RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW HAYWOOD ARTIST MATT WOODMAN
Hiya Matt, Thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today.
Thanks for having me! This is the first time I’ve done anything like this, so this is pretty odd but very exciting to do.
Introduce us to you and your musical history
My name’s Matt Woodman and I’m a 25-year-old singer-songwriter from Heywood, just outside of Manchester. I’ve been playing guitar since I was 9 after taking lessons in primary school and started singing when I was 12. I wrote my first song when I was 14 and started to produce music when I was 16 once I started studying music tech as one of my A-Levels at college. Music is very much built into my family as my dad’s been playing a bunch of instruments and been writing songs since before I was born (Check out David Woodman, he’s great). He gained these skills from my grandad who sings, plays many stringed instruments, built guitars and continues to repair guitars to this day. He built my first electric guitar as a Christmas present for me when I was 11, which I treasure.
Mum is a great singer and her family is made of people who love to sing whether it’s in theatre productions or at a pub on karaoke night. Being raised by musical parents means that a lot of my family and friends either play music or are interested in listening and discussing music. When my uncle and grandad can travel back to England for summer or Christmas, it’ll usually result in a jam session between them, dad and myself. The 4 of us will trade instruments and take turns leading different songs. It’s been a while since all 4 of us have been in the same room together due to Covid and other factors, but that’s the mental image that comes up in my mind when people ask about my musical background.
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
I’d always wanted to do something creative, but I came to music quite late despite the musical background I have because my first love as a kid was movies. I was more interested in either being a director or an actor because I’d always enjoyed telling stories and being able to do that as a living was an exciting idea to me. In hindsight, my movie ideas were crap and after telling some close mates about the film plots and hearing their reaction, we can all be grateful that I didn’t pursue that.
I always had a deep connection to music, but I didn’t get into playing instruments until the guitar lessons in Year 4 of primary school. I’d tried singing as a kid but because I didn’t know anything about my voice or what range it suited, I’d try songs that I couldn’t sing and then use that as evidence that I was bad at singing. A particularly bad karaoke performance of Eye of The Tiger at my uncle and auntie’s house comes to mind. I figured that I couldn’t sing and that music was something for my family to pursue rather than me. I started playing in the worship band at the church I went to in my early teens and they needed someone to sing a particular song that had been requested. No one knew it and they were gonna throw it out of the set, so without any thought I said “I could sing that if you want” and they said yes without any questions. I had to trust that I could do it and I did it well enough that I decided to keep going with it.
What was life like for you before music?
Sorry in advance for the absolute cheese, but I’m afraid I have to say it because it’s true: Music’s been so engraved into my life from an early age that I don’t really know what a life without it would look like. I use it as a talking point when getting to know people and I can usually pick up somebody’s vibe based off what they listen to. It’s how a large portion of my family express themselves creatively and I use my music collection to regulate my thoughts and feelings throughout the day, so music is built into my functioning.
What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?
I’ve been inspired by a bunch of songs and artists growing up in terms of music and lyrics, but the first song I heard that made me go “oooooo, what’s that and how do I make it?” was Fireflies by Owl City. It’s not necessarily my favourite song as it’s pretty corny lyrically. However, the production of it in terms of the blend of electronic elements, orchestral parts and the pop-rock elements in the later choruses blew my mind as a kid and I found it a hypnotic sounding song. I hadn’t thought about it until I started showing my music to people and Owl City’s name kept coming up when people first heard my debut single, Bruxism. It wasn’t a conscious choice at the time of making it but listening back to a couple of the tracks from the upcoming album, I can hear how much of that song’s production style stuck with me and how it’s influenced the sort of grand sounding tracks I like to make.
Where do you feel you currently sit within the music industry?
In terms of the “industry”, I feel like I’m currently on the outside of it looking for a seat at the table because I’m still starting out in terms of officially releasing stuff and I’m still developing my skills when it comes to release strategies, networking, booking shows etc. I also don’t carry the sort of persona that’s built for the sort of influencer culture around music promotion these days. Whenever I have to record a selfie video to promote my music or have to talk in a way that sounds like a Tiktok influencer, my brain knows that it’s a performance and it’s like “Dude, you’re not Charlie Puth. What’re you playing at?”.
