Mat Hunsley is the comeback kid with his beautifully melancholic & raw ‘Friend & Foe (Live)’
“I’ve had a lot more fun making music recently by working quickly and building up a relatively smaller idea on the fly. Music should be fun, so I would advise any artist to just record something and start playing with it”Mat Hunsley
With the changing seasons comes the cyclical death of nature; the nights are drawing in, cloaking us in darkness, the leaves make their balletic death spiral onto the ground & we begin to hunker down. The gentle lullaby of Mat Hunsley‘s voice acts as a blanket to take us through this time. He grapples with self-reflection and our many versions of self we present to the world – compared with the full instrumental version, the lyrics are much more impactful in the stripped-back, one-take wonder of ‘Friend & Foe’ that he’s releasing ahead of his EP in Spring 2023.
With the full backing, there’s a slightly Joy Division-esq nature to the happy melody, melancholic lyrics dynamic. This live version has a rawness, an intimacy that feels confessional. I almost have my arms reaching out to him, to let him know that ‘sometimes I feel alone, believing no one’s gonna win’ too. It isn’t just ‘one of those days’. And it will be okay.
Hunsley is a talented lyricist by presenting these themes in a way that doesn’t kill the mood, somehow he adds to the cosy autumnal feeling of change. I know I have an autumnal hankering for the oh-so soft way in which acoustic artists like Bon Iver & Fleet Foxes manage to find the toughest parts of our hearts and leave them feeling soft. Hunsley has managed to marry the indie influences with the folk elements musically, but I think his lyrics are perhaps the icing on this wedding cake.
If you fancy watching this stripped-down, intimate song performed on YouTube (which made its’ debut a couple of nights ago) then I would recommend waiting until the witching hour tonight & snuggling up with a big glass of wine to fully immerse yourself into the experience.
Watch the video for ‘Friend & Foe (Live)’ by Mat Hunsley
Hi Mat! So lovely to catch up with you about life, music, and everything in-between. Thanks for sitting down (virtually) today. We’ll kick everything off by talking about the dreaded C-word; what was your highlight during your musical hiatus / the COVID chapters?
Musically, my highlight from the last couple of years is definitely ‘A Worrier’s Dream‘. The feeling of finally finishing and releasing some music was such a welcome relief, especially after a long dry spell. The EP also felt like a huge step forward for me in terms of production and scale. I got to have fun playing with other musicians for the first time and even got to write a big string section for ‘Do It Anyway‘, which was a blast.
Outside of music, I got married. That was pretty magical too.
Massive congratulations on tying the knot! We’re glad you’re back on the creative horse – what got you back into songwriting and the creative mindset?
After releasing ‘To Being Free‘, I just ran out of stream and stopped enjoying writing and playing. I was still massively into listening to and discovering new music, but I had absolutely no drive to make any. I think I just burnt out with it all and needed to take some time away.
By the time 2020 came around, I’d started playing the guitar a bit more and I stumbled upon some ideas that I liked. Enough of them stuck and became finished songs that I gathered a bit of momentum again. I got the bug back and it hasn’t really left since. I’ve gained a lot more confidence in my songwriting and write a lot more nowadays than I ever did before.
Which pearls of wisdom would you impart to others feeling divinely uninspired creatively?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learnt is that an idea doesn’t have to be fully formed before you can start demoing. I’ve felt stifled creatively throughout big portions of my career whilst waiting for an idea to be ‘finished’. I’ve had a lot more fun making music recently by working quickly and building up a relatively smaller idea on the fly. Music should be fun, so I would advise any artist to just record something and start playing with it.
I’m sure it’s been great to be out & gigging with an audience – you’ve recently had some gigs up North. What’s your favourite gig memory, pre- and post-lockdown?
It really is great to be back out there again. For me, COVID came along just as I was considering playing some shows again after a really long time away. It was such a shame for restrictions to push back my return even further than planned, but it was all for the greater good. I’ve only played a couple of shows since restrictions eased and it’s been such a joy to meet new people and to finally play the songs that I have worked so hard on for so long. I’m so pleased that things are more back to normal!
My favourite pre-COVID gig memory is unquestionably playing at the Sage in support of my good friend Ditte Elly. I never dreamed that I would get the chance to play in such a magical venue, let alone in a full and pin-drop silent room. It’s experiences like that that make the slog of being an independent artist well worth it!
You’ve got ‘Friend & Foe’ as one of the live recordings from your upcoming EP & I’m majorly impressed that this is a one-take wonder – would a live album be on the cards at some point?
Thank you so much, that’s really kind! Doing a live album is most definitely on the bucket list. One day I would love to do an album with an orchestra, something similar to what Laura Mvula or Lanterns on the Lake have done in the past. A project like this will have to wait though, at least until there’s an album to do it with.
You describe yourself as ‘some sorta folk artist’ and there’s definitely a healthy helping of indie in there too; who would you say are your main influences? And, if you’d like to divulge, what was the last song you listened to today?
I think you’re right, there are definitely things other than folk in there. I’ve always found describing my music really hard and I tend to plump for folk as it fits better than the rest.
My influences vary, but I always come back to the likes of Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Howard and Bon Iver. That being said, I consume a huge variety of different genres as a listener nowadays and you could argue that there are some Elbow, Local Natives and Grizzly Bear influences seeping into the stuff I’ve been working on most recently.
As for the last thing I listened to today, I’ve been hitting the new Madison Cunningham album hard. Her single ‘Hospital‘ is just sublime!
Looking at the lyrics of ‘Friend & Foe’, would you say that your writing is influenced by events or feelings in your personal sphere, or do you draw from outside sources / influences?
All the work so far has been pretty honest, autobiographical and come from close to home. I’ve probably been too closely embodying the “sad boy with a guitar” stereotype and I’m looking forward to breaking this mould going forward. The stuff I’ve been working on most recently has been attempting to address some of the issues in the world at large. It’s a hard thing to get right though. After all, you don’t want to write something that is inadvertently insensitive or offensive and it can be a difficult line to tread when you’re trying to tackle some emotive subjects. I’ve been enjoying the challenge though.
Imagine you’re at a cosy pub in Newcastle, glass in hand & crisps open on the table. Out of all the musicians, songwriters, etc – who would you most like to join you?
That’s a difficult question actually…but I would probably say Justin Vernon from Bon Iver. I’m absolutely fascinated by his work and would love an opportunity to quiz him on his process and how he composes. Otherwise, I would definitely say Nathaniel Rateliff. He and his band once played a living room show for me in Newcastle and, whilst it was magical, it happened back when I was a student and I nearly froze them to death in my horrible student house…! It would be nice to have the opportunity to apologise and catch up one day.
Thanks so much for you time, Mat. One last one – promise! What’s in the pipeline for 2023, both creatively and personally?
After ‘Friend & Foe’ comes out, I have two further singles due out before the end of the year. The first is another live recording of a track from ‘A Worrier’s Dream’, the second is a brand new song (and perhaps my favourite of the bunch).
After that, it’ll be time to put the finishing touches on my next EP which should be out in the world in Spring 2023. I’ve really got the bug back at the moment and I just want to keep making and releasing stuff if I can.
Personally, I’ll just be working and trying to save up enough money to invest a little into making music.