Matthew Perryman Jones took time on the eve of his US tour to speak to Loud Hailer about his new album The Waking Hours
Matthew Perryman Jones is a singer songwriter who currently resides in Nashville Tennessee. For his latest album, which was funded via Pledge Music he went searching for genius loci (the spirit of the place). It was an experimental approach which saw him travel to different locations for inspiration. The result, after many twists and turns in the creative process is The Waking Hours which was released on Friday, the same day he began his US tour.
LH: Thanks so much for doing this the day before you start the tour. I’m sure it’s crazy time there.
Matthew: Oh no worries.
LH: I just want to kick off asking you a little bit with your whole experience with PledgeMusic for releasing your upcoming album and how you found it. From a fan’s perspective, it was fantastic being able to follow your journey through this record through all of the updates and insights into what you were doing. Did you enjoy the process from from your side.
Matthew: Yeah, it’s kind of a mixed bag of experiences for me. One, on the front end. It’s really exciting and encouraging to have fans get behind something. And really they are empowering a process for me really. And so, in that sense, it’s beautiful, it’s amazing. That’s really rewarding to have that connection, to feel that kind of support and to feel kind of an anticipation, which at the same time, that’s part of where the mixed bag comes in. Once you throw it out there and you get started, you never know how art’s gonna go.
LH: Yeah, it’s not something you can plot out.
Matthew: Yeah. I think with this one in particular, it wasn’t that I had a record done, and then I just needed the support to go into the studio and make it. I had a whole sort of a kind of an experiment that I was going into. And so there’s a lot of risk with that. And so with this particular experience, it was very exciting to kick off and do that in a lot of, you know, the very beginning was to go out and write in different places. And yeah, I had a whole concept and idea with that, that didn’t workout the way I had intended it to work out, you know, as I was in the process, it was like, well, I’m in these places for a period of time and if I don’t have anything then I don’t have anything. And I was not willing to force for something if it wasn’t happening, but, I’ll probably write a longer blurb about this – even though I can be a little windy with my writings! But there was a real interesting learning process through the whole thing of just going into something and having it not turn out the way that you expected, but taking its own sort of turns and having some unexpected surprises. And also just frustrations and perceived failures along the way. That was something that with this particular project I kind of struggled with in the middle of it was just, you know, here are these people who have signed on to do this and I feel like on my end, it’s not going the way that I wanted. So I kind of had to work through the expectations, you know, feeling like, okay, the pressure’s on. No one can… I mean sometimes you can create under that kind of pressure, deadlines are good pressure for me sometimes. But when I start having imaginary people in my head, griping or being unsatisfied really I think can affect the creative spirit. And so I had to really, at a moment, I had to distance myself and really kind of go, okay, I have to really focus on this process because I felt like in between the connection with people and things, it was like, okay, I really have to focus on the art and the work here and let it kind of be what it is. And then trust that the people who are behind it are part of that process and can trust that with me. And I don’t know if I did a great job of communicating that along the way.
LH: I think that you did. I mean from my perspective as I watched it. Yeah, those imaginary people in your head, they never say nice things, do they? The ones that speak to you in the middle of the night, they’re never telling you how great you are.
Matthew: Right, exactly.
LH: I watched it unfold it and I was really interested because I loved the idea of it, the idea of the spirit of the place and how that would infuse the music, but also then as I watched it play out, it didn’t obviously play out the way you hoped it would. And then really, you know, you went back home and you have the house move which you didn’t expect as well. And it really took going back to a familiar place to bring it of you, to sort of I guess you described it as “turn the tap on.” But I think there’s a kind of a beauty in that as well, right? I mean out of everything, it takes that turn. You go into it with this very defined idea of what you think you’re going to do and how you will get that inspiration. And then it takes something totally different to pull it out of you in the end.
