I got a call from Matt Tomo Thomposn asking me to produce / record and mix his acoustic album it was a pretty low budget for an album these days but with the help off half a dozen musicians and a week to do it all in i like to think we achieved a brilliant result. I talked to Matt to find out how he feels a few months after. Heres how it came together…
Im going to start at the beginning with that phone call you made to me in 2012. How did you actually find me, google i suppose?
Matt – Yeah I literally typed ‘ Manchester Producers’ in Google and up you popped on my screen. Good job eh ?
Absolutely! When you hung up the phone did you think it was love at first sight (or conversation!) or in other words did you think that we could produce good music together?
Matt – As I recall you were in a mad rush to the studio but you had an air of calm in your voice that I liked. I was getting very nervous about the prospect of recording my grand musical debut and I was seriously looking for a musical soulmate. What I was impressed with was you seemed to be able to translate my cryptic almost childlike description of my music and convince me you knew the sound I was after.
I think after we had that phone call I asked for you to put together some samples of your tracks for me to get an idea of what your about. To which we had a pre production meeting down at the studio, drunk some tea, listened to some music and drawn up the plan. Was you at this point happy with the ideas that we came up with and what was running through your mind?
Matt – I was super hyped up and buzzing so quickly recorded the 15 tunes I had into my IPhone with just me and an acoustic and was anxious to hear your thoughts. Thankfully you were excited by what you heard and I remember sitting at the desk with you listening track by track to the demos with you going “I can hear a nice Hammond over that bit” and “That’d be great with a really subtle bass”. I remember there being 3 or 4 tracks I wasn’t sure about and you picked the same ones out. I also recall you saying you heard the sounds of a Spanish dive bar and then we just started throwing themes around revisiting tracks, stopping in the middle of tunes and you suggeting things like “That bit would work if it was twice the length” and that”s great but one too many verses” anyway after a good 3or 4 hours and many brews later we ended up with ” Acoustic Gypsy Northern Pirate Folk tales” as our theme and I remember you saying the album should have the sound of a band just walking ino the room picking up their instruments and BOOM !
I think once we had an idea of the shape and style of the album, we had a few months for you to get ready and make contact with some of the musicians. Did you rehearse and sit down with anyone before hand, what was happening behind the closed door ?
Matt – I knew I had to be mega on top of these tunes in terms of performance when you hit me with the news that all guitar tracks would be done Day one and all the vocals Day two. I thought at the end of the day these tunes have to be able to stand up on their own just me and a guitar because I had no idea who we would able to draft in other than you having a lot of session contacts and them saying they will help if they are around over those recording dates. I was a bit worried because I like things set in stone and I came to realise there is a huge element of luck and fate during recording sessions so I just had to trust you on it. In preparation I basically played the album live every day twice or three times a day for 3 months. I wrote the Cello arrangement for the track ‘Time’ about a week before we started but no there was no rehearsal with other musicians. I think you were practising drums for the tunes in your own free moments.
Did we start recording on the 8rd March? … I think we did. I remember you coming in with a load of food that day for everyone, espically cheese and biscuits. You make a mega thick cheese sarny by the way and a good coffee.
Matt – ( laughs) yeah an army marches on their stomachs mate and all that…. Thanks I was useful for something that week then !!! We did 4-11th of March I think amazingly and due to budget restrictions your drumming fee had to be paid in cheese butties! Not a drop of alcohol either I was off the booze and we couldn’t have done it drinking anyway.
So we started with getting down the guide tracks with your guitar and vocals all mainly to a click apart from a couple we wanted to be a bit fluid. As i remember your playing was awesome and your vocals didn’t take long at all. How did you find this and was there any surprises that you didn’t expect?
