interview: PLANTMAN

Matthew Randall’s Plantman is touring Italy for the first time. Here’s what he tells about his nostalgic indie-pop songs, as a matter of authentic passion for music.

Which are your musical backgronuds? How did you get the idea of playing together as Plantman?
Adam and I both played in Beatglider for 8 years since 1997,we released 3 albums and took a break after Witches in 2008,I wrote songs and played guitar and Adam played keys in the band, I’ve always written a lot of songs as Plantman which were quieter and never quite fitted into Beatglider and filled up tapes and cds, it was just a way of expressing the songs in a simpler way with acoustics and keys, I also discovered the Go Betweens quite late and realised for me they were perfect songwriters which inspired me greatly.

Is the any peculiar reason or meaning for the name of the band?
It’s very literal, I’m no superhero! I work as a gardener so it seemed very apt.

Your debut album, “Closer To The Snow” has been published only in 35 copies by Cathedral Transmission, a label that usually publish a much different kind of music: how did you get in touch with them?
With Beatglider we had a major deal with Sony which was not a happy experience, after that I realised how important it is to have a proper indie label that will release your music with support and without any interference, I looked at the smallest labels I could find with a cool DIY ethic and sent Dave at Cathedral a copy of the album, he liked it and was happy to release it as 17 tracks which would have been edited down by a lot of labels.He’s a fan of the Baby Bird original albums which I loved, that was appealing too.

What place does music occupy in your life? Do you live it simply as a passion o do you think it can turn in a work?
I’m 38 now and have released music in some capacity for 15 years, I think I’m in it for as long as the songs keep coming, it’s just part of my life, I’m obsessed by music (listening, discovering new music and writing). Music has always been a great comfort to me and the buzz of creating something that didn’t exist 5 minutes previously is so rewarding. I’d write regardless of the fact it was released, I don’t ever envisage it becoming a job at my age just something I do.

Nearly all of your songs have a sweetly nostalgic taste: do you think that, as Nick Hornby, that there is a necessary link between melancholy and pop music?
Well it’s important to me, I’m very attached to melancholy and the feelings it evokes, the writers I love Grant McClennan, Fred Cornog, Lou Barlow, Bob Wratten all have those qualities. I don’t find it a sad feeling more comforting.

There is a verse of “Closer To The Snow” that impressed me very much “Love is a passing ship that wakes you up”: how did you think about this comparation? And, generally speaking, do you think emotions and feeling as necessary guides for your inspiration?
Emotions drive all my songs, I find it hard if I know the songs are not honest to myself even if they sound good, I can’t force the songwriting, sometimes it’s there other times it’s not. My favourite author is Virginia Woolf, I think her books are about as beautiful as language can be, she evokes the sense of ‘being in the moment’ like no one else. If you feel happy that is happiness, not the beginning of happiness, I suppose that lyric is in that vein.

Also your sound looks like taking back to the brightest times of English pop: is this because of a precise choice or is something that spontaneously come to you when playing music?
I grew up during the early 90s shoegaze era and post grunge Pavement era which inspired Beatglider greatly. Later on I discovered the c86 bands who I was too young for at the time, having no nostalgic relation to The Loft, Field Mice etc., I could appreciate the quality of the songs. I have a good friend Roy Thirlwall (The Windmills/Melodie Group) who has educated me on the mid 80s! I’ve always loved trebley guitars and I think it just naturally influences you, I think you just soak it up and get some sort of hybrid

Do you feel any other contemporary artist close to your sensibility? And how do you relate, as listeners, to nowadays music?
I love honest music, East River Pipe maybe i feel close too in sensibility though i wouldn’t dare put Plantman in the same bracket! Its a spirit thing, bands like The Clean, Yo La Tengo, Durutti Column, Pastels are so important to me, they release music as much for themselves as anyone else.
I listen to music every day, this year I’ve loved The Pastels’ “Slow Summits”, Bill Ryder Jones’ “A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart“, James Holden’s “The Inheritor” and discovered Julian Copes solo albums! Playing with By the Sea was inspiring too, beautifully unpretenscious band.

As “Closer To The Snow” has been published in a very limited edition, the web has been essential or its diffusion: what do you think about the way of spreading music through the web, including streaming and downloads (legalor not)?
I have no problem with people downloading music free though I’m not doing it for a living so maybe I’d feel different if I was, without the web Plantman would probably never have left my house!

