Name: Matthew E. White
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, producer, arranger, label owner at Spacebomb Records
Current release: Matthew E. White and Lonnie Holley's Broken Mirror: A Selfie Reflection is out now on Spacebomb/Jagjaguwar.
Recommendations: Hud Dreems – Knxwledge; Liberation Music Orchestra - Charlie Haden
If this Matthew E. White interview piqued your interest, visit his official website for tour dates, videos and insightful essays.
When did you start writing/producing music?
When I was 11.
What or who were your early passions and influences?
The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry
What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Impossible to say, you don't think about these things as a 5 year old. It put a smile on my face.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
A work in progress.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Tremendously I’m sure. But almost completely subconsciously - I'm not thinking of identity at all when I’m working.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Finding your own style, which is essentially the way you solve problems - that’s been the challenge from the beginning and has essentially remained the same.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first instrument?
Things change, and remain unchanged unrelated to one's creative goals or technical proficiency all the time - so I find this a flawed question.
I started playing drums and putting a tape deck on the floor. Now, I play a lot more things, and record them in a lot of different ways. For me to describe the space in between those places is impossible in this format.
What motivated some of the choices you made over the years?
Boredom, dead ends, money, curiosity.
Derek Bailey defined improvising as the search for material which is endlessly transformable. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his perspective, what kind of materials have turned to be particularly transformable and stimulating for you?
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Working with tape is powerful because it is an instrument in and of itself. And I think a quick jump from that concept is sampling - which can become a powerful sociological and philosophical practice.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach?
I have a reputation as a collaborator but I would say there are far more people I avoid than I approach. If I think someone would fit well with my art then I ask them to be a part of it. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not, it’s fine either way. Sometimes I just collaborate with my drum machine.
What are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I like to talk and I like to think. And I like to delegate and direct.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
7:00. I wake up and get my kid up. His name is Leon. Then I hand him off to my wife. Her name is Merry
7:00 - 8:00. Make breakfast and journal.
8:00. Go on a walk with Leon
8:45. Feed Leon breakfast
9:45. Drop Leon off at his Grandmothers
10:00 - 6:00. Work at the studio. That could be songwriting, composing, making beats, phone calls, recording sessions, working on upcoming productions, label calls. No real routine to this.
6-7:00. Play with Leon and get him to bed
7:00. Make dinner
8:00-10:00. Relax. No music stuff.
How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other?
It depends on the season.
Do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I just try to make the best thing I can and keep the lights on. I don't really have the luxury of being much more intentional than that.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career?
Big Inner was certainly my breakthrough work.
Why does it feel special to you?
It was a complete idea.
When did you start working on it?
I started working on it in 2009 with the concept of Spacebomb, they are intrinsically linked.
Why did you start working on it?
Because I thought it was a powerful idea.
How did you start working on it?
I started a label, Spacebomb, to be an umbrella for a wide variety of my creative work. It needed an album, the album needed songs. So I began writing songs.
What were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
To make the best thing I could make with a team that I had picked and was leading.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you?
Anytime where you can be truly focused. Un-distracted.
What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions?
Trying everyday, and putting your phone away.
Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Developing the muscle memory of work ethic. But also to make sure and stay having fun.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these?
One time I listened to only Trenchtown Rock for a month after a breakup. Live at The Roxy.
Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I don’t think about music like this. It’s a tool for everyone to use differently, who am I to say how someone should use music.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
There’s a lot of important longform work about this, I certainly can't get to the nuance of this in this format. Be sensitive to both how you make things, and to where your blindspots are. There’s a lot to learn, keep on learning, approach this ground with a genuine heart.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses?
I have never once thought about this. It’s a very uninteresting line of thinking for me.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art, and being an artist?
Everyone’s an artist, you call me that because I get paid for it sometimes. But I was an artist before that, and will be after that, and there are better artists in the world than me that will never be called that. I just try to stay curious, and to become wiser.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
It seems unwise to try and answer this question with words, no?