As anyone with a laptop and an insatiable hunger for new music will tell you, much of the most exciting new stuff can be found on the internet, as the traditional record company route steadily becomes a bothersome anachronism. Proudly sneaking under the mainstream radar, guitarist Matt Stevens’ 2010 album Ghost was one of the unexpected highlights of last year; a prog-tinged instrumental album that sounded quite unlike anything else around and which, if you knew where to look, could be obtained for next to nothing. This, Stevens avows, is increasingly how things are being done.
“I think that obscurity is the real problem for musicians now,” he states. “If I went to a record company now and said ‘I’ve made an album and it’s all acoustic guitars being played in funny timings!’ they’d think I’d gone mad! The problem is people not hearing your music. If they’re listening because you’re giving away free music then that’s a result, isn’t it? We’re in the era of the infinite jukebox and there’s so much stuff available. If you can use free music as a tool to build an audience, then that’s great.”
A true solo effort constructed using countless inspired guitar melodies, fractured rhythmic loops and a whole heap of off-kilter atmosphere, Ghost stood out from everything else released in 2010 because it seemed to exist in an entirely different musical universe; one that exists only in Stevens’ fidgeting psyche. As he cheerfully admits, the songs evolved primarily from a need to pursue a singular vision… and to avoid spending hours in a cramped Transit.
“I’ve played in metal bands and rock bands in the past, but this time I wanted to do something without having to have a band and all the hassle of driving around in vans!” he laughs. “I came across the sound by accident, really. I’m into King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra and The Smiths and Hüsker Dü and that all fed into it, I suppose.”
Although Ghost is an entirely instrumental record, it is an undeniably evocative and cinematic one. Not entirely surprisingly, smalltown England provides the enervating backdrop.
“When I was a kid I lived in this place called Rushden and there was nothing there,” says Stevens. “It’s quite a dull place to live. Ghost is a soundtrack to that, the idea of being trapped in this small, depressing town. When you live somewhere where there’s nothing to do, you tend to end up playing the guitar for eight hours every day. Before the internet, there were no other areas of procrastination available!”
Also a member of post-rock explorers The Fierce & The Dead, whose debut full-length album is due to emerge online in April, Matt Stevens may not fit into any of the obvious prog sub-categories, but his outlook, approach and general love for making music that dares to be distinctive marks him out as one of prog’s most intriguing new exponents. Keep your eyes on your browsers for his next move…
“I was reading an interview with Steven Wilson the other day, and he was talking about ‘ambitious rock music’. I loved that. I like the idea that it’s an attitude and something where you can go ‘Okay, this song is in 25/8!’ but you’re not thinking about what you’re doing, you’re just trying to do something interesting. This is an incredibly exciting time for music. Ten years ago I would never have listened to black metal, but now I’m listening to that and so many other things. Progressive is an attitude rather than a genre, isn’t it?”