Interview with Sheffield’s Mathew J. Hall

I think that’s what the album is about – searching for something I’ve kind of not really found yet.

In preparation for the release of his debut solo album Unquiet Mind (out 30 November), Exposed caught up with Sheffield singer-songwriter Mathew J. Hall to talk music, modern life and the Sheffield scene.

So you have your new album, Unquiet Mind, out at the end of the month. How would you describe it for people who don’t know much about your music?
It’s traditional with the core element of a singer-songwriter album. It’s quite emotionally driven, as in I would say it’s very autobiographical. I think it’s got kind of a light edge to it; it’s not just depressive. You can find the whole spectrum of emotions through it all.

What other artists would you compare yourself to? Or cite as an inspiration to your style?
I like female artists quite a lot. You always kind of listen to what your parents like growing up don’t you? Everyone does that. As I grew older, especially in the harmonies and melodies, I always tended to pick out women’s melodies a bit more than men’s. I listen to people like Lykke Li, Mazzy Star, Sharon Van Etten – they’re probably my three favourite ones. Then going back as I grew up it was more Neil Young, Richard Ashcroft, Bob Dylan, John Lennon that sort of thing.

It’s more of a thing to talk about your emotions with women than men, especially English men. We’re a very proud people, aren’t we? And we shy away from our insecure side. So I think it was a case of seeing artists do that and think, well, I can do that. That’s how I feel and I’m a man, so I want to portray who I am as myself.

“It is dark and angry, my album, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in all my songs.”

Now you mention the album’s quite autobiographical, which I suppose a lot of music has to be. Would you say living in Sheffield has influenced that at all?
Yeah, in the way I’ve been brought up, the things that happen in your life. Everyone goes down different paths, don’t they? I wouldn’t say the surroundings have actually influenced me but just the journey that I’ve been on in this city.

What’s inspired the tone of your music? Beyond the lightness there’s a bit of darkness and anger to the album.
I’m not really an angry person at all; I’m quite light-hearted really. I just think the darker elements of life kind of get me going a bit. I like the dark side of life more than the light – to write about anyway. I’ve not had a terrible life; I’m not trying to say that I’ve written about a terrible life, it’s just expressing certain moments. A little bit of storytelling but a little bit of truth in there as well – and just picking bits out in that.

There’s a song called ‘Sweetest Dream’ which is the last song on the album. Which is a bit of a thing about today’s culture of everyone swiping left and right – everyone’s written about this before – it’s saying about whether anything’s actually real anymore. Is true love actually real anymore or is it just all fake? Who knows? That’s how I feel. I’m still searching for it. I think that’s what the album is – it’s about searching for something I’ve kind of not really found yet.

It seems difficult for artists to confront modern life and technology without sounding cliché. How have you approached that?
I think I’ve just drawn again on how I feel about it and don’t let anyone else influence my decisions about it. I’ve got no anger about today’s modern world, I think it’s great that everyone’s growing, but the way we’ve all become is not really joined at all – we’re all singular people. There’s not much togetherness I don’t find. There aren’t many scenes or anything anymore, especially in music you seem to be just a little bit on your own.

“You’ve just got to be honest and be a bit brave with your art.”

Well, you’ve been involved in bands in and around the Sheffield music scene – if one exists – what’s made you want to break out on your own?
I think it was because I wrote this album. It’s been about a four-year journey. I started out with the first song, ‘Sweetest Dream’, which is kind of talking about subjects that piss me off a little bit. I wanted to speak in a beautiful way about it – but a bit more upset. It is dark and angry, my album, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in all my songs.

I just needed full ownership of what I was doing. In a band there are a lot of everyone’s different tastes being put in it and everyone always feels a bit scared to fully go with their idea – and I fully knew what I wanted to do, not just musically but artistically with images and stuff and photographs.

What do you think of the Sheffield music scene?
I’m a bit out the loop really. There’s been a vast change in the eight years that I’ve been involved. When I first started everyone was kind of mucking in together – and I’m not trying to speak angrily about this – but everyone has kind of gone in their own little way. And it’s a good thing, I think, because obviously everyone’s thinking a bit about artistic edge and trying to be a bit separate from each other. It’s good to be involved in such a big group of people but it’s also good to go and do your own thing.

It is difficult to piece together a scene.  How do you go about getting your name out there when everyone is so isolated?
That’s the hardest thing about music, isn’t it? I think you’ve just got to be honest and be a bit brave with your art. If we had the answer to this we’d all be doing really well. You just have to try, and you just have to enjoy it and see what happens. I think the fundamental thing people have got to remember is that it’s got to be fun.

So you’ve got the new album out, Unquiet Mind, on 30 November. Have you got any plans for a tour?
Yeah we’re starting to book it now so probably around March time. We’re playing a gig at Shakespeares on 1 December, which is sold out. I’m booking gigs in Manchester, Leeds, York, maybe stay up north for a bit you know and just water it down. Just start from Sheffield and just broaden it out for a bit.

Mathew J. Hall’s debut album Unquiet Minds will be released on 30 November – followed by a sold out show at Shakespeares pub, Sheffield on 1 December. You can pre-order the album here. 

In association with www.sivtickets.com, the local box office. 

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