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Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts - Interview

  by Neil Palmer

published: 7 / 1 / 2007

Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts - Interview


Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts have produced one of the finest debut albums of the year with the punky Folk Country 'Blue Bird's Blood'. Neil Palmer chats to Sawyer, who is both a working artist and the former drummer with the Television Personalities, about his music and his art

Seemingly appearing from nowhere, Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts have produced the finest debut album these ears have heard for years. The endearingly unrefined ‘Blue Bird's Blood’ is a unique mix of punky Folk, Country with a London accent, and classic Pop with attitude. It looks set to propel Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts headlong into the collective consciousness of the alternative music scene. A working artist, who is highly regarded in the visual/conceptual art world, Mathew Sawyer’s star appears to be shining bright. I talked to Sawyer, in his first interview, about his past, his plans, his music and his art. PB : Briefly, can you talk about your life leading up to the release of 'Blue Bird's Blood’? MS : After school I dropped in and out of various places, and ended up doing a Masters in painting at the London Royal College of Art. It was the place where I started to think I could perform music, and got the first line-up of the Ghosts. I was put in exhibitions for my art and moved to Berlin. I moved back after a year and moved around London a lot. Now I’m staying with friends in Whitechapel and at my Mum's new place, which has a piano, until March, when I go to Rio de Janeiro for a few months, where I’m writing a bunch of short stories and some art for the Prague Biennale. PB : Can you tell us a bit about your work as an artist? MS : Stories and drawing mainly. When I was at art school I loved the work of Bas Jan Ader and Douglas Heubler. They showed me that conceptual art can run hand in hand with your life. And you just have to record the right bits and tell stories or ideas of things a human could get up to. I also draw a lot. People do this, but most tend to stop around the age of 10. PB : You have played drums for the Television Personalities. Is this an on going thing? MS : My friend Graeme from the band the Projects was friends with Dan (Treacy, the Television Personalities main-man-NP) and played bass for him on tour in 96'. When Dan came back to do more music, he asked Graeme if he knew anyone to do some drumming, as he'd started recording 'My Dark Places' (Domino Records, 2006-NP). I went to the studio one day and starting hitting drums. I'm a rubbish drummer. It was more that we all had a laugh with each other and became friends. I played on the album and we did some gigs here and there. John Bennett from the original line up is drumming now; he's much better than me. Dan is brilliant. Full stop. PB : Who are the Ghosts and how and when did you form the band ? MS : The Ghosts have been various friends, tutors, girlfriends, people from other bands on same bills, audience members or just a ghost band and me singing on my own. Everyone seems to get annoyed with how I work and leave. But I have changed a lot now. The painter Leigh Curtis was there the longest. You should look up his paintings. He's wonderful. I miss playing music with Leigh. We grew up in the same area and went to the same first schools. At the moment I’m playing with Paul who runs Stolen Recordings. We like to get drunk together and walk in the woods next to where I’m staying with torches and Roy Orbison. He has a black belt in sound. PB : Where and with whom did you make the album? MS : Nine of the songs were recorded at the Video Caves by Jason ‘JP’ Buckle who is best known for his work with All Seeing I and Tony Christie; he played drums on these songs and produced it. Leigh played bass on a couple and I played all other things. Three songs, 'Heartbreaker', 'Go Out On the Streets', 'Love Will Come To Town') were recorded at Soup Studios and produced by Simon Trought, who has worked as a producer and an engineer for the Television Personalities and Darren Hayman. Leigh Curtis, Matthew Reynolds, Sophie Poliowicz and Alison Cotton also played on these songs. PB : Now that 'Blue Bird's Blood' is released how do feel about the record ? MS : Well, it was just a limited run. I'm still looking for a good label over here who can promote it and the next album. Jason got a really fitting sound for it; I’m really pleased with that. As for the performances, we recorded most songs in one or two takes and a few Jason drummed to them after only hearing them once. I had lots of paper with lyrics and stuff on and made a lot up on the way. So now I often play the songs differently live, be that instrument wise or structure, and some I think work better than the ones on the record, but that's just the way it goes. It gets grey pretty quickly otherwise. PB : What is the band's next move? MS : Same as ever. See how it goes. I'm always looking for more people to play different instruments with us. I would love to get a good support slot with someone