Interview with Forest Swords

Λίγο πριν την εμφάνιση του Βρετανού μουσικού στο φετινό Sónar της Βαρκελώνης, βρεθήκαμε μαζί του σε ένα πολύ ενδιαφέρον τετ-α-τετ και μιλήσαμε μεταξύ άλλων για τα μελλοντικά του πλάνα, τα social platforms και την ψυχολογία της επανάληψης.

Interview with Forest Swords / interviews

4 months ago
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O Matthew Barnes, γνωστός στους περισσότερους ως Forest Swords, είναι ένας σπουδαίος μουσικός παραγωγός με καταγωγή το Merseyside της Αγγλίας. Μετά την τεράστια επιτυχία του πρώτου του δίσκου Engravings, έναν δίσκο που τον έθεσεε στην πρώτη γραμμή της ηλεκτρονικής μουσικής παγκοσμίως, κυκλοφόρησε τον περασμένο Μάιο το δεύτερο πολυ-αναμενόμενο άλμπουμ του, με τον τίτλο Compassion, μέσω της Ninja Tune.

Με αφορμή λοιπόν αυτήν την κυκλοφορία, το Sónar Barcelona τον κάλεσε για δεύτερη φορά στην ιστορία να παρουσιάσει την δουλειά του τον φετινό Ιούνιο μπροστά στο έμπειρο κοινό του Sónar.

Εμείς βρεθήκαμε στην Βαρκελώνη για να καλύψουμε το φεστιβάλ και μιλήσαμε αποκλειστικά με τον Forest Swords, λίγο πριν την εμφάνιση του στο Sónar Hall την Πέμπτη 14 Ιουνίου. O Forest Swords αναφέρθηκε μεταξύ άλλων στην εμμονή του με το artwork του καινούργιου του άλμπουμ, στην “μεταγραφή” του στην Ninja Tune και πολλά περισσότερα ενδιαφέροντα στην συνέντευξη που ακολουθεί.

 

Hi Matthew, thanks a lot for being here today. I will begin with questions about your new album which is titled Compassion. What does this title mean to you and how was the process of recording Compassion?

Compassion was titled because, I was thinking about an album title as the idea of a seed. In the world, the past 18 months there has been a lot of terrible things going on and that dovetailed with a lot of personal stuff in my life. My friends were struggling with various things and I was thinking about this idea of using Compassion as a seed, that I will put out there into the world and also I generally title albums and records based on how they sound. To me this record sounded quite warm, open and enveloping. To me that works with the word Compassion.

In terms of recording it, I spent maybe 18 months on it. I finished touring in late 2014 and decided to move around, travel and try to write in different places that I’ve been to on tour and didn’t get the chance to explore. So I went to places like Istanbul, Thailand, Scotland. I traveled to all those places and I tried to write bits and pieces because the previous record was written in one dark room over a year, and it sounded like that.

I think when you listen back to it (i.e. Engravings), it sounds closed off and very insulate. To me travelling around and meeting new people and experiencing places made my sound choices sound a bit more open.

So do you get inspired more from the people and places that you visit?

Yes I think so,for me even just going to the shops and talking to someone you open your world a bit more, so I realised that I recognize the value in other people rather than trying to keep things for myself. I think other people want that connection with other people too so I started to value this and this fed to how the record sounds as well.

You kind of changed your sound between Engravings and Compassion. I think Compassion sounds a bit more open as you said. How did your approach change between the two albums?

I spent so long touring Engravings, so I thought that maybe it didn’t sound so accessible. Accessible in a way that there is no entry point to it and it sounded quite closed off. So I was very much on a mindset that I wanted to change that to a record that sounds a bit more open.

Did your approach change gearwise then?

I was a lot more mobile this time because I was travelling around so I had even less gear than I used on Engravings. It was pretty much all done on a laptop and I made a lot of field recordings as I was travelling around. It was literally just my mobile and me finding sounds. It is actually surprising what you can do with a shitty bit of audio. You can record anything from a drum to a melody. It was actually a really good learning curve for me and this time I was able to work with audio a bit more. Because I only had my laptop and a tiny keyboard  there is not guitar on this record, as I couldn’t carry it around with me. That’s probably the biggest change, being more mobile.

Forest Swords at Sonar Barcelona

While listening to the new album, I felt that you are more interested in making textures, melodies and sceneries rather than focussing on rhythm and patterns?

Yeah, I was lot more interested in the textual elements this time and playing around with ambient things a bit more. On Compassion I focused on the sound design of it compared to Engravings which was more rhythmic, bassy and melodic. This one kind (i.e. Compassion) of disintegrates, as I pulled it apart a lot and I really enjoyed doing that. I felt that I was pushing myself to leave 30 seconds of drony noise or something. This was quite challenging for me as I like melodic “straight down the line” stuff. So it was a good challenge and I felt that I got the balance right between the rhythmic stuff that I really enjoy doing and this kind of more ambient texture disintegrated sound palettes. Sound design as well as the properties of sound and what you can do with it are things that I would like to play around with a bit more. So I definitely enjoyed the recording process in Compassion and I think you can hear it.