Matthew: Yes, yes. It’s kind of like the old sort of story formula where, you know, you leave home to come back and see home through different eyes. It’s kind of seeing it as if for the first time. And so I think that was an interesting turn in that, I didn’t find the songs… well, I found the songs out there. I mean they started to show up out there, but it wasn’t until I got home and went back into my old studio where I used to write my old records that it really did sort of, there was a whole new energy. And so I think that early on, a friend that I might have shared this on the thing, but when I was in Sofia, North Carolina, my host, when I was leaving, I was sharing with him that I was kind of discouraged that I didn’t have anything. And he said, all your experiences in anywhere you go are all feeding the lake of the creative process. And I thought that’s a cool thought. It was very encouraging. Leaves it open to not have things to have to be that way, but just to know that each bit of the process is feeding into the next thing. And so at some point it culminates into what it’s supposed to be and whatever that is and you don’t know until it’s done. So it’s a wild adventure, for sure.
LH: In terms of the concept for this album – we’ve seen you a couple of times before and you’ve talked sometimes about writing songs – is it normal for you to try and take yourself away somewhere to write? I always like asking songwriters this because I read a lot of interviews and you get two different poles on it and then everywhere in between. Neil Young, I read an interview with him where he just finds the concept of going somewhere and thinking I’m going to try and write, he’s like, I just can’t do that. I have a pad and paper with me everywhere and whatever I am doing, I could be in the middle of doing something really important, if something comes to me, I’ll stop and I’ll write then. And that’s how he does it. And then you get these other people who really do have to separate themselves from everything and lock themselves away to do it. Is it a bit of both of you?
Matthew: Yeah, there’s a lot of what I see as…. there’s a few things that are happening. So I feel like there’s often, I’m always sort of noodling around and I give myself time. And at times I’m more disciplined than others. I’m not the most consistent with that. But generally I try to have time where I just sit with my guitar or a piano or whatever and just sort of noodle around and just sort of…I don’t often, you know, sometimes it happens where I have a specific idea that comes to me and I sit down and I work that out. Most of the time, I just feel like I’m just exploring. I’m just kind of feeling things out, noodling around until, until something starts to show up and then you kind of identify the things that emerge and that process. And so there’s that part of it. There’s just the working part of just experimenting and exploring melodies and structures and all that kind of stuff. And then there’s kind of a time where it’s like, you feel…I have felt like a creative impulse, not just toward a song but like a creative season where I feel like the environment is important to me. And so a lot of times when I feel that sort of creative push where I feel like there’s more, not just writing a song, but really just trying to create a, you know, a whole bit, I feel like it’s good for me. It’s good to get away. It helps to kind of clear, especially to get out of my house. I figured if you’re working in your house there’s just like, okay, I’ve got the dishes I have to do or that, you know, project needs to be done.
So to get away from that is nice. And then just to be in a clear head space. And also just different environments that, I’ve noticed this in the past, with recording is that the environment is just important. It’s good to get away, especially to make a record. It clears the air and it gets you in that head space of like, this is what I’m doing and you know, I’m a dad, so it’s like there’s a moment where you go, okay, I don’t have to think about the kids, so I can just be in this fully. So yeah, it’s kinda both. To answer your question, in a long roundabout way.
LH: I get that. Just going away somewhere. Actually we went somewhere, if it had been earlier in the process, I would have sent you a note on PledgeMusic campaign, because we went down to Clarksdale, Mississippi. We drove down from Chicago this year and then we stayed in a place called the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale, which was right in the middle of the Mississippi Delta and it’s like these old shacks that you can rent one for a couple of nights and it’s a self contained little thing just in the middle of nowhere. And the one we were in it hardly had had any WIFI and the phone signal was really spotty and it was like a revelation not having that connection. I totally relaxed for once and I think that’s probably a big part of that in just isolating yourself as well.
