Interview: Siavash Amini + Matt Finney

When I contemplate the collaboration between vocalist Matt Finney and Siavash Amini, I think about edges. Beginnings and endings. On the surface, it seems easy to set the boundaries of their individual contributions. Finney’s words are contained to a brief, one-minute cluster near the beginning of each piece. Amini’s sonics unspool across 10 minutes or more, long after Finney has fallen silent. But no, listen closer: Amini’s soundscapes are drenched in Finney’s spoken sentiment, stretching out the significance of each word, translating language into vibrations that perpetuate that unease and burdening emotional weight. As it transpires, Finney’s voice is ever-present.

I adored the duo’s first collaboration, Familial Rot. The word “adore” feels somewhat inapt to describe my feelings toward their latest work, titled Gospel. I feel shaken by it. I turn the record off and yet it follows me round the house, clinging to my insides like a cold. Largely this is due to the record’s central subject matter (it’s worth reading Finney’s statement here), but also to the dulled, metallic texture of those hums that haunt the record’s edges. The record comes out tomorrow (March 9th 2018) via Opal Tapes. Below, the duo discuss the melding of heart and guts, the enactment of text through sound and the depth of trust that lies between them.

This strikes me as much bleaker, more monochromatic record than Familial Rot. The words clearly lead me to this sensation, but melody has largely been drained away too; or at least, withered until I can’t recognise it as such. Could you talk to me about the transition between Familial Rot and Gospel? What are your thoughts on Familial Rot looking back, and did your experience with Familial Rot leave you with any ideas on how you wanted to approach Gospel?

Matt: Gospel’s actually our third record. We have our second album ready and with a label, but Opal Tapes are just so fantastic and quick that this ended up coming way quicker than any of us expected. It’s the third in a trilogy for us (I don’t have a very good name for this trilogy) but we wanted to go further down the hole. Familial Rot was a really happy accident that worked on every level. We enjoyed each other’s company and pushing each other. I think it was kind of an unspoken rule that we were gonna get darker with every album. Familial Rot seems kinda tame compared to where we’ve gone with this album, but I remember having the idea for Gospel immediately after we finished writing/recording album two, and I told him I wasn’t pulling any punches here. I’ve carried this baggage around for so long, hinting at it during various projects throughout the years, but never anything like this. I feel like a boulder has been lifted off of my back and I have Siavash to thank for that. I don’t know anyone else I would’ve trusted with this and he helped me through.

Siavash: Taking into account our second album, which is also coming out this year, I think Gospel was the logical conclusion to the evolution of the sound and content that started with Familial Rot. I have to say that the sound of Gospel has a lot to do with the text. Maybe with a different text I wouldn’t go for such stripped down, stark approach. For me, working with Matt always brings the opportunity to dig very deep into emotions and images in the text and translate those into sonic textures, and then organise the textures again according to structures imposed by the text. Something I tried to do from Familial Rot onwards.

The words and music feel so intimately intertwined that it’s difficult to imagine the collaboration starting with just one or the other. As such, I’m intrigued to know what the initial steps of the collaboration look like. How do these pieces start to materialise?

Matt: I’m glad it comes across like that! I think why our work together resonates so well is that dependency on each other. Usually it’ll start with an idea from me. I’ll talk over what I had in mind but leaving a lot of room in there for Siavash to expand on it. Once we have that vague idea out there, we’ll start filling in the blanks.

Siavash: For all three collaborations so far, the text was the starting point. Matt and I first talk about the subject of the texts and after he writes them, I’ll try to read what he has sent me in different situations and let them sink in. At some point I start to imagine different kind of sounds, images, or other texts that could be incorporated into the album somehow, and usually Matt sends me other works that inspired him when writing the text. After that we talk about the sound and how we can imagine it and how I can approach it. That’s when the hard part starts!

And how does the collaboration proceed from here? How often are you in touch with eachother during the process, and what sort of material are you sending back and forth?

Matt: This is where I’ll hammer out lyrics. I like to give Siavash a few options for lyrics and then chip away until we have the very best of them. I think for Familial Rot I had about eight pieces total for it but it seemed excessive. I never want to crowd things or overstay my welcome. That’s especially true with how much I’m spilling my guts on this record. We talk to each other quite a bit throughout the whole process. Even if it’s just a quick “hope you’re doing okay, brother!” during the recording. I think of of him as family so I’m bothering him and checking up on him constantly anyway. There were a few photographers whose work I sent over for him to check out. William Christenberry is an amazing photographer who lived not too far from where I am. His work was a huge influence on this. This is the first time I ever sent a photographer as inspiration. I should do that more often. As for songs, Judee Sill’s “Jesus Was a Crossmaker” is one that I was obsessed with. Elvis’ How Great Thou Art album because it was played constantly in my house when I was a kid. “Beat Up Iron” by Kill County is another that I was playing a lot during the writing of this and I think I sent it over to Siavash.

Siavash, I don’t know if you’d be happy to divulge any of the source materials that feed into the textures on Gospel? There’s often a dull metallic tang to those shimmers of feedback, but also a lot of sounds that seem to be faltering and wounded (the loop in the closing stages of “Jesus Fish”, for example). It all feels incredibly three dimensional and tactile.

Siavash: I basically had three types of textures in mind for this album. One: painfully sharp sounds that come in the shape of very well defined frequency sets, chords and cluster chords that repeat over the course of the album (mostly influenced by works of composer Haas). Two: the fragmented music samples from a gospel recording showing itself gradually and which is fully played at the end. Three: very mid-heavy drones based on sacred music of previous centuries heard in a very subtle way (at end of “Jesus Fish” for example). I love to transform different and unrelated materials into a new whole. The contrasts and sudden unexpected similarities of these sounds is what is intriguing to work with.

