Newoundwales regulars will be aware of our support for Climbing Trees in recent years including hosting the band’s album launch for Borders at St John’s Church in 2016. The band have been taking a sabbatical in recent times and lead singer Matthew Frederick has now released his debut album ‘Fragments’. We caught up with Matthew to find out more about his solo work and how the album came about.
You’re probably best known as the front man of Climbing Trees. The band released their last album ‘Borders’ back in 2016. Can you tell us what the current state of play is with the band? Permanently disbanded, resting or furloughed?
I assumed I was best known for my burgeoning 5 and 7 a side football career? But perhaps you’re right… With regards to Climbing Trees, although the last album was released in 2016, we were putting out singles and gigging pretty constantly right up until the end of 2017, with shows in Europe and the US as well as the UK that year, so things had been pretty full-on for five or six years. We decided to ‘hibernate’ for a little while, and before we knew it, almost two years had passed (although we did put out an EP of acoustic B Sides in the summer of 2018). We played a few stripped-back shows in Belgium and Germany towards the end of last year, as well as a lovely house gig just before Christmas, and it was nice to give the songs a run-out again. There’ll definitely be some more Trees a little further down the line – exactly when that’ll be, I’m not too sure, but we’ve got a few ideas knocking around, so we’ll see where they take us…
This is your first solo studio album. What can we expect from it and how do you think it differs from a Climbing Trees album?
It probably goes without saying, but this was very much a one-man project, which makes it easier in some ways, of course, but there’s also the added pressure with a solo album that there perhaps wouldn’t be with a Trees record. I made the decision pretty early on that I wanted to play all of the instruments on the album and make it a solo record through and through. I’m sure there are elements that would be recognisable to those that have listened to the two Trees albums, but I’d like to think it’s fairly distinct from those also. I didn’t actively try to make an album that either sounded exactly like or sounded nothing like Climbing Trees, so I imagine there’s enough in there to hint at the Trees without being a replica of anything that I’ve already released with the band. I suppose it’d be most similar to the aforementioned acoustic B Sides EP, actually, as a couple of those tracks were essentially solo re-workings of the band versions, so if you liked those, then this should be your cup of tea.
The songs released by Climbing Trees were written by the band. How different was it writing for a solo project?
To be honest, some of these songs are older than the band, actually! Around half had been knocking around either finished or half-finished for a good few years. Songs such as ‘Tell Me’, ‘Pink Blossom Snow’ and ‘Leave The Light On’ appeared in their infancy on my 2015 album ‘Live At Long Row’, for example, but I feel the versions that appear on ‘Fragments’ are a much better reflection, or representation, of what I wanted to achieve when penning these songs. As for writing with the band, there’s a lot of collaboration involved, of course. Usually one of us will arrive with the skeleton of a song, sometimes fully-formed, sometimes missing a few crucial bones here and there, and we’ll then hone it together as a group until it eventually sounds more like a Climbing Trees song than the work of any one of us individually. I enjoy both ways of working equally, but obviously you need one clear vision with a solo record in order to produce exactly what’s been floating around in your head for, in some instances, a number of years. Hopefully I’ve come pretty close to achieving that.
The songs on the album have a very personal narrative. What situations or experiences inspire or prompt you to write such songs?
I’d say there are a mixture of truths, half-truths, memories and false memories within my songs. Not every line in every song will mirror a personal experience exactly, but there’ll definitely be snippets that I’ll use, adapt, elaborate and mould into something that works within the construct of a song until realising, many years later and after performing them hundreds of times, that it’s often difficult to remember which bits actually happened and which didn’t! Obviously there’s a certain amount of artistic license, but I’d like to think there’s a sincerity and heart to my songs, even if they’re not a hundred percent autobiographical from start to finish.
Fragments was due to be launched with a show at St John’s Church in Canton, Cardiff. Sadly this had to be rescheduled because of the corona virus. You are planning a webcast instead. How are you preparing for this and what can we expect?
