By AFG Correspondent Julie Skaggs
“GO DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF!”: Matt Gilmour’s journey into The Grey
Last year saw the release of the debut album by guitarist Matt Gilmour – the son of David and Ginger Gilmour – and I was offered the opportunity to interview him about the album and other musical considerations. As his album exhibits, Matt is an adept and engaging guitarist, singer and songwriter, and currently leads Patient Wolf, an Austin-based ensemble with whom he is also performing and recording (their debut EP, Live @ Orb Studios, is available on Soundcloud). Matt is also one of the most down-to-earth, thoughtful, and refreshingly sincere people I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, my thanks to him for being so generous with his time and patient with my numerous questions.
Produced and engineered by Steppenwolf guitarist Danny Johnson, The Grey is an earnest document of various influences – primarily folk and blues – with lyrics which veer towards social commentary and personal epiphany. I decided, instead of the traditional album review, that Matt and I would engage in a track-by-track discussion of the album as well as other subjects. And yes, we do discuss that other guitar-playing Gilmour too.
Part I: The Grey, track-by-track
This has such a great blues riff/hook – did the song start out that way?
Yep, the main guitar riff is what started that song. Though I find for me it’s always lyrics first. In the sense that I write too much music to handle, and the songs never truly become something until they get linked with lyrics. You can only travel at the speed of your slowest man, and I write lyrics slower then I write music!
When I started my previous band The Acoma with my good friend Kyle Lake, I was predominately obsessed with folk music: Nick Drake and Jeff Buckley, to name two of my primary influences of the time. He introduced me properly to the blues, and we became obsessed together. From that moment on my focus was blues-based, even after the eventual passing of that band. So yep, that song was definitely a tribute to part of where I come from musically.
It seems like it’s a tribute to a certain kind of songwriting, that classic bluesman “she done me wrong” kind of song. Or is it just a commentary on a particular kind of person?
The lyrics here do speak of a specific situation for me, however it is a situation that is not unique to me and I tried to phrase it more as a generalised view of that feeling so that it could apply to anyone going through the same thing. It is about how sometimes, what you love doesn’t love you back, and it hurts. By the time you have moved on, and recovered, it seems a common thing that – at that exact moment the person who rejected you comes back and suddenly wants what they wouldn’t/couldn’t give when you needed/wanted it – it usually seems that is the exact moment that it is too late.
In a nutshell the song is about twists of fate, and standing for what you believe in.
It sounds like there’s a really interesting effect used at the end, is it on both the guitar and the harmonica? Or am I only hearing something that sounds like a harmonica?
At the end the final is a harmonica, played into a Shure bullet mic that then went into a Pignose guitar amp. Which was mic’ed to a pre-amp, which then entered the desk. Danny Johnson who produced and engineered the entire album, actually played that part! I think It turned out great!
I really like the retro vibe of this one, was that intentional?
The riff for this, I had been playing with for absolutely years and years. I always liked the sound of it, but I never found the set of lyrics that seemed to fit to it. Then working with Danny, who is the guitarist for the epic band Steppenwolf, I noticed a similarity in the riff to the one in “The Pusher”, and I allowed it to fall more in that direction than a pure blues feel, because the riff actually follows a standard 12-bar blues progression. Once I had implemented that side a little more coherently, I begged Danny to do the lead for me! I mean, how amazing would that be?!? A song that is reminiscent of Steppenwolf, and actually has their guitarist playing lead guitar on it! He fortunately agreed and played something truly special.
I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank Danny for everything he has done for me.
I think it comes off well in a live setting (on the Patient Wolf EP), like it’s meant to be heard in a big space.
This one definitely seems to go down well live! It is certainly, in a live setting, one of the most commented-on songs.
The lyrics seem to be not only illustrating contradictions, but asking people to consider contradictions to solve their own problems.
It may seem silly, but that line from the Spiderman movies oddly have affected my lyric-writing quite heavily, “With great power comes great responsibility”, as such I find it very difficult to bring myself to sing about flippant things. If I want my voice to have weight, the words I am saying must have their own weight, beyond the commonplace of “he said, she said, I love you, you love me” stuff!
When you play this song on the EP it sounds more reggae whereas it comes off more blues/folk on the record – how did this one start out when you were writing it?
Funnily enough this song started on a mandolin. The part I was playing is what eventually became the baseline. I was just singing along to that to write the lyrics. So we actually just had to make up the chord progression around it. So it just came out the way it came out. Danny, being very heavily rock and blues-based would obviously take it that way, with the instruments surrounding it. I suppose that in this one case I think I just heard it in a reggae way. So when I put it to my new band to play, I just did it that way…. haha!
Is that dobro I’m hearing?
Yes it was a Dobro at the end, doubled with a 12-string!
You use the phrase “days like these” in more than one song, does it have a particular significance to you?
The line “on days like these” is a reference to my own internal monologue. “You cannot change a person, you can only change yourself! You do not have time to waste, Today is the day! Only boring people get bored, GO DO SOMETHING WITH YOURSELF!”
It seems like you use the phrase “let’s put a smile on that face” satirically, just like people perceive clowns in a way which isn’t always necessarily humorous.
The phrase “put a smile on that face” was a direct reference to a scene in The Dark Knight, where the Joker (played by Heath Ledger) described how he got the scars on his face. It is definitely satirical.
The 27 comes directly from The 27 Club, a group of musicians who, if you believe the fables, sold their souls for talents/success. All of whom mysteriously passed away at the age of 27. The whole song is a tribute to what entertainers put themselves through for the pleasure of others, often at the detriment of their own lives and health – e.g. Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, Robert Johnson, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin. The list goes on. Even though he is not a musician, I find it worth noting that Heath Ledger also died at 27!
