Wednesday, 14 March 2007

INTERVIEW: with Matt Langley

By Charlette Hannah

For a newly formed group, The Matt Langley Band can do some serious work via the ears of an audience, apparently gently, but the music sinks in and adheres to your sinew and bones. The star of the show, Matt Langley, spared an hour on a wet Tuesday evening to have a chat to me about the journey that's led him to this band and Wellington. A Dunedin-ite from way back, Matt's easy going personality and music talent finds him happiest when playing music, an experience he just can't avoid when he finds himself drifting into “Matt-land”.

Two years ago Matt was in Korea teaching English, a trip which was cut short when he broke his leg in an amusing event he tells later in the interview. He returned to New Zealand to live in Wellington so his family could “babysit” him while he was in a cast. He says most of the songs the band is currently working on were written in that period, as he was getting cabin fever from the immobility caused by his leg cast.

During this time he was in contact with old friend Dylan Galletly, owner of the Hometown Records label. Dylan told Matt to “get on your crutches and come down to the studio for a jam” which set in motion the idea of forming The Matt Langley Band.

For the last year Matt has been in Dunedin studying for his teaching degree extramurally through Victoria University and working on his songs. He recorded a demo of about 30 songs which he sent to other band members – brother Jake Langley on drums, Scott Mead on bass and Dylan on keys - to learn. Saturday 10 March at Bodega was the band's first gig, and promises good things from the boys in the future.

Currently in Wellington recording an EP with Hometown Records, Matt intends to travel between Wellington and Dunedin, playing music whenever possible.

Charlette: How would you describe the music that you play?

Matt: It's an ever changing thing. It's something I'm conscious about having something different happen each time I'm getting a band together or making an album or whatever. This time around - I'd kinda done the two guitar rock thing before, I'd done the acoustic album a couple of years back with the Patsy's - and I thought this bunch of songs would be cool to get the keyboard in on it. So there's that kind of element in it this time around. There's a rock thing there but it's more of an undercurrent this time around. I think it's more of a folky element and almost country, my interpretation of those things. I had someone at the gig the other night point out that there's almost a 50's rock feel to some stuff, and for some of the ballads there's definitely that kind of approach. So it's a bit of a melange. There's a bit going on.

Charlette: As the best bands are.

Matt: Yeah I enjoy that, you know what I mean? I like hearing changes song to song with a band if they can pull it off. Instrumentation can lead you to that. My thing with songwriting is always changing as well dependent on where I'm at, what I'm writing about.

Charlette: So, a brief history of your band...

Matt: Well it is a very brief history. We played our first gig last saturday. We've been practicing – I've been in Wellies for two months – but to be fair between people's jobs and schedules we've probably had sort of a couple of weeks practice. It's also been quite a divided practice. I've been jamming with the rhythm section up the coast, and then I've also been jamming in town with Dylan on keys, and we actually only got the keys and the rhythm section together a couple of weeks ago. I was really happy with that, 'cause that's what I wanted to hear. That all had to click. Other than that, what can I say about the history of the band? Jake comes from El Schlong and he used to play in the George Street Patsy's with me. Scott's with a band called The Learn. And myself and Dylan. It's all still very new so there's not much back history.

Charlette: So it is more of a part time commitment with these guys being based in Wellington and you swapping between Dunedin and here?

Matt: Yeah, I kinda hope not. Once you sort of have people learn up the songs you hope they'll stay with you and do them and do them. We haven't reached the point where we're thinking of rushing out on the road yet, so there's no major commitments being made, oh, there has been a major commitment in that these guys have said right, we like these songs, we want to do this and get some gigs going and get the EP finished, so that's where the commitment lies at the moment.

Charlette: What's in the future for you as a musician yourself, and as a band?

Matt: Mmm, it's hard eh. Well, I know I'll always be making music in one form or another. It's pretty much a part of my daily thing whether I'm writing or performing or thinking about it. Things churn around in the studio in your head. But yes I'll be playing some form or another. I'd really like to get these songs together and get them out, do some touring, do some gigs. I think with this batch of songs I can see really really enjoying playing them for an extended period of time as well. Especially as they've had an incubation of a year where I was playing them solo acoustic, and now they've been fleshed out a bit and that's brought a whole new lease of life to them for me. It's a whole lot of fun, and it's not so lonely on stage now I've got the other boys up there playing.

Charlette: So what are your songs about?

Matt: Ok. The majority of these ones were written off the end of a large relationship, so they're a lot more personal, a lot less cryptic than songs I've written in the past. Some of them are very much a communication between me and that person. Others are a reflection of the relationship and my part in it. At the same time I tend to write from my perspective initially and then I try to see that in a macrocosm, in a larger picture, whether it be in what I believe or my perspectives on things. Songs can very quickly encapsulate and intense personal feeling. And then also be an attempt to explore a larger picture as well, which is kind of interesting, and sometimes I'm not aware of it until the song's been written. I might come back to it a month later and oh yeah ok, that's kind of dabbling in something else there.