To be honest, I’m a lot more nervous about this than I was about playing St John’s, which is strange, considering it’ll be taking place in my living room! Once it was clear that the Cardiff launch couldn’t go ahead, the back-up plan was to live-stream from Globetrotters Bar (AKA Climbing Trees HQ) in Pontypridd with a couple of The Hindsights. Then the lockdown happened and ruled that out as well, so it’s morphed from performing with a live band in front of a couple of hundred people in a beautiful church to playing on me tod on the settee. I might still put a nice shirt on, though, to create a sense of occasion. As I say, I’m little apprehensive, mainly because I’ve never live-streamed before, so it’s an apprehension of the logistics of it all rather than anything else. I’m sure it’ll be fine though. And if not, the St John’s show has been rescheduled for October, so I’ll put it right then…
You mentioned your new backing band The Hindsights. Who are they and how did you go about selecting them?
I’ve purposely been keeping that under wraps and was set to reveal all at St John’s, which would have been my debut with The Hindsights, or any other backing band on the solo front, for that matter. Originally I had two of the three Hindsights on board for the live-stream as well, but we had to put a stop to rehearsals for that with the new restrictions introduced last week, so I’m afraid the identity of The Hindsights will remain a mystery for now. It’ll be worth the wait though, I hope!
You are one of those increasingly rare people who aim to make a living out of music. Leaving the current situation to one side, what advice would you give to musicians starting out who want to follow in your footsteps?
I’d say having some sort of back-up plan in the event of a global pandemic would be handy! In all seriousness, it’s pretty tricky to make a living out of music, even outside of the situation we currently find ourselves in. I’ve been pretty fortunate to just about keep things ticking over without having to get a real job for a few years, though, and it’s great to be able to spend time doing what I love, but it’s also bloody hard work. Unless you’ve got a team of people around you, you’ve got to be a bit of a jack of all trades, and it’ll be as much about keeping on top of the admin as it will actually creating music, although I always maintain that the latter is the most important of the two. My advice to any budding musicians would probably be to follow in the footsteps of somebody that’s much more successful than myself, though! I hope that helps.
You are a big part of the South Wales music scene. What do you like about it and what would you like to see change?
I think one of the greatest threats both within South Wales and the music scene in general is the rate at which we’re losing independent venues. I think Cardiff declared itself the UK’s first ‘Music City’ a year or two ago, yet it’s lost four or five venues over the last couple of years that make a bit of a mockery of that title. Without smaller venues the scene dies – it’s as simple as that. We’ve seen a massive increase in live-streaming over the last few weeks which is great, and definitely serves a purpose both for fans and artists in these uncertain times, but I do worry that there’ll be an even smaller pool of venues left once we come out the other end of this. On a more positive note, I think there’s a great amount of spirit within the South Wales scene, where artists and venues support rather than compete with one another, and I think that’s more important now than ever.
You’re releasing an album amid a wholescale health crisis. How are you planning to promote the album now that live shows are off the agenda for a while?
My plans have gone out the window, if I’m honest! I’m fortunate in the sense that I have a fairly small but dedicated following that seems to be gradually creeping up in number, so the orders have been trickling in along with a flow of lovely messages, emails and reviews in the run-up to the release. The St John’s show was meant to kick off a run of gigs throughout April and into the festival season. They’ve now fallen by the wayside, of course, but one of the benefits of this lockdown is that a lot of people now have a bit of extra time on their hands to discover new music. So my current strategy is probably word-of-mouth as much as anything else, which is pretty old school, but I’m willing to give anything a try at the moment!
Finally, once things are back to normal what have you got planned for the rest of the year?
I’m currently rescheduling as much as possible for the Autumn, by which time I’m hoping we’ll have returned to some sense of normality and people will be gasping to attend live shows again. I was also meant to be getting married in May, so with that being postponed on top of everything else, my diary’s an absolute mess of scribbled-out plans at the moment! As much as I was looking forward to this run of shows, I feel strangely calm now that I have a clear diary for the next few months (despite the financial implications), and am really enjoying spending a little more time playing and writing (as are the majority of my musician mates, by the looks of things). I’ve got the next album half-written, and also have a couple of very different EPs in their embryonic stages, so although plans have shifted rapidly over the last few weeks, it’s been a good opportunity to be productive in other ways. I’m also finally getting around to growing my own fruit and veg, which I’ve been meaning to do for yonks. Check in with me in six months or so and I’ll let you know how it went…