When asked what their favorite instruments are, it’s fitting that the duo of Matthew Collings and Euan McMeeken list Ableton Live and voice, respectively. In many ways, this encapsulates the Graveyard Tapes sound: a natural and indelibly human element being skewered and manipulated, only to become even more effective both musically and emotionally.
The duo began collaborating in 2010 to arrive at “Our Sound Is Our Wound,” a balance of song and sound that proves to be impressive in its depth and subtlety. Issued by Lost Tribe Sound, a label of which McMeeken says it feels “really nice to be part of something so special,” and it’s easy to see why: the CD comes housed in heavy book board and includes a 10 panel art booklet by Jamie Mills. It’s fitting that an album that balances distressed melody with textural depth also knows the importance of matching the abstract headspace music provides with the tactile meaning of a special artifact.
Experimedia exchanged emails with Collings and McMeeken about their collaboration as Graveyard Tapes.
Song and atmosphere seem to be equally important to you. Is that a tough balance to maintain?
Collings: For me, the setting for a song is of huge importance. In any music, texture, sound, and weight are what really draw me in as a listener, and lyrics come later; you need to find an interesting stage for them to play out their story. Most of the music I write is instrumental, and I even treat vocals in that way, simply as one more element of a larger picture. Working with Euan was always easy as he really understands this approach too. He would never be complaining that the vocals “weren’t loud enough” as some would.
McMeeken: I think that’s probably because for me vocals are not simply a way of relaying a message but are much more importantly part of the sonic landscape of a piece of music. Your voice is an instrument in its own right and I think it’s hugely important to know how to use it as an instrument within a piece of work. Just like any instrument I feel that vocals don’t have to be front and centre to be interesting and add to any given track. So I think Matt and I do have similar ways of approaching music. How vocals sound should always come last, for me, in the creation of a track and be used to make that track better. I blame Sparklehorse for my obsession with how a voice should sound. He got it right mostly even though he wasn’t a particularly strong singer. Which just highlights my point about the voice being a tool/instrument.
You both have many other music projects going on at the same time. How do you chose what to use for a Graveyard Tapes track?
Collings: Many of the tracks on the album started with a song and a structure from Euan, which I made great effort to pull apart at the seams, and then put back together again. Certain ideas just seem to sit well with Euan’s voice or this set of songs. We’d also have these intense bursts of creativity and create a mass of recordings, only later finding that these could make new pieces in themselves or be smashed into something new.
McMeeken: What was exciting for me is that Matt and I came from different backgrounds musically but share many of the same tastes. So it felt like what we created was a cross between our different work/worlds and it could easily have not worked and yet it did which makes the future exciting because the possibilities feel quite limitless.
The packaging for “Our Sound Is Our Wound” is very elaborate. How important is it to create a special, tangible product in today’s digital world?
Collings: I think it’s really important. Even though I still digest the majority of music digitally these days anything that is tangible and takes you away from a machine is very important. It also gives you a chance to work with more talented people, and create a whole thing, rather than simply music on its own. When you have something physical it will always mean more to you; I’m keen on reducing the amount of music and objects I have in my life. Something which digital technology really enables this is mass proliferation of “stuff” – pictures, files, music, video etc – that really has very little value to you, you only keep it because you can. I miss the days of having 5 cds and having to listen to them day in and day out because you had nothing else. Those are the things which really matter to me.
McMeeken: I still cannot help but miss browsing music shops and searching for the next great record to own. I am quite passionate about art and packaging and how things should look as I find digital files quite soulless. I know so many people who don’t own cds or vinyl, simply owning these files on their computer and it makes me kind of sad. Having books stored on your Kindle or whatever, music only on your laptop or ipad/ipod it misses the point for me. The feel and smell of a book, the excitement of getting home with your new music and getting to unwrap it and explore it whilst you listen. I guess it’s my age but I cannot get used to buying everything online even if it is easier in the busy world that we all live in as adults.
Matthew, you recently had Ben Frost produce a solo album of yours. He seems to be a very like-minded musician. How did that come about?
Collings: I lived in Reykjavik for 6 years and met Ben through my job. It being a small place it’s not that difficult to meet people…I was really interested in Ben’s work and I gave him a load of material I was working on, which he liked, so we just started moulding it together. At the time he would have been my top choice of person to work with, so it was a nice coincidence…This happened very slowly over a few years. We both have this understanding that a lot of great ideas come from doing things the ‘wrong’ way, and I think both of us are interested in pushing equipment and ideas to breaking point. I think he really understood what I was going for sonically and he really pushed me in a lot of ways which helped me move forward as a musician. It was really exciting working with him and I hope to do it again in the future. – Ryan Potts, Experimedia