshine, that’s what I want. I want to move. I want change. Don’t you want change?

I do, but like I was saying earlier I do miss that kind of… having something concrete to fall back upon. Sometimes I wake up and I can’t remember what I did yesterday.

MS: That’s important though, isn’t it? That’s what I feel too. You have to do things that you actually really enjoy, as well as just things that’ll help you survive. I don’t mind, I’ve got a real thing about hating looking back and hating nostalgia – maybe it doesn’t come across, but I really do. I don’t have any friends from when I grew up or anything like that. I don’t mind that – I’m always excited about the new thing. It sounds very cheesy, but that’s what really keeps me interested in squeezing the old lungs in and out.

I can see that. It’s just sometimes it feels like the past becomes an imaginary place [‘Boys Don’t Cry’ comes on over the pub's stereo]. Which obviously it is…

MS: Yeah, yeah…

I don’t know. Maybe things get a bit too fluid, in all respects. What are your old friends doing now?

MS: I have no idea. Maybe they’re here, I wouldn’t recognise them. Maybe it’s you! No, you’re too young. How old are you?

24. You?

MS: 32, I think.

The last time I spoke to you, I asked you a question – for some reason, it must have been something I was thinking about at the time – about the replacement of old buildings with new architecture. I think I assumed that, because your music doesn’t present itself as self-consciously futuristic, you’d be quite a backward-looking individual…

MS: No, it’s no new thing at all. It’s as new as you and I having a conversation now. That’s not a new thing. It’s just you having a conversation with something or other… How do you mean?

I’m thinking of certain bands that present themselves as The New Thing, whereas your music is made in a fairly traditional way.

MS: No, well I’m not particularly interested in… I haven’t got my eye on the ball of what’s collectively happening, so I could never think, ‘Oh, well I’m trying to push everybody forward…’ [erupts into laughter]. I’m just trying to make it worthwhile for myself. I think it’d be a terrible waste to be here and not try to have a conversation with that experience while I was here. And it doesn’t really go any further than that. You’re always trying to put your finger on something, even if that’s something you can never really do. But as far as everybody else goes? I’m not bothered – I don’t like bands, I don’t wanna be in a band. I don’t wanna be some guy trying to figure things out for everyone. I’m the worst for that – I’m not an entertainer, or…

You can’t imagine ever playing Wembley Arena or the O2?

MS: [laughs] That’s so ridiculous. But that’s the culture now, isn’t it? When you’re in a band you kind of have to be an entertainer or a performer, and I don’t think bands really realise that when they first take it on.

The stuff that I appreciate tends to be ignorant of that etiquette of being part of a scene or a sound – dressing, writing and recording in set, certain ways. I don’t think there’s any need to operate like that at the moment, and I don’t think you do; without wanting to descend into flattery or anything…

MS: No, no, it’s fine… I wouldn’t know how to do that if I tried. I’m actually quite misanthropic about the audience when I play gigs.

The way you play with your back to the crowd and stuff?

MS: Yeah – it’s a hard thing for me, it seems to be a fine balance… it’s such an awkward and strange position to be in when you’re trying to sing these songs, over and over again, for people. I can’t remember most of the lyrics, or how to do a lot of the things I do. Most of the time I’ll be too nervous or too drunk to make it work. And I’ve come to the realisation that that’s fine – I’m not the kind of person who wants to go out there and be like, ‘Is everyone having a good time?’ You know, offering little synopses about what each song’s about, or what you should be thinking about while I’m singing this to you. No… No. Let me buy you a drink.