2020 was a really difficult year. It did however provide the gift of time. I was able to finish my EP – a collection of six songs which I wrote, performed and recorded with a little help from my friends. Have a listen here on Spotify and here on Apple Music or search on your preferred platform for Matthew Rudd – In Our World.
Design work stopped dead for me in March and as a one-person limited company I got no support from the government. I worried about my parents and my partner’s parents. I missed my friends and many of the usual joys of London living. As someone who has always worked for themselves I know all about insecurity, but this unseeable future seemed particularly dark. I became an expert insomniac.
At the same time, with new physical and mental space, some interesting things started to happen. I found that the need to tell a coherent and succinct story about who I was and what I did was dissolving. I wanted simply to follow my joy. I thought about my friend Michael Thomson’s favourite quote – ‘Let a thousand flowers bloom’.
In the couple of years leading up to 2020 I’d been going to a Meetup where songwriters shared their latest creations and we all discussed them together. It had been magical, finding other people who loved music as much as I did, and hearing their diverse and beautiful creations. I was encouraged and inspired and I started to write about one new song a month.
In 2019 I made a start on recording an EP with some of the new songs, but it wasn’t until Covid hit that I got really serious about the project. Time was available, and I sensed that a project like this would be a comfort through a difficult period. I borrowed some bits of gear to go with my own home-recording setup and began spending time on it every day.
The process began slowly! I tried recording things in different ways, I pushed the songs in lots of directions – sometimes more synthy and sometimes more acoustic, I wrestled with my noisy laptop and my acoustically shiny second bedroom, I did countless takes of singing and playing, I started songs again multiple times in different keys and at different tempos. Eventually I completed eight tracks.
Still in lockdown, my circle of songwriter mates were a willing test group so we had an online evening of playing the tracks through on Facebook Live and chatting about them. It was a fun – and challenging – night. Steve, Michael, Garfield and Andrew were all encouraging, and also full of thoughts and suggestions. This was similar and yet different to taking feedback as a graphic designer. This was personal! We were dealing with music, and music which served no commercial purpose; it was shaped only by my desire to make things which were authentic and beautiful. I had to carefully interrogate my own feelings about the tracks as I thought about the feedback. Eventually I finished the tracks for a second time.
I then shared the music with my friend Steve Jones. Listening with the ears and expertise of a professional musician, and also those of a friend of many years, he had a clear feeling about where the music was most interesting and authentic. He could have inundated me with a long list of technical and musical comments, but instead he gave me encouragement and some simple, big thoughts. For him, a distinct personality was emerging in the words and the music, and finishing the EP was a matter of amplifying this personality and removing things which worked against it. Steve liked the folky, fluid playing and singing, and he didn’t like it where you could ‘hear the computer’ in the rhythms and the instrumentation. His assessment felt spot-on to me.
Steve and I found ourselves talking particularly about one track: the wordily titled – Let Me Care About You While You Care About the World. I had left it pretty empty and Steve suggested we ask his friend Liam Bradley to do some percussion. Liam proceeded to do something surprising and wonderful from his home studio in Donegal. Steve followed this up by adding a lovely bassline. I still cannot quite believe that Liam – the drummer who has played for many years with Van Morrison, and Steve – the multi-instrumentalist who has played with Air and Brian Ferry, have both played on my EP. These contributions felt like beautiful gifts in a year which was pretty ugly and at times downright scary.
Finishing the music for a third and final time was pretty hard. For a really long period it was clear that the recordings just weren’t there yet. There were always some words to fix, a better performance to capture, or an imperfect recording to do again. To reach the finish line on this project I had to change some beliefs – like the one that said that every track I started would be finished and published. The first track to go was the title track – In Our World, and the second was a blues called London My London. Interesting that these tracks were outliers in terms of lyrics, both dealing with global issues – the economy, the environment, democracy under threat. Good subjects, and yet – in my hands – somehow ‘forced’ compared to the six songs that made the cut.
Finally I finished the songs for a third and final time. It was interesting to spend a lot of time on a project which had no tangible reason for being. I still don’t know quite why I did it. As I knew it would though, the project gave me great joy and comfort in a year which was pretty joyless. It felt good to bring the music part of me out of the shadows. It allowed me to find joy from within, and also from the process of collaborating with others. In particular it was wonderful to work with my partner – the subject of the opening track – Roisin, who sings on some of the songs and wrote Across the Table.
Thank you Roisin van Ravenhorst for your musical and emotional support. A big thank you to Steve Collins, Michael Tonge, Garfield of London, Andrew Stirton, Liam Bradley and Steve Jones. Many thanks also to my friend, photographer Marc Schlossman, for the photo shoot where we got the cover shot and some other nice portraits for the project.
I hope that you get some of the pleasure from listening to the EP that I got from making it. Do drop me a line and let me know what you think. Happy 2021.