Now that you mentioned The 27 Club, the lyric makes perfect sense to me; I guess I was thinking more in terms of what clowns signify in songs. It’s interesting because I remember thinking – when I found out Scott Weiland had died – he had mentioned in his memoir that he thought he might end up in there too. Or at 37, or 47. It’s tragic, of course, but I also wonder if some people who experience fame so young might simply become tired at a certain point. And then it becomes a matter of how do you deal with being weary in your soul. But now I get the sense that those young creative geniuses, they sometimes have to don a mask just to make it through the day.
Having a mask, it seems, goes hand in hand with being human. Everyone wears multiple masks on a daily basis. Who you are, when you speak to your boss on the phone. Or the person you love, both can come out significantly different. Businesslike and serious versus softer and caring, complete tone and attitude changes. Are these not just two examples of the thousands of masks people wear? There as many reasons why people wear them, for some it is defence.
This one is interesting to me because it’s ska – which you don’t hear so much anymore – what made you decide to go with that style?
This song was one of the few I had written before I left England. I went to New Zealand with a good friend of mine to go spear-fishing for a couple of months and to get my chops back in guitar… I wrote it on a loop pedal just before leaving, while practicing that up/offbeat reggae strumming. It was something my first band mate Kyle had said to me near the end of our friendship – that I should work on perfecting the simple parts of a song without trying to dominate a song, i.e. make myself a part of the band and not make the band about me. He suggested upstroke reggae progressions would be a good place to start. They are a good way to remove your ego from the situation. Play simple and play it right. I took his advice to heart.
Often the things I write come from making mistakes while practicing something I do want to write. Ironically I find it funny that modern education punishes you for making mistakes. When in reality, I find the only thing we learn is from mistakes. No wonder people are so unsatisfied with modern education. Every one of my songs started as a mistake. So yep I wanted to do a reggae song here, however when you put it, to a rock drum beat, it somehow became ska.
Did you decide to go with a female voice for counterpoint to fit that style or did you want to evoke a certain kind of musical association?
I probably shouldn’t mention that, the female high voice was actually, Danny’s wonderful wife Cathy Johnson harmonised by Danny and I…it seems I can get my voice a bit higher than expected. The reason for it being there was a bit more mundane i suppose, depending on the way you look at it. We were just trying to find a way to get the hook, to have a little more bait on it.
The sound effects at the end, did you record that on Danny’s property?
All the samples used on my album were recorded on my iPad, using GarageBand through a Apogee condenser mic, in different places around the world. The bugs were recorded in Texas at Danny’s ranch. The rain samples used later in the album, were a combination of rain in London (on the day the song was written), rain from New Zealand, and a thunderstorm in Texas, again at Danny’s house.
This seems like a really personal song, it seems like you’re the main character in the lyrics, but also you sound like your dad on the solo, in your choice of tone (you might disagree with that, of course).
You’re right, it is pretty hard to avoid sometimes, I grew up listening to him play, I would find it weirder if I never ended up sounding like him sometimes. Just like I cannot look in the mirror without seeing him, nor watch any footage of him when he was younger without thinking… “I don’t remember doing that…. hmmm.” Parents have a tendency to rub off on their children. I cannot really go there without mentioning, that what I look like, some of my sound, and inadvertently some of my drive I have my father to thank for. But for everything else of who I am, including my morals, my sense of right and wrong, honour and happiness, I owe primarily to my mother, also my brothers and sisters, who have always guided me when I needed it.
I am the main character in this song, however anyone else mentioned is not who I said it is. They are referencing actual people. But I like to keep who I’m writing about private generally so I hide the truth!
But it has a really interesting torch song kind of feeling with the sax, it’s very dark.
The sax on this is one of my favourite parts of the album. It was played by my cousin Nick Keegan, and what a wonderful tone he has. He lives in England so I had to send the rough mixes of the songs over to him, and he went to a friend’s house to lay down the sax parts, and emailed them back to us to lay into the masters. It was a fun multi-continental experience! He just got married! Congrats Nick dude! Much love!
Given this is such a historically significant Celtic folk song, why did you want to cover it? I do like the troubadour kind of feel you have in the vocal, it seems like that’s where you tend to go as a vocalist – you’re like a troubadour/folk singer in terms of your range and your phrasing.
It is a rather random story, why I chose this song. As a child, my favourite movie as a child was a World War II-era movie called Memphis Belle. I have always loved history, it is my favourite subject to study. Everything you need to know about anything, can be found in history… give or take! Anyways, in that movie there is a party, some balloons fall from the sky… generally… it just looked like a fun time! I could understand actually wanting to dance to that type of thing, much more than the modern options we were being presented with… (Spice Girls region of time). One of the crew members was convinced to go sing onstage (played by Harry Connick Jr.) and he covered “Danny Boy.” I remember always loving that song and could never find it recorded. Even in the movie, it cuts after the first chorus to another scene. I always wanted that song, so I decide to do it myself… however it came out more of a ballad sung by some English wannabe Frank Sinatra…. haha! I assume that aspect of the voice was what you were pointing out by the troubadour reference… Nevertheless it was a fun experiment!
It seems to intentionally segue into “Half Inch,” are they in the same key, those songs?
The segue happened intentionally, I realised “Half Inch’”s progression was quite similar to “Danny Boy,” so I transposed it into the same key. Now they just flow into other… some people didn’t even realise I was onto another song… Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Does it matter? I enjoyed it!
It’s easy to discern from your lyrics that social commentary is important to you, is it easier for you to write those kind of lyrics rather than something more metaphorical or commonplace?
