Once a symbol, now a solo artist. Matt Hainsby is perhaps better known for his role in Fujiya & Miyagi, turning the ampersand into a fully fledged position.
Helping to steer the Brighton outfit towards some of their finest work to date, the musician is now focussing on a solo project. Titled - with cunning logic - I_Am_Ampersand new album 'Grave Goods' finds Matt Hainsby working alone.
Drawing on years of demo recordings and solitary experiments, the results are an extremely special cross-section of the songwriter's work. Shifting from gently strummed acoustic guitar to the hissing of a de-tuned radio, 'Grave Goods' continually surprises with the sheer invention at work.
Out today (November 26th) ClashMusic has managed to grab the exclusive stream of the new album, alongside a Track-by-Track commentary from I_Am_Ampersand himself.
Check it out below.
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Lights and Radios
The whole album was recorded at home, duvets and pillows hung up on mic stands and gaffer taped to door frames to block out noise from the street. Most of the percussion was made from either things found in the kitchen or the garden. Lights and Radios serves as an intro to the album, like the whole thing is slowly being powered up. Originally it was a much longer song where I get trapped inside a building that is slowly taking control of me…. For the AM radio effect at the end I used one of those iPod radio adapters and transmitted the beat to a frequency then tuned a radio into the station. I probably could have faked that with some audio plugin but I'd always rather take the more D.I.Y. hands-on approach.
Under the Microscope
Written while waiting for my wife to get ready to go out for the evening. Normally this is perhaps a frustrating half hour, but there was no way I could be annoyed about waiting this time as this song landed in my lap. With the recording, I was after a cross between Fleetwood Mac and the tactile bluesy stomp of Link Wray's Fire And Brimstone.
20 Seas 4 Oceans
I'd wanted to write a song about the sea for years. 20 seas 4 oceans is about a merman who is washed up by the tide and rescued by a girl who takes him home to convalesce. City life is hard for him to adjust to, as the sea, his home, calls to him. The two of them return to the beach and they both drown in each others arms. I remember finishing the lyrics at the kitchen table waiting for a plumber to come round to fit a radiator. I saw it as a positive watery sign. Townes Van Zandt's song Kathleen is a favourite of mine and definitely had an influence on this song.
The oldest song on the album, written before I joined Fujiya & Miyagi, I remember this song almost being fully formed before I really knew what I'd written. In fact it’s probably the fastest song I've ever written, a short song about the very sudden realisation that something is over. The home made cello sounds on this track were made using an old Spanish guitar and a violin bow. I had borrowed the guitar and had left it on a very sunny balcony, the fret board was coming away from the neck and was basically unplayable.
The Last Thing On Your Mind
The lyrics were written a long time ago and they remained buried in the back of my mind for years, then one day they just fell out and landed on the chords Am and C. Most of my songs are based on very repetitive chord sequences. It can take me up to 6 months to finish the lyrics to a song. Occasionally I'll solve an arrangement problem with a lyric when I’m half asleep, it'll suddenly make sense and I immediately drop off. Most of the time I remember it when I wake up. I keep meaning to get a diver’s note book as the shower is another place that I work out key lyrics, I think it's the white noise of the running water.
The only instrumental track on the album and is in fact three songs in one. It's easy working alone to bastardise songs and glue bits together from other tracks in the knowledge that you are not going to upset another band member because they have poured their heart into something that you want to cut in half and reverse. The sound of a rattling skull head / cartoon-chattering-teeth in the intro took me far too long to get right. In the absence of a skull I rattled some wood I found in the garage. A Moog Rogue and Korg MS10 provide the electronics.
Holding The Negative Up To The Light
I once lived in a shared flat where when a flat mate moved out who ever had been there the longest had the chance to change rooms and move into the vacated one if they wanted to. One sad day my friend Dallas moved out and I took the opportunity to move into his old room, which was empty apart from a strip of film negative. Squinting and holding it up to the light I saw an inverted series of images of a very buxom woman doing the dishes naked. I need to point out that this is not what the song is about.
The Hired Hand
I took the title from the film of the same name. The 1971 Peter Fonda directed film has an amazing soundtrack by Bruce Langhorne. Langhorne's achingly beautiful score is so perfect I will never get tired of listening to it. The lyrics to this one are pretty jokey. The idea of living with someone who sings in their sleep and where you are driven to join in with piano and backing vocals is pretty far fetched. I think in reality I'd make up a spare bed on the sofa. At the end of the song I needed an outro, and I knew I wanted to find a home for the motorik beat somewhere on the album as a nod to all things Fujiya & Miyagi, and it just naturally fit.
I Thought I Was Alone
I chose this track as the B-side to my first single on the Great Pop Supplement label, I was so pleased by the way it sounds on vinyl. I'm not exactly sure where Dom at GPS gets his vinyl pressed but it always sounds spot on. Written about the moment you wake up and for those few seconds you are not quite sure where you are. Suddenly the room and all the objects in slot into place like a jigsaw and the day begins, then you discover one thing is not as expected. I had been listening to a great deal of Brian Eno, early Fleetwood Mac and John Cale.
I think a lot of people are surprised by how 'pop goes country' my sound can tend to get and how far removed some of it is from Fujiya & Miyagi. I guess F&M like most bands have a core of influences that are always there even in the most subtle ways - add to that four people's playing styles and things can sometimes get a little diluted. When I first told people I was planning on playing live one person asked if it would be just me on the bass guitar - I reassured them that it would not be a solo bass odyssey, no one, most of all me, wants to see that. For this song I was aiming for Tyrannosaurus Rex mixed with a David Lynch-lite feel (pretty-but-creepy).
Doom & Gloom
I love the sense of foreboding and gradual building with doo wop backing vocals, this is definitely the darkest moment on the record. Left Banke influenced high main melody sitting on top until Lee Adams’s slow driving drums bring it to a crashing (slow-motion) conclusion. One thing I noticed about working on my own was I would often forget what I had actually recorded. I would work by jumping mid- song from one to the next and recording parts as they popped into my head. This led to the point where I would go back to a song I had perhaps neglected to be surprised by a bass line or synth sound that I had no idea how to play.
Originally planned out as a shopping-list style lyric - one man totting up all his possessions he would want to be buried with, everything that he had accumulated over his life time and worked hard to buy. But that clearly made no sense in a song so I reworked it to describe a man looking back wondering what his life actually meant. There are modern accounts of British people asking to be buried with that day’s newspaper or their mobile phone in case their death is a dreadful mistake and they need to make an emergency call. Maybe they just hope that their mobile provider has network coverage 'on the other side'.
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'Grave Goods' is out now.