Matt Howden

Interview - April 2000

Sol Invictus certainly is one of the most brilliant and exciting bands ever. Tony Wakeford is without a doubt the mastermind of this project, but the actual members are not only guest musicians, they all have their own musical projects and they also contribute for a large part to the enrichment of Tony's dreamy compositions.  Matt Howden is one of them and he's been responsible of the splendid sounds of violin since "Cupid and Death". It wouldn't be fair to only liken Matt  to Sol, as he's also involved in so many other projects, such as Sieben, Raindogs, Howden /Wakeford, Stiki and also his own records as a solo artist. I'm very happy to give people the opportunity to discover Matt Howden's world through different aspects of his personality, as he's one of the most interesting artists there is today. Anyway, someone who appreciates eating can't obviously be a bad person...
 
 

As a few people may not know you apart from being a member of Sol
Invictus, could you describe your musical career and how you first got
interested in music ?

I first got interested in music at school, playing bass and guitar (and
singing) in a series of terrible, and strange bands that I formed without
any knowledge of songs or songwriting! It was brilliant. We did two or three
concerts at school, and I was hooked.

Matt Howden

Is there a special reason for which you choosed one day to play the
violin, and have you got a classical education ?

I chose to play violin because I loved the sound, and a friend gave me one
(the same violin I use today). I also liked the fact that it was a portable
instrument. I love the cello but I wasn't about to carry that everywhere
with me on my travels. I don't have a classical background, I taught myself
the violin and have never had a lesson.

I read that you met Tony Wakeford for the Cupid & Death session
because Karl Blake arranged this for you. But how did you meet Karl
Blake ?

I met Karl in Sheffield. He came to a lot of our early gigs (Pig 64) and
then introduced himself. We just thought he was some lunatic; later we
discovered he was some lunatic.

I think Karl is an underestimated artist who should deserve more
interest. What's your opinion about him ?

Despite being overly hairy (!) and scarey, Karl is a very underestimated
artist. This is partly due to his stubborn nature; he has not conformed (to
his credit) to a particular style, and made himself 'saleable' to record
companies. I think Tendercide is one of my favourite albums of all time.
What more can I say.

Karl Blake
photo by Badbat ( http://www.badbat.net)

I agree with you, "Tendercide" is one of the best albums I've ever heard.
It seems that you particularly appreciate eating good meals, so do I.
In my opinion the "good food" is amongst the greatest pleasures in life.
Which are your favourite meals and do you like French "cuisine" ?

This is true. Yes I like French cuisine, and all mediterranean foods. I also
cook (and eat) a lot of Asian food. I like spicy food, but also plain food;
good bread, cheese and meat. Some of my favourite meals I get whilst in
Portugal with my band there (Raindogs), dishes such as Bacchalau Na Brasa
(salted cod fish in cream), and the soups are good in Portugal too. Despite
being a joke to the rest of the world, I do like English food. Food varies
everywhere according to climate, taste and what will grow. I think a lot of
people in Europe find our food too stodgy or dull, but we are a cold climate
country, and eat accordingly.

How did you get emotionally attracted to Portugal and what do you
particularly appreciate there ?

I think it started whilst staring out of a van window, watching the
scenery go by, after countless number of gigs all over Portugal. I love the green
landscapes of the north particularly. I don't like to generalise about
people or places, because it simplifies, but I love the warmth and the open
nature of the people. I also feel it was one of the first places that I
actually felt genuinely appreciated, musically, by people.

Alentejo

You're now a member of Raindogs. Can you present briefly this project ?
I heard that the portuguese musical scene is very interesting. The
only band i know (and appreciate) is Madredeus. Which are the most
interesting bands / artists there ?

The Raindogs' sound has been compared to Tom Waits and The Tindersticks.
We're a six piece band with drums, bass, guitar, keyboards, vocals and
violin. The violin acts as a second voice in the band, with a good bit of
space for me to work in. We try and create good atmospheres with the music.
We're also a strange mix of people with Portuguese, English, Scottish,
Venezuelan, Rumanian, German and Hungarian roots!

As for other artists there; I like Cello who are Portuguese but sing in
French, and are a bit like a modern Cocteau Twins. There is also bands like
The Gift, and Silence 4, who are doing well at present. I have yet to find a
Portuguese band who are really experimental, but I will.

