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13 April 2012

Interview: Matt Bartram of You Walk Through Walls and Air Formation.

When The Sun Hits Interviews
Matt Bartram of
You Walk Through Walls
and Air Formation
Interview by: Amber Crain

London-based musician Matt Bartram is best known as the creative mastermind behind the much-beloved Air Formation, who split almost exactly a year ago in April 2011, to much dismay. However, anyone truly familiar with Matt and his work knew that this was certainly not the end of his musical endeavors.

Over the past 13 years, Matt has proven to be one of the most prolific, consistent and respected songwriters of the second wave of shoegazing. Never the sort of musician to remain quiet, always feeling the need to keep moving forward, Matt has also released music under the project name The Static Silence (a collaboration with Rachel Goldstar of Experimental Aircraft, Eau Claire and All in the Golden Afternoon), as well as remixed tracks for Kontakte and Monster Movie (the enduring project from Christian Savill of Slowdive).

He's also released several solo albums, these being more experimental excursions recorded mainly at home. These include 2008's highly lauded Arundel and it's follow up, 2009's Left to Memory, which features some of Matt's most compelling work to date.

Matt's newest project, You Walk Through Walls, formed with fellow Air Formation alumnus James Harrison (together with Harry Irving) was announced following the early 2011 news about the split of Air Formation, and Bartram fans have waited anxiously for a taste of what's to come. Y You Walk Through Walls' debut EP is slated to be released via Club AC30 this summer. Two new tracks from the EP were released this week via Soundcloud (you can find them in the body of the interview) to overwhelming critical acclaim, and excitement continues to build as we all wait to hear the EP in it's full and final form. Please enjoy the following interview with Matt Bartram, a truly lovely fellow. Cheers.

How long have you been making music, Matt?

I was bought an acoustic guitar in 1990 and started attempting to write songs straight away. I played my first gig of (poor) original music in 1991, by that point I’d acquired an electric and a wah pedal. Not many weeks have passed since when I haven’t been doing something musical.

Can you tell us what you've been wo
rking on and what you've got forthcoming in the near future (new releases, tour, etc)?

My main focus this past year has been my new band You Walk Through Walls, we’ve just finished our debut EP. It will be out this summer via Club AC30.

It’s still me writing the songs, playing guitar and singing (and Air Formation’s James drumming), although I have made a concerted effort to try and make things different there are always going to be th
e obvious comparisons. The whole band dynamic feels totally different though and I’ve enjoyed following a different path with different ideas being brought to the table.

Do you consider your music to be part of the current shoegaze/dream pop scene, or any scene? Defining one's sound by genre can be tiresome, but do you feel that the band identifies closely with any genre? How do you feel about genres in music, in a general sense?

There was no getting away from the fact that Air Formation was a shoegaze band. My solo albums are droney and experimental, You Walk Through Walls certainly contains some of those elements and is signed to Club AC30. However I’ve never really felt part of any movement or scene as I’ve always just done my own thing regardle
ss. I suppose the closest I came to that was in the early days of AC30 but all those bands have gone now…

We all need something to guide us now and again so of course genres are important, music will always be labelled; it always has. I’m pretty sure Air Forma
tion did fairly well off the back of the Shoegaze label; I’m not sure how anyone would have heard us without it.

Air Formation. Cold Morning.

What do you think of modern shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia artists, any favorites?

I don’t really follow it too closely and I’ve never been a massive Shoegaze fan in the traditional sense, especially the twee “dream pop” side to it. I’ve always preferred the likes of Flying Saucer Attack, The Cure, Spiritualized, A Place to Bury Strangers… bands that have ethereal elements but take it somewhere else. Currently I’m really enjoying the first couple of singles from Toy and The Megaphonic Thrift's latest LP; they’re also
a fantastic live band…

What is the most important piece of gear for your sound? Any particular guitars/pedals/amps that you prefer?

I bought my first Jazzmaster in 1998, over the years it’s become my guitar of choice and feels a bit odd playing anything else, especially live. I guess it’s mainly to do with its size/shape and the way it interacts with the rest of my set up. I do own and use Jaguars and Telecasters that I record with, they help to add different tones and dynamics.

I love guitars but have never been a massive pedal geek, I’ve always used a very basic pedal set up. My current set up includes a couple of analogue delays with modulation, a RAT distortion; a couple of ‘Tube Screamer’ clones that I made and an E/X Cathedral reverb unit. It’s been pretty similar for years.

