|Manchester based singer-songwriter and guitarist Matt Hill comes originally from Nottingham, but his musical influences come from much wider afield. His songs are stripped bare explorations of the darker side of his psyche and are rooted in American musical forms (country and rock and roll) whilst displaying the lyrical dexterity and honesty which come from his love of such wordsmiths as Elvis Costello and Townes Van Zandt. His debut album "The Secret Ruler Of The World" has just been completed and sees the first use by Hill of his "quiet loner" moniker on record.
"A talented singer and songwriter with a string of splendidly dark tales"
"Breaks hearts as man with acoustic guitar - real country dark, and wonderfully so."
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The Triste Interview - Matt Hill
Triste: Can you tell me something about your musical background - for instance did you sing in the school or church choir as a child? And were you always interested in making music rather than just listening to it?
Matt Hill: : I never had the talent as a kid to play music in anything, though I was very interested in magic and did several shows as a budding Paul Daniels. About all I listened to as a kid was early rock and roll. Elvis, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly & The Everly's were particular favourites. Then when I was about 10 I started borrowing my sisters records and taking more notice of the charts so it was Squeeze, Costello, The Jam, The Pretenders, The Specials and Madness who were my favourites as I learned to play guitar. The Smiths came along a bit later with the arrival of hormones. As for Costello he was a huge influence. And it shows.
Triste: What attracted you to the Smiths-was it Morrissey's lyrics or Marr's rockabilly - influenced guitar style?
Matt Hill: I can appreciate Marr now but at the time it was definitely the words. Unlike a lot of teenagers I never took my teen-angst bullshit seriously, and I thought Morrissey was hilarious. I also found he could be deeply moving and very funny depending on my mood, still do. Billy Bragg was another who trod the line between humour and tragedy. Its the same thing that attracted me to country music, the idea of pain and self-pity taken to such absolute extremes that you have to smile. Tear in my beer and all that. I think that ability to laugh at yourself is a great leveller and can help you get through a lot.
Triste: I believe you were in at least two bands in the 80's/90's -what type of music did they play?
Matt Hill: My first was Fifties rock n roll played in a very sort of Rockpile way. Our own stuff veered more towards the Pretenders or the Clash. The second was more Indie, influenced by bands like Jesus Jones, That Petrol Emotion and The Wonderstuff.
Triste: I was fascinated to read about your 'Road to Damascus' (or should that be 'Road to Truth or Consequences'?) experience in New Mexico, can you tell me a bit more about that and where it led you?
Matt Hill: I stumbled upon a desert town called Truth or Consequences and as I soon as I saw the sign I knew it had to have some significance for me. Back in the UK I had been through some extremely difficult times and felt my only way out was to leave my job, my home and a long-term relationship to fly to America. I didn't know a soul, where I was going or when or if I was coming home. It was the most frightening and most exhilarating feeling in the world! I just threw my life wide open to fate. Under those circumstances you become very sensitive to a much bigger guiding hand. So I stayed a few days in T or C and the days became weeks. It was such a special place, very healing. I met some incredible people and gradually began to regain a sense of purpose. It dawned on me that I was shutting the things I'd loved out of my life, music being one of those things. And being where I was all roads led back to country music.
Triste: Your songs come over as very candid and almost painfully honest. Are they all written basically from personal experience?
Matt Hill: Someone once said I had a "reckless candour" ! All my stuff is written from personal experiences or sometimes the experiences of friends. After America I set out to write personal and truthful lyrics. True to myself at least. Sometimes the names and situations have been changed to protect the innocent and I have written one or two that are a little close to the knuckle that I now find difficult to sing. I do enjoy writing and singing many other types of songs and I am trying to broaden the range but right now that is what I have set myself up to be, a confessional singer-songwriter. It can be uncomfortable sharing it but the song helps put distance between those particular painful situations. By singing it out, it helps lessen the pain for me personally, although I'm afraid my audience don't get that particular benefit ! I am wary though that it can all get a bit too much, there is a danger of it becoming what Nick Cave calls the "masturbatory school of songwriting". So I do make a conscious effort to try a little humour to deflect that.
