30 Years in the Making

 
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Playground Elvis…

As I write this, a few days after my 30th birthday, I'm compelled to look back upon my life and the musical landmarks that have defined it. Fuelled by the encouragement of my music loving parents, my interest developed at an early age and there are many photos of me playing various toy guitars, drums and keyboards as a young child. My first taste of performing live was putting on impromptu acapella concerts in the school yard. I vividly remember singing Elvis songs, whilst trying my best to nail the dance moves in order to impress the small (primarily female) crowd. A genuine playground heartthrob/rockstar, or so I thought.

Elvis revisited - Sun studios.

Aside from the extra attention garnered from the opposite sex, it was the feeling I got when I first performed in front of an audience that really left its mark. This was something I hadn't felt before, the buzz was electric, a totally new sensation that only came when I pushed past the edge of my comfort zone into this new unknown space. I was a quiet and shy child, generally needing a bit of a push into most things new (I still sometimes do), but singing was different, I almost felt compelled to do it like it was just natural. It provided a way to connect with people on a different level, one where I didn't have to try to explain how I felt in sentences, where I didn't have to explain at all – I could just sing.

…and teenage mosher…

I started having guitar lessons at the age of 7, so by secondary school I was, well... OK. For various reasons, I ended up attending a different secondary school to most of my primary school chums so had to try and make a new set of friends in the process. Luckily music is a great ice breaker and on the first day I met a group of self confessed “moshers” who embraced me for my guitar playing abilities. I’d have been described as a “Townie” back then – I liked sports wear, played football, listened to pop music - however, in my last year at primary I had developed a liking for Blink 182’s single, “All The Small Things”. This coupled with the discovery of my dad's vinyl collection of classics including Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd etc. stood me in good stead and I quickly adopted the “mosher” way. (Side note - the first time I heard the opening guitars on “All the Small Things” it blew my tiny little mind!).

“Rabbits Can’t Draw ‘cause they’ve got no thumbs” – lyrics from the song Rabbits Can’t Draw.

Dressed in baggy jeans, Vans shoes, with green hair and riding a skateboard I certainly looked the part, the only thing missing was the band. During the summer holidays, Myself, Chris Wilkinson (T.A.M. producer) and fellow skater, Lee, formed Rabbits Can't Draw (Chris came up with the name) – a mashup of pop punk and nu metal from the artists we loved. I played rhythm guitar and sang, with Lee on lead guitar and Chris on bass, no drummer in sight. This was a new experience, the camaraderie felt brilliant, a band of brothers to take on the world. Of course we were awful, we couldn't play guitar and sing at the same time and, when I did sing, it was with the American whine of our musical heroes – oh and did I mention we didn't have a drummer. None of this really mattered though, we were having fun whilst answering the irresistible call to make music. No matter what level you're at, playing songs loud alongside your friends is up there with the best feelings in the world. Recently I found a videotape of R.C.D.’s debut gig, it was my 13th birthday party in the local village hall and we played a set of covers and originals to a highly energetic crowd of mates and family. This was a truly defining moment in my life's trajectory, the day I realised that music HAD to be a part of my life forevermore.

…becomes folk troubadour…

The first paid gig for, Defunct, one of the many bands!

The first paid gig for, Defunct, one of the many bands!

Throughout school I was part of various ensembles – hardcore punk bands, classic rock groups, ska bands, even one which exclusively sang songs about zombies – but it wasn't until college that I started to take it seriously. At this time, I, like many before me, “discovered” Bob Dylan, an event that often involves the development of a near religious reverence for the leader of the folk congregation seemingly overnight. Thrown at the feet of this songwriting deity I listened to the sacred back catalogue with holy wonder. I was now a singer-songwriter, a lonesome troubadour, trilby wearing wanderer of North Sheffield. Around this time I also had my first real foray into recording. I'd previously recorded soppy songs and mixtapes for teenage crushes on a cassette four-track but now, like my curly haired idol, I was to record a full album of my own songs.

Modern Eulogy at The Boardwalk, Sheffield

My longtime guitar teacher, Robin, had a small home studio which, over a couple of months, we used to make my debut. Going by the moniker, Modern Eulogy, the album we produced was alright for a first attempt, the songs weren't all that refined but the ideas had potential, the melodies were particularly strong. I had CDs pressed which I sold at gigs and, although there are still many unopened boxes of them residing in my parent's loft, we managed to just about break even. Being a bit of a perfectionist, I have to say that the recording process wasn't (and still sometimes isn't) the easiest thing for me, especially the vocals. The first time you hear your recorded voice it's quite a shock and if you want to carry on making music, you have to quickly accept that you're never quite going to live up to the standards set by your internal judge. Unfortunately, at this point I was yet to learn this lesson and instead of pushing forward and not dwelling on the mistakes, I became quite disillusioned with my own music. I'd taken two years out of studying to try and “make it” (oh hindsight you are so cruel) but in reality I wasn't ready. I thought I was Bob Dylan when in actual fact I was more Bob Fossil (for the “Boosh” fans). My songwriting needed time to mature, I needed time to live out some stories before I could recount them. So I enrolled in university and for three years I hardly wrote anything.

…seeking enlightenment…

At uni I studied music production and, although I had to compose music for my degree, I didn't write much of my own. One of the best things about the course was that it provided a taste of many different ways of making music. I learnt to use computer recording software and studio equipment as well as exploring more esoteric practices and composing techniques such as minimalism, serialism. Although at times this period felt like writer’s block, I now feel it was a period of absorption, a rewiring of the synapses, at the end of which I could  emerge with a far greater understanding my own writing and musicality in general.

…and humbly returns…

Humble Williams - What? I always practiced in a field! (Image by Aimee Catt)

Finally, a few years later a trickle of inspiration once again began to flow but this time the output felt more considered. I wrote a few songs without pressure, they just came from the natural spring of expression and it felt good after the long drought. The songs themselves seemed to be of a higher quality, less heavy handed and my writing felt different with a newfound maturity. With this reinstated flow of material, I subsequently ended up playing for a number of years under the pseudonym “Humble Williams” (a nickname I picked up on a trip to Nashville with friends – the story involved thanksgiving dinner and a black Labrador with fear of hats - don’t ask). Over time I released a couple of the songs to positive feedback and had fun performing at a few festivals, but, once again, I was left feeling like there was something missing. Now I know what you’re thinking, this guy has a problem with commitment, and to a certain degree you’d probably be correct, but once the doubt creeps in I always find it really hard to claw things back. The positive thing is that this time the wellspring never dried and I just kept on writing.

…with wholehearted belief.

In April 2018 I moved into a new house and set myself the challenge of writing a song every day for a month, something I discuss in my previous blog post. The result of this stint of writing was the formation of The Attic Movement. When I look back on all the bands and musical ventures I’ve been involved in over the years, this one feels like it has the most potential for longevity. It’s probably the first time I’ve believed in something so wholeheartedly from the beginning - this feels like “the one”. I suppose only time will tell but if it doesn’t work out, I think I’ll definitely revive the hardcore zombie punk band!

When the drought is over, make sure you dance in the rain. (Image by Samuel Taylor)

When the drought is over, make sure you dance in the rain. (Image by Samuel Taylor)

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If you want to ask Chris about the story behind the ‘Rabbits Can’t Draw’ band name, he can be found here: Website // Facebook // Instagram

Images by Samuel Taylor and Aimee Catt