Matthew: Yeah, it opens space that you otherwise don’t have in yourself, for sure. And I think that’s, for me at least, essential for creative processes to have open space and then there’s a point in time where I can tend to take a while with stuff and so there is value in having a deadline for having some form of pressure on the back end to really kind of wrap it up because a lot of times it’s just a matter of making decisions. And I think, what I’m learning too is that I make better decisions in the moment when I need to. If I have plenty of time to mull it over… I just, there’s just a million different things you can do and I just feel like it doesn’t help you trust your instinct when you have so much time on your hands. So there’s all those elements, you know. I think sometimes it’s like birth, I mean it kind of, it’s like birthing something, like there’s the process of, not to get too detailed about it, but it’s like there’s just having a great time and creating something and then there sort of the growth period and then there’s this thing that happens and then eventually like right at the end, there’s just a lot of, it’s like birth through pressure. I mean just like you have to do it. But the whole process is different. It’s not just one thing. It’s like the whole creative process is all kinds of stuff, you know. There’s the idling where I think it’s good for artists to just take idle time and just wander about and just pick stuff up and soak things up, soak environments up. I’ve often said before, just like artists, to kind of act like a sponge. Like you kind of go and you soak up your experiences, you soak up your surroundings, you soak up other people’s stories and you spend time soaking. And then at some point when it comes to write it out, it’s just like the ringing out the rag, so to speak. It’s like writing is sort of just letting out all the stuff that you’ve been absorbing.
LH: I read a great article on a similar concept to that and I can’t for the life of me remember who the musicians were, but they were talking about musicians who disappeared and then came back with one their best albums. They went away for a long time and the theory behind that was exactly what you’re saying there. They just needed to step away from what they were doing and experience life a little bit and then come back and bring all that experience back to the table. But yeah, I can totally understand that. So looking back on it now, do you think there was any one of those places you visited that brought more out of you? Was there one place you went back to most in your mind?
Matthew: Hmmm… Interesting…. You know, experientially, even though I didn’t get much out of it material-wise, I went to a place called Tehuacana in Texas. That was a really interesting place. I don’t know what it was about it. It was an old abandoned missionary college. It was built in the 1800s, abandoned in like 1970 and a gentleman had bought the property. It’s the middle of nowhere, Texas. In a super small kind of ghost town. So I set up and wrote in the auditorium which was just basically this dilapidated auditorium and there were owls flying across the room. And it was really kind of interesting. And so I think just that there was something about that place – I would like to think that I soaked up something there that eventually kind of got rung out later. Yeah.
LH: Excellent. And I think when I was reading through your journey on PledgeMusic, I watched the Q&A you did, and you talked about Land Of The Living having a narrative arc to it. Do you think The Waking Hours has a narrative arc to it?
Matthew: Yes. And that’s the thing that’s interesting, is usually I see those things after it’s done. And I think with this one, part of the reason why I shifted the title to The Waking Hours was because a lot of the songs are dealing with some kind of love thing. Not all of them but most of them are. And I feel like, at least for me in this particular record, and there’s also a lot of the love songs are not like they’re…. some of them can be just pictures and a metaphor for something else. But it felt like this process, personally and artistically through the making of this record, was a personal sort of waking up period. So for me it was more of a personal theme. Maybe that’s obvious on the record. But that the song, “The Waking Hours,” I wrote that while I was making the record, so it was kind of, I don’t know, I just feel like it was… and I wrote it for my kids originally, but it sort of became personalized and then, you know, now it’s sort of like, it’s everybody’s song, or on Friday it will be! I just felt like for me personally, I think as the record turned after that song, I feel like you have, you know, there’s a song “Coming back to me” and then “Half-hearted love” is sort of like a confession or realization. And then there’s “Carousel” which is sort of a sweeter sort of – embrace of the possibility of joy and all of this. And then I’ve put the Tom Waits song at the end, “Take It With Me,” which I felt… I’ve been wanting to record that song for a long time and I felt like it was the perfect song for this record. Especially the perfect song to close the record out with because it’s a beautiful song that I feel is about living fully awake in the moment with all the things, you know. And I feel like it was just a perfect closer for this record. So yeah, I think to some degree there’s a narrative arc that happens. It’s still, you know, I’ll still find out more after it’s done.
LH: I have to say, I’m really glad you’ve put the Tom Waits song on there as well because you did such a beautiful job with that. I saw you do that cover probably about three years ago now, and it sent me back. I like Tom Waits, but I hadn’t listened to him for a long time and then it really sent me back and got me to listen to everything again and it’s turned me from being a Tom Waits appreciator into a huge Tom Waits fan.
Matthew: Wow! That’s very cool!
