MAT MARTIN | IMA Interview

6 March, 2011, 18:39

Blog · Industry · Music

I love it when an interview sparks a bit of reflective thinking. I very much enjoyed doing this emailer for the Independent Music Awards after they nominated Kirsty McGee’s last album in their ‘Best Live Album’ category for this year. The interview went up on Kirsty’s blog recently, and should be up on the IMA site soon. It touches on a few of the things my first posts here have done, too.

Home Base:  Manchester, UK

Describe your music genre:  Hobopop – Vagrant music for the New Depression Era.

IMA categories entered:  Live Performance

Work submitted:  Kirsty McGee & The Hobopop Collective – No.5 [A Live Album]

What other artists are featured on your IMA nominated work:
The Hobopop Collective:
Mat Martin – Banjos, Tenor Guitar, Uke, Vocal
Nick Blacka (Aim, GoGo Penguin) – Bass
Rob Turner (GoGo Penguin) – Drums, Junk
Special Guests:
Christopher Cundy (Guillemots) – Saxello, Bass Clarinet
James Steel (The Brute Chorus) – Electric Guitar
Clive Mellor (Richard Hawley Band) – Harmonica

What’s the name of your record label:  Hobopop Recordings

What artists and bands are your musical influences:
The Hobos of the last few hundred years in art and literature: A list might include Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong, Randy Newman, John Steinbeck, Jelly Roll Morton, Harry Partch, Moondog, Captain Beefheart, Grappelli & Reinhardt, John Hartford, John Lurie, Leadbelly, Barnett Newman, Morton Feldman, Sun Ra, John Cage, The Brute Chorus, Sergio Leone, Mikhail Bulgakov, Tom Robbins, Jim Jarmusch, Marc Ribot, Samuel Beckett, Charles Mingus, Kerouac, Bukowski & the Beats…

What’s the meaning of your band name?  Were there any other contenders:
Kirsty McGee is her own name. The Hobopop Collective are a renegade and ever evolving chain gang of revered musical vagrants. The line-up of special guests regularly changes so that no two shows are identical. The word Collective reflects this pool of musicians which is larger than the band you may see at any one time. The word Hobopop refers to music of no fixed abode or genre, which falls down the cracks between styles and lands in some beautiful secret places.

Describe your nominated work:
‘No.5’ was conceived as being as honest an account of a Kirsty McGee show as could be imagined on disc. The album was recorded at a single show to a deliberately small crowd, and no repairs, overdubs or alterations were made to the material after that. Selections were made by the band from the whole 90mn show to form an album’s worth of material, based only on which songs they felt came over best. The songs were mixed, and the album was finished. We intended for this first release from the Collective (Kirsty McGee’s previous albums have all been released simply under her own name) to capture the energy of what has always been a live project, and to document our relationship with some of our favourite guests from the previous years.

Why did you choose to submit this work the 10th IMA’s:
Mostly because we are enormously proud of this record, and still very excited about it too.The IMAs are the only awards we have submitted to for this project. We are an independent band, with our own independent label, following our own noises. Most awards concentrate heavily on marketing and commercial factors, whereas the IMAs seem to have a healthy respect for the truly independent approach. So far our desire to make the music we care about has outweighed our desire to consider the commercial collateral of our work. We still believe that by doing what we do very well we can reach people who will have a longer and more meaningful relationship with us. The IMAs may help us acheive that.

Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording:
No unusual effects or recording techniques were used, but you can hear some unusual instruments on parts of the album. Fretless banjo and saxello (an early relative of the soprano saxophone, with a wider bore and slightly curved shape) are used on several tracks, along with a tenor guitar made from recycled timbers (old furniture, a bar handrail, and a board from a dancefloor in Memphis, TN). The album opens with a drum riff played on a washboard and two watering cans.

Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned:
Nothing goes as planned with a live recording! This is why it is an exciting project – you only know how it sounds when you play it. We were dependent on a good, responsive and quiet audience, on just the right amount of rehearsal, and on an engineer we could rely on completely. All of these factors really helped to make the record come out as well as it did – the audience were just perfect, and so generous. Were we to record again we might have fixed the creaky floorboards you can hear in places on the album, and maybe used the space differently, for more separation upon mixdown. I am looking for an answer because you asked the question though; the point of an album like this is that it is a document of how it did happen, not how it should have happened!