No, I wouldn’t say I find it easier. It is definitely more challenging to sing about something of import and make it sound musical. Particularly in a time when the masses seem to only want to see what is directly in front of their noses, and take little-to-no interest to the powers around them that shape their lives. I try to use as much metaphor as I can, but sometimes I prefer to cut straight to the point. So yes, I personally find writing lyrics about more commonplace, day-to-day things, a little uninteresting to me. (Not that corrupt officials and being mistreated by the institution that is there only to protect you, isn’t commonplace…)
Back to where I was before I go off on another tangent! With lyric writing, I took a lot of inspiration from Nick Drake, who I see more as a poet than a lyricist. Which has certainly caused some disdain for my writing style, but it also caused some love!
Oscar Wilde said:
Diversity of opinion about a work of art shows that the work is new, complex, and vital
When critics disagree the artist is in accord with himself.
We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it.
The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
When you’re writing social commentary, do you feel it’s more important to be succinct with your imagery, do you believe it will be more effective that way?
People are so PC these days that everyone has to beat around the bush to get anything said, let alone understood. I think it was Einstein who said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Our current social structures will tell you many, many ways how not to refer to many things. But there are no guidelines then for how to refer to things. I spend a fair amount of time completely oblivious how to properly describe a lot of things as you may offend people. Of course they can’t print guidelines because then that would become the new offensive word. No one seems to be able to accept what they are? Why is it a bad thing that some people act and look different to others. It is our diversity which is what makes things special. I personally would like to stop worrying about who said what and start trying to understand each other a little better and see that different is good. We might then notice, and I mean actually notice to the point where we actually do something about it. How truly good some people have it at the expense of a much larger truth of bad education and poverty. What is the point in living if you focus so much on killing and not the things that make life worth living?
We live in a brighter modern day world where everything is advancing at an unbelievable rate, socially and economically. The good and the bad have only gotten better at their game, and the donkeys continue to carry a growing load.
“C’est La Vie”
I really love this song; it’s got a great chorus and I like how the lyrics are not only social commentary but life lessons too, and I like how you changed the arrangement on the EP so that it’s more of a moody rock song.
It has been a special journey, this song. Lyrically, for me I see it is one of my actual successes. When I started up my new band Patient Wolf we tried playing the song as it was written on the album… it just wasn’t meshing with the sound we were creating the way it was. It needed a bit of a rewrite, as such it was the first project of writing as a group that we were all truly involved in. The EP we have on our site has the newer version, as opposed the one on my album. It has more lyrics added for the second chorus section. The lyrics for that section and the chords for the verse were written by my keyboardist Jared Pena. Where as I wrote the chords for the section where he sings, and the lyrics I sing… so it was collaborative. It was a cementing moment, watching the first few takes unfold. As our housemates all started looking in through the door.. we all sensed we were onto something!
You and your sister have a great blood harmony kind of vibe with your singing on the chorus.
My sister Alice sang those harmonies for me and she knocked it out of the park, it is funny how easy it is for family to come together and perform with each other. That process was similar to how we got the sax onto “Runaway Blues,” we sent the roughs over to England and she went to her friend’s to record… oddly enough the stems she sent back also had the bleed from the cans coming through.. which is why it was layered in a little softer than I would’ve hoped.
What’s the sound effect at the beginning, and is that mandolin I’m hearing?
It was one of the samples I recorded on my iPad I mentioned before. Also yes that is the same Gretsch mandolin that I wrote “27 Clowns” on!
This seems like the most appropriate time to mention that Patient Wolf have spent the last couple of weeks in and out of Bubble Studios in Austin, being produced by Chris “Frenchie” Smith, who has taken this song to a whole new level! We were introduced to him by my good friend Christopher Messina, who has opened a lot of doors for me since arriving and generally been an all-round dude to someone who he really didn’t have to be if he didn’t want to! Chris and his brother Barak are both extremely talented musicians. They play guitar and drums consecutively. Chris has a great project going at the moment called Armstrong Leigh, with his friend Michelle Armstrong, who gig mostly out of Austin and LA. Barak and his band (Hour Band) recently played with us at Spider House Ballroom in Austin, along with headliners Reason to Rebel. You should check them all out!
We have put “Half Inch” through a similar set of treatments that “C’est La Vie” received. And a new song called “Custom Gauge.” It will be those three songs on our new EP we are working on. I look forward to sharing them! They aren’t quite ready yet, though!
I think the last three songs form a suite of sorts and it is just fantastic, I absolutely adore this part of the album – I’m glad you decided to go with that particular sequencing. Do they seem to you to be thematically-linked as well?
Those three were definitely designed to go together! I was very impressed by (something I am not alone in I’m sure) how Dark Side of the Moon managed to tie together… almost like it was just one 43-minute song the entire album. It is a large part of that album’s success. I was hoping as an experiment to recreate as much of that vibe as I could. At the time I did not have the skill required to do it all the way through, though. Who knows… next time!
These three songs are all in some ways about loss: “Mule,” the loss of integrity of leadership, and how that means that for the whole society beneath, is just plain loss. “The Rain” is about a personal loss of mine. I wrote it the day I lost the woman I loved. It wasn’t about her so much as about the stupidity of how that situation ended. It is something that will pain me for the rest of my life. “Coda Nocturne” is about loss, at the end of things, With emphasis on the melancholic view, that the end of things only means the beginning of something else. The actual definition of coda being “something that ends and completes something else.” And nocturne, because anything to do with night always seems implies that the day is coming, to me.
I really love how mysterious and atmospheric this song is, but also there’s a lot of space, and it’s such a compelling riff and melody. I think you sound particularly good singing in a lower register, like that’s your natural range.
