13 Nov 2018
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I Am Giant - NZ Music Legends: Paul Matthews

25 May 2016 // An interview by James Donaldson

James Donaldson spoke to producer/engineer and bassist extraordinaire (I Am Giant, Stylus, Tadpole) Paul Matthews for muzic.net.nz about where he came from and what his plans are. Here's what he had to say:

What do you have in your pockets right now?

Absolutely nothing cos my jeans are too tight.

You have been in the industry a while now, how did it all begin?

I played bass in a high school Rockquest band with my schoolmates, which later evolved into a band called Stylus. We played around Auckland for a few years and I attended both SAE and MAINZ where I studied Audio Engineering and Contemporary Music Performance.

At the end of 1999 Stylus took a break for a few years when I joined another Auckland band called Tadpole. That was my first opportunity to play in a band that was being played on the radio and playing good sized shows throughout NZ all at a time when local music was gaining momentum in NZ. It was good timing for me because Renee and Dean had been slogging it out for years and then I joined right as it all came together for Tadpole.

Lets talk about some standout points in your career so far that some people may not know about.

The standout point of my career was actually surviving a crossbow murder attempt in 2003 when I made it onto NZ national news for the first and only time. There is nothing quite as exciting as escaping with your life.

SAE and Mainz

I studied at SAE in Auckland in 1997 and MAINZ in 1999.

I’d advocate both and in particular going to SAE straight out of high school taught me so much. I didn't even know what multi-track tape was so it gave me foundations and gave me the opportunity to spend a lot more time focusing on music. My year at MAINZ gave me the opportunity to practise the Bass a lot.. so that particular year I was able to step up my game and I think if I hadn’t had that intensive year of “practice practice practice” I wouldn’t have been good enough at the instrument to get the Tadpole gig. When I started SAE we were cutting and splicing together 1/4 inch tape to make edits, and about 90% of the recording I did at SAE was done to 2 inch 24 track tape. The other 10% was using an O2R onto ADAT which at the time was cutting edge technology.

Blindspott production

I went to school with Shelton who was the drummer for Blindspott. His best mate’s brother Chris Yong was in Tadpole with me. I’d been recording demos for the bands I was in and I’d recorded some for other local bands, one in particular, a local rap-metal band called Counteract. Shelton heard their demo, and saw me at a Fantomas gig at the Powerstation and asked if I could record his band. That was how I ended up recording Blindspott’s first track Nil By Mouth along with soon-to-be Stylus drummer Dave Rhodes. This was at the old Antenna Records studio in Auckland in 2001 who Tadpole were signed to. In 2002 we recorded the whole album mostly at York St with Clint Murphy. Dave Rhodes mixed it at York St.

Stylus writing/production/bass

I left Tadpole at the start of 2002 so I could focus more on picking back up with Stylus and my last gig with Tadpole was the Big Day Out 2002 which was a great show to finish on. I then started working on the first Stylus album Painkillers. That was a really enjoyable period, and the same year that we recorded Blindspott’s first album which went on to do really well in NZ. Stylus had a studio in Grey Lynn and we recorded our first album Painkillers in there. We signed to Murray Cammick’s label, Wildside Records, and started touring NZ. We pretty much shared production and engineering duties within the band, and Dave mixed all the Stylus stuff. He was the better, more experienced (older haha) engineer so I picked up a lot from him during those years.

Move to London in 2007

By 2005 - 2006 I realised my capacity to grow and improve as both a producer and a band guy had hit a ceiling. Purely the numbers game. With Stylus we were confined to a very small territory, very far away from the action, pushing a niche sound to a population of less than 1% of the English speaking world. All the bands we loved were coming from the US and from the UK, and NZ’s most notable musical success story at the time was Neil Finn whose success had involved being based overseas. This was also around the same time The Datsuns were getting a lot of attention in the UK, and Shihad who had moved to Melbourne previously were doing a lot up in the US. So it seemed like the right idea. 

As a producer/engineer one of the things that hit home about the limitations of being based in NZ was an emerging pattern whereby the few major label artists in NZ would fly in overseas guys to record them. Sometimes they did a good job, but others were actually worse than what us Kiwi guys could do.

And when it came time for the second Blindspott record they flew in some overseas guys. After I’d produced an album for them that put them on the map in NZ and sold over 40,000 copies, for their follow up record they picked some guys from overseas who’s total sales history in NZ wouldn’t have been a tenth of that. They were really good engineers though and there is no disputing that they were the product of being active in a much deeper talent pool. But the first Blindspott album still by far outsold the second so… shame on everyone's undies really.

Hence I made up my mind that I needed to up my game and put myself in an environment where I could do so. So I moved to London in 2007.