Ultimately, I think every musician is looking for a different level of engagement with the music industry. Personally, I’m not necessarily looking to be a celebrity of any kind, but I admire artists who’ve built up a decent sized fanbase that they know will be invested in them regardless of whatever venue size or sale numbers they reach, so this is the sort of impact I aspire towards. I feel like I’ve built that up more over the past couple of years by meeting amazing people who have shown incredible support for my music. I’d love to watch this community grow so if anyone reading this wants to join us, you’re more than welcome to join in anytime!
What’s the biggest thing you have learned from someone else in the industry?
Guy Garvey is a hero of mine and Elbow have a song called All Disco where the chorus says “what does it prove if you die for a tune? It’s really all disco”. When Elbow were interviewed about the song, Guy explained that that phrase came from a fellow musician and the way he explained its meaning stuck with me and I implement it into my personal life. He said “put everything into what you do, while realising that what you do isn’t everything”. I take that to mean that I should put as much effort as I can into my craft, but don’t let it replace the important things that you need to function in life whether that’s friendships, relationships, health, work etc. I try and balance those factors as much as I can because as much as I love music and making it, I need to make sure that I’m making enough time for myself and the people I care about.
Tell us Two truths and a lie about you?
I was part of the entertainment act in an episode of Come Dine With Me, my Great Grandad’s guitar was an item on Antiques Roadshow and I’ve worn Alex Horne’s belt.
If you could wish for one thing to aid your career what would it be?
I’m pretty happy with how things are going so far, so the main mission now is to keep growing this community of people that have invested in my music. If I had to pick something, I would love to get a band together for gigs. I love the live set up I have now, which involves me building up the songs with my guitar and a loop pedal, but I’d love to form a group so we can do bigger shows that allow the songs to be played in the way that they’re presented on the album.
Do you ever worry about people taking things the wrong way or cancel culture? Discuss….
I don’t actively try to push any controversial buttons and to be honest, I’m don’t think people are looking to me as a voice on the big issues. I write about those things from time to time if I have experience in it or if it’s a cause that’s close to me, but there’s some human experiences that I won’t ever experience or understand at the level of the people who live in those conditions on the daily. In this era where the internet expects everyone to publicly state their opinion on everything all the time, I think it’s an admirable quality to recognise when you don’t know about something and to not feel the need to speak into it without looking into it first. I’m hoping this doesn’t come back to bite me in the butt one day, but it seems to have kept me out of trouble so far so I’ll keep doing that the best that I can.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories? If no why not?
There isn’t a specific one that I’m a firm believer in, but the psychology student in me is interested in the sort of beliefs that people have and how that affects them. It can be a tricky thing to navigate because for every fun sci-fi based conspiracy about lizard people or the moon being a satellite, there’s others that spread misinformation that puts people at risk. I do think we have enough evidence with how the UK government have handled things in the past couple of years, especially regarding lockdown, that we should take what they say with a pinch of salt. However, I don’t try and guess what else they could be lying to us about because it sounds like an exhausting exercise.
What was the worst experience on stage?
I have a few clunkers to my name, but one that stands out to me is my first festival performance. I was singing a song with 2 talented mates of mine and I was gonna sing the third verse of this song. We played in a circus tent in front of 500 people and it was my turn to sing, so I counted myself in and went to sing into the mic. However, I misjudged the angle and head butted the mic with force. I hoped no one had heard the thump that my head made when it walloped the mic and carried on singing. Despite my efforts, I saw my mates after I got off stage and the first thing they said was “dude, I laughed so hard when you hit your head on that mic”.
Tell us something about you that you think people would be surprised about
Oh man, you’re digging deep! I’m a pretty open book when it comes to telling people about myself so I’m quite bad at keeping surprises. I guess there’s the drug ring I’ve set up in Wensleydale but that’s in its development phase at the moment, so if you can keep that on the downlow then that’d be great.
