Matthew Halsall Interview
Tell us about your new album, Into Forever, and how that came about.
“It was a slightly different record to the previous five albums that I’ve done. They’re all jazz records inspired by modal jazz. With this one I wanted to be much more like a composer/producer role. I was more focussed on the studio side of things and doing quite a lot of multi-tracking and experimenting with different layers and textures so I bring in loops of double bass and piano or string parts and then get drummers and percussionists to drum over the top of them and carefully select the sort of grooves that work and sound the most interesting with the music. In that sense it’s a little bit more of a challenge and new territory for me but I’ve kind of managed to get it to sound quite consistent with the previous records and it’s still got a lot of the influences and sounds such as the harp, Japanese koto and all sorts of other instruments. It’s been really good fun. Also, it’s the first time I’ve collaborated with vocalists and there’s five vocal tracks on the album. It’s been lovely to have a different voice and sound to my music.”
Tell us a bit about your record label, Gondwana Records. How do find running your own label?
“I’ve always been fairly independent throughout my life, I’ve always had little companies, self-employed and sole trader sort of thing. So when I started making my own music it was always a vision to have my own record label. And I’ve completely been inspired by quite a broad range of record labels such as Warp Records, Ninjatune Records and then jazz record labels like Blue Note, Impulse! and Strata East. I just felt, ‘why not try it and give it a go’. My first release completely took me by surprise, how many people supported it and we ended up with Maida Vale sessions for Stuart Maconie and Gilles Peterson. I did loads of BBC sessions and ended up with gigs at some amazing festivals straight away. Credit to the producers and all the people involved at the BBC. It wasn’t a case of a record label with loads of money forcing them to play it. We just sent them a promo with a press release and they got involved and supported it. And from that point onwards we’ve never lost any money on any releases. It’s solely profits and constantly growing and increasing and evolving.”
You’ve got some really interesting artists on the label, such as GoGo Penguin and Nat Birchall.
“Yeah, Nat’s been a good friend for a long, long time and when he showed me some of his music I just loved it, I really, really loved it. And recently he’s set up his own company and I totally support him and respect him for that. I’ve been really lucky that I live in a city that has a diverse range of musicians and working with Nat and GoGo Penguin and Mammal Hands has been just brilliant. So I’m really lucky that I’ve found them at the right stages of their careers.”
What plans do you have for the future with the label?
“There’s always going to be 2-3 releases a year, until I employ someone to work full-time on the label alongside me. There’s a new Mammal Hands album which I’m actually currently editing with the band. They just arrived at my house last night, so we’re just going through that, making sure it’s all ready for mixing and mastering. And then my new album comes out in October. We’ve got a couple of other projects. There’s no rules with genres, it’s just that classic thing of ‘if it’s good music then I’ll put it out’ so I’ve got two or three other artists that I’m working with that I like. We’re working on records but we’re not rushing them. Hopefully, we’ll just keep expanding.”
So you’re doing a tour to promote the new album, Into Forever?
“Yeah, I’m really, really lucky that I got the opportunity to take pretty much the full orchestra on tour. It’s got four string players, double bass, harp, koto, two vocalists (or one vocalist depending on the gig), saxophone, flute and trumpet. It’s a really nice ensemble, or orchestra or whatever you want to call it! It’s a really rare opportunity to go and see that line up because the cost of doing it is through the roof. It’s costing £20,000 to do nine tour dates.”
Are you funding that by yourself?
“No, luckily we’ve got some support from the Arts Council, Music Net and Band on the Wall. The dates at London, Bristol and Manchester are really strong, strongholds for the record label and for me. So they’re all pretty much set to sell out. But then I wanted to break out of just doing cities and getting to more interesting places. So that’s the reason why we chose some of the other tour dates. I think it’s going to be really good to branch out into new territory. It should be good.”
I used to live in Manchester when I was a student. I lived in Didsbury.
“That’s where I live.”
You did an album called Fletcher Moss Park, which was the park near my house that I used to go to.
“It’s a beautiful park. I wanted to make music outside of my house (and not be a bedroom producer/composer) so I went and sat and wrote the whole of Fletcher Moss Park in the actual park. I sat on the benches near the cafe at the top of the park. It’s so nice to go and write like that and have somewhere that’s right on my doorstep. It’s great.”
So tell us a bit about how you go about composing music. Where do you start and where do you get inspiration?
“There’s lots of different directions. Nearly all the music is composed either my laptop or piano. And occasionally I’ll write from the trumpet as a starting point, just to give me a different angle but in general it tends to start with a bass line or a chord sequence on the piano and then I develop that and it evolves from there. In terms of inspiration, I travel quite a lot and I’ve had a lot of influence from the East, from Japanese culture, sounds and scales and stuff that have inspired me quite a lot. I spent quite a lot of time in Japan in 2005 when I had a flat there in Osaka. That sort of stuff has had a long term influence on me. A sort of feeling and a mood that continues to stick in my mind about that place and that period in my life. And also in meditation. I do a lot of meditation, Buddhist and Indian meditation. I try and bring in that meditative quality to the music: nice chilled-out positiveness.”
You’re performing at St. Mary in the Castle, Hastings on Wednesday 28th October.
“I’ve never actually been to the venue, but I’ve seen photos of it and it looks absolutely amazing. So I’m really looking forward to it. And then we’re at Union Chapel after that which is pretty special as well.”
For more information:
Matthew Halsall and the Gondwana Orchestra appear at St. Mary in the Castle, Hastings on Wednesday 28th October, 2015.
[Cover photo of SJM October 2015 designed by Stuart Russell, photograph by Anabel Alegre]