The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Subscriber Area

Healing Magic: An Interview With MXLX
Alastair Shuttleworth , April 28th, 2023 09:00

The influential Bristol experimentalist shares the story of his astonishing, magic-inspired new album, available exclusively for Quietus subscribers, with Alastair Shuttleworth

Photo by Simon Holliday

To receive Saint by MXLX become a Quietus Sound + Vision subscriber

For over 20 years, Matt Loveridge has been amongst the most inventive, influential figures in Bristol’s experimental music scene. As well as co-founding Beak>, he has created 63 solo records under various aliases signifying different disciplines: from piano-and-vocals pieces as Knife Liibrary to his work without any live or MIDI instruments as Gnar Hest. As MXLX, he combines metal, industrial and noise in impossibly maximalist pieces, with some songs layering as many as 80 audio tracks. While these records are often shaped by a striking interplay of light and extreme darkness, this is taken to new realms by his extraordinary, magic-inspired new album Saint. As he explains, “it’s some of my nicest work, and some of my nastiest.”

Recent MXLX albums have had difficult births. 2020’s Serpent followed a bout of severe depression and a brush with homelessness. Nebula Rasa the following year was nearly lost after Loveridge’s laptop was stolen, and only finished after he tracked down the thieves himself. With Saint, Loveridge was slowed by creative challenges. “I banned myself listening to any music for six months,” he explains. “I always find myself getting frustrated that I’m not making what I’m listening to, and that I start trying to put [their ideas] into my writing.” Finding that the arrangements in his head “weren’t coming out of my hands right,” Loveridge set to painstakingly rebuilding every patch on his synthesiser. “I needed to trust my hands again.”

Saint presents a chilling, apocalyptic world of “burned out towns” (‘Kitab Siriyun’) and “lifeless corpses” (‘Saturn’): supported through metal-inspired guitars and dark, twisting electronics. More than war or disaster, this destruction appears to reflect Loveridge’s questioning of reality. “I had a visitation last year from a certain deity,” he explains. While he refuses to share many details about this vision, it contributed to an unsettled view of the world around him. He recounts “seven planet-sized orbs: six of them are cleaved in half, and the one that remained is the timeline I exist on now.”

While Loveridge shrugs off analysis of his lyrics, claiming “it’s sound over sense,” this unsettling of reality is referenced throughout Saint. He describes “exiting the structures entirely” in ‘Kitab Siriyun’, and complains of being “shackled to rationality” in ‘The Eternal Roar Of The Howling Static Void’. “Everything we rely on to navigate the real world is a fantasy that has been agreed upon collectively: laws, morality, empathy, money… these things are just constructions” Loveridge explains. “I dropped out of trying to find a place in the real world, when I realised it didn’t exist.” This came with a renewed interest in magic and spirituality. “I’ve been viewing the entire world through a magical lens for a few years.” While Loveridge appreciates this worldview may not be understood, he is proud of its influence on his work. “While I might be completely fucking deluded, at least my delusions are fun.”

These notions of reality and magic reflect the interplay of light and darkness in Saint. MXLX’s signature gritty electronics are met with gorgeous melodies and uncharacteristically warm guitars: the searing noise of ‘Saturn’ gives way to a yearning synth arrangement, while the rousing riff closing ‘Try Dying’ – which Loveridge terms “Hawaiian doom” – is a true MXLX first. Saint also contrasts unusual and conventional song structures: ‘Saturn’ is full of ankle-breaking changes in rhythm and texture, while the more uniform ‘Kitab Siriyun’ features choruses and even a bridge. Loveridge describes these elements of contrast as presenting “full integration,” combining “the magical with the mundane.”

Loveridge also explores various ways of using his voice on Saint. MXLX records often use a rich palette of whispers, chants and harmonised singing, which Loveridge accredits to a fondness for sea shanties: the ‘Kitab Siriyun’ lyric “A night with the boys wouldn’t do us any harm” is drawn from the shanty ‘Roll The Old Chariot’. However, he is on especially dynamic form throughout Saint: there’s scatting on ‘Prayer Slips To Mammon’, anguished screaming on ‘Saturn’ and tender crooning on ‘Building One’s House On Sand In the Great Inversion, Or, Man’. Explaining this, he makes a startling revelation: “It’s the first time I’ve ever used a microphone.” Loveridge’s enormous body of solo work has been constantly dogged by problems recording live. “I’d have to record onto a Dictaphone and import that. If I wanted to do overdubs, I’d have to wear two sets of headphones.” Having finally tackled this technology, he was able to explore new vocal ideas with greater ease throughout Saint.

The album closes with the dramatic, nearly 15-minute-long highlight ‘Building One’s House On Sand In the Great Inversion, Or, Man’. An inquisitive synth melody builds towards a triumphant post rock outro: evaporated by scorching, high-frequency noise. This illuminates Loveridge’s view of the album as “healing magic.” In its searing and abrasive textures, as well as its images of purging and destruction, Saint is conceived as a tool “to burn away the dead wood; to violently, but beautifully, exfoliate the soul.”

Considering Saint in the context of Loveridge’s catalogue is no straightforward task. He calls it the fifth “canonical” MXLX album, following 2012’s Black Meta, 2015’s ^_^, 2017’s Kicking Away At The Decrepit Walls Til The Beautiful Sunshine Blisters Through The Cracks and 2020’s Serpent. “There’s Nebula Rasa, but that’s more like 4.5 – I don’t make the rules.” The most fluid of his projects, other releases under the name vary from 2007’s 40-minute organ piece MXLX-8 to the vivid electronica of Maximum Amounts Of Extremely Fucking Yes (Vol.1) in 2020. That’s to say nothing of his far-ranging records as Knife Liibrary, Gnar Hest, Klad Hest, Team Brick, Fairhorns and WON’T.

It might be fatuous, then, to simply call Saint ‘the greatest MXLX album to date’. What can certainly be said, is that it is an astonishingly ambitious, expressive work of towering complexity. “I don’t believe in explicit, hand-held meaning” he says. “I believe music is a huge force. It’s a terrifying, overwhelming, awesome form of art, and maybe the most impactful form of art we have – it’s deep magic.”

To receive Saint by MXLX, as well as a host of other benefits including exclusive essays, podcasts and playlists, and loads more specially-commissioned music, become a Quietus Sound + Vision subscriber. You can do so here