Matt, I understand that this material sees you confront certain subject matter much more directly than you have previously. Where there any particular factors that led you to choose this record as the means through which to do this?

Matt: I felt like I was gonna have a goddamn breakdown if I didn’t do something about this. There’s a long line of this kind of abuse in my family. It happened to my mother, it happened to my older sister, it happened to my father who did this to me. Seeing the effect it had on them and how it’s still wounding all of us… I’ve been putting it off too long. Working on this helped me from falling off that cliff.

I’m always so captivated by the way in which your contributions blur into eachother. Matt’s voice is only audibly present for a small fraction of each of these tracks. And yet, as was the case on Familial Rot, the music often evokes the sensation of dragging the syllables out, perpetuating those spoken sentiments for the minutes after the voice has fallen silent. Could you tell me how you both contemplate the interaction between the voice and the music in this respect?

Matt: I’m absolutely writing for him and I imagine how he’s gonna place things and his use of silence and  space. It’s tricky but it’s always a great challenge not to just cram everything in there all at once. Giving him the bare minimum to tell this story, the core of what we’re gonna do, and have him run with it. It’s always the best thing to do. I trust him completely.

Siavash: Well for my part I always listen to the recordings Matt sends me on loop for a good amount of time to try and get the feeling of when and how it should come in, and how the track can proceed from there on. For me this is when Matt’s voice is a musical texture as well, so I pay a lot of attention on how he reads or how I should change the characteristics of the original recording.

The record ends on what sounds like a piece of music played on an old gramophone, situated at the other end of large hall. Are you able to divulge anything about that piece of music, or your decision to end the record in this way?

Siavash: That recording is “The Old Gospel Ship” by Speer Family. I was looking for old southern gospel recordings on and spent a lot of time figuring out which one could be used in the context of the album which works both sonically and conceptually. It is present throughout the album in many forms, and it reveals itself little by little until we hear full at the end. What I was trying to do was to capture the essence of a traumatic experience as well as I could, by showing how it can reveal itself through daily and very ordinary occurrences. For me it had an historical and social side as well as personal – it is by experiencing very painful and anxious moments that it shows itself, until we clearly understand what happened to us, but is ever-present and part of what shapes us. That song represents that aspect. The ever-present traumatic past which ruptures time, shows itself as something we never would have guessed. Main question here is that, after all the painful moments and all the things that makes us see it clearly, is there a way for redemption? Can we be free of the experience once we have fully understood it?

Could you pick out one particular facet of the other person (Matt on Siavash, Siavash on Matt) that you enjoy or admire, in terms of the way they approach their contribution to these collaborative works?

Matt: His heart. Cheesy, I know, but he’s one of the kindest, warmest people I’ve ever met. We’re across the world, literally, from each other but he’s one of my closest friends. He knows things about me that my family doesn’t know. I remember when he sent me these finished tracks for the first time. It was about 4:30 in the morning. He told me he’d caught a wave of inspiration and finished our recorded all of this in about two days. I wept. This whole album is nothing but his heart and my guts.

Siavash: I love how Matt can convey so many emotions and images in such concise and easy on the surface manner, and how he chooses very ordinary situations to talk about such huge subjects. It’s what makes me awe struck every time and it’s one of the reasons I love working with him. Also it is very important for me that we have such a close friendship, and as Matt said, we are like family. It is very important for me to have that kind of relationship and be able trust and rely on each other. He is one the most kind and sensitive people I know.

Is there a particular environment that works best for you when working on this music?

Matt: Definitely at night for me. I need quiet. I’ve had trouble sleeping all my life so I’m frequently up at 2-3 in the morning even though I have to get up at 6. There were days writing this where I’d get by on about 1-2 hours. Exhaustion and fatigue found their way in there and you can probably hear it in my voice on here.

Siavash: I have until recently, found that I love start working on a project with Matt from spring and ending it when summer ends and the autumn starts. It may sound weird but it works very well for me. I usually sleep a lot less when working on our projects. it helps a lot!

What’s the last record you listened to that excited you or captured your attention?

Matt: Science Fiction by Brand New. They’ve been one of my favorite bands since I was about 13 years old. This is supposedly the last thing they’re gonna release so it was exciting/heartbreaking for me. I’ve been fascinated with it since it came out. I also really liked the last Prurient album, Rainbow Mirror.

Siavash: Koenraad Eckker’s Sleepwalkers In A Cold Circus is on my listening list ever since I heard it a few months ago. It’s absolutely breathtaking. I wish I could make music like that!

What’s on the horizon for you both, collaboratively and separately?

Matt: There’s a new It Only Gets Worse album coming out later this year. I’m in a band with some local guys from around here called Clawing and our first album is coming out soon, Heinali and I are starting work on our next one this summer. I’m already writing the new one with Siavash. About 3-4 songs into it. It’s gonna be something else. Part 4 in a quadrilogy. We’re doing something really different with it. All Siavash’s idea, by the way. There’s actually a bit of hope in there. Who would have thought that coming from us?

Siavash: As for our project with Matt, we are working on a new album this time with a very different approach. I would love this to be a A/V album from the start so I’m currently looking for video artists and filmmakers that would fit into the project. I have a few releases coming up this year: FORAS is coming out on Hallow Ground, and SERUS is my A/V project with the amazing Czech visual artist Tereza Bartůňková which is going to be released on Room40, as well as a two-part EU tour starting this March.