That eastern vibe is something I have always loved. I spent six months in India jamming with lots of musicians, jambes and tablas flying all over the place! Jeff Buckley, being an influence of mine, mentioned on multiple occasions being a huge fan of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, a wonderful musician from Pakistan, who heavily influenced his vocal style. I wanted to gain a little experience in that area…I mean, anytime a band does something like that I am instantly absorbed… no matter the band doing it (“Pay the Man” by Offspring and “Hong Kong” by Gorillaz as a couple of examples). It is just too hypnotic and powerful a style of music to not be utilised…especially when you then mix Eastern and Western. The band Tinariwen sums that up for me perfectly!
Lyrically, is this just a general indictment of those in power, or are you referring to a specific person who “drives the mule,” as it were.
The lyrics in this case were more of a generalised set towards people who seek power, it seems too common a trait that people who want power, are in no way suited to have it…and people who disdain power are the exact type who should have it…and people who disdain power are the exact type who should have it. People forget that governments are meant to serve their people and not the other way round.
I also wanted to say that I love this particular couplet:
It’s a service to be in charge,
not a privilege for those at large.
It’s important to remind everyone that public office is a service, I believe very few people realize that anymore, so I really appreciate you just stating it plainly like that.
I am not sure I have the right to remind anyone of anything. People will continue to live there lives in the best way they know how. All you can do is try to live well and lead by example and then hope others see some merit to it. But yes public office is supposed to be a service for the people.
It seems there’s an obvious Floydian evocation, that’s what I love about it, I particularly enjoy how it sounds like Meddle-era. Your vocal makes me think of your dad singing “Fearless,” for example. Is it meant as a tribute, or did it seem like just the right type of atmosphere for the song?
This song is highly personal to me, so personal I hadn’t even noticed how similar it is to Floyd until you mentioned it. It is in no way a tribute, at least intentionally, to them! When I wrote it, it was raining outside the window in London. The rain was laced all over all the tracks, it was so loud, I couldn’t get the mics to not pick it up and I didn’t want to, it was reminiscent of the tears falling down my face.
The recording done at Danny’s was trying to recreate the day that happened. Oddly enough it rained for the entire week we were recording the song…true story!
Lyrically it seems to evoke the opposition of innocence and experience, that we can’t occupy both states at the same time, we have to choose, or the passage of time will choose for us.
What you said to me was probably better then any explanation I thought of so far…thank you for that!
This is such a beautiful piece – do you consider yourself to be equally drawn to both piano and guitar, when it comes to writing and playing?
No, I definitely do not find myself equally drawn to piano and guitar equally! I am a guitarist and a singer, who dabbles in many other instruments badly! That piece I have been working on for ten years, every time I found myself near a piano (which was maybe twice a year), I would try and figure out how to play the chords I knew on the guitar. Over time it just naturally formed into a sequence I would extend upon next time I was at a piano.
When I played that the first time to Danny, which he recorded, it was honestly very difficult to hold time and to get it right as I’m very bad at the piano! Even when I got it, Danny was not particularly a fan. Neither was anyone else I played it for. “It sounds a bit…juvenile,” was the defining statement of the time. Well, I insisted…and many many….many…hours later, Danny the magician he is, had managed to weave everything else you hear around it. I can only imagine how hard it was to follow, let alone with a full symphony! Well, it think it stands on its’ own two feet now. Though if you were to hear us play it, I wouldn’t be the one playing the piano.
Part II: related topics
So how did you and Danny divide up the playing on the album? Or was it a matter of just figuring out what worked for each song?
Well that was fairly simple, if it was an instrument I played, I got to do it for the album…i.e. guitars and vocals (other than Danny’s lead on “Contradictions”), Otherwise Danny played most of it. I did a few bass lines, Danny did a few. I did the tablas on “Mule Skinner,” Danny played the rest of the drums. All the MIDI keys and things were all Danny. There were a couple of spots where neither of us felt particularly experienced and we both had a go and chose which came out best. For example, the harmonica solo at the end of “Tumbleweed,” Danny’s playing is who we went with there. Danny did all the mixing, and then it was sent off to James to master! We just tried to let whoever was best at their job, do what they were best at. Other than guitars, of course, it would be naive of me to think I was the stronger guitarist next to Danny who has many years experience on me! However it was my album…so I hope I would be allowed the hubris of wanting to play the guitars on it!
What do you think was the greater contribution: Danny’s production savvy or his role as a mentor? Or are they equal in your mind?
I couldn’t even begin to think about a question like that. Both were equal! He somehow managed to get me to pull the proverbial finger out of my ass. As well as pulling a whole album out of me. Neither could have happened without the other. Both were essential parts in setting me on the path I am on today!
Did you learn something new about yourself as a guitar player working with Danny – given that he’s such a guru, as it were, being a fabled prodigy and then a guitar hero as his career went on.
Definitely, that I could play the lead guitar in the first place and also that I was actually a pretty good rhythm guitarist in my own right already. It’s amazing what a little positive reinforcement and confidence will do to a person. Danny treated me like a friend and an equal and it was nice to see how professionals do it.
What was it like to record in such a space which was removed from everyday concerns? Was the solitude of it useful to you, or isolating? I know some people prefer that kind of setting because it frees you from distractions.
I am a bit of a hermit in general… the women in my life have been continuously pointed about the fact that they wish I was more vocal with my feelings, and that I would go out and be more social. I’m quite capable of not being around somebody for one month to a year, then come back and the friendship being exactly where I left it. This, unsurprisingly, isn’t good enough for a lot of potential partners. So don’t get me wrong, I love to see my friends. Though the ones that end up being my closest friends for long periods of time tend to not need daily reminders that I care about them, because they know I do. I prefer to be constantly learning and doing something with my time, rather than be going out every night of the week drinking. Why spend five times the money so I can’t hear what you’re saying? Come round and play some chess/guitar/board games or let’s watch a movie/documentary. If somebody finds themselves likely to want go out drinking more than once a week, that’s ok… but we probably wouldn’t last as a couple for very long, and I’m sure there is someone out there who is better suited for you! So no it was definitely not a problem to be so isolated, it was what I needed for professional and personal reasons.
