Matt Stevens (Solo, The Fierce And The Dead)

Matt Stevens rocking

Poignant, moving, genre-defying, unique, resourceful, inventive – just a few of the adjectives you come across as soon as you start delving into the musical world of Matt Stevens. He’s been called “a one man guitar orchestra” by Acoustic Magazine UK. “His music is increasingly hard to ignore,” said Classic Rock Presents Prog, he is “a singular voice speaking a new language and getting the message across with skill and fierce intelligence.” Reference points offered by reviewers include Brian Eno, John Martyn, Anthony Phillips, Yo La Tengo, Sigur Ros, Robert Fripp and even Radiohead.

Matt already has three solo albums under his belt, Echo (2008), Ghost (2010) and Relic (2011). He has recently opened for the likes of Barclay James Harvest, Fish, Touchstone, The Reasoning and Panic Room. He also plays in “instrumental rock band” The Fierce And The Dead, who recently toured the UK with Knifeworld and Trojan Horse on the Stabbing A Dead Horse tour.

It may or may not be ‘prog’ Jim, at least not as we know it, but Matt’s music is both ambitious and progressive. That’s what I think, anyway! We are grateful to Matt for taking the Words and Music Q&A.

Matt StevensHi Matt! For those who don’t know, tell us about the kind of music you play.
I do acoustic solo guitar stuff with a loop pedal. I also play in a very noisy instrumental rock band called The Fierce And The Dead. I do a lot of gigs!

A lot of artists these days seem to have multiple projects on the go, different bands, or solo work running alongside band work. How difficult is it to write for different projects concurrently? To what extent do you think your writing as a solo artist rubs off on the band and vice versa?
It works like this. Solo stuff is me and my ideas with production by my friend Kevin Feazey. The Fierce And The Dead stuff is often my ideas (or someone else in the band) put the through the filter of the band, their arrangement ideas, often adding new sections. The band is very collaborative and no one is in charge. It’s a true democracy, we know each other so well and very rarely argue (over music). Often by the time we finish there is very little of the original idea left.

Your music is often associated with ‘progressive’ or even ‘post-rock’? Do you think such labelling is helpful or limiting?
It depends on the person’s perception. If they think prog is godawful widdly neo rubbish then it’s a problem, but if they think prog is ambitious rock music like King Crimson or the Mahavishnu Orchestra then it’s great. The best prog is amazing. I have no problem with people calling us prog but if they are expecting Dream Theater then we’re not fit for purpose, not a lot of soloing or flash playing. It’s more about ensemble performance, composition and the songs. A lot of stuff that people say is ‘progressive rock’ I can’t stand, some of it is horrible derivative retro crap. Some of it is bloody wonderful. A mixed bag.

Post-rock is more tricky cause we like a lot of post-rock but it’s not a major influence. I prefer US punk stuff or jazz/rock or metal or indie rock. It annoys me when people compare us to post-rock bands we’ve never heard of, stuff that has no influence because we have never heard it.

Matt Stevens - spotlightIs it possible to say what music means to you?
It’s good for my mental health. Through playing I achieve a state of flow that makes me want to be alive. Those moments where music lifts you, that’s the best.

Who was the first artist to make an impression on you?
Guns N’ Roses, closely followed by Iron Maiden. Izzy and Slash and Adrian and Dave. Brilliant.

Can you tell us about an album, song or lyric that means a lot to you?
I like ‘I Didn’t Understand’ by Elliott Smith. It’s heart breaking and wonderful; very special musician.

An artist who has stayed with you over time?
Robert Fripp. I’ve followed him since I first heard Red when I was 15. I love the way he’s been brave all through his musical career. He’s taken risks. Brilliant.

What makes a gig special?
The connection between the band and the audience. Even if the sound is shit or you’re tired if you make that connection then it’s worth it. It’s not about the band, it’s about the experience of the crowd.

Your most notable gig as an artist?
The Lexington, London. 2012 the last date of the Stabbing A Dead Horse tour with Knifeworld, Trojan Horse and Fierce And The Dead. Close to a sell out crowd and it was just a wonderful gig. We all got on stage with Knifeworld. I cried. Very emotional end to a wonderful tour.

Your most memorable gig as a fan?
Slayer, Decade Of Agression tour maybe or Faith No More. Or Bob Mould from last year, that was really good, when he did Sugar’s Copper Blue album. I loved that one.

Your best encounter with an artist as a fan?
I’ve never really had that. I’m from Rushden and no one came there when I was a kid. We did meet Roddy Bottum and he was lovely. I met Jimmy Page once but I was too freaked out to be able to talk to him. I just kept thinking ‘Stairway To Heaven’ over and over again.

Your strangest encounter with a fan as an artist?
Most people are lovely and just want something signed or a photo. One guy wanted to take a photo but didn’t want to chat he just stared at me. That freaked me out a bit.

So, what do you say to a ‘rock star’ after you say hello?
If I meet a person I don’t really want to put them on a rock star pedestal cause I think thats already a socially awkward position and I’m quite a shy person really and socially awkward enough already.

The Fierce And The Dead On VHS coverSex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll – jaded stereotype or the meaning of life?
We drink. That’s it. We’re not rock and roll but we do drink.

Progressive rock – music for the many or music for the few?
It’ll always be niche unless you can have a crossover. Like Sigur Ros and the nature programs. That exposed them to a new audience, I think only a fluke like that would do that for us. We’re very very lucky to have the audience we have. As a conventional progressive rock band Fierce And The Dead aren’t really fit for purpose. We don’t do much flash playing for example, well not soloing anyway. We’re an instrumental rock band really.

What would you say to someone who thinks that progressive rock was killed by punk?
Well it wasn’t and the best punk bands took progressive elements anyway. Bad Brains loved the Mahavishnu and Dead Kennedys had a Zappa thing going. I love the good punk stuff and the good prog so they both were there for me.

What would you say to people who say that rock or the rock era is dead?
It isn’t, it’s just more niche. There is so much choice out there in the internet age, you can do really weird stuff like we do and still sell thousands of albums.

What kind of future do you see for progressive rock?
It need to actually progress or it doesn’t have one, well not outside those who want to enjoy nostalgia for the past. Not that there is anything wrong that, it just means without new stuff happening the music will die off with the generation that first heard it.

Matt Stevens Ghost coverOf everything you’ve written and recorded to date, of what are you most proud?
I like the last Fierce And The Dead EP ON VHS a lot and Ghost is my favorite of the solo stuff. But I’ll always be excited about the next project, the next thing. That’s what keeps me going, I’m not really into dwelling on the past.

And finally, what next for Matt Stevens and The Fierce And The Dead?
Solo gigs – 6th March Catch Bar London, 23rd March The Cluny Newcastle with Mike Mike Keneally and Godsticks, 11th May Celebr8 Festival Kingston, South London.

Fierce And The Dead Gigs – 16th March Y Prog Festival Sheffield, 4th May Electric Garden Festival Blackpool.

We’re working on a new Fierce And The Dead long player and I’m doing a solo EP. The new solo one is mostly acoustic and the Fierce And The Dead is quite different to the first one. I’m really excited about the future. And I want to do something with vocals.

More info at www.mattstevensguitar.com and www.fierceandthedead.com

Matt Stevens live

THANKS MATT!

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