The 2010 Dagger Paths EP raised the bar high for a Forest Swords debut full-length. The record remarkably blurred the lines between Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Wu-Tang Clan and Sunn O))), serving as an indicator of great things to come for the Wirral-based producer Matthew Barnes. But it would be another three years until Barnes would re-surface with an album on Tri Angle Records, after having battled with some serious hearing issues. Engravings is out this week and it sees Barnes step right into the singular mold he carved out for himself when he first started – one that sits serenely apart from the pack in its orchestral ambition and sonic boldness. We caught up with Barnes for the latest edition of our Rescued From The Fire series.
What is the one record that you would rescue if your house burned down?
Honestly it’s so difficult to choose one record. But it would probably be Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. I guess so many people would choose Pet Sounds. But I don’t care if it’s a cliché, really. It’s such a great record. When I first heard it, I was probably about 12 or 13. I had read so much about it in music magazines and seen it on TV and stuff. I was kind of aware of The Beach Boys at the time. I knew the surf hits. Everyone knows them. So then I tracked down a copy of Pet Sounds. I think it was from my local library. In the UK you can borrow CDs as well as books. I remember borrowing a copy of it. And I put it on and it blew my mind, in a way.
I had never heard anything that rich, or that immersive, or that engaging before. Cause at the time I was into a lot of punk stuff and lots of metal. So I listened to all these punk bands that were kind of scrappy and the recordings were really shitty, and very, very noisy. When I heard Pet Sounds, it was just so pristine and beautifully executed, and everything was so well positioned. It just sounded perfect to me. I listened to it over and over again and it just consistently blew my mind. Even when I listen to it now, it’s still so impressive, the way it was put together. There’s a really interesting flow to it. Also from a production point of view nowadays, because I make my own music, I’m a lot more conscious of things. I can hear techniques that he [Brian Wilson] used. So when I was younger, it had an impact on me from an emotional point of view. But nowadays I can hear the technicalities of it, and it’s very inspiring from a music-making perspective.
It’s a very ambitious pop record, for sure. I found it interesting that you recently referred to Tri Angle Records as a “pop label in a weird way.” I feel like that also applies to your own music quite well.
I listen to a lot of weird-ass music, but it doesn’t mean that I want to make really, really weird music.
Definitely, and I think that’s true for a lot of the other Tri Angle artists. I mean, everyone grows up on pop music. You listen to pop music when you’re younger, and it certainly influences a lot of your understanding. For me, it’s all about structure and melody. I listen to a lot of weird-ass music, but it doesn’t mean that I want to make really, really weird music. So I’m always very conscious of melodies and structures. I also think there’s a lot more emotional engagement with pop music than a lot of people give it credit for. I suppose The Beach Boys kind of fit into that. They’re the masters of pop music.
What’s the weird-ass music you listen to?
One of the things that I’ve been listening to recently is a compilation of radio jingles from India. It’s recorded straight off the radio and it’s really fascinating. Then also a lot of ambient and drone. Been listening to a lot of grime recently as well. I guess that’s all stuff that is not necessarily incredibly accessible. I also got this one record – I can’t remember where I bought it, and I can’t remember what label it’s on – but it’s field recordings of funerals, from tribal funerals in Africa. It’s absolutely incredible. Just so beautiful and powerful. So it’s a whole mashup of different things that I’m into, that sort of distill into what I make as a musician. And I think that applies to a lot of the Tri Angle artists. There’s definitely a pop sensibility to what I do. I think it’s just maybe buried a little bit.
A record like Pet Sounds can show an artist that it’s absolutely fine to make honest music and to try and make music that connects with people on an emotional level. I think just because I’m making electronic music doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t try and do that also. For me Pet Sounds is so raw because it’s so emotional. It’s just so honest and brutal, in a way. There’s a lot of pain in there, but also a lot of joy. I find that balance really interesting and it’s something that I try and do as well, finding exactly that mid-point between being very joyful and euphoric, and very dark and sad. That grey area to me is an interesting space to play with.