One record that’s had extensive airplay in our home since it’s release in March of this year is Matt Creer’s ‘Leeward Tide’. Highly anticipated, the debut album from the Isle of Man based singer-songwriter reached number seventeen in the iTunes download charts on its day of release. It certainly didn’t disappoint…for me, it’s become one of my consistent ‘go to’ Sunday morning albums.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the record is the extent to which its warm, layered soundscape successfully invokes images of the rugged coastline that’s representative of the island on which it was recorded. When I met up with Matt and cellist Josephine Evans last month, this was one of the first things I wanted to ask them about:
“I don’t think I’d be making the same sort of music if I lived in a city” Matt reflects, “The island is thirty-five miles long by fifteen wide, so the sea is everywhere. The landscape’s beautiful, the mountains and the cliffs. Down the South of the island there are one thousand foot cliffs rising straight out of the sea. It’s breathtaking and it gets into your skin…I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Of course I like to get off and explore elsewhere, but you always come home. It’s a beautiful place to live.”
The authenticity of the record is enhanced by Matt’s use of Manx musicians, many who more typically perform traditional music. The result is an album with a contemporary feel, but that clearly tips it’s hat to traditional folk music…
“I’m very proud of the album” Matt affirms, “It’s the first record that I’ve done properly. It’s not a DIY record, it’s a studio album and I took my time with it. The guy who engineered it, Gypo Buggane, he’s a magician. I had all these sounds in my head, I knew exactly how I wanted it to sound. He could make that happen for me, so it was a really lovely creative process.”
“Then getting the other guys in to play the instruments that I couldn’t (worth mentioning that as well as vocals Matt played guitars, drums, percussion, trumpet, piano, mandolin, dulcetone and glockenspiel on the record!) was nice too. We were filtering out photos of the sessions onto social media and just getting people interested. We had photos of a full-size concert harp dominating this little studio…people were starting to think ‘I wonder what this record is going to sound like?’ Then people just kept buying it, it was great!”
Originally from the island, Creer grew up in Winchester and then went to Music College in London. “I stayed in London for a little while” he explains “but then I moved back to the island fifteen years ago…so I’ve been there a while now.”
Matt has been making a living as a professional musician now for three years, which from where he lives isn’t easy. “On the Isle of Man you’re slightly isolated” he admits, “I can’t just gig all the time because of the financial restrictions. If I lived in London I could go and do a gig in Manchester and be home the same night, but it takes a little bit more planning. So that’s tricky”.
To offset this difficulty, performing at house concerts has become an important part of Matt’s approach. “Because it’s quite expensive to get off the island to tour, the house concerts can help with that because you’re not having to worry so much about accommodation costs. It’s part of the deal, I’ll come and play at the house but you have to feed me and find me somewhere to sleep! It’s good though…it’s nice because you make new friends.”
Originally from a musical family, Matt’s first instrument was the trumpet. “My Dad used to play the trumpet so I wanted to play the trumpet. I ended up going to music college studying the trumpet. But I’ve played in bands for years as well as a drummer. I also played guitar and dabbled in song writing. I only really got into it properly four years ago…writing and taking it a little bit more seriously.”
I wondered where Matt’s inspiration as a singer-songwriter came from. “Neil Finn is a huge influence on me as a songwriter and a musician. I’ve always listened to James Taylor because my Mum and Dad used to listen to him. People like Jackson Browne, the American singer-songwriters, Carole King, Carly Simon. Early Elton John stuff…the Tumbleweed Collection and all of that….the storytellers, the songwriters, that sort of stuff. Ben Howard, The Civil Wars when they were speaking to each other!”
During our interview, it struck me that producing something as remarkable as ‘Leeward Tide’ within Matt’s first few years as a singer-songwriter is nothing short of impressive. I wondered how much his experience of playing in orchestras contributed to his musical prowess. “I went to the Royal College of music and I was lucky enough to play with some of the big London orchestras” he explains, “but I’ve got quite bad tinnitus which ended that because symphony orchestras are remarkably loud! I get like a white noise over a certain decibel level, hence why all my music is nice and quiet.”
Matt goes on to reflect on the different dynamics of performing in an orchestra to performing as a singer-songwriter. “It’s different when you’re in an orchestra of two hundred people, the pressures are very different. The expectation…the standard that’s expected in an orchestra…is 100% perfection and it can be quite cutthroat. Whereas when you’re doing your own stuff, I try not to make mistakes but if I do, then I do. The pressure is on you to entertain and to be interesting on stage. I tell a lot of stories, the stories behind the songs. I quite enjoy that side of it. But the intense pressure to be absolutely at the top of your game only comes from you, it doesn’t come from anyone else.”
Naturally Matt’s current live shows are primarily based on performing the material from Leeward Tide. “I like performing ‘Your Dancing Shoes’ because usually somebody cries in the audience” he smiles. However he’s currently working on the material for his next project. “We did a brand new track for Big Comfy Sessions earlier today” he explains, “That’s going to be the lead track on whatever the next record will end up being. I think it will probably be an EP just for financial reasons because it’s not cheap making records.”
“I’m exploring traditional Manx music a little bit more. Not with a view to making a traditional record but just fusing some of those really beautiful melodies with into my original stuff, just to give a nod to the past. Whether it will work or not…it might just end up being another record like the Leeward Tide…but anyway that’s the idea. And the musicians I’m using are amazing.”
As we wrap up I ask Matt what’s next. “We finish this tour and keep writing until I’ve got a body of work that will be the next record and see where that goes. And just keep promoting this album. I just want more people to know about my music…”
Leeward Tide is available to download from Bandcamp.
Interview by: Rob Bridge
This article is part of an ongoing new series of photo / interview features on Folk Radio UK from Rob Bridge, a photographer, writer and film-maker specialising in folk, acoustic and Americana music. You can contact him on twitter @redwoodphotos