Matt – Why thank you Chris ! nice of you to say mate but yeah hundreds of hours rehearsal especially for the fingerpicking stuff and that’s the key I discovered to being relaxed in recording sessions I think you’ve just got to know your songs inside out and then the fear can’t get ya ! The surprise was the snoring mate (Laughs) ridiculous having to wrap a scarf round my mouth and nose whilst playing a beautiful guitar piece, your vintage microphones man they’ll pick every gulp, mouth noise, breath so yeah I’m sure there’s still a bit at the end of one of the tracks, may be my imagination though.
Man… Day two was a big day, i only say this as it was mainly focused on me and the fact that i was playing drums on your album. Baring in mind that i hadn’t played on a record for some time. Did it pass you expectations? ( be nice now! )
Matt – Yeah, I was buzzing that I’d recorded my bits and was interested to hear what you’d bring to the table and yes Chris you delivered big time mate, sweating your head off shouting ‘One more ! I can do better” and you literally wouldn’t let it lie until we got what we were after. You passed the audition for album two and when you kick in on the opening track ‘Last gang in town’ it is tremendous work.
I think it’s fare to say that day 3 was a bit of a highlight. The last minute addition to the album line up with Matt Owens. I’ve worked with a matt before and Matt’s so receptive, creative to anything he plays on. What would you say about that?
Matt – Matt Owen’s is a MAJOR TALENT !! Wow! I mean after that flaky guy who talked himself out of the job in strolls Matt who’s never heard any of these songs in his life and just totally smashes the session out of the park. His playing just holds the album together so much and everything he played was just perfect for each track with I think you’ll agree our favourite bit being his 10 note rundown in the second verse of ‘Hellbent’ bass playing at it’s finest and my next album won’t be getting made unless he is playing bass on it.
I recall there was a point at about 11pm when you was ready to for bed and me and Mr Thomas Scotson was still hard at work. The only thing that was going to keep you awake was either a mega cheese sandwhich, mars bar or the sound of Tom on his hammond. Tom as usual has some great ideas and for some reason only likes to work when you buy him a cider. How did you find that part of the day?
Matt – My head was smoking mate ! I was brain fried just wanted to go to bed. There’s all this music on the desk now the album’s really taking shape and then this made music hall Hammond and circus whirls and crazy shit he was playing I couldn’t cope. He was another gem in the process really chilled out guy bought him 6 bottles of Perroni and he just blasted through them but the choice of sounds was infinite and I thought the night would never end. Musicians definitely only have half the stamina of a decent producer I don’t know how you process it all it’s crazy. Another great day though.
Im gonna skip a lot of things before it gets to long winded, but other than Tom and Matt we also had some other very talented musicians performing on the album: Hayley Faye on BV’s – Peter Clare on Piano – Rachel Shakespeare on Cello – Bob Goodman on Fiddle – Kelly on BV’s – Biff Roxby on Trombone. It was great working with everyone and brought a few pleasant surprises along the way. Do you have anything to add about these folk?
Matt – Just to say the amount of beautiful goodwill by all the above mentioned in terms of every one of them going that extra hour or three you know Hayley brought a gorgeous character to the album’s sound, Peter’s awesome work particularly ‘Rocksteady’ Rachel’s jaw dropping Cello work on ‘Time’ is truly something else and one take wonder she is and Bob with his wonderful Gypsy quirky stuff totally improvised on ‘Shadowplay’ yeah Kelly conquering her nerves to add great spice to Rocksteady.
Towards the end of day 5 or 6 (i can’t remember exactly) we could start to see where some tracks needed a little bit more attention than others. For example Dear Mr Monk sounding great but needed a little bit of something, and then comes along Biff. A quick bounce and send it over the internet, the next day the parts was back just how we wanted them! Did this fix / add that little something for you?
Matt – How good was that ! sending Biff a random song he’d never heard no chord sheet just a track for him to do what he wanted to on and within a few hours we get this trombone opera on Dear Mr Monk which we had a job deciding which trombone to add or drop it was extraordinary. ( Laughs ) I remember you in the kitchen going ‘I know what that track needs a trombone, I’ll find someone ) A special moment when we opened that email.