I really liked. And be able to play to more appropriate audiences. Often I’m too quiet for the night. PB : What are your plans for the Ghosts and how are things progressing? MS : I would really like some choral singers. I have a group of people singing in my head around the piano and I want to meet that lot. And trombones, tubas, strings, kettledrums, a vibraphone, and I wouldn't mind getting rid of my guitar. PB : What or whom do you consider your biggest influences? MS : Stifling self absorption, inarticulate sulking, higher powers, Richard Brautigan, talk radio, words, Johnny Cash, the Animals, the woozy machine, Roy Orbison, the Raincoats, drunk, the Ghosts, 'The Wizard Of Oz', the start, pure voice and females. PB : Do you consider making music an extension of your visual/conceptual art or is it something quite distinct and separate? MS: It’s not an extension of anything. It is its own thing. Just like my drawing is not an extension of me going for a piss in the garden. It works alone. They're all from one person so more like brothers and sisters with different morals. Generally I sing about love and death, write about life and the dreamworld, draw sex, the dreamworld and death. PB : Most of the songs on the album seem to be set around personal events but can be interpreted as being fairly universal themes. Many people consider this as one of the hallmarks of great song writing. Do you set out to write in this vein or is it something that happens by accident? MS : There's no particular aim or handlebars I know of. You just have to not try putting square pegs through round holes. That old trick. PB : What is your process for coming up with new songs? Does a song just "appear" from no where or do work on an initial idea for some time until your happy? Does the music or lyric come first? MS : Normally I play a G chord and think "what would Elton do now ?" I tend to record a lot of non-songs. Press record on my Dictaphone and play half a song with improvised sentences and chords. Then a different song. Then a different one again. Then leave the house and get on with my life. Then come back another day and repeat. I have bags of tapes with half songs on and chorus and verses all waiting in line. I never usually listen back to the tapes; it’s just the action of recording them that helps me remember. Like when you write a note to yourself, you normally never have to reread it. I go by the Beatle rule. If it won’t stick in my head then it won’t stick with others. I don't like to work very hard. PB : And finally, with more than just a little nod to the broadsheet weekend supplements when were and are you happiest ? MS : In other countries normally. PB : What is your greatest fear? MS : Spiders and illness. PB : Which living person do you most admire, and why? MS : My friends are the living ones. Most of the people I admire are still living through their works; their greatness and the reasons I admire them wouldn't change if they happened to knock on my kitchen window. You’re all dead unless I meet you in person anyway. That’s basic maths. PB : Conversely which living person do you most despise, and why? MS : I used to despise a teacher at school. For years I wished him torture and humiliation. But now I can't even remember his name. PB : What do you consider your greatest achievement? MS : No, I'm far too lazy for that. PB : Where would you most like to be right now? MS : Rio de Janeiro, Devon, the cinema, watching a good horror and eating salted popcorn or in a clean bed with talk radio in Rio de Janeiro or Devon or in a cinema…etc PB : Footie or cricket? MS : Hmm well, I’m not bothered by either thanks. What's in it for me! Can I choose Monopoly? PB : Wine or beer? MS : They're both good for different things. Beer is great to drink when you play live it puts an anchor on your drunkenness. Wine works at home when only the brain has to move. But I prefer gin and water. PB : Mr T or Murdoch ? MS : No competition, Mr.T. Murdoch's a loser. PB : Kylie or Madonna? MS : Kylie. Madonna gives me the creeps. PB : Blackpool or Brighton? MS : Never been to Blackpool, so I'll go there please. PB : Blue or red? MS : Red. PB : Scalectrix or Meccano? MS : Scalectrix. More drama. PB : Spring or Autumn? MS : Autumn's the magic one. PB : Picasso or Hockney? MS : Hockney overall. PB : The Beatles or the Stones? MS : Who are the Stones ? PB : Thank you. The photographs that accompany this article were taken by Bob Stuart and originally appeared on his website www.underexposed.org.uk

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Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts - Interview

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live reviews

Legal Tender, Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, London, 6/1/2007
Mathew Sawyer and the Ghosts - Legal Tender, Bethnal Green Working Men's Club,  London, 6/1/2007
In the woefully inappropriate surroundings of the Legal Tender night at the the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, Neil Palmer watches former Television Personalities' drummer Mathew Sawyer play a vulnerable, but emotive solo set to promote his and his band the Ghosts new album 'Blue Birds Blood'

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