LH: It was a great job you did with it. I really enjoyed it. So you’ve mentioned as well, I think you wrote poetry from a young age, probably even before you started with music. Do you see poetry and then lyrics for songs as very distinct things? I’ve read that Amanda Shires did an MFA in poetry and I read an interview where she said that it informs her writing but that she sees poetry as entirely distinct from songwriting. I believe she said that, although I might be misquoting her there. Do you see it as the same kind of process or do you see it very differently? Do you approach it differently?
Matthew: Yeah, I do see it differently. I think poetry…Songwriting follows of form, so does poetry for sure, but poetry has its own rhythm and meter and all that stuff. But it’s more, to me, poetry seems more free to me. And, it also, I mean in the sense that a song and a poem like you have only so much to cover in a song and I feel like poetry is widdling something down to its essence, right? So it’s spirit. And so I think good poetry for me is something that in a few words can capture the spirit of something and I’m amazed at certain poets that can do that where they’re just a handful of lines and they’ve said so much. That’s amazing to me. That’s sort of the mystery of poetry for me as the gift and beauty of it. But as far as songwriting goes, I feel like songwriting, I don’t know if I’ve ever really thought how to convey that, but songwriting for me though, and in a certain way because the way that I write might be a little more like poetry in the sense because I don’t, I sort of let…. I allow things to sort of emerge and, and try to give them more of an impression than a literal, than something literal or something concrete. Like I feel like a song should give an impression about something and not necessarily tell you about something else. So I feel like in a way that’s kind of how I approach songwriting in a similar way of approaching poetry, you’re just kind of describing something or conveying an impression of something. And so I don’t write story songs necessarily. Mine are more just like images and feelings, trying to whittle feelings down into words.
LH: It’s interesting to me. I think the two people who’ve probably blurred the line a little bit for me, one is Tom Waits and then Leonard Cohen, who I know is one of your favorite artists as well. Those guys, it’s difficult to distinguish sometimes. I think some of what they write could be treated as poetry against music sometimes.
Matthew: Yes, I think more so Leonard Cohen, for sure. He is a true poet. Yeah.
LH: So you are touring with a band this time, right?
Matthew: Yeah. A little three-piece.
LH: Is Molly Parden touring with the band? Last time I saw you she was supporting.
Matthew: She’s supporting me as well this time and then she’ll also be singing with me, she’ll be part of the band.
LH: And who makes up the rest of the band? I was wondering, is it Josh and Owen who recorded with you?
Matthew: So Josh and Owen recorded with me, and Owen is unfortunately, well not unfortunate for him, he’ll be touring in Europe at the time, so Josh will be out playing drums with me. And then another friend Eric Cole will be playing bass.
LH: I always ask this when there’s a new album, are there any that you’re particularly looking forward to playing in front of people? Is there any one that stands out for you that you’re like, “Yeah, I can’t wait to get that one out”?
Matthew: We’ve been in rehearsals this past week and I would say of all the songs so far, I do like the way “The Waking Hours” just turned out live. There’s a few of them because we are doing a three-piece, we’re having to sort of re-interpret the songs a little bit different approach them, which has kind of been fun to think of how can we keep it pretty raw and what’s the word? I don’t know. Just kind of give them a whole new life and approach to them, because there’s not… really a lot of the songs are not guitar based at all, which is another thing. There’s not a lot of acoustic guitar on this record and I probably won’t be playing much acoustic guitar at all on the sets. I’ll probably be mainly electric. So I would say “The Waking Hours.” “Happy” is a song that I think it just resonates with me a lot, so I do enjoy singing that song because I think the way we’re kind of reinterpreting it I think will be cool live.
LH: I guess you can never tell right? Same as in the creation of it. One of them might just grow into something totally different once he start performing live on the road.
Matthew: Sure. Yeah. That happens a lot. It changes too. Things morph so we’ll see.
LH: Well thanks so much for taking the time. I can’t wait to come and see you play. Again, I know the day before tour, you’re probably going crazy.
Matthew: A little bit! But I appreciate your time as well. Thank you so much.
LH: No problem at all.