Did fans help you fund this project:
In a roundabout way. We don’t really believe in direct fan-funding as a sustainable way of making records. The audience bought tickets to the show (which cost the same as the CD would later), the money from which went back into the recording budget. Each ticket holder was then sent a copy of the finished record two weeks before the release date, with a signed letter of thanks for their support. We wanted it to be a good deal for them.

Who’s sitting in your audience:
For this project? People from all over the UK, come specially to be a part of this album. Some friends, of course, many people we had never met before, some long-term fans, some people who took a chance, and some of our favourite local musicians and artists. We are very grateful to them all for the energy they poured into the project. Audiences don’t always see that the energy they give off can shape the show they receive – these guys were right in there with us from the first note.

What makes your fans unique:
The same thing that makes any individual unique I guess. That and their amazing patience for our prefixing the word ‘hobo’ to almost everything (did you know you can now download the HoboPod-Cast from the HoboShop?).

Are there any songs you wish you wrote:
That’s hard… off the top of Kirsty’s Head:
Danny Schmidt’s ‘Stained Glass’
Bob Theile & George David Weiss’  ‘What A Wonderful World’
Randy Newman’s ‘In Germany Before The War’
Jesse Winchester’s ‘Songbird’

What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans:
Right now we’re listening to a wide variety of stuff – the next album will certainly sound very different again (this happens every time). Our guitar and banjo player Mat just bought a record player last year, after not having one for a while, and our listening habits have changed a lot as a result. We are spending more time than before with individual albums, getting to know them the way we used to. Recent fixtures on the turntable have been Dick Dale’s ‘King of the Surf Guitar’, The Rolling Stones’ ‘Exile on Main Street’, Dr John’s ‘Gris-Gris’, and a lot of Jazz. Old grungey gospel music and New Orleans Jug Bands have just come up on our radar. Oh, and the last Grinderman album.

What is your dream show lineup:
Wow, it would involve inventing a special ‘back from the dead’ syrup for some of the bands, and we wouldn’t want to play, just listen:
The Brute Chorus
Sister Rosetta Tharpe
Moondog & his Honking Geese
Tom Waits
Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 or Hot 7 (depending on how much syrup there is)

What are your guilty pleasures on the road:
Good hot food. Warm beds. Decent coffee. Spas. Shopping for vinyl and weird guitar picks. When in Belgium, excellent beer and chocolate. When in the Netherlands, amazing peanut butter. When you tour as much as we do you soon realise that boring stuff is way better than gallons of whisky and TVs out of windows.

Any close calls or mishaps while on tour:
We’ve been lucky. It’s usually just a parking ticket here or there. We did have an interesting experience getting stuck on a Norwegian island once, while the audience had been shipped to a neighbouring island by mistake. We played in a room big enough for 250 people, to about 7 of them. We were very, very seasick.

Do you have any backstage rituals/routines before you go on stage:
We like to dress to play. Even if it is just changing into different jeans. There is a psychological benefit to wearing your “playing shirt”. Kirsty has a bunch of tiny vocal exercises she tends to do, to open up the voice and get used to making noise. A small beer and an onion bhaji are usually all it takes to get Mat set.

Should music be free:
Ultimately it isn’t up to us as musicians to decide that, but instinctively we would say no. At least not all music, unless of course everything else was made free, too. We do give away the odd single or demo, and Kirsty’s first solo album ‘Honeysuckle’ is available for free at the HoboShop. There is a good chance though that if music becomes completely free the overall standard of quality will drop, and people will have a much less fulfilling experience. Making music at a professional level is a full time occupation, and costs money, and if artists can’t be paid then they won’t be able to go on doing what they do now. We wrote a blog about that a while back. I guess the way we pay for music will keep changing until it settles somewhere that makes sense to everyone.

How has digital affected your career:
Less than the careers of other bands we know, but still noticeably. It seems that our core audience still like to buy CDs. On the one hand, digital is great for us as the production costs are low, there is an unlimited supply of stock, and we can distribute worldwide for next to nothing, but on the other the file-sharers are encouraging people to help themselves with flawed arguments about why it’s OK, and that attitude is affecting physical sales for everyone. It’s a very exciting time though, and being able to offer digital music files as well as physical product has allowed us to engage much more with our audience, and make the things we do want to be free very easily accessible.

Are digital singles vs. full albums the future:
We don’t know, but we would be very sad to see the album die. Songs alone, released in a stream of singles, are unlikely to hold you for any length of time or change your life in the way an album can. We have no plans to stop making albums here in hoboland.

Finish this sentence: The music Industry is…
… dancing like a fish on a line.

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