Name: Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen aka Rural Tapes
Occupation: Composer, songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist
Current release: The new Rural Tapes album Inner space music is out via Smuggler.
If you enjoyed this interview with Rural Tapes and would like to stay up to date with his work, visit him on Instagram, and Facebook. It includes contributions by Lars Løberg Tofte, Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey, Øystein Braut, and Kristine Tjøgersen, among others.
To keep reading, we also recommend our previous Rural Tapes interview, conducted around the time of his debut album with the project.
Where does the impulse to create something come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
For me it's this simple: making music is the most fun thing I do. Being in my studio, experimenting with new instruments and units gives me tons of inspiration in itself.
I don't feel the need for expressing anything clearly personal or political through my music. Of course, music is personal, but I don't want to express anything explicitly about anything, it's all really about creating a space I enjoy being in.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas – or what some have called a 'visualisation' of the finished work? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
Concrete ideas are nice if I have any. But I don't need concrete ideas for getting started.
On my new album Inner space music I made this dogma to compose one new piece of music every day for two weeks. Then I spent the following two weeks layering these.
Ever since I got kids, I've learned to be creative whenever there is time to create something. If I have only half an hour in my studio one day, I can come up with something.
Is there a preparation phase for your process? Do you require your tools to be laid out in a particular way, for example, do you need to do 'research' or create 'early versions'?
No, not really. I hardly do demos. My doodling often turns into finished tracks.
A session can end up in different versions though, and after a while I choose one to go on with. But really, usually I just start playing around with some instrument, and then it turns into something I can use or not.
Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents, exercise or reading poetry play?
No rituals. Sorry for the lack of deep answers. A nice breakfast is important, and a pot of coffee. But not for the creative process, it's an everyday thing, so I wouldn't call it an important ritual needed for me to be creative.
Listening to other music is of course also important, but I try not to listen too much to music that is related to what I do while working on new stuff, just to make sure I don't go too much up other artists' alley.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first line of text, the first note?
I make instrumental music, so it's always a sound that starts off my process.
Getting started is never a problem. I've worked a lot with improvised music over the years, and enjoy using improvisation as a method for composing.
Once you've started, how does the work gradually emerge?
A new session can start with a drum pattern, a weird sound, a drum machine, a series of chords, a simple melody or a field recording. Sometimes I can press record and tape for hours. Then I can pick out parts that I like and keep on layering them.
There are no rules for the process of creating music for me. I work intuitively and usually I don't have much planned before I start.
Often, while writing, new ideas and alternative roads will open themselves up, pulling and pushing the creator in a different direction. Does this happen to you, too, and how do you deal with it? What do you do with these ideas?
Sure, that happens all the time. I like it if songs end up in new directions.
On both my albums, I've received contributions from other musicians, often recorded in their own studios. Sometimes they send back stuff that opens completely new doors for me. This affects the next layers, and brings my music to new levels.
There are many descriptions of the creative state. How would you describe it for you personally? Is there an element of spirituality to what you do?
Not at all. I am probably the least spiritual person I know of. When entering my studio, I'm usually in a creative state. I've collected instruments and studio gear for years, and just being around in this environment immediately makes me wanna create something.
Especially in the digital age, the writing and production process tends towards the infinite. What marks the end of the process? How do you finish a work?
Finishing a track can take a day or it can take years before it feels ready. Both can be equally good, but I'm getting better and better at making decisions and closing projects. Sometimes that's important to be able to move on.
I don't just work on single tracks, I can go in and out of projects all the time, composing an album as a whole. Sometimes the end of one song gives me ideas on how to start another one.
Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you're satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice?
This time, the whole process of composing and recording went pretty quick, and I have to say, being intensively in this bubble for a month and making decisions consecutively was good for me.
Although, it's important to take a break from the recordings and listen with fresh ears now and then.
What's your take on the role and importance of production, including mixing and mastering for you personally? How involved do you get in this?
For Rural Tapes, I personally compose, produce and mix everything myself. A lot of mixing happens during the recording process. I hardly use plugins, instead I try to capture sounds as I think they should sound from the early stage, or I reamp stuff through hardware units to colour things the way I want. Making decisions early, also related to the mix, is a good thing for me.
For mastering, I always use Anders Bjelland from Broen Studios in Bergen. A great producer and musician. He has a great ear, and we have the same taste for this kind of music. With him mastering, there is no need for me to be much involved.
After finishing a piece or album and releasing something into the world, there can be a sense of emptiness. Can you relate to this – and how do you return to the state of creativity after experiencing it?
I guess I've experienced that, but I always have a lot going on, and there's always a new project to dive into.
Over the next year I'm releasing new music and doing gigs with Rural Tapes, The No Ones and I Was A King. I compose and perform music for three different dance performances and produce records for others.
If possible, I aspire to have music as a dayjob so I can have a normal everyday life with my family. I'm lucky to have a lot of nice things to focus on besides doing music, so there is not much space for emptiness.