Independent releases don’t always have the benefit of professional mastering as yours does, how important did you deem James Guthrie & Joel Plante’s participation in the project to be in terms of the end result?
Each leg of a triangle is equally important in providing balance, good mastering is as important as good writing and producing. Just like Air, Food and Water, all are required to make something live well. It was a really special opportunity to work with some amazing people. Like James – who has always been a family friend and someone I have known all my life! Quite literally a god of the music industry. I couldn’t believe he was willing to work with me, and what he achieved with what we sent him…was nothing short of mind-blowing! Another person who I can never truly thank enough.
I really enjoy the CD booklet as a throwback to the kind of art which used to be on album sleeves, and I imagine you were trying to capture that vibe.
I remember moments during my childhood, where my dad would receive a box of test CDs to make sure everything was correct. It came with a little label at the top, “Not for sale.” He would often then give one to each of us, me and my other family members, to show off his newest work. They were always very professional-looking, always a lot of finesse to the packaging, it was a part of the project. Not just a cover, if you put that much effort into the music, why stop short at the packaging? So for me, I don’t see another way I could do it. I am an artist, I want to my work to have as much value as I can give it.
As there are a number of illustrations of your own included, did you want to be an illustrator at one time, or is drawing just something that you enjoy in addition to your music?
My mother introduced me to the visual arts at a very young age, also my first school was a Steiner school. My father has publicly expressed his dislike for the education I received at that school, which is why he moved me to a more conventional school when I was 11. From what I can remember, the Steiner philosophy is to focus a child’s education on creation. Obviously they get to math and reading, but it comes later than normal schooling. I dabbled in many instruments at that age, along with painting, speaking and even dance. That was what was promoted, an unconventional education for an unconventional person. Beyond that, I never really studied any musical subjects at school. I focused mainly on the sciences and the visual arts. So Maths/Physics/Photography/Graphic Design. Once I became obsessed with music, it became my focus. My other hobbies just became, well, hobbies! So yes, it’s just something I do on the side, along with photography, cooking and and studying history! I have a leather-bound book, with handmade paper I bought in India. That’s where all my art was done, and I am probably also a bit of a closet nerd!
I really love your mum’s painting which you chose, it’s so peaceful. What quality do you love best about her artwork?
It has a very organic human feeling, it touches on many aspects of life that are instantly recognizable and familiar. Though some of her work passes into what I suppose she would describe as from esoteric realms, a lot of it does not and is more based with humanity.
The landscape that you see first when you open the case was created by her. It was, I suppose, done as a commission (as were the other two by Jodie and Issey), as I suggested a Japanese-type landscape using the same color scheme. She is an established artist and was kind enough to oblige me. Her first book, Memoirs of the Bright Side of the Moon, was recently released. It is an enjoyable read by someone just setting out on her writing journey!
What do you want to tell us about the other artwork you chose?
The image of the birds for “Half Inch” was done by my oldest friend. Scarlett Raven, I have known her since we were toddlers! She grew up and has grown into a wonderful artist. You can check her material out at her website and I thoroughly recommend that you do!
The drawing on the back, on the outside of the CD, which is of a left-handed me playing the guitar, was done by another close friend of mine, Isabella Cotier. She is one of my favorite artists, her style is very individual and is attracting attention everywhere she shows it!
I really like the one used for “Mule Skinner” because it makes me think of Roger Dean (sort of).
This one was done by a close friend of mine, Jodie Broaders, who also recently got married! Congrats to you too, guys! It was a reference to Robert Johnson at the crossroads. With me sitting at my own crossroads in life. Big decisions to be made.
Given that most of your illustrations are of women, and I know you grew up surrounded by feminine energy, how would you say that aspect defines you as a person?
My sisters tell me that any girl would be lucky to have me, though I’m fairly certain that most sisters say that to their brothers… so I tend to take it with a pinch of salt!
I was a lazy boy, who grew into a lazy young man. I worked the bare minimum, and couldn’t believe that I didn’t have better. This is the way I am known to some people back home. Somehow over the last few years though, I have developed a drive I didn’t know I had. I rarely have an hour where I wonder what I could be doing, only trying to constantly juggle to try and fit things in. A late bloomer I suppose, but how feminine energy affected all of this, I honestly haven’t the foggiest.
I think the cover is a great visual pun: because the way you’re dressed means that you are also literally grey, I thought that was very clever. What does the title and that photograph mean to you from a symbolic perspective?
Well, it was a blue shirt, ha-ha, however making it grey was deliberate! The title is symbolic to me, “The Grey” is where my album came from – the journey to find my way out of a grey existence. The opposite of Yin & Yang. Have you ever turned the contrast on a black-and-white image down? Like really far. All the blacks and whites become grey. If we took all the contrast out of our lives everything would just be grey. It is the ups-and-downs that define us. Being too afraid of being hurt to try anything will mean you never find joy either. The song “Contradictions” is about just that. How too much or too little of almost anything will kill you! You need salt to maintain correct blood pressure, you need water to live, too much or too little will kill you! (There are exceptions of course…I can’t imagine too little smoking would kill you.). The photo was taken by a professional photographer in London named Daniel Sutka. I was doing a little modelling at the time, and my agency sent me over to him to get some tests shots done. I never really did much afterwards in that field (other than a couple of images standing next to Emma Watson for a Burberry campaign, she seemed nice from the short time I worked with her), so that set of photos went unused. Daniel was kind enough to let me use it for my cover.
