In Search Of Perfect Pop With Matt Van Schie

You may know Matt Van Schie as the bassist of that Sydney four-piece that bears his surname. What you may not know is that in between preparations for Van She’s second album, the gangly multi-instrumentalist has concocted an EP’s worth of coastal pop that just may prolong the seasons. We recently caught up with Matt to discuss the recruiting process for his new band, the stigma of pop music and Van She’s next album.

OK so what birthed the idea to do the solo stuff?

Well basically I was in the downtime of doing Van She shows for the last couple years, I was just doing something to kill time really. And I just got the writing bug when we were doing Van She stuff, I got totally addicted to writing and I loved just sitting at home fiddling and making up songs. Because I never was much of a computer guy until a couple years ago but I decided to get into that because you cant be a musician without being a producer slash mixer these days. And yeah it was just something to kill time when Tommy (Tomek Archer, drums) was redesigning the world and Nick (Vocals/guitar) and Mikey (synth/guitar) were remixing the world. So now I’m really into it and I really want to push it.

So what tools are you using on your solo stuff?

I just mainly use Protools and I just record everything through there. I know its an old school way of doing things but I feel I can really get in there and mess with sounds.

So is it liberating for you to be able to step away from the bass?

Well when I was in my early teens I picked up the guitar first before I started playing bass and then somebody asked me to play bass in the band and I was like ‘Oh okay I’ll give it a go!’ and then I fell in love with it when I played it. I love playing the bass and I know it probably doesn’t get enough respect in non-musical circles but I even wanted to play it live in some of my stuff but it just wasn’t appropriate because of some of the timing issues and everything. I mean, I love playing the guitar as well but it’s just nice to have a change to mix things up a bit because it can get a little tiring sometimes when you’ve just got the one thing.

So how do you plan to translate it live? Because its a pretty full sounds for a solo act.

Yeah, I’m going to play live shows. I’ve got the Delphic tour coming up soon, I’ve got Simon and Joel Funkle playing with me…

Who are they?

I just named them. Awesome name! Simon, the drummer from Lost Valentinos and Joel Amos (Sydney DJ Magic Happens) he’s playing bass and so I call them Simon and Joel Funkle. And, yeah it’s sounding good. There’s going to be a computer playing along with us because, as you said, there’s a fair bit going on so we’re going to have a bit of magic on the stage as well. But that’s kind of a semi permanent thing and we’ll just work it out when the shows start happening. I might be enlisting other folks when I go over to Europe, I wanna go there…soon.

What did the recruiting process involve?

Well for Joel he had to present to me a 5 minute slap bass solo and I sat there and critiqued it but he actually passed the test, he was just unbelievable, his slapping was just unbelievable. And for Simon, there was nothing. I just said ‘look man, I’m desperate’.

Yeah he’s an amazing drummer

Yeah man, he’s a machine, I love him.

And lets talk about the song writing process. What do you see as the main difference between Van She and your solo stuff?

Well predominantly my solo stuff is just me but with any creative team, it is good to have a couple of people involved. Like I did write that song “Journey” with Michael from the band but when you don’t have that there’s no instant ‘hit or shit’ because you can’t bounce off each other and get to a conclusion quicker. But in saying that, there are also different tastes that can shut things out. It takes a bit of practice to work by yourself, you have to do it for ages before you can do it properly. And now I’m kind of getting into that rut of working out ‘okay that’s good’ or ‘that’s shit’ and then just keep on going.

And I guess there’s less quality control control filters with just one person…

Yeah thats right but with writing I still try to bounce ideas off anyone I can and I’m all like “tell me the fucking truth…c’mon, tell me the truth, don’t be a pussy”…I said that to Joel the other day, I was like “what do you think of this and don’t be soft”.

Is it all positive?

Of course not, there’s always haters! But I kinda wanted to go with something bright and poppy for this and I was listening to a lot of Roxy Music and Hall & Oates and I moved back to the Northern Beaches and at the beach it was like the natural thing to come up with. It wasn’t forced at all, it was just really natural. It’s just done in the bedroom, passed around and mixed here and there…

So place and time is really closely linked to the end product for you? Like, if you were living in Berlin for example, it’d be a different sound?

Oh yeah and I think that makes it feel more natural as well. If I was living in Berlin it’d be a lot darker and grittier. Even when I was living in the city I was writing darker stuff, but living on the beach your mind space changes a little and that’s represented. And I think if you’re not writing like that and you’re not using your environment than it can sound a bit forced.

How hard is it to write a pop track?

I’ve written a lot of little dark, moody, brooding things but to actually nail a pop structure is one of the hardest things you can do. A lot of people will put you down for it…

But I think a lot of musicians would credit that, people who make music would be aware of how hard it is.