Triste: I've seen you described as 'left-wing'- would you say this influences your writing? How do you feel about songwriters who write songs with overtly political or social lyrics?
Matt Hill: There is definitely a place for politics in music, but at the moment it doesn't overtly influence my writing. I do have very strongly held beliefs and would like my music to reflect those values but I think I lack the skills as a writer to put this into my music. It's very hard to write a good political song without coming over as insincere or sloganeering and writers lay themselves open to this criticism, even someone as skilled as Billy Bragg. When I think of a good political song I think of Shipbuilding or Ghost Town, or even Summertime Blues is a good political song ! That line about the congressman is just so true! I don't think I'm close to ever being able to do it, but I keep trying.
Triste: You've been quite active in championing the music often described as 'alt.country'/'Americana'/'Cosmic American Music' in the UK. These are much-used (and, probably misused) 'labels'. How would you describe the music, and what would you say is the one single factor that distinguishes it from, say, 'Country'/ 'Country-pop'/'Country -rock'etc...?
Matt Hill: That is a very good and very difficult question. I think that distinguishing "X" factor is something to do with a certain progressive attitude coupled with a respect for tradition. Take Robbie Fulks for example. His sound is so mainstream country, albeit 1940's country but it's his subject matters that make him "alternative", not many country artists would write a song about Nashville called "Fuck this Town".
Triste: Who would you say has been your biggest influence artistically?
Matt Hill: This is going to sound so pretentious but I would say "artistically" rather than "musically" it was the late American comedian Bill Hicks. He really inspired me to do things. Bill told the truth, however uncomfortable it made him or his audience he just pressed ahead because he recognised it needed to be told. He knew he would never be successful or even popular but he stayed true to his ideals. The stuff he was doing 10 years ago is just so relevant today it should be taught in schools. To me he is the greatest artist of the 20th century bar none. You can talk about Lennon or Elvis, Picasso or Dali but I don't think any of them got even close to what Bill Hicks achieved. He changed my life in a very big way.
Triste: : If I've got my facts right, 'My Dark Places' was your second EP, the first being 'Demonstration Product' a couple of years ago and I believe you're working on a full album. Could you tell me a bit about the new one and what are your plans once that has been released?
Matt Hill: It's become a bit of a joke really, I've been "working on an album" now for several years, but somehow I never manage to get it together. I remain cautiously optimistic that I will get it finished. I think it will be a fairly bleak debut, I quite like the idea of making something that is just relentlessly emotional and painful, with no let up. As you can see I have my eye on the commercial potential!
Triste: Finally, I couldn't fail to notice that in the 'programme' for the 'My Dark Places' launch bash, for your own 'pen-picture' you quoted an extract from a particularly unenthusiastic review someone from CMI had written on you. My first reaction was ' Why has he quoted this!?- It's suicidal!' Then it struck me that only someone with great self-belief would be brave enough to draw attention to such a bad review. Would this be an accurate judgement, and do you ever doubt that your ability and determination will take you where you want to be?
Matt Hill: Actually, like a lot of performers I do lack self-belief, in fact I'm constantly amazed to talk
to other artists who I think have such confidence
only to find they are as unsure as I am about their
music. Of course I have doubts that my ability will
take me where I want to be, but you have to give it
a shot. Besides the trying is most of the fun. If I
can get away with quoting one of my own lyrics -
"I've no intentions to reach my destination, I love
the journey too much".
Interviewed by Bill Beaver for Triste Magazine 4
Live Gigs & News - Matt Hill
See Matt's Home page for further details There have been a host of gigs supporting the "release" of his album, but there are still a few gigs left to catch this summer - supporting Caramel Jack in Salford and the odd solo performance.
See Matt's Home page for further details
There have been a host of gigs supporting the "release" of his album, but there are still a few gigs left to catch this summer - supporting Caramel Jack in Salford and the odd solo performance.
Matt's new website is now online to coincide with his debut album release as quiet loner. Unfortunately, despite the album being available at gigs and via his website there have been problems with distribution and the official date of release has been put back (yet again). Bearing in mind the extended gestation period of this album, this is unfortunate, but not unexpected. Check Matt's website for the latest news.