Saturday, September 24, 2016

On Kevin Mathews new WATCHMEN album, therapy can be fun and melodic

Last week, Kevin Mathews, pioneer of the Singapore independent music scene, released one of his most catchy albums in more than 20 years of writing good songs, while still digging deep into rich veins of emotion for his lyrics. To find out more about his songwriting and recording processes, which are useful for electronic musicians as well, I interviewed Kevin - and also chatted about his special electronic project


BA: Hi Kevin, the new WATCHMEN album I AM is possibly the most catchy pop songs that we've heard from you in a long time. Even a song titled EVERLASTING HATE has a singalong chorus. What would you attribute this to?
KM: Thanks for the kind words! My objective was to explore pop-rock in all its glory and definitely melodic tunes was a top priority.
BA: For the benefit of our readers could you elaborate on what constitutes pop rock?
KM: Pop rock mixes a catchy pop style and light lyrics in guitar-based rock songs.
Originated around the late 60s, it became an established style in the 70s. (For example) Elton John, Billy Joel, ELO, Todd Rundgren, Wings etc
BA: We can hear the influences in catchy songs like SO IN LOVE. But you also have more introspective songs with deeper lyrics like WHAT ABOUT LOVE and SWEET INSANITY. Where are those drawn from?
KM: Observations about life. What About Love I guess is a reaction to all the hate we see and read about in the world every day. Sweet Insanity is about the real challenges of folks who suffer from anxiety and depression
BA: If it's not too personal, could you share more about the writing of SWEET INSANITY?
KM: Yes, in fact, the lyrics were written at an Artistry event. I had feelings of anxiety just sitting, waiting for a gig to start and I just wrote down what I was feeling!
Quite therapeutic believe me.
BA: You actually wrote the song while you were organizing a show at Artistry? Does this happen often?
KM: Nope it doesn't! So I had to turn the lyrics into a song...
BA: What would you advise young musicians who are experiencing anxiety over writing or performing, or may even experience depression?
KM: I think the first step is to be aware of the anxious and depressive feelings and then understand that that is all they are - feelings.
Then, put aside those feelings by affirming your self-worth and believing in your gifts
Finally, of course, JUST DO IT!
BA: Great advice. You've clearly been taking your own advice, writing and recording a new album in just a few months. What was that process like?
KM: Well, I have many song demos in my locker, so to speak. Thus, it was simply a question of selecting songs I wanted to include. I work on Garageband and build up track by track with vocals the final recording
BA: As a pop-rocker, with a long history playing and recording with bands, how do you find the Garageband process compares with that?
KM: Oh it is so much easier, especially when you can create loops. And cut n paste sections, compared to the past where you'd have to play the part the whole way through...
Also, the new Garageband has an amazing drummer simulation.
Cheating has never ever felt so good! haha
BA: Wait till your drummer reads this :)
KM: Haha. Sad but true
We are all gonna be replaced by automation
BA: What about the spontaneity of jamming, the interplay between musicians?
KM: Yes, of course, that is still important
But considering the scope of the work, this was more economical and convenient
BA: So the next time you're invited to perform, would you still play with a band or solo?
KM: At the moment, I am retired from performing save for the odd one-off like the gig with the Wind Symphony
So I am keeping to that decision for the foreseeable future
BA: Would you consider getting guest vocalists to sing some of your songs or cover them? Wonder what a female vocal version of emotive upbeat songs like THE FIRST TIME or SOUL TO SOUL would sound like.
KM: Yes of course, in fact, that is a lifelong dream - getting someone to cover my music - but so far nobody's been interested. In fact, two songs were offered to local musicians but they rejected them.
BA: Their loss. I believe you're open to letting other musicians remix your songs, right?
KM: Yes anytime!
BA: And you also have your own electronic side project KayMac - which is very different from Watchmen - why did you start that and what are your plans?
KM: KayMac is really the fulfilment of my love of 80s synthpop and also the need to express myself without lyrics. It has been a magical journey of self-discovery. Am working on an album which I hope to release early 2017.

BA: Looking forward to interviewing you for that too :) What do you love so much about 80s synthpop?
KM: The textural density of music created by synthetic sounds has always amazed me ever since I first heard Kraftwerk, OMD, and Depeche Mode.
And Gary Numan of course
It had a great impact on me but I could never quite create the music till now
BA: What did you use to create the 80s synthpop sound? Feel free to be technical, this is for an EML blog after all
KM: Well, thanks to Garageband, I can make it by faking it! The sounds are all there on the platform itself - I choose whatever sounds right to me. I am not a very technical person...
BA: That's very interesting - so you didn't need to buy expensive software or sound packs or hardware - it was down to the good selection of sounds and creating the atmosphere you wanted through the arrangement.
KM: Yes, that's a good way of summarising what I do!
It's more about the composition and arrangements for me
BA: For both KayMac and Watchmen, you've taken a low-key approach to release - sharing with friends on social media, but no major launch or promotion or shows. Is this a new perspective - liberating because there is no pressure to achieve numbers?
KM: It's two things. One is the recognition that at 55 years old, the public perception is always a losing battle and the second is exactly what you said. But not so much pressure to achieve numbers but more a lowering of unrealistic expectations.
BA: Do you think young musicians might put too much pressure on themselves to get 'Likes' and 'Shares' on their early work, instead of enjoying the self-expression that comes with releasing music? Or should they aim for the world since the Internet makes that possible?
KM: I think for young musicians it's quite different. The world is at their feet and if they believe and are committed to their craft, they should just go for it!
BA: Thanks for sharing! One final paragraph to conclude?
KM: Make art for yourself. First and foremost. Then, give it the best chance to be seen, heard and experienced. Oh and have loads of fun

Check out the album, buy it, share it, on BandCamp


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