You play a bit with emotions like stress,panic, fear, melancholy in your new album. That’s the impression I got from listening to Compassion. Do you like building your tracks around emotions and different feelings?

Yes, I am always interested in the idea of how you can convey emotion in either instrumental songs or in vocals that do not mean anything. I like the idea of people being able to pull different things from it. You don’t have to prescribe and dictate things to people. You just put it out there and people can infer what they like from it, so it’s really interesting sometimes.

I also work with loops quite a lot. I like the idea of a loop going on for ages and ages and sometimes when you tweak one note you can change the whole feel of the intention behind it. I definitely enjoy that middle point between something being quite pressing and dark to being euphoric and beautiful.

Regarding loops and repetition, many people say that the repetition has its own psychology. Once you get used to it then you forget it and then it gets interesting again.

Because everything is built on the rhythm, everything in the world is rhythmic. You become used to things and cyclical sounds. So I like to play with that a bit more.

The next question is about the artwork in your new album. You are also a graphic designer and you designed the artwork of the new album. What does it represent and what does it mean to you?

Generally, lots of the photographs that I work with are found photographs or old photographs. I am kind of a nerd when it comes to collecting old photographs from old magazines or vintage shops. So I have a whole collection of these things. But I saw this particular image online and I couldn’t find the source of it. So I spent 6 months to find out what it was and where it was from because I was like “I have to use this”. I felt that it sums up the music perfectly.

Sometimes I see an image that fits with sound and I like reconciling those things. So I saw this image, “fuck I’ve got to have this at any cost”. And so I saw it, and it kind of summed up how the music felt. When I first found the image, I couldn’t see it very well and I couldn’t work it out. It was like how I was talking about the music and how you can infer things from it. You can infer anything from that image, a lot of people think that he is being crashed from the stone  but if you look at it more carefully he is actually bouncing on it, it looks kind of meditative. He’s got this kind of calm expression on his face.

I want to ask you about how you used social platforms to circulate your unreleased tracks to your fans. What was the motivation behind this?

So I had finished the record and I was talking to people about how to kick it off. You know every artist has to put one track out before the album is released. It’s a way to announce it. I had found using facebook and twitter quite frustrating because nowadays as an artist it’s quite difficult to get things in front of people and get people to click or listen to your tracks.

Everyone is bombarded with stuff day to day, and lots of these things get very impersonal to me. I use whatspp all day long as most people in Europe do to text their friends and I thought “how can I use this in an interesting way?”. Because even when someone sends me a tweet it seems quite impersonal to me. It seems that you are shouted through a door, whereas whatsapp is direct to your phone.

I like to think completely different about that, it changes your connection to people and as I was saying before I noticed that I was really interested in that value of connecting with people. So I was like, let me try. I had all these extra tracks and I thought maybe I can send these out to people so I put my phone number online and people seemed to dig it.

Forest Swords at Sonar Village

So you’d sent out tracks that are not released yet?

Yeah, there were a couple of tracks from Compassion and then 15 other ones. Those were  sketches, field recordings or bits and pieces. So everyone got slightly different tracks. People really dug it and seemed as a very personal connection. Some of these people still text me things like “I am going to see you in Sonar” etc. It’s really a whole new channel and I was surprised that no-one else had done it. To be honest though, it took a lot of work. I had 700 messages on my phone and there is no way  to send files to everyone through whatsapp.

You released your second album under the Ninja Tune imprint while the first album was released in a smaller label (i.e. TriAngle). What did this move change in your career?

I was friends with people from the label (i.e. Ninjatune) and we started talks about maybe releasing this one. They’ve been very supportive and  I hadn’t realised that Ninjatune has their own fans anyway. Like people that would follow anything that is released on the label and so they kind of picked up all these new people, which is really cool and I am really pleased for it.

But yeah just practicalities of being on a bigger label mean that you can get your record in more places, people are able to buy your records easier. It’s such a simple thing, just having it in record stores. It makes such a difference and I feel very lucky. But I don’t know where am I gonna go next. I am only signed for one album on these places. So if the next record is a crazy jazz album it might not fit with NinjaTune. I like having that option to move around.

How do you feel about performing for the second time in Sónar?

I feel excited. I played here in 2014, just after Engravings. I love this festival, they’ve been very supportive of me and I played a few different Sónars. I also played Sónar Reykjavik this year . I look at Barcelona and it’s a great city so I feel very lucky that I am invited to play. It’s always a good crowd, Sonar people are really open-minded.

You’ve also recently performed in Field Day London and later in autumn you are going on tour. Do you prefer doing festivals or concerts where the audience is more targeted and knows what to expect?