Part III: Patient Wolf and parental influence
In putting together the band, did you turn to musicians already known to you? Or were you seeking out players with a specific knowledge and feel?
My band, quite literally, walked through my door one-by-one over the course of a few weeks. No choice or thought was given to it. Fate or happenstance provided me with the exactly right set of musicians that I needed, when I needed them. A friend of mine introduced me to a friend of hers (Jared) and got us to jam. I had just finished my album and was deciding whether to go back to the UK or not. Jared then brought round a friend of his from work, Jason, to play the bass. Jared then also brought Danny round a few weeks later. Danny and Jared had played together a few years before in a band and had known each other a long time. The rest is history!
Tell us something about each of the guys that you think we should know.
Well firstly, they have become some of my closest friends since coming to Austin. We spend a good half of our waking hours a week together. We all have our different mindsets which is what creates our sound. It is undeniable what they bring to the table. I mean my parts didn’t change from my album to the band. Yet the sound is completely different! In a great way!
Jared Peña, our other vocalist and keyboardist and co-writer, comes from more of a Soul/Pop background. A master of vocal melodies! Very well-spoken and is a boon to me, always coming up with great ideas and implementing them effectively. Getting to know him I found him to be fairly shy and reserved (which will be a surprise if you have seen him headbanging on stage). Which seems like a long way off now, as I now, in no way… see him as shy!
Danny Coco, our drummer, comes from a heavier rock background in music, which is where we get all those great fills from and our heavier sound! He is big sweetheart, who always has a smile on his face and is ready to try and cheer us up on a bad day! A lot of pondering and care goes into his thought process, which can lead to frustrations when others go a different way. Though I’m sure the exact same thing could be said for the rest of us!
Jason Blackmond, our mighty bass player, comes from more of a jazz-based background. He is great fun to jam with, he has a way of reinventing what you think you want. He tends to be the quieter one of the band, not needing to voice every opinion all the time, but waits until the opportune moment to say it. Which tends to cause the other three of us to stop arguing and listen. He is the rock of this band!
All three have become some of my best friends and we spend most of our waking hours together, when we aren’t at work!
Instead of asking why the name was chosen, I want to know what you believe it symbolizes about the band as a collective.
Patient Wolf is, I suppose, exactly what you would think it might means I guess. Knowing the correct moment to strike and using the exact right amount of effort to do it. Not the bare minimum mind you, but the right amount. I have heard of situations where people keep trying to mix and re-track over and over, till you suddenly find yourself many many years down the line with nothing finished. Sometimes it’s best to know when to move on and call something finished and then move to the next project. I mentioned before that some people have called me quite quiet and I don’t express my feelings well out loud (that is what my music is for); I don’t see it that way, I just don’t like to respond why my thought process is clouded by emotion, e.g. If i get very angry, I go completely silent and walk away from whatever sparked that to happen. Not because I am repressing it or that I don’t want to deal with it. I’ll just come back awhile later, when I have calmed down and acknowledge everything then. Once something said in anger has been said, it can never be unsaid. Do you trust yourself to always say the right thing when your vision is clouded by red?
In listening to the EP – which I really enjoyed – I think that you guys play off of each other, rather than the way most bands play more or less together, creating this big sound. I think your sound has more to do with how you explore the space around each other, and where you fit, and interlock, but then maybe come apart again at some other moment.
That was our live EP we did with the talented Matt Novaesky of Orb Studios (and the band Blue October). All four songs were done live in one day! We spent a lot of time working on the dynamics of the sound. starting as a jam project. We practiced and got to know each together for eight months before anyone even heard us! It gave us some time to grow into an entity rather than just an idea. Get to know each other, and where we are strong and weak. We tend to know the spots where somebody is likely to make a mistake and are prepared for it, which means that the crowd tends to never notice because we cover for each other. It is a brotherhood, Patient Wolf, more than a band. Look out for your pack, everything bad in history can in some way be attributed to repression, isolation, segregation or impatience. Fight at the correct time, care for those around you and stand up for what you stand for.
The new project you’re working on: tell me how you feel it’s going, where is it coming from in a creative sense?
It feels like the best thing I have ever had the pleasure of working on! Musically and dynamically, It feels like we have stepped up to the next level. We are recording at Bubble Recording with the fantastic Chris “Frenchie” Smith. He has a wealth of experience and knowledge that was invaluable to helping us develop our sound and transmitting that to tape, And yes I mean real tape. It feels like we have suddenly stepped out of the Seventies! It’s strange, I find myself constantly surprised that I’m on the record! We have one of the final mixes currently and are waiting on the other two! We did “C’est La Vie,” like it was on the Live EP, but all tracked out. We also did a revamped version of “Half Inch” from my album and a new song called “Custom Gauge.” (We let a little of our darker side come out in these!) When it’s all mastered, it’ll be out and will speak for itself!
Since this is an interview for a Floyd fansite, I have to ask you about your own relationship with Pink Floyd.
I had to come to terms with who I am, if I hadn’t I would have lost my mind a long time ago.
Here’s the inevitable question, but as you answer it I want you to disconnect yourself from who you are and just answer as a fan. What is your favorite Pink Floyd song and album and why?
