Singer-songwriter Mark Mathews has been playing music for about nine years and released a handful of EPs since 2008. He’s currently working on his debut album in London where he plays a blend of folk and indie-pop at concert gigs and for commuters in the Underground.
Creative Control: According to your site, it says you listened to the Beatles when you were younger, when did you want to start making music?
Mark Mathews: When I got into music properly, really, was around the Sgt. Pepper’s LP. I loved the idea of songwriting, but I didn’t play any instruments at the time. It wasn’t until “Definitely, Maybe” came out by Oasis that I thought, “You know I could do that.” So I got a shitty guitar and taught myself a few chords.
CC: How old were you?
MM: I would’ve been 14.
CC: How would you describe your sound?
MM: Well, I generally wouldn’t to be honest. I try and keep away from that, only because I’m the one making the sound. So for me to start saying it sounds like this and that, I don’t know, I’m too close to it. Like yes, it’s in the same vein as the classics or singer-songwriter stuff, so it’s indie-pop; it’s very Beatles-esque. It’s got catchy choruses and that sort of thing, but I’m sure people disagree and have their own thoughts on it and I’m all for that.
CC: You’re not the first artist I’ve talked to that doesn’t want to categorize themselves.
MM: I mean there are a lot of influences really so there’s a mish-mash of everything so it’s hard to pin down.
CC: I saw that you’re still busking. What was your first time doing that like?
MM: Do you know what, I don’t really get nervous or anything playing gigs or anything like that, but I have to admit that the first time I did busking, it was very very alien to me and it took a bit of getting used to. It was initially a weird thing to do. Uncomfortable is probably not the word I’m looking for, but there was a bit of unease while doing it. But I absolutely love it, I really rate that as something that improved my songwriting and my performing and stuff like that. Cause to be perfectly honest people don’t really…They go from A to B, I play in the underground here in London, they don’t want to be stopped, they’re on a mission. So if they do stop, and they give you kind words or money or whatever they do, you know that song is working and it’s connecting in some way. So that’s a really good barometer for working out if your songs are any good, to be honest. And I love it, I absolutely love it.
CC: Do you ever try out new songs while busking or at shows?
MM: All the time! I literally used busking as a way of trying out songs. I wrote a song a couple weeks ago called “Bethany” and I’ve been trying that out on the Underground folk and there’s been a really good response to it. Now there are some songs that I’ve tried out and people really don’t give a shit if I’m being perfectly honest. So I kind of know when I’m on to something by trying it out down there. Tonight I’ve got a show in Essex and I’ll be trying out some new material there as well. You’ve got to get it out there eventually so you might as well do it straightaway.
CC: So if a song falls flat, do you just not record it or do you keep working on it?
MM: It depends. I’ve had some that have fallen flat and I’ve realized while I’m playing it and I’ve completely just left it. Sometimes all it needs is a little bit love. If it’s a song that I believe in, I’m certainly not writing songs for anyone other than myself. Just because a song doesn’t do well at busking or at a gig doesn’t mean I’m going to go “Right, that’s a shit song,” and then it’s on to the other one. If I really love it and I believe in it then I will work on it and make it better and make people like it.
CC: I read on your site that you once had a crowd so large in the Underground that they had to bring in security. What was that like?
MM: It was wicked! It was great! The only thing I can compare it to is I’ve had a few stage invasions and stuff whilst playing shows and it’s so exciting, it’s great. So I was in Oxford Circus, that I was busking at, and the corridor that I was playing in that all the people come through just got more and more blocked up with people stopping and watching and essentially it becomes a health and safety hazard apparently. A load of staff had to come down and move them on so that was a bit of a result for me and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
CC: Were you doing anything differently than your regular busks, or was it similar?
MM: It was the same songs. I was actually playing my song “London Lives” and for one reason or another, I mean you get a lot of tourists around Oxford Circus and I thinking they hear a song about London it sort of gets their ears perking up. So a few people stopped to take photos and over the period of half that song it just got more and more crowded and people were stopping to see what was going on and it was great. I loved it. I absolutely lapped it up.
