Catch up with Los Angeles-based Year of Suns, a new project from singer-songwriter Chris Matthews, and listen to single "Plain Sight" off his debut EP, Songs For Silence, out now.
What got you interested in music and in songwriting?
Chris: I basically started playing music in sixth grade. There was a music program and everybody had to play an instrument, it was mandatory, and this was in elementary and middle school in Miami. I picked up the saxophone 'cause I kind of wanted an uncool instrument, everybody was going for guitar and drums and there was a bit of competition there so I was like, you know what, no one's really going for the saxophone [laughs] I think I'll just pick that up. And then I had a buddy that was playing clarinet and so I thought I would play clarinet - so obviously there's a little bit of a trend here. And then, from there, I asked the teacher if I could take home a guitar for the weekend - because we were allowed to take our instruments home - and I took home a Squier Fender and had no idea what I was doing with it, I just knew that I was intrigued by the instrument for one reason or another. I actually didn't have a love affair with it. A buddy of mine, I brought it over to his place and he was fascinated and he started playing, which then sparked my interest. That's really the early onset of my guitar playing, but I really was interested, I think a little bit more, in drums, so I played drums for a couple years and then decided to get back into guitar and was never very technical. I think, when you start off as a guitar playing, it can be daunting because you think you have to be the most technical dude in the world when you're in 7th or 8th grade thinking, 'well, I think the more technical I am, then the better guitar player I'll get to be''; so I wasn't good at memorizing songs and I wasn't good technically, but I somehow managed to start writing songs and that's where I realized, you don't have to be the most technical guy in the world if you can write some songs. And that they could also be simple, they didn't have to be crazy, technical, complex pieces.
Do you remember the first song you wrote that you were happy with?
I think it wasn't until, man, maybe 10 years later. I'd written a song called "The Hummingbird" - which still hasn't properly been released - and that's when I was like, okay, I'm tapping into something, I'm proud of this; which is a rare feeling for me.
Which musicians would you say you've been influenced by?
Oh my gosh, there's a whole range. I think the first spark was definitely Pink Floyd, especially David Gilmour, the guitar player, because he was emotional and he got his point across without wasting any notes and he was the first guy I was fascinated with. And then from there, I eventually found Radiohead and Thom Yorke was a little bit more of a multi-instrumentalist compared to Gilmour who's this singular guitar player. And Thom Yorke really blew the lid open for me, in terms of getting into more challenging music. From then on, I found indie folk music, guys like Justin Vernon and Sufjan Stevens; and then I found more classic folk artists like Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell. So those have all been a major influence, as well as James Murphy who I don't think has had an influence much on the music, but just his approach to LCD Soundsystem and combining a lot of different influences, I strive for that as well. It's a pretty wide range of influences.
What would you say is the best album released in 2016?
2016 was a tough year for me, musically, as a listener and a consumer because I realized that, actually, too much of a good thing is probably not that great, specifically with regards to some of these music streaming platforms. But I think what might have stuck with me most was A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead, but I was even struggling with that. By that I mean, there's so much music coming at you and instead of getting into albums this year, I was trying to find a way to consume music with a methodology, to stick with something and not feel like I was dabbling in a million things. Radiohead probably kept my attention more than anybody else. I've been trying to come up with different ways of making that experience immersive, because it's been a real struggle for me. The big thing I found was taking Spotify or whatever off my phone and just having it on my computer, so that's been a big help actually and now I actually miss music, like I haven't missed music in such a long time.
How would you describe your sound to someone who had never heard your music?
That is a tough question. I think I can say these are the people I love, referring to those influences before, but I don't even know if it's quite along those lines. If you were to take a little bit of Nick Drake, a little bit of Fleet Foxes, and Elliott Smith, I think you would get a good representation. But the sound itself, I'm not exactly sure how to describe it.
Could you tell us more about your debut EP, Songs For Silence, that was just released?
Sure, I mean, Elliott Smith is definitely all over it - early Elliott Smith, specifically. As well as a newer artist by the name of Angel Olsen; she had a record called Burn Your Fire For No Witness and that was a pretty big influence from whenever it came out, 2014, on-wards. So I think people will pick up a little bit on that, but probably more so on the Elliott Smith along with another group, I believe they're from Sweden, by the name of The Radio Dept.; you can hear a little bit of that as well as Yo La Tengo with some of the more atmospheric stuff that appears on the record. Yeah, I think that's what they can expect.
Was there a track off the album you were most excited to get out there and share with people?
Definitely "Plain Sight". On EPs, you don't often find an arc. It's just like, here's a bunch of songs but I guess this EP is properly constructed like a mini album, there's two bookends - the first track and the last track - and then the core stuff is kind of in the middle. But then "Plain Sight", I think, with its drony guitars - kind of My Bloody Valentine-inspired guitars - there's a lot of textures there and it's not a traditional pop song by any means. I don't know if any of them are, there's some verse-chorus-verse-chorus stuff, but this one's just kind of linear and it becomes explorative and all those textures and sounds and stuff that you hear on top of the guitar and the vocal were done by my engineer, David Burris, who's highly musically inclined. He's not just an engineer or producer, he has a hand in the production and the engineering but also in the songwriting and I like the idea of letting him do what he will with a track. I'll literally leave the studio and let him do whatever he wants and most of the time it works out. So, "Plain Sight", for sure.
In one sentence, how would you sum up Songs For Silence?
A longing for simplicity. [Laughs] That's probably it.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
It would be nice if they found that it was authentic, I think that's important. That I'm not trying to pull a fast one on anybody, I'm not trying to hide behind anything; if that's really apparent to people and they can connect with it in that way, then that's, I think, the best connection that somebody can have with the record is that what somebody is saying is something that they mean and there's no pretense in any way.
Is there anything you want to add?
I think there's plenty to come next year, as well as this week. There's a video coming out for "Plain Sight" which was shot by Danny Pollack over at Ataraxy Studios and that'll be premiering on Myspace. I have some more music pretty much ready to go for next year, it's all about just packaging it up. I'm particularly excited about this next batch of songs because they've been around for a long time and it's been about getting back to them and coming full circle, so I think that's what I'll be doing next year.