What makes you stand out as an artist?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as this is the sort of thing music blogs love to ask and I need a good answer. When I think about my music, I try and walk the line between optimism and vulnerability. I write songs to explore the emotions that feel too big to say in casual conversation: They can be bold and bright, but they can also be quiet and vulnerable. The cool thing to do in music now is to talk about your emotions with a sense of irony, but some corners of the internet as a result now look down on people who express “lovey dovey” emotions. I want to bring sentimentality back into music as there’s strength in being able to express something simply and meaning it. It takes courage to tell someone that you love them without feeling like you need to dress it up or present it ironically and there’s power in being able to tell someone that things aren’t going great for you right now and that you need support. I want to create music and write lyrics that speaks to those feelings that we have and my hope is that listeners can use my music as a safe space to connect with those emotions.
You’ve mentioned that you have a new album on the way, what can you tell us about it?
I do! It’s called The World That We Live In and it comes out on Friday 1st September. The album is about how we let the things that happen to us define the way we see the world at large. The title track that came out a week ago sets up this thesis and most of the songs that follow are about things that I went through during that period that shaped how I viewed the world. There’s songs about falling in love after previously writing off the idea of love, dealing with anxiety in lockdown and preparing for the future when you don’t feel ready for it to arrive. The final song, The Other Side, requires us to look back at all the stuff that happened and asking ourselves where we go from here. The reception to the songs I’ve put out from it so far have been lovely, so I’m hoping that people love this album and are pleasantly surprised by some of the songs that are on it as they dabble in different sounds compared to what I’ve written before.
What was the recording process like?
This album was mostly made in my room using Logic, a vocal mic, my guitars and my MIDI Keyboard so it’s about as DIY Pop of a recording set up as it gets. I’m a sucker for Spitfire plugins and the way they’ve made quality sounding patches so accessible for independent musicians with their Labs series. Their plugins gave me a range of instruments and synths that allowed me to create the sort of epic electronic and orchestral sounds that I can fuse with the rock pop elements of my live playing to create the sort of music I envisioned. I showed the mixes to Dad so that I can get his opinion on them and so he could add some bass as well as guitar and backing vocals on certain tracks.
I think my strength as a producer is knowing what sort of musical ideas and tones suit the song and I can present you a song in enough of a shape that you know what it’s about and where it’s gonna go. However, I currently require help to get the mixes to a level that sounds professional so that’s where I call on my mate and co-producer, Sam Green, to work his magic. The album was mastered by his dad, Andy Green, who is an absolute wizard.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
The main thing with this project was embracing my own sound and not being afraid to pursue it even if it’s different from what people expect. My family typically makes music in the blues, Americana and folk genres that are more focused on the idea of a technically gifted musician presenting their songs in a simple and effective way. I have so much respect to them and artists in these genres as they’re very talented in their playing and writing skills, which is why I don’t really write in those genres much because that’s not the gift that I have. I used to get nervous that my relatives wouldn’t support my music because of how different it is from their music tastes, but they’ve been very kind about it and even if the genre isn’t their cup of tea, they still encourage my writing and my drive to make what I make which gave me a lot of freedom to explore different textures and follow my own path.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
I’m really happy with how the tracks have turned out. You can very easily get lost in tweaking individual elements and replacing sounds when you get new instruments/plugins as you’re working on a mix in order to chase this idea of the perfect song, which can lead to unnecessary delays to getting the songs done. I think they sound great and I know the tools and skills that I’ve gained since making those songs that I can use to make even better music in the future.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Thank you to anyone that’s read this for showing an interest in what I’m doing with my music. I’m still in the early stages of my music career and any form of support whether it’s buying the music or merch, sharing it with your friends, suggesting me for gigs, words of encouragement etc are all super appreciated. I’ve talked about this album as a hypothetical idea for about 3 years now, so to those who’ve been waiting for this album to come out, thank you for your patience and I hope the wait was worth it once you’ve got it playing in your ears.