Music's also a conversation with myself. It's definitely my kind of diary or journal. It can be intensely personal or I can keep it to myself. But I think these songs are just about really basic human relationship stuff. Anyone can identify with that.

Charlette: What's your opinion on downloading music online?

Matt: Downloading music online... Illegal?

Charlette: Either. Do you think there's much of a potential for the industry or do you think it's just going to be overtaken with illegal downloading?

Matt: I'm hoping that people will be downloading it online, 'cause we're planning to put MP3's up on sites and give people the opportunity to grab real media and buy CD's or do it online. It's just had a huge impact, and it will continue too. I'm funny 'cause I like old stuff, I like old media like vinyl. I'm not a fan of CD's. I think they're bad media. I think they're shockingly packaged. They fall to bits and really piss me off. (Laughs). Better find out how we're packaging our album before I slag them off!

Charlette: So are you going to be releasing a vinyl as well?

Matt: Yeah we've seriously thought about that and been tracking down local vinyl makers. What we've been finding out is that some people are making real vinyl and some aren't and cost is definitely a thing. It's a bit of a vanity thing to be honest, to make your own vinyl. For me the artwork is bigger and nicer. I grew up with vinyl, I've still got heaps of it. I just like them. I'm not a fanatic about things like pristine digital sound, I don't mind hearing a bit of hiss. I like the idea that if I put on LA Woman, I'm almost getting the feeling of what it would have been like back when that got released on vinyl and you were alive at that time and you rushed to a record shop and read the packet and put it on and that hiss is kind of a comforting hiss of the music journey you're about to take. So I like that and at the same time I like the fact that with downloading, people, like what Dylan's doing with Hometown, can control it, make it readily available.The thing from my perspective as an artist is I could get things up on there like a wee acoustic demo or go into the studio and actually record a new song.

Charlette: And burning CD's... As not so much of a CD fan, do you have burnt CD's in your collection?

Matt: I do, I do, I'm a shocker. Mostly because people give them to you. I have to say I encourage people to burn other albums of mine, like if I haven't got a copy to give them. I tend not to have copies of my own albums 'cause I give them away and someone says 'have you got anymore..?' 'nah I haven't, you can have my one'. You know they're rushing off and burning it. To be honest I don't have a lot of CD's. I pretty much put all the music on my laptop and between that and my record player that's what I've got.

Charlette: From the very old fashioned to the very modern.

Matt: Yeah, not much in between. I guess I'm sick of the bloody CD's falling out of their cases, that's a big thing for me, I just hate that.

Charlette: What's your claim to fame?

Matt: There'd be many things I wouldn't be prepared to talk about! I played rugby on an American military base against American G.I.'s. And broke my leg.

Charlette: Was that when you had to come back from Korea?

Matt: Yeah, I was staying at a military base, South Korea. I'm a skinny kid and I thought I was quick enough to get around these big guys, yeah they kind of did the gridiron pile on, and snap went my wee leg. The kicker being it was my birthday.

Charlette: What inspires you to do what you do?

Matt: Music? Yeah I've thought about this 'cause I actually read an article about audio hallucination. I read the symptoms and thought well jeez, I don't hear things during the day other than things that are in my mind, little bits of music. It's like a wee studio – things get played and I listen. I do, I dream it. It's not unusual to have a dream about a new song, and even a dream about going to a concert of a band and hearing their new song.

Charlette: Do you remember these songs?

Matt: That's the hard bit, bringing it back. It's really tough. I guess we've all read the story about Keith Richards and the Satisfaction riff, and he woke up and had a little tape recorder handy. My thing is if it's really good it'll stick, and once it's there it's accessible. So to some extent it's almost compulsive. I can't help it. I quite often drift off into Matt-land in conversations. I'm not the person you want to take to the meeting.

Then there's the drive and the want to do it and to work at it as a craft, as a songwriter or as a singer. And chasing beauty. Something that I think has an emotional quality that has an emotional quality, makes me feel good, or sad, helps me work through, or discover something. Certainly got that element to it as well. I'm just inspired by music. I'm quite in awe of it. One of the things that makes being on this planet worthwhile, gets me out of bed each day.

Charlette: So is music a spiritual thing for you?

Matt: Spiritual element. I'll just go into my full lotus pose. No, I'm taking the piss here, but I'm not, it definitely is. For some people. For some people unfortunately music is a business transaction. But that's not really here nor there, because for whatever amount of people are doing things for what I might think are not great reasons, there's plenty of people making wonderful music. It does get you out of bed in the morning, makes you feel good, gives you a sense of something else. I couldn't put my finger on it. I could be a music guru and say it does this and that, and it can change this and that, and it can, I do believe it. I think that's why music from certain artists endures long after all the dross is swept down the drain, the real good stuff is still there and it's that stuff people keep coming back to. It contains the opportunity for people to address that [spirituality] too, in a comfortable way without feeling silly talking about it as people often do.