A big part of Air Formation’s sound was simply down to a Line 6 Delay Modeler that I used a hell of a lot (especially on Daylight Storms) and Richard’s keyboards (Micro-Korg & a Roland string module). Together they made a pretty heady wall of sound.

What is your process for recording your music? What gear and/or software do you use? What would you recommend for others?

To record we go to Pat Collier’s studio in London and record live as a band, it’s a really great place to work. Pat recorded and produced some of my favourite records from my youth so obviously really knows what he’s doing and most importantly understands what I’m trying to do. He pretty much lets us get on with it but helps us with ideas as and when he feels we need it.

I always try to keep things fairly simple as it’s easy to record loads of guitar tracks and end up make a right mess, a few tracks of well panned guitars can definitely sound bigger than ten tracks of guitar. For studio recording I just use my live guitar rig as I want to be able to replicate the songs live faithfully and it’s too easy to get caught up in studio trickery.

At home where I record my solo albums, I was using a Boss digital eight track which died so now I use Ableton which is fairly straight forward, especially for demoing. I would say people just have to use whatever they can get their hands on and are comfortable using. I started off on a Tascam cassette 4 track which seemed state of the art to me at the time. There are so many more accessible options nowadays.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway; how do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?

Well, it’s hard to watch the people who’re putting out your records working their asses off only to see their product ripped off or streamed online for minimal payback.

It’s pretty basic maths that if the smaller labels don’t earn some back they’ll just grind to a halt and it stinks that people are willing to effectively rip off the little guys trying to make a difference. Robin at AC30 told me he estimates for every one album he sells one hundred are ripped off…

When it comes to label releases versus DIY/bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any?

I don’t claim to be an expert at any of this, so personally I’d much rather have a label with experienced/enthusiastic people working on my side than posting songs up online in the hope that people will hear them. I’m also a bit of a sucker for the physical copy.

That’s not to say I’m against places like Bandcamp which are the modern equivalent to DIY ethics. If you’ve recorded some songs, don’t want to wait six months for people to hear them and are not fussed by a physical product then it’s a good way forward. Just as long as you’ve got some way of letting the right people know it’s there...

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?

Vinyl is my thing again now; I went through a lazy CD phase mainly because I could rip them onto my IPod, which at the time was the most convenient way of me listening to music. I only buy vinyl LPs now as they pretty much all come with a download code.

I’m not a fan at all of standalone MP3’s. I don’t like the thought of a release just being a file on a hard drive, there’s something very soulless about the whole thing. But that’s probably just because I grew up buying records, sitting staring at the sleeves, reading the lyrics and sleeve notes as there was nothing else to do…

What artists (musicians or otherwise) have most influenced your work?

I was 13 years old when The Cure released
Disintegration; realising how powerful and emotional music could be was a pretty major turning point for me. I owned it on every format and it seemed to suit my fragile state of mind at the time. ‘Plainsong’ is my favourite song ever; I never tire from hearing it.

On top of that my Dad has always collected 7”s from the 50’s/60’s. We laugh about it as he’s always favoured the songs with a tendency towards tragedy, songs like ‘Tell Laura I love Her’. Maybe that’s why lyrically and musically I too have favoured the more melancholic, introspective and downbeat route.

Can you tell us a little about what you are currently into (books, films, art, bands, etc)?

I spend lot of time Mountain Biking on and around The South Downs (where I live). I find it clears my head and is something I can just do on my own, without having to rely on anybody else. Most of my spare time is then spent playing guitar and writing songs. I don’t read as much as I should but I have recently read George Orwell’s ‘1984’ and that is just an incredible book.

If you had to choose one of your tracks that was the ultimate definition of your sound, which would it be and why?

That’s tricky as I’ve always been one for moving forward musically and am not entirely sure what my sound is. I’d have to go for a track called ‘Sleepwalking’ from the forthcoming ‘You Walk Through Walls’ EP. It’s just a cracking upbeat and infectious tune that ends swamped in feedback but which lyrically has a darker undercurrent. It’s a good mixture of my favourite things.

Can you tell us a little about your song writing process?

It’s as simple as just playing guitar loads. It’s very rare I sit down with the intention of writing a song, but by just playing guitar seeds are sown and songs are born. It helps I’ve developed a fairly good memory for remembering parts I’ve come up with. Lyrically I just write about things around me and then use my over active imagination to bend and distort them into ambiguous stories….

What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?

I try not to think about it too much as it’s a bit of a headfuck, especially once you become a parent. I just try to be as creative and productive as possible with the time I have. I do my best not to get bogged down by the big stuff (easier said than done) and avoid TV where possible…..

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