Spectral, layered, intricate and haunting: Abrasive Trees inspires a whole stream of words to describe the cool ebb of its mind-warping, immersive music.
Helmed by Matt Rochford, the Abrasive Trees ripples/roots have spread far and wide, drawing in a host of musical experience. And with the heat barely cooled from the press of its first single, Matt is already preparing for his next two releases and daring to dream of taking the material out live again.
“Most of the people who played on the album are living all over the UK and Ireland – London, Hastings, Aberdeen – all over the place. Practically speaking, that’s not going to work as a band but there’s a lot of musicians locally, who I know well and have worked with, who are up for playing in Abrasive Trees, and who knows what’s going to happen with gigs,” says Matt.
Totnes-based Matt is well aware of the musical landscape, having been a promoter with Christian Murison and the Black Bird Collective and as a member of band Council of Giants. And it’s those connections that have fuelled the growth and development of Abrasive Trees. In fact, from root to branch, Abrasive Trees tells a story of musical co-operation.
“Someone described it as stone soup,” laughs Matt. “It’s not quite been like that, but the collaborations have shaped it, definitely.”
The name comes from a description of alternate lower states of reality from Buddhist cosmology. There’s a world called the Mountain of Abrasive Trees. It’s a bit like a nightmare that goes on for a long time, but it’s fundamentally an illusion, Matt offers reassuringly. And Mountain of Abrasive Trees was the original title for the song now called ‘Bound For An Infinite Sea’.
“I was going to take it to Council of Giants, but I didn’t feel it was really right for that band, and I wanted to do something with a drum machine,” says Matt, who asked friend and leader of the band Rothko, Mark Beazley, to work on it with him.
“That’s where the seed occurred. I just started playing around with the idea of having a more experimental music project where I could do whatever I wanted and I could invite different people to contribute rather than have a band. I saw how successfully my good friend Jo-Beth Young had done it and then meeting Mark just made everything flow. He invited me to play on the Rothko single When Is The Way Out, which was a huge privilege and connected us creatively.”
Mark has been a major part of how Abrasive Trees has evolved. Not only playing bass, but also mixing tracks.
“I was teaching myself how to mix,” says Matt, who’s been in the studio with amazing engineers Matt and Lucy Board from Matthew and Me and The Pale Blue Eyes. “As a musician that’s a dream scenario, you can go and play and leave all the technical stuff to someone else and that’s great. Mark has lifted Abrasive Trees to another level.”
Abrasive Trees began to gel when Nick Walters invited Matt to support his band Junk Volcano.
In terms of songwriting, Matt often lets emotion take control.
“I give myself full permission to pick the guitar up whenever I want,” he says. And in terms of inspiration, “sometimes it’s a feeling, sometimes there’s a structure. Sometimes it’s more about phases in the song rather than verses or choruses. Sometimes it’s completely spontaneous.
“Finally, after playing the guitar since I was 13, I’ve got the right sound under my fingertips and I really put a lot of time into creating the right pedalboard, really. And that’s been a bit of a journey in itself.”
That creates a creative loop.
“You’re inspired by what you’re hearing but you’re also putting a feeling into it. And you’re inspired by hearing in terms of the sound of the guitar or the sound of the drum machine what reverbs you can use and how you EQ it and all the rest – just playing, and I find that really enjoyable and incredibly therapeutic.”
Or inspiration could come from an instrument – one of the tracks on the album features an Appalachian mountain dulcimer.
“Having that creative outlet is really important and freeing, actually. Because a lot of the other things I do in my life are quite structured and relatively disciplined – I’m not a particularly disciplined person. I’ve been practising T’ai Chi since I was 21, then meditation, and the work I do as a coach is quite structured. It’s quite nice to have the complete freedom to do whatever I want, really.”
It’s not only an aural vision Matt is striving for, but there’s also an abstract video element too. For the moving image iteration of Abstract Trees, Matt has been working with Jess Wooler, and the video was premiered on Post-Punk.com.
“I wanted the music to be expressed in abstract form, and to work visually because I wanted to really think about how the music could potentially make others feel. I had worked with Jess through Generating Steam Heat events, Matt and knew she’d be great to work with. I sent her the music, which she loved, so I asked her to use her skills as a visual artist to create the first video. She totally nailed it and there’s more to come from her.
There are three tracks on the Abrasive Trees debut single, and it’s well worth a delve into the sound. Title track Bound For An Infinite Sea is about finding some sort of meaning and purpose and it’s also a response to sadness and sorrow.
“It’s partly about reaching out, and it’s also about finding meaning and purpose, for me anyway,” says Matt. “People will interpret it in whatever way they want.”
The second song was a case when Matt picked up the guitar and started recording.
“It was very spontaneous and unrehearsed,” says Matt. “It was just after something very tragic had happened. As soon as I started playing, I started crying. That song is dedicated to that person and someone that was very close to that person.
The third track is an ambient song inspired by the need to feel whole again. “It was from a time when I needed to recuperate and I needed to find my energy again,” says Matt. “It was the first really quite experimental song that I did with Abrasive Trees, and the next phase of it (which is on the album version) takes it somewhere even more intense.”
Although all quite different, there’s a thread that runs through the first single and all of Abrasive Trees music.
“You can do anything with music. For me, it’s about being moved and moving people. With the Council of Giants, the whole purpose of that band was to get people up and dancing, which is what we did, and that was great fun. With Abrasive Trees, it’s a bit more about moving people emotionally, or feeling moved myself when I’m making the music. It’s therapeutic in a different way.”
There’s an odd role of musicians, says Matt, at once both elevated and ignored, he’s seen it both as performer and promoter.
“It’s simultaneously elevated and it’s also subordinate. Even in a virtually unknown band people are slightly in awe of musicians, but as a whole we don’t support musicians enough in this country. Although it’s hugely touching when someone you don’t know connects with what you’ve created. So far, I’ve been deeply appreciative of those who’ve supported the Abrasive Trees journey so far and it’s been wonderful to get bandcamp orders from across the world. Actually quite mind-blowing to get a message from someone in Sweden or Belgium who’s been moved by the music. It’s all very humbling.”