Sometimes you accidentally play for a huge crowd because you don’t clash with anyone and so there’s the opportunity to get on people’s radars and for people to discover you a bit more. In headline shows, I generally feel a bit comfortable because I know people are there to see me. In these shows, you can maybe be a bit more challenging, as people are there to see you and know what you are on about and what you do so you can play around a bit more.

Whereas, in festivals when people move around different stages you don’t really have that opportunity, you have to be more direct. So they are both different things, but I also love playing festivals because I get to see other acts. I don’t really go to that many shows normally so for me being able to see all my favorite artists in one place is really cool.

So who do you want to see at this year’s Sónar Festival?

There is an artist called Pan Daijing tomorrow, she is amazing and really good. Oh and Andy Stott tonight. Those are my two main ones.

You’ve just released your new album, so I guess its quite early to talk about new music but do you have any plans for future releases?

Yeah, I am working on a couple of projects for next year, which will not be albums. I did a dance project a few years ago which I really enjoyed. So I am looking to do more that sort of thing rather than going straight on doing another album. I am also interested in making music a bit quicker and try putting an album out quicker.

That whatsapp experiment really opened my eyes you know; nowadays you don’t really have to necessarily wait for a traditional distribution system. You just kind of put the album out there. So maybe trying something else like that. I am really open to collaborating with other people now as well. I am very excited about doing that kind of thing, but I definitely won’t be rushing on putting another album out. I feel like I need to find my feet again.

So you want to let things flow more naturally?

Yes, it’s a lot more natural, just go with the flow. I feel that going around and learning making music like this was really useful so I can just kind of get an airbnb in Barcelona for a week and like trying make some music and then release it. You know that kind of thing excites me a bit more now rather than a traditional album campaign. It seems a bit slow and archaic maybe. It’s like a bit old now. You know even by the time Compassion came out, I had finished it 6 months before its release. So by the time it came out I was already moving on slightly in my head. I think a lot of artists say that. So I am definitely interested in speeding up the process a bit more.

Are you planning to work on your label/creative studio “Dense Truth”  as well? What is the distinction between these two?

Yeah yeah, I’ve just released a guy from Moscow called Zurkas Tepla. He is crazy good. I am going to be doing more of that kind of thing and working on different  multimedia projects. The idea is I might be involved in a dance project so I will release it on that label. So that kind of joined up and puts it together. I like the idea of having it as an umbrella and do all these different things and I being able to do anything really. I could do a magazine or a dance project. You know, anything and they all are interlinked. Even though I may not be involved in some projects, I want to release stuff from people who I think are really talented and make good things.

So will we see any release from the label anytime soon?

Yeah, I’ve got a thing from an artist coming later this year and then next year I will be doing different projects.

Regarding your live performance, would you like to give us a bit more information about the collaboration with your bass player James and how did you meet?

We met though a mutual friend a few years ago. I was looking for a drummer at that time actually. And it was suggested to me that a bass player might be more interesting. Engravings had a dub feeling and bass elements to it. So him playing live pulls that out a bit more and gives it textures, like electronically. I am trying with him at the moment and we’ve got live visuals from a friend called Sam Wiehl, whom I collaborate with.

More and more in the future I am looking to bring in musicians and try out different combinations of things live. Just playing around to see what works. As I said I am quite open to collaborating now. Possibly I might form a band. I am totally open to that kind of thing. I will try different things and see what works.

The latest trend is for many electronic music artists to move to Berlin to pursue collaboration and more dj sets/lives. What do you think about the inflow of artists in big capitals?

I think, as I said, about this record and also the last one, I noticed the value in not being in those places (i.e. London, Berlin), because it puts your head in a different place and I think you will approach music in a slightly different way. I know a lot of those places are held up as creative capitals but I think really it’s about the tools that you have and the environment you are in rather than the greater scene you are part of. I always find those kind of cities quite claustrophobic, because you are aware of what your peers or your friends are doing constantly. Whereas if you are slightly separated from that, you can maybe create your own world rather than trying to compete with people.

Those kind of things I think are good, because you can collaborate and you can see what other people are doing and you can challenge yourself, but I also noticed how valuable it is to be apart from that and be in your own space. I think some times you can notice that some artists are based in these big cities. You can hear it. I don’t think I could have made Engravings if I was in Berlin. So I definitely think it’s an important thing sometimes. Of course that’s no disrespect to the people that moved to Berlin and did those things. I guess that thing wouldn’t really work for me.

So in the UK there is  Brexit, elections and all those developments lately. As an artist do you think that there will be an impact on you and how will these developments affect you as an artist who tours around the world?

I think this will have a huge and negative impact on what happens. You know this very practical thing , in terms of touring around and getting visas. I don’t know if I will need a visa for this (Sonar) for instance. Also the costs of things will probably will go up. You know even if you put 1 or 2 euros on top of the price of a vinyl record people will think about it twice before they buy it, or even in live shows. I think all those things will affect life on many different levels.

Thank you very much!