Raindogs

You have just finished the music for two short films and a
documentary. Can you tell us anything more about it and when will they
be released ? Is your work similar to Sally Doherty's soundtrack "Empire
of Death"

I haven't heard Sally's Empire Of Death yet, so I don't know. The work I
did for the films was quite different. On one I provided thirty different
versions of a traditional song, in all different styles. (Classical,
pastoral, Indie, new age, ambient, dance etc!) In the other I made up
musical identities for the characters, and a stirring piece to end the film,
and for the credits.

Can you explain your interest in the theme of "Voyager", your next
solo album ? I recently bought the album "Odysseus 7" from Ammer,
Einheit and Haage (Einstürzende Neubauten) with a very interesting theme
about space. Did you hear it ?

My interest in Voyager came initially from a real interest in Space, the
planets, and the awe which they stir in me. With the Voyager project I am
trying to capture that awe. As Voyager (the man-made craft) moves away from
Earth, so the nature of the music changes; the natural ('classical')
instruments, and the conventions of scored music changes, the music becomes
much more experimental, muck less like anything anyone has heard; I hope.

How did the project Sieben start and why that name ? Is it seven in
German ? Do you already intend to release a second album under the name
of Sieben in the next future ? Which are the compilations on which a
Sieben track appears ?

The project Sieben started with a song called 'No Tears' which I wrote
before thinking about it being done by a band; then I got together with
Jane, (my wife) and Sally Doherty (who I play with in Sol) and we started
working on some more material. We were originally going to call the project
Garden Of Tears, and then Midnight Garden, but I settled on the name Sieben.
Yes, Sieben means 'seven' in German (and also 'to sieve'). We are currently
working on a second album, with a ghostly theme. Sieben appear on a few
(forthcoming) compilations; Ostia (France) and a Tursa compilation. We will
also be a USA compilation, where people set William Blake's 'Songs of
Innocence and Experience' to music. I'm working on that track later today,
as a matter of fact.

The first (and only) track I heard from your collaboration work with
Tony is Death's Head. Did you start the Howden/Wakeford project because
you both had songs that didn't fit into a Sol album ? Nevertheless
Death's Head's structure and atmosphere reminds me of Europa Calling or
Eleven-Dawn/Dusk.

We just wanted to work together, and do something different. I'll have to
disagree with you about comparisons with Sol/Orch noir. There are obviously
going to be similarities, because it is the same people involved in writing
the music, but I think they are quite seperate. H/W first album has filmic
qualities, and a very flowing structure. It is also very spooky music.

At first view Three Nine's structure seems very complicated, including
mathematical elements and fragments in length, time and construction.
Though it's based around the third and the ninth runes, it means it also
includes an important mystic and spiritual element. How do you integrate
the rigour of mathematics with the flexibility of composing ? Wasn't it
sometimes too restrictive ?

They are both part of the glorious symmetry which music encompasses. I use
mathematics in music all the time, it is not cold or restrictive; It can be,
if used in an inflexible Serialist way. If I ever felt that I was tying
myself in a knot with the mathematics of it, I would step aside from it. I
always go where the music leads me.

Matt Howden + Tony Wakeford

Can you already tell us anything about your next and second
Howden/Wakeford release ?

The first H/W album, Three-Nine will be released this month, (April 2000).
It contains a nine-part cyclic piece, exactly thirty-nine minutes in length,
three pieces interwoven and developed three times, plus a nine minute track
which is a conglomerate of the thirty-nine minute piece(s). I listened to it
again for the first time in months, last week (I like to forget about work
that I've finished and come back to it later, to try and get an objective
view of it) and I'm really happy with it, and quite proud of it.

The best thing for a musician is to have his own studio recording. How
long do you already own the Red Room Studio ? Your Red Room Label
produces most of your musical projects. Do you intend to sign other
artists as well ?

I have gradually built up my own studio over the past five years. And, yes
it is the best thing! I have not looked back since I could afford the
equipment to be able to produce record-quality recordings. I have made my
studio a pleasant place to work in, designed specifically for how I like to
work. I can also work there whenever I want to, which is important to me as
I'm very obsessive with my work.
I may eventually sign other artists, at the moment I will just be releasing
my own work.

What's your cultural, political and global vision of Europe today.
What's your opinion about the unification of Europe and its development
in the future ?

I'm a composer and musician, I'll leave the politics to the powermongers.
All I will say is that I think the Unification of Europe is a good thing.
People should always keep a hold of there own culture, and embrace and
understand others: However, when people forget about nationalities and learn
to relish differences in others, whilst still cherishing their own
identities, the world could be a better place.

