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RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW ABRASIVE TREES

Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.

What made you decide to start the band?

Matt: I wanted to start a project that was based on the idea of complete freedom of expression and freedom to experiment.  I had been in several bands before and worked with some really great people, which was brilliant, but there was never a feeling that I was creating the sound  I wanted. I wanted to play with layered sounds and atmospheres and find a vehicle for my lyrics and poems. Initially, this was how it was – inviting friends to add parts to my tracks and see where it went.  It was amazing to be able to do this initially live with Ben (Roberts) and Nadia (Abdelaziz) and then record tracks remotely during lockdown 1.0 with Ben, Mark Beazley, Jay (Newton), Jo-Beth Young, Peter Yates, Steven Hill, Mark Parsons, Seb (my brother) and Laurence Collyer.  I would then work with Mark (B) to mix them into something that felt right.  This was a hugely productive and satisfying process for me.

More recently things have evolved naturally into becoming more of a ‘band’.  Once we started rehearsing together about 18 months years ago the sound of Abrasive Trees changed.  It’s also been a hugely fulfilling process.  We are so lucky to have each other I think – Jay on guitars, Ben on cello and bass, with Jerome on drums. Having Jess on-board for the visuals is the icing on the cake, plus she’s an analogue synth geek – so we’ll find a way to weave that in too.

Overall, the friendships that run through this band are so vital and precious. It’s all about the music, but equally, about the people we all are.

Introduce us to the members and your musical history?

Ben: I play electric cello and bass guitar. I’ve been playing cello since I was 6, and have played classically ever since; I’m currently principal cellist for the Torbay Symphony Orchestra as well as running a string quartet. I started playing in bands when I was 15, and spent my 20’s touring and recording with Evi Vine, which led to many opportunities and to where I’m at now, working full time as a session cellist and general band whore.

Jay: I started playing piano at primary school and used to jam out in the music room with friends at secondary school. I then self-taught myself drums and played in a school band mainly playing Placebo and Green Day covers as I recall. Guitar came later – probably when I was at university in Reading. Again self-taught but many hours were spent jamming and learning stuff I liked. Since then I played and recorded guitar in a few bands in Reading (Heartwear Process/Quiet Quiet Band/ Full Force Gales/ Kableknit) and have contributed keys/ guitar/ drums to various friends recorded and live material (Ben Marwood/ Jo Beth Young/ Kalendar/ Imperfect Orchestra). I met Matt and Ben when I joined Jo Beth Young for a live tour a couple of years back where I played piano with Matt playing guitar and Ben on Cello. The rest is history! 

Jerome:

I started dissecting the drums when I was 6 and played throughout school. I then studied music production at DBS music in Plymouth which led me into sound tech work. After moving to Totnes in 2019 and started to play at the open mic nights then met Matt shortly afterwards.

Matt: I started playing the guitar when I was 13 – initially classical guitar and then electric. I played in a band in Newcastle, then in more recent years I’ve been lucky enough to play in Council of Giants, with Jo-Beth Young and with Rothko.  Although I mainly play the guitar I also play bass and dulcimer.  Recently I started playing with synths.  There’s always something new to discover with music.

What’s one question you’re sick of being asked when interviewed?

Matt: “what are your influences?”

Ben: “is that a double bass?”

Jay: “Why do you need so many pedals…?”

Do you subscribe to any conspiracy theories? 

Matt: I don’t need to.  I know the current system and ways of thinking are continually failing the planet.

Ben: Yes, all of them, they’re great, and most of them seem more plausible than the “news”.

Jay: Kurt Cobain and Jeff Buckley are secretly hidden away writing comeback records.

Did you buy anything you don’t need in the pandemic?

Matt: Soap.  Too much soap.

Jay: No but maybe I should have panic-bought Jim Dunlop 0.6mm plectrums as they were recently discontinued much to my dismay.

Matt: Oh no! Yes those Jim Dunlop plectrums will be no more.  This is tragic.



What useless party trick do you have? 

Matt: I make a sound like a frog.

Jay: I can dislocate my thumbs

What was the most fun you have had on stage?

Matt: I played gigs with Jo-Beth Young and at one gig we had the weirdest heckler who was telling us how to play and the engineer how to mix.  Jo announced that he was her dad.  It was hysterical.

Jay: In September last year, Ben and I played a gig in Totnes as ‘Nirvania’ and performed most of Nevermind to celebrate 30 years since its release. It was the funniest gig I’ve ever played and the crowd went absolutely mental. 