CC: What inspires you to write new material?
MM: Nothing really inspires me. I basically play a lot of guitar. I play guitar all the time, I’m always messing around with it and songs come from there. I don’t ever sit down and go “I saw a tree standing so I’m going to write a song about a tree.” It’s not the way I do it, I’m sure there are people out there that do but I literally wait for songs to come as opposed to going out and say “I’m going to write a song about this today.”
CC: When do you have free time to record and write new material?
MM: Well, incidentally I was recording last night so I was in the studio recording. I’ve got a new album that I’m doing at the moment so I was working at the studio last night. The way it works for me is I have my gigs that come along and they get booked up. The other free days are booked up with recording or busking and, like I said, when it comes to writing, I play my guitar all the time and songs just come. I would not say, “Right – Tuesday, I’m going to have a writing day,” because I won’t come up with anything that’s any good. The songs just have to fall into my lap and that’s the only way that I make good songs.
CC: Speaking of your album, is that still on track to come out this year?
MM: I’m actually thinking of pushing it to next year because the way we’re working at the moment is, I wouldn’t say slowly, but I’m putting a lot of effort into it. So, in theory, we will have it by November and be mixed and mastered by the end of November. Then we get into December, and the way I’m thinking is people are bothered by Christmas and I don’t think there’s any point to releasing it then. And January is January and people have the blues and they don’t go out so I think, if I’m being totally honest, we’re probably looking at February. But who knows? I change my mind frequently.
CC: So will the album be stuff from the EPs or all new material?
MM: All completely new material. It’s got a very, very loose theme that runs through it. November of last year, I went to Peru and drank this thing called Ayahuasca, which is a plant medicine that the Amazonian tribes drink. And so I had some very, very extreme “experiences” should we say? And a lot of the material was written around that time and experience. So it’s loosely based on that. But it’ll still make you dance. It’s still going to be good music.
CC: What do you hope to do to separate yourself from other artists?
MM: Well I think, and I can only talk about the scene over here in the UK, it might differ in the States, but what I’m doing is currently quite unique and different. Tonight, I’m doing a solo gig so I won’t be with the band, it will just be me. People look at someone with an acoustic guitar and expect it to be quite downbeat, slow music or the Ed Sheeran style. And that’s the kind of two acoustic acts you get. So when I go on, I don’t do either of them. I’m unique in that sense. I’m not saying my songs are necessarily too unique because I say that it references the Beatles and similar acts. But at this moment in time, I’m getting up there as an acoustic artist and making people get up there and dance still. And then with the band, the band scene here is still kind of angular music or even a bit electronicy. I do use electric guitar on some songs, but a lot of it is acoustic and it’s just that classic pop stuff that I don’t hear enough of, if I’m perfectly honest. So I’m hopefully filling that void.
CC: What do you like to do when you’re not working on music?
MM: You know, there’s not much. “Do I ever not work on music?” I think I’m genuinely always doing it in some way, shape or form. I do like doing other stuff. I love traveling. I live for traveling, but even then I’m always writing or going to shows. I’m always doing something that is kind of linked with music. It’s a thing I can’t shake off.
CC: Have you ever tried busking in the States?
MM: I did some in Chicago, which is kind of hard because I was there when it was December and it was freezing so I probably only lasted forty-five minutes max before I went to give up. I did a little bit in Atlanta because I traveled around in the Deep South a fair bit. That was great actually. I mean what I really, really dug about the Deep South, and it’s probably an obvious statement to make, how into music everyone is. I mean literally everyone can play something. It was incredible. It was a home away from home really. I loved it. You’re in the States aren’t you? Where are you based?
CC: Nashville, Tennessee.
MM: Brilliant! What a place.
CC: Have you ever played a show or busked here?
MM: I didn’t play a show or busk. I saw a lot of shows when I was there. It’s a great place.
CC: It’s funny that you mention everyone is into music down here, I actually used to be in some bands.
MM: And that’s what I mean. Everyone I met was like, “I’ve been in bands,” or they could play something. Music was life and that is a great place to be.