Charlette: What advice would you give to fellow bands? Overcoming some of the biggest obstacles and that sort of thing...

Matt: Band life's hard life. All the cliches are true about bands, it's a relationship, it's a big commitment. I've heard the phrase 'herding cats' to describe something that's quite difficult. Being in a band can be like herding cats. It's a tough one. It works differently for different people. I work well in a comfortable creative environment where we're sharing things and people are free to say what they want without ego's running around the room like rampant rhino's destroying everything. I don't work well in that environment. It can work for some people, that tension. You've gotta get on as people for a start. You've gotta have a common vision or reason to be there. And be giving something to it and not particularly expecting to be getting something back. It's a privilege to be playing music. It awes me sometimes that I'm standing in a room with two other people and we're doing different things with our hands and our minds but there's something communally happening that's beyond what we're capable of individually. Other advice for bands... Get decent mikes! And you just gotta have fun. Because you're putting yourself up for public disdain, ridicule, or very worst just total disinterest. You have to have a really strong sense of why you're there. I'd recommend it to anyone. I mean every bugger and his dog's in a band nowadays anyway. You'd be hard pressed to throw a stick and not hit a muso. And that's cool. There's a nice kind of community and sharing of ideas. Anything from open mic nights to jams to gigs like the other night. You just gotta stick at it, enjoy it, and love it.

Charlette: So what do you think about the state of rock music? In a lull, dying, or does hip hop have everybody fooled? No offence of course to hip hop fans.

Matt: No, no, hip hop, great. Rock. I started out playing in blues and rock bands and I thought that was the be all and end all and I love rock bands. For me the vintage stuff from Hendrx to Cream and The Beatles and all those rippers define what I think rock does. I think by every other form of music there's diluted forms of, but I think people still feel the real thing. I always get a kick out of reading a review of a rock conert where a reviewer's been surprised by the visceral response of the audience, the bands actually kicking some ass. I've shuffled out stage left on the rock thing a bit. I wasn't trying to be first rat off the ship or anything, just through my own sensibilities I wanted to try other things. I wanted to sing differently, try other melodic approaches and try different instrumentation. Rock's about risk, I think rock's like elastic, it'll always be able trito do that. I don't think it's dead. A lull? Yeah. There's some good rock bands.

Charlette: Who are your favourites?

Matt: I'd still happily pay my money to see Shihad play, and I've seen them play quite a few times, they're just a fantastic rock band. Favourite band of all time... It would be The Beatles for me. I love them. I grew up with them. My Dad can play every Beatles song ever written and he'll still tell me off if I'm not singing the harmony right. I love bands of that era. They just made magic on a regular basis, I don't think anyone else has ever done that. I still listen to Cream, listen to my Zep, I'm a big fan of Jimi Hendrix. I came from starting out playing and listening to blues. I still get a kick out of listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Everly Brothers – beautiful harmonies. Buddy Holly.

Charlette: What's a funny incident that's happened to you while performing?

Matt: Oh man, there's a couple! By degrees. There's been some beauties, like the drummer's going for the big roll and falling off his drum stool. I needed four stitches after doing the big rock and roll jump off the kick drum one night and the bass player whipped around in a frenzy and accidentally smashed me in the head with his Fender. Foot went through the stage one night from jumping up and down. Probably the funniest one though was we had a break, it'd been a long night and we came back and we were in a bit of a state. My bass player and I picked up what we thought was our leads and plugged them in to our gats, and actually plugged in opposite ends of the same lead into our respective instruments. We were joined together like never before but we weren't making any noise.

Charlette: One more question. You've got teaching, but is music what you'd ideally like to do as a career?

Matt: Sure, yeah absolutely. It's a part of what I do when I'm teaching anyway, I draw heavily on the music thing. Yeah, I'd love to, mate. I've been playing for a long time and I've done my stints with music as the main thing and I've done my stints playing the weekends and nights and doing my day job.

Charlette: Do you think it's very viable for bands these days especially in New Zealand?

Matt: It seems to hit a certain point doesn't it where its time to go, pack camp and get over to Aus and the UK, have a crack at the States or whatever. I guess our friend the internet is gonna make quite an impact there as well in regards to even having performances online. You've still gotta get out and play though, that's the thihng. That doesn't change, you've got to get out and meet people and enjoy the vibe. I love it, I love playing. So I'll be doing it anyway, regardless of how many people turn up and what's going on. But yeah, if I could do that everyday I'd be extremely happy.

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