What’s your ideal condition for writing music? Do you enter the studio having already a clear idea of what you’re going to do or only with a few lines and melodies?
I’ve always written songs fully and demoed on 4 track before they are taken to the studio so I do have a clear idea of themes and structure, sometimes the 4trk versions I feel are finished, i.e. “Magic Wood” or “Doves Tail”. On these two records I’ve taken the songs to Adam on guitar and he’d write a bass part or keys and then we recorded them in the studio adding parts, we’ve tried to keep the production as unfussy as possible to let the songs breathe. I think you can suck the life out of a song by laboring over it too long.

From the lyrics and the artworks, it seems you have a strong bound to your country: do you think that landscapes, light and weather play a role in making music?
I work outside with nature, I feel so attached to the seasons and the sense of passing of time it gives you, most of my lyrics are written on my phone when I’m in a wood or meadow when you can really think. It’s a daydreamers job!
Amy Adele Seymour who’s painted the artwork is a perfect match for the music, I adore her childlike style and work, it’s natural, her work is becoming more noticed now which Is fantastic.

Can you tell any important difference between the way you wrote and released your two albums?
I think “Whispering Trees” is probably more dynamic than “Closer To The Snow”. Bryan Styles joined the band and as we played live I think it influenced the sound. With “Closer To The Snow” we recorded it without knowing it would get a release and with ‘Trees’ we knew there would be. I’m happy with both, there’s always parts you think you could have changed but I wanted there to be a slight difference between the two.
I always think I’ll cut the number of songs but I like sprawling records and the albums feel like months of a diary to me, I realize some people will think they are too long! Andrew Slocombe and Tina Lowe who run Arlen released “Whispering Trees” and have been very supportive throughout getting Duncan Jordan (Bella Union) on board.
With “Whispering Trees” my daughter being born 12 weeks early and a long hospital stay had a big influence on a lot of the songs, a good deal of the songs were raw emotions recorded very quickly.

Adam also run the electro-acoustic project plusplus: do these two different experiences have any influence one on the other?
We both love the same music, I don’t think they have influenced each other particularly as they run independently of each other. There’s two songs ‘Mountains’ and ‘The Bitter Song’ where Adam has given me the music and I’ve added lyrics and guitars, these could have easily been plusplus songs as instrumentals.
The third plusplus album “People Come And People Go” is unreleased as yet, it’s fantastic though and hopefully will get a release soon.

What’s for you the meaning and the goal – both personal and artistic – of making music?
Simply it is just a way of turning thoughts and emotions into something tangible for me, I’ve been humbled that others have appreciated the music and that makes it all worthwhile getting an email from someone saying they’ve enjoyed the album, it’s always an odd moment when you’ve lived with a record for some time and then it becomes public property to be judged.

How do you feel playing live? Do you think it can add something to what you already express in studio?
Playing live is something I’ve grown to enjoy, we’re definitely not extroverts so it can be quite nerve wracking at times but I’ve got better as I’ve got older. We either do acoustic or full band gigs, I suppose the band gigs are fuller and the acoustic more intimate but I don’t want to just recreate them note for note so we try to mix the sets up.

In October you’ll be playing for the first time in Italy: what are you expecting from italian audiences?
Really excited about it, we have a couple of acoustic gigs and a full band show .The Italian reviews have been very kind to both albums and in the first instance with “Closer To The Snow” gave us the impetus that we were doing something ok, I’m looking forward to visiting the country, I’d love to see some gardens especially Ninfa, but I don’t think there will be a lot of time.

And, finally, what else can we expect from Plantman in the near future, and what do you expect from music?
I have the third album written and titled, it’s a more lo fi quieter affair this time, it will be recorded this winter with Bryan Styles and John Hannon, I prefer winter recording, I’d also like to get a 4 track album out at some point. I’ve enjoyed playing guitar and bass on some friends albums this year Melodie Group and Out Of The Caves which has felt very free without the responsibility of writing the songs.
Adam lives in Japan now which means he can’t do the live shows anymore but can help with recordings, we have Stafford Glover and Mark Steward (ex Beatglider bass player and guitar) helping with the live band.
I just hope to keep making music for as long as I can, music is constantly rewarding, I heard “Ghosts Of American Astronauts” by The Mekons and “My Pillow Is The Threshold” by Silver Jews for the first time last week and must have listened to them both a hundred times trying to unlock their secrets and marveling at them.

(full English version of the interview published on Rockerilla magazine, October 2013 issue – Intervista in italiano)



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