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Friday, May 12, 2017

River Matthews

River Matthews has been described by Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2 as 'our new favourite thing' and by Clash Magazine as 'Uniquely Therapeutic'. He has also supported Rag 'n' Bone Man on tour. His new EP 'Sunshine' is out in May. Here he discusses his songwriting tips.

  1. Do you have a daily songwriting routine or do you wait for inspiration to strike? If I know I’m gonna be sitting down and writing the next day then I’ll try and get some good sleep the night before, wake up fresh, not drink too much coffee, eat some good food, have a run… that’s usually a good start! Sometimes though, especially when I’m in the middle of song, and specifically with lyrics, good ideas come up when you least expect them to. For example, a lot of the lyrics for the song ‘Sunshine’ came when I was in the bath! As long as my phone’s near me I can write the idea down to try when I’m next to the guitar or piano. A lot of times when I’m writing lyrics I’ll take a melody as a voice note and go for a walk, writing down ideas if they come to me. Most of the songs I’ve written develop from a feeling about something, so whatever it takes to be centred in that feeling, even if you’re not sure exactly what it is yet.
  2. Do you have any tricks to get the creative juices flowing? A run, a shower or cold bath can work pretty well to get you in a good state for writing. But I just end up singing a lot over a chord sequence and trying not to think too much about it. I usually just sing random words and sounds until a feeling develops, writing down interesting lines or words as I go. The more my mind enters the picture, or I put expectations on myself, the more difficult the process tend to be.
  3. Do you find you normally start with a melody or lyrics? Melody always. I might write down ideas for a lyric or title now and again but at the start of a new song melody comes first 99% of the time, then the feeling, then the lyric.
  4. Do you think that melody is the most important aspect of a song? I used to listen to the melody of a song first when I was younger but now it’s the feeling/lyric that I listen to above anything else. But these two things without a melody is like a train without a track.
  5. How long does it take you to write a song? Ah, this depends on so much. It can take a few hours to write a melody but lyrics always take me much longer. Anything from a week to a month in some cases. If I rush something it pretty much ain’t gonna be a strong thing.
  6. Could you explain a little about the writing process behind a few of your songs?  So, the song ‘Stars was a concept I had years ago. I was staying somewhere out in Scotland, miles from anywhere and I went for a walk one night. There were millions of stars in the sky but three stars were the brightest. And it hit me right then that they were the most important people in my life, my Mum, my Dad and my Sister. Years later I was playing some chords on the guitar when I starting singing ‘Count all the stars…’ and that idea came back in my head, so I knew quite early on what the song was going to be about. I also realized there was another most important person in my life who wasn’t there before, my niece Imogen. So, I decided to write the song like I was talking to Imogen, telling her to count her own stars. The idea behind the song Feels Like Morning’ kinda came from no-where. I had a melody which felt good and I just kept singing over the melody with random words and sounds until lines and words came out which felt good. I wrote everything down and started to get a feeling about what the song was about, although I still wasn’t 100% until it was finished. It sounded like a love song but it turned out to be about new beginnings, which was perfect for that time and place. The song Sunshine was much more obvious. I started writing it on the first real sunny day of the year last year, and knew it was gonna be a song about the sun from the beginning. But I had no idea how I was gonna write it. Most of my favourite lyrics in that song popped out when during time away from the song.
  7. What songs that other people have written do you particularly admire? I love most of Bob Dylan’s songs from the 60’s; Desolation Row, It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding) still kill me years and years after first hearing them. John Lennon’s Across the Universe is just perfect too. There’s so many. Van Morrison’s first album Astral Weeks is incredible. There’s nothing else like that album. I was listening to Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here album the other night for the first time in a long time. It still blows me away.
  8. Do you think that a technical knowledge of theory is important or does it get in the way? I think you need some theory, even if you don’t realise it’s theory. I mean, I know certain chords go together and that helps me write something without thinking about what I’m playing. Above that just listening to music has been the most important thing for me I think, and letting go / not thinking about it. The thinking comes later when I’m trying to make sense of things as a story.
  9. Do you tend to revisit your songs and rewrite them? Yeah. I sing through a finished song lots and leave a few days before revisiting them to change a line or word here and there. Again, it’s a feeling you get whether it’s finished or not. Someone said once that a song’s never finished, it’s a snapshot of where you are at that time. I think you could always rework something, but that doesn’t always mean it would be better for it.
  10. Do you write songs with a view to being commercial and following current trends? The moment I start thinking about that is the moment where I can’t write. The commercial aspect is at the back of my mind a lot more now, but so far it’s never made for an idea or a song I feel good about.
  11. Have you done much co-writing, and if so what do you see as the benefits? Yeah, I’ve written with a few people, and enjoy collaborating over melodies. I don’t really enjoy writing lyrics with other people though. There’s loads of benefits from writing with others. If there’s a good feeling in the room it can really flow and the song can end up absorbing the best of everyone. 
  12. Who do you view as great songwriters. Who has inspired you musically/ lyrically?There’s so many; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones. I love Nina Simone and her versions of songs which came before her. The feeling which comes out of that lady is something else. I really love some of The Arctic Monkey’s lyrics too, and Amy Winehouse was an incredible songwriter.
  13. Do you feel that when there's conflict/struggle in your life that it inspires better songs?Sometimes. I don’t enjoy writing when things are feeling heavy, but when that feeling settles and I can view it from some place else I think it can make a strong catalyst for a song.
  14. Do you have any idea where your ideas come from? I have no idea… probably from some experience or another somewhere in my life, which turns into some kind of daydream when I’m singing over some chords.
  15. Do you have any advice you'd like to share with budding songwriters out there? Don’t be scared. Or rather be scared and just do it. I went years feeling scared to write something because I didn’t want to be judged. Also, patience. Everyone’s in a hurry to be something as quickly as possible. We grow up now with the message you can be anything you want / have everything you want, and you don’t need to wait or work for it. And that’s just bullshit.

Click on the following to find River on the web.

This interview was by Ben Williams. Find Ben on TWITTERFACEBOOK


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