On the back of various highly-lauded gigs in London over the past few years, Matthew & The Atlas (not passport name) released his debut album, Other Rivers, last month. It was recorded in Kent at the end of last year and has been described as a “benignly British record” but, at the same time, comparisons to Bill Callahan have also been made fairly frequently. Either way, there’s a fresh, melodious and sweeping feel to the 10 tracks that make up the record and we wouldn’t be surprised if it found itself on the Mercury shortlist in a few months.
The latest single from the album, Nowhere Now, came out a couple of days ago and, ahead of next week’s gig at Brixton Electric — supporting Bear’s Den — we put Matt Hegarty (for it is he!) through the Londonist Quickfire Q&A. Here’s what he had to say for himself…
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called Yateley in Hampshire.
And how did you come to make music?
I started learning guitar in my late teens. It wasn’t until my late twenties that I started writing properly and thought about trying to be a musician full time.
Do you remember the first song you wrote and what it was like?
Yeah, it was a really bad rock song called Tired Eyes.
Where did you get the idea for the name Matthew and the Atlas?
It was the first name I came up with. I tried lots of others, then eventually came back to that one. It’s partly inspired by some time spent in Morocco and being near the Atlas Mountains. In a more general way, I like the vastness of the word Atlas, it makes me think of travel and journeying.
You’ve been doing shows in London for over five years. Where was your first one?
I think it was a pub in Clerkenwell called Queen Boadicea.
The video for Pale Sun Rose has a rather sinister ending — who came up with the concept for it?
A director called Neil Coxhill, who is an old school friend of mine. We spent some time talking about themes within the songs and also recurring motifs throughout the album. Then Neil went away for a couple of weeks and came up with the concept for the video.
Where did you film it?
How did you go about getting Charlie Cox to star in it?
Charlie is an old friend of my manager’s. We first met a couple of years ago in London. We basically just asked Charlie if he’d like to do it and lucky for us he said yes.
Your debut album, Other Rivers, came out last month. How long did you spend writing and recording it?
The songs were written over the course of the last six years. Counting Paths was one of the first songs I wrote and Everything That Dies was written while we were recording the album. The rest were written between those two points. The actual recording of the album took about a year. I stared demoing the album at home, then we took those demos into the studio and used them like maps to work to. The record process was fairly sporadic as everyone working on the album was in different bands, so we’d have to stop every now and then while one person went on tour. That gave us the opportunity to have a bit of breathing space between recording, which was really nice.
And the title, Other Rivers?
It’s a quote from John Steinbeck, from letters he used to write to his editor while he was writing East Of Eden. The idea of there being other rivers out there seemed to fit with a lot of the themes on the album and I felt like it fit with the new sonic direction.
You ended up with 10 tracks on the album — were you not tempted to include a couple more older songs from your previous EPs on it?
Definitely, we did try versions of Within The Rose and The Waves, but nothing stuck.
Finally, what’s the idea behind the video for your new single, Nowhere Now?
It’s about a lost soul trying to find his way home.