“Pigs (Three Different Ones)” or “Echoes.” I like the message behind “Pigs,” assuming I understand it correctly it’s about James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher and Mary Whitehouse. But I prefer to ignore that story and just let them apply as they sound to our current political situation. I personally think it works better now than it did when it was written. “Hey you Whitehouse, charade you are!”. “Echoes” is some of the best music I’ve ever heard. I guess I’d have to say Meddle for the album! “One Of These Days” is the song that is my first memory of hearing a Floyd song for some reason. I was very young, either 3 or 7, I think, depending on which tour, and I have no idea what stadium I was at. It’s just a short memory of walking in (holding someone’s hand), it really is a fuzzy memory. Not that it matters, as I just remember walking in hearing that song. It was an indescribable experience to hear that bassline pumping like that, obviously I had never heard anything like it before. Sensory overload, I suppose, is the closest I can come to describing it. Entering the full stadium around the time it drops off a bit, before kicking off fully. Surreal…
The primary significant quality of your dad’s playing is – to me – that he’s an emotive intuitive kind of player. Would you agree, or do you have a different perspective on it?
Definitely, his primary means of communicating emotion is music!
And does that quality – whatever you think it is – inform your playing too, through cultural osmosis of a sort?
Do you not pick up the mannerisms and sayings of your closest friends and family over time? It is just another thing that can rub off on you, I suppose, like onions and awful dad jokes, that also rubbed off on me….I can’t help it, it seems. So yes, undoubtedly he influences me, he is my father.
Speaking of your mum’s book, it is a narrative of her life with your dad and your family, set within the greater milieu of Pink Floyd, as well as her own artistic and spiritual journey. Are there aspects of your parents which were revelations to you as you read it? Was it a bit of a surreal experience to read about yourself?
It was certainly a little surreal, I had heard random stories about the family I come from while from growing up. But it was interesting to be able to order them into a timeline. Also, it felt a lot more real than hearing them as a child, reading them from her perspective. She certainly made me feel like I was there floating on her shoulder as she was living her life, and being able to bring you into a story like that is what writers strive for. I got some small sense of what my parents were like, when they were my age. It is amusing to see which mannerisms and attitudes that I managed to pick up without realising it. Something one of my favourite “students of history” (as he calls them, rather than historians), a man called Dan Carlin – who does a show called Hardcore History, a show I am an avid follower of (PS: On the off chance you ever read this…I apologise for me being a fanboy on your website, Dan, and for misquoting you!) said something along the lines of: “The further you go back into history the less colour it has, finding the personal accounts of people writing during those time periods has a way of adding colour to an otherwise black-and-white image.” This book managed to add colour to my own history, ironically this thought process made the title make a very clever sort of sense to me. I am very proud of her for braving to write the book, it is never easy to talk about your life honestly, especially if writing a book about your life which also includes a famous band. Can be a bit of a touchy subject for some people. But the only way I could possibly see it is that everyone has the right to tell their story as they lived it. With no exclusions, it is their life!
You’re based in Austin now, which – much like Nashville – is a city which seems to revolve entirely around the musician community. How do you feel it is conducive to what you’re doing and the way in which you want to live?
Austin is a very welcoming city, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my time here so far. It is a bustling hive of activity, filled to the brim with musicians! Which has its’ pros and cons. Pros being, there is a lot of vibrance and there is music on every corner all the time. There is always something to find and be excited by. Cons being, little fish in a big pond. Competing against a thousand bands in London doesn’t seem as drastic as it does here. You’re competing against the same amount of bands, they’re all just compacted into a much smaller space. Though success here will speak for itself.
Having been in a few bands, do you think all aspects of being a musician are equally important, or do you prefer one particular aspect more? Like, do you love playing/writing/recording/performing equally, or do you prefer writing to playing, or playing to recording?
All aspects being equally important and what I prefer, are two separate questions to me. Different aspects fill different interests. I had a bit of a computer game problem when I was younger, and though I find performance and gaming to fill a lot of the same mental processes. Timing, hand/eye coordination, adaptability, and not losing your cool under pressure. I have replaced that with recording. I have an electronic music side project, and playing around with MIDI recordings on that seems to have replaced that old gaming habit with something similar, but which is actually productive and gives me something real to be proud of at the end. People’s greatest strengths are often their greatest weaknesses, it works both ways. If you consider a weakness, there is always a way to flip it on its head to becoming a strength, that is what defines you as a human being. As I am a bit of a recluse, performance fills the social side of my life, of being involved with other minds and being a part of something greater then myself. Writing is how I deal with life, whereas playing is just pleasure, doing something that makes your brain switch on like a light bulb. Compelled to the point where you lose the ability to stop yourself from working through that idea. It is satisfying, rewarding and addictive, as well as the main cause of my lack of sleep…
As to what I think is important…categorically, public performance is the most important aspect. Something my dad once told me is: when playing at home on your own you just learn. When you’re practicing with a group, your learning rate goes up about four times. Whereas performing in front of people will increase that to ten times. It is where you see if your writing works, it’s where you learn to be a performer and not just a musician. Which are two skills. When it comes down to it, I see the music as only half the battle. There are a million unbelievably talented, well-practiced bands out there that truly deserve to be recognised, and yet they don’t have it. Why? Being practiced and having good songs is assumed, why are you wasting your time doing anything, if you don’t want to work hard at it and hence become good at it? The other 50%, as far as I can tell is networking, networking and networking…oh, and confidence. All of which happen to govern a band’s success.
Most musicians want to reach the widest audience they can with what they do – where do you feel Patient Wolf should be in terms of that overall goal?
I would like to reach the largest audience that enjoys what I enjoy. Speaking only for myself, I write songs to get things out that I am feeling or that I otherwise am unable to. If I am fortunate enough that can help bring a little joy into someone’s life by sharing my soul with them, that is wonderful. It is a very happy byproduct of my search for happiness. If it turns out that no-one appreciates it, I will still do it. Because I love it, and I find myself coming back to that Oscar Wilde quote:
“We can forgive a man for making a useful thing, as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely. All art is quite useless.”
