Abrasive Trees, the creative vehicle for Matthew Rochford’s solo work, gleefully experiment within the post-punk aesthetic with elements of folk and psychedelia. Expressing an intense, hopeful inner world, Rochford’s lyrics and music connect with themes of spirituality, the fragility of our psyche, and attempts to convey the mysterious divine. Originally from Aberdeen but of Asian/English heritage, Rochford mainly works from his home studio near Totnes in South Devon where he also runs his micro-label, SHAPTA.
Rochford, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, E-bow, dulcimer, bass, and drum programmes, received creative input on this project from Jo-Beth Young (Talitha Rise/RISE), Mark Beazley (Rothko), Steven Hill (Evi Vine), Ben Roberts (Evi Vine/Prosthetic Head/Silver Moth), Jay Newton (Quiet Quiet Band), Peter Yates (Fields of The Nephilim), Ffion Atkinson (Johnny Powell & The Seasonal Beasts), Laurence Collyer (Diamond Family Archive), Jerome Hitchens (Kuki and The Bard), Nadia Abdelaziz (RISE) and Sebastian Rochford (Pulled By Magnets/Polar Bear/Patti Smith).
The result is an eerie journey to the precipice of the veil between life and death, a testament to love beyond the three dimensional world, and the murky psychic headspace of grief and resolution. Now You Are Not Here is visceral and primal, with the swarming instrumentation placing the listener into a state of lucid dream. Ashram Song beautifully melds Indian and Celtic drone traditions, creating a gorgeously intriguing hybrid of culture and sound. There is an element of 1960s psychedelia, certainly, but the mystical elements are equally as much of England’s fabled ‘pleasant pastures green.’ There is a perfect synergy at work. The album closes with Before, a transcendent experience of euphoric dissonance with a hint of bittersweet introspection.
Post-Punk.com recently conducted an interview with Matthew Rochford about the new EP.
What’s the title track of the “Now You Are Not Here” EP about, and how did you create the unusual sound of that song?
Now You Are Not Here started with a poem I wrote after my father died at the end of 2019. I guess I wanted to express that loss somehow and the song just happened. I had a riff I’d written which came out of me wanting to get my head round stoner-rock chords and ways of playing. It then developed whilst messing about at Jo-Beth Young rehearsals when I was setting up.
The overall sound was mainly about using a sitar simulator for the guitar and adding lots of reverb to the (analogue) drum machine. The bass took ages and three different bass lines before Ben (Roberts) came up with what you hear. Jo’s vocals add so much to the track and after lots of mixing and re-working it arrived at what was released. The main thing though is that it’s about loss, which is obviously painful but also something that release latent energies and become a creative force. It’s also about giving yourself permission to feel that loss fully and not be defeated by it.
Your instrumentation is beautifully unique on Ashram Song, which highlights the dulcimer, shruti box and tanpura. What drew you to this particular sound?
Thanks. I knew I wanted to use the dulcimer on this EP and had written the melody a while ago, but never recorded it. As drone instruments go, the Appalachian Mountain Dulcimer (as opposed to the Hammer Dulcimer) has a really wonderful sound. It’s also a pretty simple instrument and relatively easy to play. Being brought up in Scotland but being of part-Indian heritage I think I am possibly pre-disposed to liking drones. I feel a real joy playing the dulcimer and knew it would work with some of the bowed guitars that Jo-Beth plays, plus I also knew that Laurence’s (from Diamond Family Archive) shruti box and tanpura would add exactly the right textures I was looking for. Peter (of Fields of The Nephilim) told me it sounded like it was recorded in an Ashram during the 1960’s – hence the name. I really am happy with how it came out and the overall sound is pretty much exactly as I wanted it.
What sort of atmosphere are you hoping to create, or expunge, with the two instrumental soundscapes?
Before and Ashram Song are both quite different. Ashram Song is quite structured and definite in the melody, but Before is much more fluid and free. With Before I really wanted to make it as other-worldly as possible. Essentially, I wanted Before to take people on a bit of a liminal journey. It’s all about being in-between worlds.
These songs are extremely cinematic in nature. What images pop in your imagination as you’re immersing yourself in the sound?
I think that’s a question for other people to answer as I haven’t really listened to them in that way – nor that often since recording them. For me it was more about the intent behind the music and offering that to the listener. I’m always curious as to where my music takes people and what they can relate to within it though.
Where would you like to take your experiments next?
We have some live shows, including one with no-rock pioneers Rothko soon. After that we’re heading into the studio to record another EP – this time with the live band, rather than with lots of collaborators. I think the next steps are about forging ourselves as a more ‘classic’ band line-up, albeit with some less commonly seen instruments.
Are there other unusual instruments you’d like to explore?
I’d like to get a tanpura, but we’ll see. I totally fell in love with that instrument after my brother gave me a copy of Alice Coltrane’s Journey in Satchidananda about 20 years ago. Apart from that I’m about to get stuck into using a 12-string electric with a sitar simulator.
Now You Are Not Here is out now.
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