Interfew with Anders Mathiasen of Vessel

Vessel is the solo project of Anders Mathiasen, formerly of Murder. Anders released the beautiful new album, “Patterns Of Blue”, in April and we have featured him a couple of times on Few at this stage.
As well as working on Vessel, the prolific Mathiasen has found time to write the soundtrack to the award-winning indie film “Sort Kaffe & Vinyl” and released the spoken-word  album”Meker” with the poet Jesper Elving, amongst other things.  We caught up with him to find out more about his music, inspiration and influences. 

Can I ask why you decided to use a “group” name for your solo work and why “Vessel” in particular?

First of all I like to work under a different name than my own to minimize the direct association with me as a specific person. Making music is unavoidably personal, it´s a point of view, but the possible relevance for others is sometimes limited when the personal gets too much focus; there´s a hermetic quality to that, which I find uninteresting. I use my own name when I make instrumental music which is more abstract and less semantic. The music is about itself as music, not about me as a person.

The name Vessel has several possible meanings, that are mutually exclusive but semantically coexistent. A vessel is something which in itself is somewhat unimportant, it is the content of it that matters – a metaphor that fits the way I like to think of music and art in general.

Do you find the process of writing and producing songs changes dramatically when you are solo  as opposed to when you part of a duo?

Yes. The obvious downside to it is that you only have yourself to judge whether an impulse or idea is worth pursuing or not – but that´s a challenge that you just learn so much from. At the moment I can´t really imagine not working alone, but like everything else this changes all the time.

Writing and producing seem like two very different processes, but they are really one, and I find that the closer they are linked – that is, the earlier you start combining the two aspects of bringing a piece of music into existence – the more organic and self-evident the result.

I love the almost ephemeral nature of the songs and the space afforded the various elements on your new album – the songs put me in mind of Talk Talk, David Sylvian, Red House Painters, John Martyn, Nick Drake and others – some of my favourite artists. Would those references chime with you? What artists have had the biggest influence on you?

 Yes, some of those chime. But I grew up on noisy and lo-fi stuff, and the ones that started it all were early Sonic Youth, Pavement, Nirvana, Sebadoh, Smog, MBV and Guided by Voices. The DIY spirit of the lo-fi 90s really got me going. I have no formal musical training, but just picked up a guitar to see what I could do with it. That´s still really the strongest undercurrent in my approach. Today I am a very selective listener. I tend to listen to the same album or artist for a long time, to practice some deep listening. At the moment I am into early Western church music, Orlando Gibbons and Josquin Des Prez in particular. And I recently found the most amazing recording of Pygmy-songs. I listen to a lot of field recordings as well. The question of influence is a complex one… But Talk Talk are huge, Spirit of Eden and Laughing stock are masterpieces, production-wise they are just plain beautiful, no question. And I have recurring highs on Leonard Cohen, Morton Feldman, Nick Drake, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. The singularly most important artist for me is Brian Eno. And painters Agnes Martin, Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko.

There is a sadness and introversion to the music which I find quite beautiful – would you describe the mood in those terms?

No sadness at all – gratitude. Maybe the sadness you hear is a certain melancholy that has to do with not appreciating the grace of being enough.

When/Where do new songs come to you?

When I listen – when I am open to them. I often have to spend a lot of time doing nothing (as far as that is possible being a father and husband) for new songs to occur. But quietude and aloneness seem to be conducive.

Did you have the cohesive mood of the album in mind when writing it or did that form gradually as you produced it?

Both – actually the whole aesthetic of the album took a drastic turn at one point. It was recorded live – drums, upright bass, piano and acoustic guitar – like a jazz-album, really, and actually I thought that was where we were going to stop, just the whole wood-thing, all organic and with a strong live feeling. That was the initial idea. But it became too monochrome, too purist in a way, and then we just opened up to the idea of slowly adding synthetic elements, and that just made the music expand. Opposites working together, mutually enhancing each other.

What song by another artist do you wish you had written and why?

I have no answer to that question.

What, outside of music, influences your art?

Visual art is of great importance. I try to imagine what paintings sound like, to listen to them. But really the whole question of influence is meaningless in a certain sense, since everything influences what I do, the weather, what food I eat, my whole conditioning, just as everything influences everybody. There are no clear lines of influence, as far as I can see. It´s just a matter of making arbitrary choices and then rationalize them afterwards. I can say what I do, that may be a pointer.

Why do you sing in English? Do you feel music from outside the UK/USA gets a fair crack of the whip in those countries?

I grew up listening to American and English music, its my tradition, really, a part of my conditioning. For better or worse…

Name a song that makes you happy and why?

It´s not really a song, but a piece of music: Thursday Afternoon by Brian Eno always makes everything expand, a feeling of everything just being unimaginably OK that´s just right.

What current music, other than your own, do you rate?

The latest Bill Callahan record comes to mind – what a miracle that is.

Is there anything intrinsically Danish about your work do you think? I mean do you think your nationality filters through into your work?

I´m sure it does, but I don´t think I am the right person to judge how, though. I honestly think that the climate has immense importance, but I have no way of putting that into words. Maybe an element of being exposed to American music and culture second hand filters through as well. I have worked with American songwriters, and the stuff they get away with both musically and lyrically is just nowhere near what I would consider relevant. I´m too afraid of clichés, and if they are to be used, they have to be used carefully. Americans just have no problem with them, it seems.

Do you collect anything? 

No, not really.

What next for you and Vessel? Is Murder finished or will we hear the again?

Murder is on hold, but never say never. We have been getting together to do some instrumentals, and I think that if we start working again, we will be doing something completely different from our albums. I hope to go on tour with Vessel in some format, but the record is just out, and we still need time to build something up. I am writing new stuff at the moment, considering to record again soon. I´m tired of having to conform to the rules of a market, I just want to keep working.

What song(s) would each of you like played at your funeral?

Henry Cowell: Hymn and Fuguing Tune No. 2: Hymn. But ask me again when the time draws near.

What question would you like to be asked that you never are? And what would be your answer?

This question. Brilliant!