A Conversation With… Matt Finney

I recently got the chance to catch up with spoken word artist and poet Matt Finney, whose new, much-anticipated album with Heinali, ‘How We Lived’, has just been released….

Hi Matt! How are you doing?

I’m doing good man. Just came back from taking my dog for a walk. How about you?

I’m not too bad, thanks. My nephew’s on summer vacation so we went to the park. What kind of dog do you have?

It’s my mom’s dog actually. Chihuahua. Feisty little thing. We all love her.

Awww! I love doggies. We have three cats and dogs sometimes bark at me so I’m starting to think they can smell cat fur on me!

I’d die man. I have the worst allergies in the world. My dad has this long haired dog. I almost claw my eyes out anytime I go over there.

Ah, man! Ok, so could you please introduce yourself to anyone out there who may not be familiar with your awesome music and your spoken word? I have to say I was completely blown away by your writing.

Sure thing. I’m Matt. I’m from Alabama. I’m a spoken word artist and writer. I’m mostly a buffoon but I’ve been lucky enough to work with some incredible composers. Siavash Amini. Maurice de Jong of Gnaw Their Tongues. I’m mainly known for my work with Oleg Shpudeiko, AKA Heinali.

Wow, that’s an impressive list. I’d love to know more about your writing process. The words really hit home. Is there a process you go through or do you find it just comes naturally?

I’m incredibly lucky to have worked with all of those guys. They make me sound good or at least tolerable. They’re the real talent here. These days I find it mostly pours out of me. Some songs are a lot easier to write but I find myself mostly writing down lines, coming back to them later then stitching them together. It makes for an interesting writing experience. It also gives me a few days to evaluate whether something is garbage or not.

Ah, I see! That’s really interesting. I have a ton of questions about the writing side, but it might turn into a super long chat. When it comes to inserting them into a track, do you find yourself ever rearranging them after you’ve listened to the music or do they stay as they are? And what do you think of the ‘lyrics’ terminology? Do you ever think of your poetry as providing a lyric, or is it more like a document?

All for it man. It’s great talking with another writer about processes and things like that. I don’t get to do that too often. They tend to stay as they are. I’ve always kinda thought of the lyrics as the blueprint for the record. I’ll talk things over with Heinali and I’ll kind of tell him what I’m thinking and I’ll write up a bunch of lyrics and we’ll narrow them down that way. Cutting the fat and keeping the absolute best. Giving him the cream of the crop to work with and do his thing. I’m not even sure I draw a line between my poetry and my lyrics anymore. I’ll usually save the best for the records and whatever doesn’t end up on those is usually posted on Facebook. I’m sure that’s fun for the people I went to high school with.

I love the writing you post on Facebook, too!

Thanks man! Hopefully a few people enjoy them.

When I heard your collaboration with William Ryan Fritch, A History, in Boxes, I was really impressed with how well the vocals complemented the instrumentation. The atmosphere was really right on the money. Likewise, your new album with Heinali, How We Lived, is a beast. You guys have a great musical chemistry. Please tell us more about how you got involved with Oleg. This may be treading old ground but how long have you been working together and why do you think your collaborations produce these kind of fireworks?

Thank you! William’s a great guy. I loved talking with him and getting to know him. Chatting about basketball and movies. He’s this super infectious guy. He’s so happy and excited. That can’t not rub off on you. It’s the same with Oleg. We met back on myspace WAY back in 2009. It’s crazy to think we’ve known each other that long. I was super into post rock. One of the guys from that scene recommended me his work. I was floored that it was one guy making all of these sounds. I think he was just starting out but he sounded like such a pro. I was in a band already but I messaged him asking if he’d like to maybe work on an EP. We hammered out 4 songs really quickly and the chemistry was just there. I loved working with him and talking with him. He’s this super funny guy, very humble, takes his craft seriously but he doesn’t take himself seriously. He’s a world away from me pretty much but I feel like I’ve known him my whole life. He’s my brother. I mean that. We’re family. We trust each other completely and I think that’s where the fireworks come from.

That’s awesome! Man, myspace feels like another lifetime. What kind of band were you in?

We were ambient/electronic as well. A lot more of a post-rock influence. Jesus, we went overboard with the crescendo shit. We were called finneyerkes. It was a band with a buddy of mine from high school.

Great name!

Right? I’m obviously super clever with these band names.

Haha. Is that when you first got into post rock?

Yeah. I had just discovered Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky. Godspeed was a big eye opener. I tortured my then girlfriends with this stuff.

Awesome bands. How We Lived is a dark and beastly record. That kinda reminds me of those heavier post rock records, but it’s more tuned into its dark drones and electronics. Is that a result of what you call the wilderness you were experiencing, or does it stem from those earlier days with the band and the post rock bands you listened to and loved?

It’s definitely supposed to sound like being lost in the woods. Struggling to find a way out. That’s what life felt like for a few years there. As for the sound, we were both listening to a lot of Ben Frost. A lot of Tim Hecker. I think those two played a huge role in shaping the sound of this one.