The Grey is available for purchase from Matt’s website:
AFG wishes to thank Matt Gilmour and Julie Skaggs
Bonus interview with Danny Johnson, producer/engineer of The Grey
Who better to produce an album by a guitar hero scion than another legendary guitar hero? In the case of Matt Gilmour’s debut The Grey, Danny Johnson – a man of multiple talents – was absolutely the right choice. Drawing on decades of music industry wisdom and experience he provided a wonderful guide for Matt, helping him to shape his songs and find his way through the musical landscape of the resulting album. Johnson’s expertise in production and engineering imbues The Grey with adventurous textures as well as professional polish, and a mix which showcases the best aspects of Matt’s abilities.
As someone who began his career as a prodigy – discovered at age 18 by guitar legend Rick Derringer – over the ensuing years Johnson has embodied a number of roles beyond that of a lead guitarist; with singing, songwriting and production in support of his own work and that of numerous other rock and blues luminaries. In addition to his ongoing solo career, Danny is currently a member of John Kay & Steppenwolf as well as the owner and operator of Cedar Creek Studios, a residential recording facility in rural Texas.
Johnson kindly provided an inside look at the making of The Grey to accompany my track-by-track review with Matt, with many thanks to Danny and his wife Cathy for their time.
Over the course of your career you have embodied that classic “guitar slinger” and rock star persona in performing and recording with so many great artists and bands as well as your solo work, but always in demand for a variety of projects. How did you come to add engineering and production to your resume?
In my early years I worked with a lot of great producers and engineers, just to name a few; Robin Hood Brians (ZZ Top), Jack Douglas (Aerosmith, John Lennon), Tom Dowd (Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Eric Clapton), Jimmy Iovine (Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Nicks), Ritchie Podolor (Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night and the West Coast 60s movement), Eddie Van Halen, Michael Wilk (John Kay & Steppenwolf). In the interim of working with this level of talent it was only natural I absorbed a great deal and was influenced by these guys. I began to produce and engineer music over time enjoying creative freedom.
In terms of performance duties on the album, how did you and Matt divide it up? I’m assuming you did most of the programming, for example? And Matt told me you played the solo on “Contradictions.”
Matt played all guitars except for the solo on “Contradictions” which I did as Matt told you. Matt did all vocals except of course the female back-ups. Matt played all other instruments except for the saxophone, bass, some of the keyboard parts. I would like to add that Matt came up with all the effects that he recorded such as rain, wolves, etc.
The story I’ve heard is that Ginger Gilmour gave a copy of Matt’s demos to Isaac Ian and he passed it along to you. When you first heard his work, what were your impressions? Did Matt seem to possess a lot of raw potential evident from first listen?
Yes I thought Matt had a lot of potential. For me it was like he had a band and they were good and had a sound but they had broke up so I focused on his solo stuff. Matt was in writing mode and sent me several developing pieces. I picked up on the fact he was in creative mode and was inspired and excited to receive him here in Texas to provide a creative environment to allow Matt to complete his record.
Inspired to receive Matt I laid out various instruments I felt would inspire him further such as a mandolin, dobro, jembe, acoustic guitars and he started writing new songs using them. Living outside of Austin, Matt seemed to migrate to a bluesier Texas-meets-London kind of sound so he wrote a lot of the record here and we drew from Matt’s travels such as to India and other lands.
It was indicated to me that you provided a very creative environment for Matt, and I imagine you’d do the same for any artist you work with, but was unique about working with Matt in that way? And in what respect does having a residential studio like yours assist with that aim?
Having my own studio with more than 400 acres of family-owned land provided us the privacy we needed. Matt’s music is very personal and I tried to keep him from being distracted. Also having my own place with a guest room allows the artist to stay with me and allow work to begin without delay.
Due to the generation gap as I’m quite a bit older than Matt we decided to not work for the first week and spend time getting to know each other and what kind of music Matt liked. Also because we were strangers it was like going on a blind date and I don’t think the bedroom (studio) should be the first stop! Also without a money clock running and no deadline if we were making progress we’d take a break at times and have fun in order to encourage the creative flow.
Were you cognizant of possible comparisons which listeners might make between Matt and his dad?
We made an effort to not sound like Pink Floyd, because I think Matt wants his own sound although there were times I told him ‘Don’t fight it, it’s in your blood!’ I think of Matt as rock n’roll royalty and it was a great honor to work with him.
You are a bona fide guitar hero, and you were a prodigy – did you experience any deja-vu in the process of developing Matt’s songs?
Yes I did reminisce back to when I was a young boy like Matt, full of energy and excitement.
Matt has related to me that the process of developing “Coda Nocturne” was rather long and painful because it took a while to realize its’ potential. He said you really put a lot of work into making it into something grand and I’d love to know more about that specifically.
I believe that was one of the ones where Ginger earned the title of executive producer. It originally just had Matt playing our old upright piano and Ginger did not like it. Instead of asking Matt to drop it I went back in the studio and put every orchestral sound I could think of on it complete with gongs and timpani drums and remixed it and we lived happily ever after.
Independent releases don’t always have the benefit of professional mastering as Matt’s does, how important did you deem James Guthrie & Joel Plante’s participation in the project to be in terms of the end result?
In all my years of being in this business James Guthrie is the most professional, kind and talented man I have ever worked with.
As this is an interview for a Pink Floyd fansite, I have to ask if you’re a Floyd fan, and if so, what are your favorites in terms of eras/albums/songs.
Yes, I am a fan. Dark Side of the Moon…Wish You Were Here…David’s guitar playing…a bend that never ends…….
Photos courtesy of Danny Johnson’s official site
AFG wishes to thank Danny Johnson and Julie Skaggs