Would I advocate moving overseas..? Absolutely.

Is it essential? Depending on your genre, possibly not.

Since I relocated, Lorde and Joel Little trumped Neil Finn, won a Grammy and became NZ’s most notable musical success story which all happened from NZ. There have been others too like Broods and The Naked and Famous that are doing well internationally based out of NZ.

I Am Giant 

I formed I Am Giant with Shelton in 2008, and we’ve told anybody who'll listen over and over how long we were looking for a singer before we found our first singer Ed. It’s been collaborative, but it would be fair to say I’ve been the principal songwriter and lyricist from the start, mostly I think because I’m one of those 'hard outs', which I’ve been called enough that I have to concede that it’s somewhat true. Moving to London was a bit of a culture shock but we stuck it out. We did a lot with I Am Giant, played in a load of places. All through Europe, Asia and in NY and LA. NZ took to us quickly thanks in part to our history within the NZ music scene as well as winning a competition to open the rock stage at Homegrown on the back of our brand new single City Limits which the rock had started playing. We also had good management in Teresa Patterson who put together our first NZ tour with Luger Boa and Black River Drive which went well. On the back of the Homegrown gig we signed to Sony NZ. Poland also took to I Am Giant quickly and we have a good fan base there still. We've thrown around the theory that Poland is like the west Auckland of Europe so maybe there’s something in that. We recorded both of our albums with Forrester Savell. The first album, The Horrifying Truth, was a great learning curve for me as Forrester’s attention to detail was next level which he attributed to having worked in a studio in LA and seeing first-hand how all the guns over there were doing it.

Paul Matthews Engineering/Production. Tell me a bit more about PMMP business?

Initially my primary focus lay with whatever band I was in, but I’d work as a freelance Producer/Engineer to help get by while I was doing that. Eventually I got busier and busier doing that. Aside from I Am Giant and Blindspott I’ve worked with some good Kiwi artists over the years including OpShop and Six60. I recorded an EP for OpShop which included a great song called Oxygen. I still really love that song. Jason Kerrison is one of the best singers I've recorded. And for Six60 I produced, engineered and mixed their track Rise Up along with Shelton. That did amazingly well and went to number 1 and sold over 15k copies which is Platinum in NZ. I produced an album for Michael Murphy who was runner up in the first NZ Idol. Shelton and I also recorded a fantastic track for Brendon Thomas and The Vibes last year who were runners up in the last NZ XFactor but the band and their management decided it wasn’t the right direction for them.

As of recent, I have a small studio in New Malden which is close to Wimbledon in London where I’m still based most of the year round.

While I’ve been in NZ recently I’ve produced the debut EP for Christchurch band Setting Fire To Stacey. Back in London, I've been working and developing a young band from Kent called The Alchemy. Their debut EP has only just come out. With The Alchemy I’ve been taking a more long term approach and I’ve been involved in managing and mentoring them. There's a sentiment in the UK that bands take 3 albums before a band really starts getting attention. There's plenty of case studies that suggest that.

In terms of Production, from the very first album I produced (which was Blindspott), I've taken a holistic approach to the recording by starting with the song, and the lyrics first. Work with the song and get it into a state that it is as good as we can make it before we even start laying down the guides. So effectively I’ll often have a co-writing role with the artists I work with.

I’ve also been working on another project with Shelton and Laughton Kora called Kinetic which is a more electronic based project and has been a lot of fun.

Laughton would be another of the best singers I’ve recorded. I’d get the kind of Vocal take from him I’d be begging other singers for and I’d hit stop and he’d say: “Again, I can do that better”. I keep all the takes anyway just in case.

He sang our first song Living the Illusion and I comped together the best takes and sent it to him. It sounded amazing. The next time he came into the studio he said ‘I want to sing that whole song again’. Shelton and I just did the old "ah mate we haven’t got time or budget" trick on that one because it sounds great and that’s the take that is in the track now.

You have worked with and played with some big names so far. What are a few highlights for you?

Touring in Oz with Slash in 2012 was unforgettable and a landmark for me because growing up I was such a huge fan of Slash and GnR. There have been plenty of other highlights too. We toured Oz with Dead Letter Circus, they’re great guys and that was a really cool tour to be on. I'd say having a number 1 on the back of playing on XFactor is worth a mention too.

Over 15 years in the business now, how has it changed?