Matt: That gig was incredible.

What was the worst experience on stage?

Matt: Nothing specific, but when the on-stage sound is bad, it’s hugely confusing.

Ben: Playing a small stage at Glastonbury festival being drowned out by the very loud band on the Park Stage, having to soundcheck against pumping rave tunes, and everything went wrong: random tuning problems, pedals that didn’t work, notes that suddenly didn’t fit any more, it was a nightmare.

Matt: Oh! What Ben said reminded me of playing a very delicate song at a festival in Cornwall and having huge bleed from the drum and bass stage next door.

Jay: When I played live in Heartwear Process we had 3 guitarists. It was totally unnecessary but kinda worked though made gigs and soundchecks a real rollercoaster ride for everyone involved. 

Tell us something about you / each member that you think people would be surprised about? 

Matt: I have seven sisters. And I’m about 33% Indian.

Ben: I got kicked out of school half way through my GCSE’s, then was a chartered engineer by the time I was 30. Now I’m a broke musician 😀 

Jay: I used to be in the Great Britain sailing team in 2-person dingies and sailed in the world championships in 1994

If you had to describe your band/music to an alien how would you describe it? 

Ben: It explores spirituality and sadness with a good deal of cathartic rocking out.

Matt: This music is about finding purpose and meaning amidst a world full of the pointless and meaningless. And making noise.

Jay: Apologies but we are still working on the galaxy-teleportation guitar pedal.

What makes you stand out as a band/artist?

Matt: Ben

Ben: me

Jay: Matt’s pedalboard

Matt: Seriously though, I have no idea – maybe Ben’s cello, the spoken word, the sitar sound on the guitars, Jay’s Pajo-esque guitars. It’s all about the mix.  And ultimately for other people to decide.

Right now, what’s pissing you off the most?

Matt: literally nothing, life’s too short.

What’s your favourite song to play live and why?

Matt: for me it’s Now You Are Not Here, as it’s become a gothy/psychedelic rock song with distinctly Indian vibes.

Ben: Moulding Heaven With Earth; I’m super chuffed with the basslines, and the new noisy spoken word section we do live is filthy fun.

I hear you have a new ep, what can you tell us about it?

Matt: It’s two tracks and a remix, so is that an EP?  Prob not.  Anyway, it starts with Moulding Heaven With Earth which is a slow-building spoken-word track with drones. It evolves and expands into some kind of prog-rock doom track before exploding into its own void. I am deeply in love with Jerome’s drumming on this one. The second track is called Kali Send Sunflowers and I think it’s much more introspective and dare-I-say-it spiritual.  Ben’s cello on that is sublime. Jay’s guitar blows me away.  The third is a fearless remix by the master of distortion and delay, Mark Beazley. It’s quite an incredible piece of sonic art.

Talk me through the thought process of the ep?

Matt: I wrote the tracks, we then arranged them together and gigged them a couple of times. We wanted to capture what felt like a crucial point in how we were developing together and these two songs felt like the most natural ones to do.  There was another track, Metal Beaters that we could have recorded too, but I wanted to save that one for another session. These two songs are really about reaching out from a place of confusion to find a forward path.  One of them, Moulding Heaven was originally a poem I’d worked on with my father who was a celebrated poet in Scotland.  It felt really special to record those words like this.  My good friend Jo-Beth Young had recorded the words a few months before, perfectly and we’d sampled that for live shows. But Jay suggested it should be me reciting the words – and from memory, not reading them from the page.  I’m glad he did.  It felt right to be honouring my dad like this.

What was the recording process like?

Ben: Great fun – just the right balance of focus and experimentation.

Matt: Pretty effortless. And full of beautiful moments.  Lucy and Matt B are amazing to work with, they facilitated the process with a light touch and lots of clarity, flexibility and openness.

What was the biggest learning curve in writing the ep?

Matt: for me, just letting things happen and to trust in the process but still feel confident to make decisions.

Would you change anything now that it’s finished?

Matt: no.  It’s perfect as is.  We can mess with it live if we want to.  Actually we have!

What are your plans for the year ahead?

Ben: Build a tiny house home studio and reconnect with nature / myself.

Matt: What Ben says sounds great.  I may do the same. Would be good for us to record an album, we have a tour in October/November.  So writing, recording and touring.

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

Ben: Check out my own band, Prosthetic Head 😉 x

Matt: Find what makes you feel peaceful and keep doing it.

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