14 December 2012
I recently got the chance to speak to guitarist and composer Matt Ewens - read on to see what he had to say about Brian May, Frank Zappa, Woodstock and children's books!
How would you describe your music?
I think my music is a mix of different styles, so more recently I've been experimenting with different genre's such as looking at what music might fit a science fiction film or a western for example. I've found that quite useful for gearing up my mind into thinking about how it relates to film/tv - rather than thinking about a song specifically and narrowing it down to the traditional length of the average pop song, which is about 3 and a half minutes. I started off years ago by just laying down guitar rhythms and kind of soaking over richly reverb-drenched lead guitar. I realise now that this was okay, but lacking somehow, so now I'm trying to improve.
Here is a recent example of a piece of music that I wanted to sound like it was from a science fiction film:https://soundcloud.com/matt-ewens/spacial-harmony
What made you want to start writing music and playing guitar? Who are your inspirations in the music world?
I think that the first time I thought 'wow I really want to get an electric guitar', was when I saw Brian May play live at the Pavillions in Plymouth, that was not long after Queen split up after the death of Freddie Mercury. But it was a while before I tried to play my own stuff, I would say it was just me experimenting with rhythms and making it up rather than me learning music. I then discovered Santana and used to come home everyday from school and try to play along to the solos, so learned to play the guitar painfully and for a while I just used to play on 1 string, until I used my ears and sat down and learned how to write guitar tabulature. I then played songs I liked and stopped the tape and rewound it over and over again to learn the song slowly and after time I would have the whole song, so I could practice the actual notes instead of wish-shooting. Now my heroes music-wise, well a mix really I like the classic players like David Gilmour and others that are not so well known like Michael Lee Firkins. I also like Jean Luc Ponty, who is a violinist and I'm glad that I have been able to see him in concert.
How do you go about making music? Do you have a particular method or is it different for each piece?
I think it depends, sometimes you just can't get a rhythm right or something and you have to drop it and try something else. I've found my iPad really useful as there are some great free apps with all different kinds of instruments that you can play. It's quite interesting as well because some apps use the x-y coordinates of the pad, so you can literally drag your fingers over the pad to create sounds - so you can turn a keyboard into a mini moog and slide over the keys, it makes for interesting modulation. I am learning the modes and more theory at present, as I know it is important and I would suggest that people do the same. But my tip would be to pick a theme or an idea and imagine if that piece of music would fit that theme. It's helped me by listening to other music based on a theme to hear what other people do. Ultimately I know that I need to work on my compositions and make improvements, but I think I have made some progress this year.
Here is a piece of music I produced for a short story I wrote, which I performed for a 'spooky Halloween night' (I have since had advice from musician about how I could have made this much spookier, so there's always room for improvement): https://soundcloud.com/matt-ewens/siren-in-the-storm
You also write fiction, how does this compare with writing music? Do you prefer one to the other? Do you ever get 'writer's block' with regards to either?
It's different, but similar in some ways - you need an idea and then to cultivate that idea. It won't always work with regard to writing and even material you think is really great may not have the same appreciation by other people. Sometimes I have genuinely been surprised if something has worked when my expectation was not that high. I would say that recently writing fiction has come more easily for me than writing music, but sometimes you can write a piece of music very quickly! I don't really prefer one to the other, although I would say writing fiction has gone ahead of writing music at the moment. What I am interested in is the possibilities of both, I am quite keen to try an augmented reality book to encompass music and sound effects as well. I don't get writer's block, that may sounds strange, but my imagination is quite big and ideas are always floating in my head. I would say I have had writer's shoulder slump, i.e. I've started wondering if I should carry on, for example I have entered quite a number of big competitions and never had any luck with the writing until recently. My other tip is to keep trying and try harder - if you are someone like me, who is not naturally gifted, or exceptionally intelligent - you can still win if you work hard enough. If you work hard enough you might even fell a genius.
How have you found the internet useful with regards to promoting your writing and your music?