Oh this topic… I’m talked to/at about this so much.. for years now. I don’t even know where to start. It’s like asking how the travel industry changed with the introduction of aviation. I probably don’t want to write a thesis on it tho.. not when I could be talking about myself instead haha. I like how I can listen to pretty much any song instantly on Spotify. So for the listener it's great. Of course the value of a recording has now gone down so much that it's hard for labels to advance anything to cover the costs of recording and releasing an album when they won’t make anything back from sales anymore. People are having to find new alternatives to enable them to record.

This has a knock on effect in the industry and a number of the big recording studios in London have closed down over the past few years.

And then you have guys like Skrillex who are outputting number 1’s straight from the master bus on Ableton on his Macbook. And his stuff sounds wicked.. and even better... it sounds exciting. So... like everything, change is inevitable as is adaptation to that change.

I’d speculate that the task of getting your band noticed today, is as hard as it’s ever been, but that really great acts will still get noticed.

You have a great ear for catchy melodies and some sick lyrics where does the inspiration come from?

That’s very kind of you to say and much appreciated. I think we all pick out melodies and lyrics that we’d like to hear ourselves and that feel good to us. I think often the melodies originate from somewhere deep in your memory where they've been stored away from something we’ve heard in the past, even fleetingly. There was one lyric in particular on Science and Survival, the second I Am Giant record where I thought "surely this is the best I’ve done, this is awesome". And then about 2 years later I heard it in a Duran Duran song. I agonised over that lyric - sat on a rainy hilltop and everything. I could have just cut out the middleman and nicked it straight from Duran Duran because clearly they came up with it first.

The content of the lyrics comes from all over the place, we’ve always said in I Am Giant they’re a collection of stories, thoughts and moments.

Sometimes it’s just what comes out and sounds good over the music and you just make it fit. I don’t think a lot of writers freely admit it but I’m sure I hear it everywhere.

The Chilli Peppers song Around the World, the “nong ning nang" line in the 3rd verse.. quick just finish the verse so we can record the song.

Fame or fortune?

I’ll honestly take reversal of human impact on the planet please. 

The narcissistic fame thing doesn’t make me feel great I have to be honest, I dislike it. But fortune would be hard to turn down and would certainly alleviate the challenge of getting by.

Am I fiercely striving for any of the above? Sadly not.

Whats next for PM?

I’m in the middle of working with The Alchemy and putting together their first full length album, I’m working on a new Agent album, and Ed Martin our former IAG singer's debut solo effort is still underway.

I’m finishing up with some friends of mine in London called The Lagan who are an Irish punk outfit. They have a great, fun new track on the way.

I’m also in the middle of an EP for Tokyo Rock Machine who are a good fun 80’s style rock band.

I’ve just started working on a track for UK based kiwi singer Miss Bridget Walsh.

Coming up in the next 6 months, I have an EP planned with Jason Kerrison that I’m looking forward to working on. 

We have some more Kinetic tracks we’re going to work on.. we have 6 already so not far from having a whole albums worth. 

And.. I’ve started writing for a 3rd I Am Giant record, so depending on how that comes together with the other guys there may be something to release towards the end of the year, peoples schedules and behavioural issues permitting.

 

About I Am Giant

With an impressive 70,000+ loyal fans on Facebook and over 1,000 international members of their ‘IAG Army’, I Am Giant have amassed a huge worldwide following with four #1 rock singles and a certified gold album in New Zealand, music videos featuring skate and surfing icons Tony Hawk and Kelly Slater, opening for Slash in Australia, a UK tour with Taking Back Sunday, performances at Big Day Out in Auckland and Sydney, opening for Stone Temple Pilots in Singapore, touring throughout Asia several times, and playing the prestigious Viper Room and Mercury Lounge in the US.

Their debut album The Horrifying Truth, was recorded with acclaimed producer Forrester Savell (Karnivool, Dead Letter Circus, The Butterfly Effect). I Am Giant bound together what they describe as “a collection of stories, thoughts, observations and exploration” into a cohesive and hard-hitting explosion of sound and melody. From the first song Purple Heart to closer After The War, the sharp lyrical themes draw the listener into the band’s growing awareness of mortality and loss of innocence. The Horrifying Truth is pure, unadulterated rock, with its heart on its sleeve and an unquenchable fire in its soul.

October 2012 saw I Am Giant release The Horrifying Truth in the UK and Europe, where their single Purple Heart won support on BBC Radio One as Zane Lowe's ‘Next Hype’ , XFM, Kerrang! Radio and Q Radio as well as hitting the No 1 spot on Polish Radio Eska Rock.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for I Am Giant

Releases

Life In Captivity
Year: 2018
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
Science & Survival
Year: 2014
Type: Album
The Horrifying Truth
Year: 2011
Type: Album
Buy Online @ Mightyape
City Limits/Neon Sunrise
Year: 2010
Type: EP

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