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Interview: Matthew Frederick
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
I started playing the piano at the age of five, so music has been a massive part of my life for as long as I can remember, really! As for what I’d be doing if I wasn’t a musician, that’s a tricky one. I’d like to think I’d be creative in some other way, but who knows? I was paperboy for a good few years, though, so perhaps I’d have graduated to postman by now…
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I’m from the Rhondda Valley in South Wales, so have always been surrounded by mountains. I’d say that the landscape has definitely influenced my sound (as well as the sound of my band, Climbing Trees), but I can’t quite put my finger on how. I think it’s inevitable that the place where you grow up will have some sort of effect on your work, whether consciously or subconsciously. There’s a track called ‘High’ on my most recent album ‘Fragments’, and I always picture a particular point on the mountain behind my parents’ house when I perform it (and when I wrote it, in fact). So even though it may not be apparent on every song, there are certainly a few examples of my surroundings playing a significant role in my music.
What do you like to do when you’re not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
Speaking of the mountains, the one good thing about Lockdown is that it’s given me the chance to explore them in a way that I’ve not really done since I was a kid. I’ve been walking non-stop for the last six months or so, revisiting old paths as well as discovering new ones, and it’s almost certainly inspired a few new songs of late, some of which may end up on the next album. There’s an odd juxtaposition at the moment whereby I’m massively restricted in how I’m able to operate as an artist, yet more free as a person than I have been in a long while, so I’m sure that’ll have an effect on my musical output over the next couple of years.
How long has your band been around?
Climbing Trees have, unbelievably, been around for almost a decade (it definitely doesn’t feel like that long). We played our first gigs at the end of 2011, put our debut album ‘Hebron’ out in 2013 and the follow-up, ‘Borders’, in 2016. We’ve been ‘hibernating’ for the most part since the end of 2017, however, during which time I’ve been focusing on the solo side of things. Although I played everything on ‘Fragments’, it would be a logistical nightmare to try and replicate this live, so I decided at the beginning of the year to put together a backing band, The Hindsights, ahead of the album launch show, which means that I sort of have two different bands on the go. Or none, at the moment, given the current situation!
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
‘The Hindsights’ existed as an idea in my head a long time before I finally got around to putting the backing band together. With hindsight, I should have done it sooner, because the Lockdown and complete halting of live music here in Wales has meant that I’m yet to perform with them on stage. That’ll have to wait until 2021, unfortunately!
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
I’ve been fortunate enough to play shows in Europe and over in the US as well as elsewhere in the UK, but my favourite shows have probably been right here in Wales. In particular, Climbing Trees’ hometown show featuring a triple bill of Pontypridd bands (alongside The People The Poet and Peasant’s King) to reopen the Muni Arts Centre in 2016, and our ‘Borders’ album launch at St John The Evangelist Church in Cardiff later that year. There are a load of festivals I could mention as well, and fortunately there have been a whole lot more good shows than bad over the years! As for the latter, my lips are sealed…
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you haven't already?
The two I’ve just mentioned are definitely up there! I’m a big fan of playing in churches – as well as the beautiful architecture, the natural acoustics really suit my style of music, and I’ve been lucky enough to play in quite a few over the years both solo and with the Trees. At the moment, the only venue I’m playing at is my living room for live streams, the one advantage of which is that I can gig in my slippers. But that’s pretty much it.
If you could play any show with any lineup who would be on the ticket?
As a piano player, Billy Joel, Elton John and Ben Folds would be a pretty good line-up, although they’d put me to shame. I’d be quite happy to take myself off the bill for that one and just sit back and watch from the crowd!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band?
My advice would be to be careful who you’re taking advice from… The older I get, the more I realise that most people are blagging their way through life and making it up as they go along, so I’d say decide who you are, what you want to do and where you want to be, and then work out how best to make that happen. If you’re in a band, make music that makes you happy, first and foremost. That’s the most important thing. If you don’t like the music you’re making, it’s difficult to expect anybody else to!
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Maybe learn to play a smaller instrument! My keyboard on its own is fine, and the flight case on its own is fine, but combine the two and it’s one of the most awkward (and heavy) things to carry. The amount of staircases I’ve had to pull it up, or festival fields I’ve had to drag it across, always makes me wish I’d chosen something a little easier to transport. Perhaps a harmonica…
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
I suppose they all mean a lot to me in different ways. On ‘Fragments’ I’d probably pick the closing track, ‘Morning Smile’, which I started writing back in 2011 and finally finished a couple of days before heading into the studio in 2019. It represented a moment in time (as do a lot of the songs on that album) that I’m particularly fond of, but I never quite got around to finishing it for one reason or another. I’m glad I finally did in time for it to make it onto the record, and I think, as the final track, it’s also more of an indication of how the next album will sound.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
‘Laura Jones’ always goes down well, both with existing fans and those who have never seen me before. I usually play one or two blues numbers in my set as well, and if I’m getting towards the end and haven’t for some reason, someone will usually let me know. ‘Parking Ticket Blues’ and ‘I’ve Had Just About Enough Of You’ are both crowd favourites, and are always a fun way to end a show.
What is your creative process, and what inspires you to write your music?
I’m not sure I have a distinct process as such. I’ve heard of some songwriters treating it like a 9-to-5, and almost forcing themselves to be creative during an allocated part of the day, but I tend to write whenever the mood takes me. Occasionally a song pops out of nowhere, almost fully-formed. Often it’s a much more elongated process – I’ve got plenty of half-finished songs that have been knocking around for years. One thing that definitely works for me is writing at night. I’ve always been at my most creative in the wee hours, and perhaps that’s had an influence on my sound in some shape or form.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I’m a big fan of ambiguity in songwriting. Occasionally I’ll mention specific people or places, but more often than not I like to keep things as open to interpretation as possible. My songs may mean one thing to me and mean something completely different to a fan listening via Spotify on the other side of the world. As long as people are enjoying the music and engaging with the lyrics in a way that means something to them, then I’m happy. As with literary criticism, there’s never really a right or wrong answer!
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
I’m fortunate in that I’m both a member of a band and a solo artist, so I’ve got the best of both worlds, in a way. Obviously with the solo side of things I’m completely in control, whereas with the band there’s a bit more give and take, and sometimes you have to compromise. But that’s part of being in a band – it’s like a family sometimes, and there will be disagreements and a differing of opinion, but with the Trees in particular we’ve been going for long enough to know how each other works, and luckily we work pretty well together. And when we decide we need a bit of time apart, we can each go off and make a solo album!
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that's coming up?
My latest single ‘Leave The Light On’ is released on October 30th. It’s the fifth single from my ‘Fragments’, which is my debut solo studio album, in fact, and came out earlier this year on CD, tape and digital via Staylittle Music. ‘Leave The Light On’ follows on from previous singles ‘Tell Me’, ‘Hay-on-Wye’, ‘Pink Blossom Snow’ and ‘Laura Jones’, and is the opening track on the record. It’s also one of my favourites, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how people respond to it over the next few weeks, and the album in general, if they’re yet to hear it. Bandcamp is the best place to pick it up, by the way, and is where you’ll find all of my CDs, tapes, handwritten lyrics, posters, badges and bottle openers. Oh, and while I’m stuck at home I’m also recording personal videos featuring the song of your choice, so feel free to get in touch if you’d like one of those, or just to say hello! https://matthewfrederick.bandcamp.com https://www.matthewfrederick.co.uk