Yes and no, to be honest it can be exceptionally frustrating as you can feel like people are not interested in you. Having said that it is really important to have a website, to use social media to promote yourself. I have spent a couple of years doing just that for work and it really needs a daily investment of time and effort. I'm only just starting to think about doing the same for myself and imagine that I could be a writer. Although as I said I have not enabled social media/website fully myself yet, it is something I will definitely be doing. There are some good free sites for creating websites, such as Moonfruit, Wix and Google sites for example. If not a website make sure you get a blog going and regularly update it. Further ahead in time I think a lot of artists, busineses and organisations have been using Facebook advertising to target people. This could be something to consider as you can literally target any keyword or interest as well as a target location for example. Facebook even tells you how many people the ad could potentially reach. But businesses have also been using the polls a lot to ask their customers questions about the kind of product they would like to see, eat, hear, etc. It's almost endless, you could spend all day just on social media and there are so many people now in the world! But the internet is great for research purposes, I have used it a lot to research specific periods in time - even to check what possessions people had, what they wore, etc. Wikipedia is the place I go to the most, although there are so many scholarly journals and places to find information. Promotion at the end of the day on the internet simply is not as easy as posting something up, it's a two way thing - if someone RT's you on Twitter, either thank them or engage with them in some way, try to develop connections. Far too many times I see 'named' bands and musicians not paying enough attention to their fans or acknowledging them.
If you could play on stage with any band or artist in the world - past or present - who would it be?
Ooo that is a hard question indeed, I think if it was any time or any place etc, well I guess it would be something like playing at Woodstock in 1969 when the Santana band really hit the big time with Soul Sacrifice. Gary Moore was one of my guitar heroes, sadly he died a few years ago and he was not really ever given the credit he deserved, he was simply one of the best guitarists that will ever play a guitar. So if I was brave enough I would go back in time and play on stage with him.
Who are your current favourite bands or singers?
Tricky, I have even been listening to some Robert Fripp and King Crimson - tracks like 'frame by frame' - I kind of pick and mix songs, but I've been trying to learn 'Gypsy Earrings' by Strunz & Farah, who are 2 of the world's best Spanish guitarists. I'm appreciating people like Jan Akkerman more lately. Although I would say that I don't really pay any attention to the latest chart hits, if music works well in 1979 or 2009 then it's valid - so what I mean is time is irrelevant to me, it's whether I enjoy the music. Most of my friends don't understand my music at all, so my musical interests are probably not a good choice for most people's taste! Frank Zappa put it nicely once when he said, 'most people wouldn't know good music if it leaped up and bit them on the ass' - mind you his music is a bit of an acquired taste! I sometimes have a really 80's session, which my flatmate probably cringes at!
What have you got planned for the future - with regards to your music and your writing?
Musically I'm just really trying to crack a really hard Spanish song at the moment when I have the time, it's hard because I know that I need to start playing a lot more if I am going to stand any chance of getting it right, so I'm constantly torn between writing and music. Although I am going to produce my own children's book soon, which will have real colour illustrations and hopefully a small hard-back cover, exactly the same style as the old ladybird books. I have visited book shops and although they say never judge a book by its cover, I actually think the opposite. I'm going for as jazzy looking as possible, to try and help my story come alive much more. I must say I've felt disappointed looking through many of the modern children's books at the lack of colour inside them and if they do have images they are often black and white. Perhaps that is just my sense of adventure, that I could only really connect with a book if it had excellent illustrations when I was I child. I'm thinking back to Roald Dahl, Fighting Fantasy and pretty much any ladybird book. Having said the above, don't get me wrong the story is the most important part - because brilliant illustrations can't hide a bad book. If you have both elements together though, then it could be magic! I touched on this before but I want to try augmented reality at some point, if I was able to I would hope to get my children's stuff made into a BBC series - am I daydreaming again...ah yes, sorry!
I think regards writing, ultimately I would love to do it full time as millions of people would, we will see - I'll keep trying and see what happens, it would be nice to be able to combine my music with the writing though. I'm also going to try and write a Fighting Fantasy book, which is a choose your own adventure book. That series finished some years ago, but in the classic zombie style, the series was resurrected by Wizard Publishing, so it would be a dream to have my own FF book published one day.
Is there anything else you'd like to promote?
Not especially, but I would like to thank Jess for picking several of my short stories for the Darker Times writing competition, it has fueled my enthusiasm to keep going. Hopefully next year will be great and I'll launch my new children's book, which is a fantasy comedy about the adventures of a cantankerous wizard.
I have a YouTube channel for my guitar stuff and music: http://www.youtube.com/user/guitar1977
Thanks to Matt for taking the time to do this interview! Please check out his YouTube channel on the link above.