So is my opinion as well ! Apart from the musical tastes, do you share other interests with Tony Wakeford ?

Food.

I read that you currently work on the next Sol Invictus album. Can you
say anything about it (release, themes, style,) ?

No! Wait and see.

I also read about the release on Tursa of a Sol album "Trieste". Do
you know anything about it ?

I should do. I played at the concert, I'm on the Cd, and I've got a copy!
At present the CD is only available to those lucky (unlucky?) enough to
attend the live shows.

I definitely think that the actual line-up of Sol Invictus is the most
appropriate for Tony's apocalyptic compositions. It sounds like everyone
brings a lot to Sol typical sound and atmosphere. Is Tony the only
person responsible for the music or do you also bring your own ideas ?

Tony is responsible for writing the songs, he brings them to us. We all
write our own parts. I think that with the musicians he has now, Tony knows
we are all tuned in to what is needed on his work. I don't work with any
band/project where they tell me what to write; I have my own style, and way
of doing things. People are free to suggest things, and I listen. I try and
do exactly what the music demands, be it a lot or a little. I'm not into
having an ego trip with my playing. If the music demands one simple note,
that is what it will get.

You also have another side-project with your wife Jane, Stiki
(ex-Pigsix 4). Can you say anything about Para Luso ? Do all your
different musical projects express your eclectic musical tastes and
could you imagine creating another project with new musical tendencies ?
Do you still have time for other things ?

Para Luso will be worked on when we find the time. It'll be electronic
beats, deep throbbing bass, and manic distorted mandolin. The album will be
very different from my other projects. I have different projects for the
main reason that when I started record companies did not seem to be able to
cope with all the varying styles. I 'split myself up' to be able to go down
different avenues with different sounds. I don't have time for many other
things, no! When I do I'm usually producing other people's music. When I'm
not doing that I'm playing football or in bed!

Pigsix 4

Do you intend to release your album "Misfit" one day ? And would you
also re-work all the demos you made for Pigsix 4 to release an album
from them ?

Don't know. / No... I don't think so!

What does the Sheffield based band Bolster (in which Jane plays bass)
sound like ?

They're an indie/rock type band, along the lines of Radiohead etc. They're
really good.

Your father is a painter, do you also paint ? Did you find a gallery
for the joint exhibition you intend to release for your father's
paintings with a live performance of Intimate and Obstinate ? I
personaly find this is a genious idea.

I don't paint. Hopefully someone will come forward with a gallery (and the
funding) for a joint concert/exhibition of my father's paintings one day
soon.

Which are the best places you've been to for a live show ?

Viero Do Minho in the north of Portugal was a beautiful place for a
concert. We (Raindogs) supported Iggy Pop there. I went for a swim in the
lake next to the stage after the soundcheck, and that was great. Other
places that spring to mind are the Volkerschlachtdenkmal [hope I've spelt
that right] in Leipzig with Sol. It's an awesome monument with fantastic
reverberations inside when you play; A ship in Stockholm harbour, castles in
Germany, and open air festivals have all been really memorable. I love to
play interesting and beautiful places, that are odd, and not standard 'rock'
type venues.

I saw you playing with Sol in Bern in June 1999 (marvellous gig !),
have you ever been in Switzerland before and what do you think about my
country ?

Unfortunately most of my time in Switzerland has been spent in vans
admiring the scenery whilst on the way to a gig somewhere. I really enjoyed
what little time I had in Bern, and have loved the countryside. Its
somewhere I would definitely love to come for a holiday with my family, when
I have the time/money.

Are there musicians you would particularly like to work with one day ?

Yes, punctual ones.

Last but not least, a very hard question : do you know by chance when
the Sol 3 mag+CD will be available ?

No.

Finally a question I like to ask : what are you listening private,
which are the best albums you ever heard and which are the last ones you
recently bought ?

I listen to a lot of Classical music, particularly Arvo Part, Mozart and
Wagner. Other albums I've listened to recently; Macy Gray, Ostara, Gae Bolg,
Pilori, Sumerland, releases from Falçata Galia in The USA.

Any last word ?

Goodnight.
 

Three Nine
 
 

Thank you very much, Matt, for your disponibility and your kindness. I wish you all the best and look forward to hear new magical and brilliant sounds from you.
 

Contacts :

Matt Howden
Red Room
P.O. Box 1690
Sheffield S8 9XR
England

e-mail : mh@matthowden.com
Web : www.matthowden.com

Matt Howden's Discography