I was lucky enough to catch Mat Gibson play the Union Music Store’s Saturday in-store a few weeks back. Mat had been down a few months earlier to play the aforementioned shop’s Roots Night and I had heard many great things. I had also been followed/started following Mat on Twitter, so was very curious to see the man himself.
I am very pleased to say that all the praise was justified. The gig was one of those great moments, when an initially quiet and unassuming character starts to play his music and everything is transformed. Mat was absorbed in his craft and the crowd were more than willing to be drawn in with him. A mix of new material and tracks from Mat’s last EP, ‘Forest Fire’ kept the audience captivated throughout. There is an intensity to Mat’s performance and this has been captured excellently on ‘Forest Fire’ – it is engaging on first listen, but also hints at hidden depths, that only repeat listens will help you discover.
Mat very kindly agreed to answer some questions which I hope you enjoy – please also take the time to listen to Mat’s music – I truly believe the effort will be well rewarded.
Who is Mat Gibson, what is his musical history?
I’m a bit of a late bloomer I think, I’m 31 now and only really feel like I’m now hitting my stride so to speak. But I’ve been involved in music all my life really in various ways, playing drums in bands as a teenager and then learning the guitar in my early twenties. It took me a while to find a voice of my own, but I can certainly say that I’ve never felt more strongly about my music than the way I do now and I feel more confident as a performer.
Who would you say are your greatest influences and why?
Bob Dylan and Neil Young without a doubt. But I’m a massive fan of Jeff Tweedy, Thom Yorke and Jim James from My Morning Jacket, as they are all very individual singers and songwriters.
Have you always wanted to be a solo artist?
It was something that came to me as an idea, after seeing people like Ryan Adams and David Gray have such success back at the turn of the century. It just made so much sense to me at the time, as I’m sure it does to many others.
Is it fair to say that, like many great musicians, there is a seam of melancholy in your work? Do you mine it on a regular basis? Does it drive recurring themes that come up in your work?
Through trial and error I’ve discovered that I’m better at writing darker, more provocative and ethereal songs than anything more sunny and rosy. It’s not necessarily a direct reflection of my soul, thankfully! But I feel more at home with moodier themes and I think that matches the times we live in today. I feel the urge to bring up stuff others shy away from, to really cut to the bone. I’d say that it’s only through experimentation that I’m improving how to make this darkness more engaging and appealing to the listener.
You played quite a few new tunes at your recent in store – please give us an insight into your writing process. Do you have a fave?
I’m a sort of fits and spurts kind of writer. It’s not something I do on a regular basis, or even plan to do. It invariably just comes to me in the right environment. I have to be ready to ‘receive’ the song in a way and then channel it out. The whole process fascinates me to be honest. It’s very mysterious how songs develop.
How soon do you know if a song has made the grade?
I’ll usually know after writing the first line of a melody and lyric if its going somewhere or not. If I make it through the first chorus and still feel excited by it, then its a keeper! A good verse and a chorus is enough to work with as a foundation and expand upon more strategically from that point.
You mentioned you were looking to place a song on radio – can you tell us a bit more about this process, does it affect the writing or how you go about crafting a song?
Not really, the song I had in mind I wrote a while ago, but it didn’t fit with the crop of songs on Forest Fire. It’s more of its own song so it suits a single. It’s definitely more ‘radio-friendly’ than anything on ‘Forest Fire’, but it carries an underlying global message, so radio is definitely where it belongs I think!
Please share some more information around the inspiration for ‘Forest Fire’
I guess it was my break up album, but not just a break up album. I mean, I wanted it to be more multi-layered. At the core its a break up album but the references are subtle, even if the mood isn’t. But it’s also about leaving a place you’ve felt at home in, and what if you’re forced to leave a place for economic/environmental reasons, how does that make you feel? What is it to feel nostalgic about the natural world? A place you’ve come to love which is so easily destroyed? Those are the kind of questions that were swirling around my head at the time. Questions which I felt were relevant to the world we live in today, questions that people can relate to.
How did you find your way to country music?
My stepmother’s family, in Boston, Mass, who I’d visit in holidays from the age of 18 or so, first got me into roots music but I’d heard shades of it already in the stuff I’d listen to as a kid, like The Lemonheads, R.E.M. etc. They all had alt.country tones in their music.
I hear shades of Ryan Adams in your voice – have you had this comparison before? Is he an artist you admire?
Ryan Adams is one of my heroes indeed. I really engaged with the three albums he put out in 2005 and knew that was the direction I needed to head. I fell in love with the space and roominess of those records. I was listening to a lot of Ryan Adams when I started out as a singer/songwriter so he has had a big influence on my vocal delivery and phrasing for sure.
I really like, ‘Where Demons Go’, partly because it reminds me of Steve Earle – what’s it all about Mat?
I grew up going to Church schools and a strong sense of right and wrong, not that it stopped me from doing things that weren’t always well-perceived, so I guess it’s the voices in my head telling me what I’m doing wrong and what not to do. Maybe it’s also a bit of a wake up call to others to not waste their chances on this planet to make a difference.
What’s your favourite cover version to play?
I don’t play many covers, but probably something by the Low Anthem, or Neil Young. Actually this might come as a shock, but I’m thinking of covering that song ‘Video Games’ by Lana del Ray. I saw her sing it on Jools Holland and it really stuck with me!
What would be your dream festival line up? (you have 5 bands to choose from)
Neil Young headlining (best gig ever so far), My Morning Jacket, The Low Anthem, The Felice Brothers and A.A. Bondy (on the basis that his new album sounds very, very good).
Is there a circuit / strong network for artists such as yourself – is it a challenge to get your music heard initially?
There’s a community of like minded people in the UK for this kind of music, which is a great springboard for bigger and better things. We’re lucky that there are so many people out there passionate about similar music and willing to sacrifice their time, and often money for the love of the music.
How does social media help/hinder up and coming musicians?
Well I don’t think anybody really knows what the cut and dry approach to social media is as an up and coming musician. I think it helps more established artists more than up and coming ones. It can help to spread the word, but I think people find it too obtrusive sometimes, so it can potentially have a negative effect if you over use it I think. Twitter is definitely where it’s at right now though, the interactivity of it all.
So, what’s next for Mat Gibson?
Well, I’m planning to release a single in February and hope to have a new album on the shelves by April. I’m feeling very prolific all of a sudden!
And finally, where can we go to find out more about Mat Gibson?
Check out the website for sure – http://www.matgibson.co.uk, but there’s some videos on YouTube and some reviews on google that you can read. But please come and say hello on my Facebook matgibsonspage and twitter @youngmatgibson