Oh yeah, a lot of very musical people have come to me and said ‘wow man, it’s awesome’ but I don’t have many joe-blow’s coming up to me saying the same thing. I think it depends on taste as well and I think the obvious thing to do to be cool is be dark and brooding but I think it’s more exciting to go the pop side because it’s edgier to me. To be poppy and extreme its more edgy than being dark and emo but that’s obvious.

So do you listen to your own stuff recreationally?

(Laughs) oh not really! I mean, I’ll listen to it in the car when I want to get an idea for a mix or if I want to hear what it sounds like in a different environment because it’s always good to test things out. And I’ve also deejayed some of my stuff out so I can hear whats sounding good but I find it too hard not to be analytical of my own stuff if you know what I mean? Like I can’t really sit and enjoy it because I sit there and go “oh I should have done that” or ” I should’ve done this”…

So how do you know when a track is done?

It’s just gut. You can overwork it and you can go over the top but I tend to find that when you overwork a song it means its not good enough in the first place… and you should just scrap it. But you’ll know when you’ve got a good song and you’ve got that good kicking chorus and everything’s falling into place and you’ll know when it’s finished.

So good songs are easy to write?

Well, with a very good song its easy to know when to stop. The not so great songs you can kind of toil over for ages because you think ‘oh but it could be good’ and you try to fix it but it’s better just to walk away from it and start again I think.

So, there’s a release coming out for this as well right? Can you tell us a bit about that?

There’s a video for ‘Journey’ out next week. We’re doing the video for that next week, I don’t know the exact details because I can’t keep up with it…

Are you in the video?

Yeah I am in this one.

Who made it?

Superstar director Riley Blakeway. He’s an awesome, young talent from Terrigal who does a lot of surfing movies and stuff. He fitted the brief rather than trying to find a director to do an idea that we wanted, we found a director who already does it and it worked out really well.

So it has a beachy vibe?

Yeah, because it’s about the journey, it’s beautiful… just the sun and the beauty and all the aspects I was going through when I wrote it and what the song is about.

So what did you have to do with the video?

Well it was basically just a day in the life of me. And Linda (Marigliano, Matt’s girlfriend and bassist for teenagersintokyo) was in it as well, we were just having a day out, we got up in the morning and went to the beach…and that was about it! I mean the song “Journey” is also about a relationship it’s got that message of ‘stick with it and work through it and becoming stronger’ but we actually went pretty literal with the video and had an actual journey and went to the beach.

And what does Linda think of the solo stuff?

Yeah, she’s 100% behind it. She thinks it’s great and she’s been behind me the whole time egging me on to do it. Because I was initially thinking ‘oh I’ll get someone to sing and I’ll get someone to do this and that’ because I’ve been thinking about it for a while and she was like ‘oh why don’t you just sing cause you’re never going to be happy with someone else and you’re never going to be happy if you don’t do it all yourself’. It’s cool though because I’ve learnt so much about producing and production by doing this EP and I’ll take that on for the next album when I’m working on any of the Van She stuff that we do. Working it from the beginning to the end has been a massive learning thing because it also fine tunes your understanding of the end of it… like some of the back end production stuff is imperative to the song writing process.

How do you think this will affect Van She stuff? Do you think any of your solo stuff will find its way on there? Or things that you have learnt?

Oh yeah definitely! It’s already started to influence things in the way of work and I think that working mainly on Protools, whereas the other guys mainly work on Logic which is good too because there’s lots of different kinds of effects and techniques that we can bring to the table.

So what’s next for the band?

We’re writing at the moment and we’re just in between me doing my stuff and the other guys doing remixes. Tomek redesigning… its all happens but it’s on the Van She timeline which is pretty slow.

So what’s the timetable for the rest of the year?

Um, just keep pumping out remixes and maybe do another video… and then head over to London about June, do some shows and get the EP buzz going out there, spread the word of the gospel and then start working on an album. Well I’ve got new tracks already that could potentially be for an album for both my stuff and Van She.

How do you know how to differentiate the writing? Will you write something and be like ‘oh I’ve got my solo hat on’ or ‘I’ve got my Van She hat on’?

Oh yeah thats hard! Well I’m trying to do lately is go and work with the other guys and making something from scratch as opposed to sitting at home producing something and then giving it to them. That’s the way I’m trying to do it now, but sometimes it doesn’t work out like that.

So I guess the nature of the instruments would dictate it as well?

Well I mean, I’ve written some stuff already that’s not just bass lines but it’s never been about that with Van She anyway, we all kind of chip in. Predominantly it will be about your instrument but there are always open ideas with synth lines or guitar hooks or whatever. It’s never that specific, we’re not precious like that.

Alright well I guess that’s about it. Thanks for your time Matt and we look forward to hearing more of your work and more from Van She this year.

Thanks bud!