I think it’s fare to say by the end of the recording we was happy with what we achieved, it came on time and within budget. The mixing did however take a little bit longer. I often find it’s the part most artist’s under estimate the time it takes. How did you find the process of mixing?
Matt – Painful !! Look I admit it I’m a just a songwriter who gets bored very quickly and the painstaking highly skilled art of mixing is almost as you say another dimension to the recording process and almost another instrument in itself. I’m blown away with what we achieved it’s a cracking debut and to think it was achieved in that time makes it all the more extraordinary. And yes budget wise I think we came in at exactly the price you quoted from our initial meet and you gave a lot extra too which I owe you a lot of beer for !
I think we did a couple of different options running a full live mix from tape and using pro tools and tape combined. Did you have a prefference or did it just get a little bit to geeky at that point?
Matt – I liked the idea of tape and could hear the difference the warmth but was starting to get a bit afraid of the natural sound of it, we’re so used to pristine recording sounds it can be a huge leap of faith but in the end and listening to it now it suits my sound does tape but having pro tools was a perfect addition because under our time constraints it just helped us out musically rather than being this cut and paste monster the purests hate. You did get a bit geeky though but you know your eggs so I’ll let you off on that count.
As most of my clients know i don’t do Mastering. I use a guy called Eric James from Philosophers Barn, he knows what i want and I have a honest relationship with him. The agrement that nothing goes out until everyone is happy. Was you happy with the how we worked?
Matt – Very happy with Eric and yourself and how the 3 of us found common ground. Like a lot of musicians I’ve recorded stuff that sounds ok on one system then awful in the car or on someone elses gear so to know Eric would sort all this and him being from a classical background things like Matt’s double bass sounds beautiful. And yes it was all very easy Eric sent me a link to what he’d done I would check it and if I wasn’t happy he could tinker a bit but to be honest his first instincts were usally bang on and I’d definitely be happy working like that next time.
The BIG question! Are you happy with the album, did it pass all your expectation and was there any highlights or dark moment?
Matt – ECSTATIC !!! Look, I wanted to leave this very personal album as a lasting musical legacy dedicated to my son ‘Little Boy Wonder’ and you helped me achieve that Chris, you made it happen for me and I’m fiercely proud of it. I think you found a style for me, a sound that is wholly mine a “Matt Thomas Thompson’ sound which has given me a lot of confidence going into writing the next tunes for album 2 of which there are now about 5 rough sketches. Highlights were definitely you agreeing to drum on it which saved the whole band idea, Matt Owen’s whole astonishing bass session, I also loved hearing my first string arrangement played by Rachel Shakespeare live and thinking ‘Have I really written that ?” and just really listening to those loud playbacks in the studio on magnificent speakers towards the end of the week when the musicians had all done their magic and thinking this is AWESOME !! I had no idea it would sound anything like this on day one. Dark moments were the day I said goodbye to the session and the week of a lifetime with you and the wonderlings but knowing I would be back when I’ve saved up enough pocket money. Beware Chris I’m onto Gypsy Jazz next ! 2 weeks recording though next time please.
What are you up to now it’s all over?
Matt – Well recording the music really is the easy bit ! Social media madness all had to be set up so we’re up and running with FB and Twitter, the album is available on iTunes and if you personal message me on FB Thompsonmattt I can mail out physical copies too. I’ve got a showcase at Night and Day on 28th August and yesterday I did some press with the Manchester Evening News on the inspiration behind the album and generally looking for good gig opportunities and to start spreading the word about my crazy music which I’m very proud of ! also looking into licensing my music for film TV etc…
Matt thanks for gracing me with your music. You was a pleasure and interesting album to work on. I look forward to album number 2.
Matt Thomas Thompson’s Album ‘Songs For Little Boy Wonder’ is available on iTunes or for signed CD copies message Matt on FB thompsonmattt or Twitter Thompsonmattt