Gray Matta released his debut EP Shadow Of Fire: Short Stories vol.1 earlier this year surrounded by a campaign bringing awareness to mental health and those who may be suffering. All profits made from sales are donated to Mind and the content of the release itself maps out the artist's own journey through some of his darkest moments and the methods that helped him persevere. As he enters the London pub we decide to meet in, he's a towering figure full of confidence, eager to start discussing the release and its inspirations in depth. With two Guinness' ordered and his trademark flat cap set on the table, we dive in.
With an EP that is full of such diverse sounds it's clear to see that Gray Matta harbors a love for music of all genres, already going on record as growing up with music from the 50s to his adoration for hip hop and a fascination for glistening pop production. Considering all of this, how is such a broad spectrum of music navigated when creating and is it something that he can often struggle with?
"I’ve always loved the fact that I can be in the mood for some Pogues one minute, and then Xzibit the next, with a dash of Bobby Vee to round out the moment. As a musician, I think it's important to have eclectic tastes, otherwise you get tunnel vision when creating from a singular genre, and everything becomes too linear. It’s why people get sick of certain genres at times, because when one thing works, the industry makes a point of jumping on the bandwagon and introducing 5 or 6 other groups or artists with the same sound. When I sit down to write, I like the fact that songs I create almost have a pang of nostalgia to them. Perhaps I have a synth line that reminds me of Tears for Fears, or a bass line that reminds me of the Twin Peaks theme, which with a Timbaland style kick and Quincy Jones-esque snare suddenly create something altogether new. The only struggle I sometimes have is not creating anything because I think it doesn't sound original, or special in its own right."
The first immediate impression you get is how passionate and detailed Gray Matta (Sean, to his friends) is when discussing music. It's evident that it's his lifeblood both as a fan and a creator. Immediately his answer explores the multiple levels at which he operates as not only an artist but a songwriter and producer. Every song on his EP was fully self-written and self-produced with the vocal recordings, mixing and mastering stages being taken over by Lana Banana Studios in Kent. This triple threat mode which he utilises in everything he does means that there's rarely a time when new music isn't being created in some format.
"I'm always writing or creating. Writing words on paper has forever been my outlet and my own form of therapy. It's more recently that I've immersed myself in the production world too and started to write and produce for other artists. It's something I'm definitely keen to explore more. It also feeds into what I was saying earlier, experimenting and exploring new boundaries musically is only going to keep the personal process fresh too."
Does he feel like producing Shadow Of Fire: Short Stories vol.1 was a steep learning curve in a way? What lessons did he take from it to help him move forward?
"Yes absolutely, as much as I produced the EP, I certainly didn’t feel comfortable initially with my mixing or mastering, which is why working with Henry over at Lana Banana Studios was essential. Having someone there who wants to collaborate, who isn’t afraid to give an opinion or constructive criticism was essential and Henry did just that. I think the moment you stop learning something new, it becomes stale. I’m much more confident following this project with my composition and writing ability, as well as my mixing. Mastering is still something I need to learn to a greater degree, but there is always time. Also, recording vocals in my own studio has always been something I’ve worried about, but having seen the processes undertaken during Shadow of Fire’s creation, I definitely feel much more comfortable with delivering a better product on my own."
As conversation flows further and Gray Matta's openness to conversation becomes apparent, we discuss how he mentioned writing was his own form of therapy and how that lead onto the topic of mental health being the theme of this EP. Thankfully, there seems to be a more conscious effort to shed light on mental health matters and how people cope or manage with them lately, particularly in the music world. Why did he think this was happening now and why is music such a good tool for addressing it?
"There have been groups around for a long time pushing to remove the stigma that enveloped Mental Health, but certainly there has been a step up in the last 5 years or so from a mainstream stand point. I think we are at the point now where people feel a lot more comfortable to address their own issues, open up to others about the fact they are struggling. It’s certainly been the case for me and writing songs has been a big part of my attempts to address it. Music has an incredible ability to alter moods. It’s something you definitely need at the end of a hard day. I’ve always used writing lyrics in the same way someone might use a diary, you can say whatever you want, wrap it in metaphors and similes, play with words and flows in a way that makes the process very fulfilling and cathartic. So when I sat down with a vision of writing an EP, it was my experience with my own depression that came to the forefront and that dictated the direction of Shadow of Fire..."
We start to wrap up, but only after a good few hours pass discussing everything musical and mental health. It's telling of Sean's engaging personality how lost in deep conversation you can get. I address the obvious question in terms of the future; this is, after all, an EP with "vol.1" in the title, so would there be an extension thematically for future releases?
"It’s obviously early days following the release of the EP, but I do have ideas for a ...Short Stories vol.2, as well as singles etc. In terms of themes, duality will always be present in my music I would have thought, but I don’t want to be the guy who always releases music about the same thing, or in the same style. There is definitely more to come from Gray Matta. In the meantime, I have also been working with a other artists to help them build their introduction EPs, because there is a huge amount of talent out there and we are lucky enough to be at a stage where writing, recording and releasing music to an audience is so much easier than it used to be. My first love is writing songs, so whether that is for me or for other artists, I will always continue to do that."
Shadow of Fire: Short Stories vol.1 is available now on all streaming platforms and for an exclusive, limited run of CDs from his official website.