Mmm, I see. Do you think of it as a record of re-emergence and renewal in spite of the darkness, or is it more of involving the listener in what happened, what it felt like during that period? Also, did you find the act of writing therapeutic?

I think it’s a bit of both. In terms of the sound it’s unlike anything we’ve done. 6 years is a really long fucking time and I think we both moved onto being fascinated with different kinds of sounds. Hopefully it’s completely different but feels like us still. That’s what we wanted. We also wanted this to be like what happened during those missing years when we were gone. This album is the story of that. I think for the both of us our work is therapeutic. It always has been. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than the real thing, right?

Definitely! Have you ever released a book of your poetry, Matt?

Matt: I haven’t but I’m working on one at the moment. Slowly but surely. Can’t really say much about it though. Sorry man!

No worries, I understand. That will be a special release. Your spoken word is really brave and bold, like the very best of the artform. Do you think spoken word lends itself more to authenticity, with ‘real’ feelings and situations?

Honestly, I don’t really listen to that much spoken word. I remember the first time I heard it was “The Dead Flag Blues” and it influenced me so much that I’m here doing it to this day. I like Slint a lot, it’s neat in some cases. There’s this band called Richmond Fontaine. Kinda alt-country/folksy. They have a song called “Inventory” that hits like a ton of bricks. I don’t think that song would have the impact it would if it were sung. I guess it just depends. I’m certainly no expert on this particular artform.

I’ll have to check that band out. Have you ever performed live with Oleg? If not, would it be something you’d like to explore in the future, and do you think the music would have a different vibe in a live setting?

We haven’t performed live. It’s a big dream of ours. We’ve been hassling the dudes who do Roadburn Fest to give us our first and only show. Make it the most depressing thing on earth. It’d be a challenge to recreate all of this live but it’s something I’d love to attempt one day. It’d be neat to see how people endure this when we’re right there in the same room. I imagine there would be a lot of sobbing.

That would make for a powerful set. When you write, do you find that certain themes or ideas are more fertile than others, and is there a general tone or mood within your poetry that you find yourself coming back to?

Well, I find it a lot easier to write about depressing things but that’s usually because I write when I’m depressed. I do like to give myself a little distance from the situation. Give myself some time to properly process everything before I dive in. My past comes up a lot, debt, loss, love, occasionally politics will find their way in there.

I getcha. Do you know of Loscil’s Endless Falls album? There’s a track right at the end, “The Making Of Grief Point”, where the vocal is, ‘I think the world does not like me grim; it likes me melancholic but not miserable.’ Sometimes I find my own writing sliding into melancholia, just from all the stuff in my own past and more recently the current political situations in both the US, the UK and even some parts of Europe. But I guess these ruminations are similar to those in the blues in that people can relate to these sobering experiences. I guess people experience a lot of heartache and that’s why they resonate so much with the music (the blues). In a way it’s kind of sad that the blues is so popular when it sings about trouble and strife, but I guess that’s what makes it so real.

I’ve never heard that song but I’ll check it out. I agree with all of that. Happy music is okay in small doses but the saddest songs stick with me the most.

That’s really interesting. Do you think that if you had a playlist of happy music and you listened to it all the time, it would probably start to feel artificial? It sounds like heaven on the surface but life isn’t like that. I’ve heard that if you’re feeling low, hearing a happy kind of song or anything in a major key will only make you feel worse…it has the opposite effect.

It’s weird because I can appreciate good pop music. I love Carly Rae Jepsen. I like Taylor Swift a lot. I played the hell out of 1989. That stuff just doesn’t make its way into constant rotation the way stuff like Planning for Burial or Have a Nice Life or John Moreland does. I guess I need something that’s gonna rip my guts out.

So what else is on the horizon for you, Matt? What are your plans for the rest of the year?

I have an album with Siavash that’s coming out later this year, I’ve started writing the next It Only Gets Worse album with Maurice, Oleg and me are already plotting our next album together. I’m slowly piecing together that book. I’m just glad to be back. I’m glad to be working.

Sweet! Do you have a different ‘voice’ or a different kind of approach when you work on different albums and with different artists?

Absolutely. With Siavash I always go for something that’s intensely personal. Borderline TMI stuff. Our work is best when we’re airing all of our dirty laundry. With Maurice there’s a lot of anger and hate that goes into what we do. We bring that out of each other for some reason. With Heinali… he can turn whatever I send him into gold. I could read a copy of the National Inquirer and he’d make it sound profound.

Haha. Well, Matt, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you! Is there anything you’d like to say, any random thoughts or things on your mind, anything you’d like to add?

I’ve loved chatting with you as well man. It was a pleasure. You’re a great writer and you’re fantastic at what you do. Thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with me. I had a blast. Only thing I can think to add is that I hope everyone will check out How We Lived. Heinali and me put everything we could into it.


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