ibid. is the musical output of strapping young Portlandian Gabriel Mathews. Splitting time between home, and Los Angeles, where he attends Occidental, his work bears the mark of a budding audiophile- the spacious, loose production is often as much the focus as Mathews' nocturnal crooning. It gives his songs a strange, off-kilter feel as if getting a brief, fogged glimpse into the world of someone with very different eyes than you. His EPs Bison and Missive are more industrious and pounding, but as his craft develops his physical form comes more and more into the frame- culminating in his most recent release, India Ink.
India Ink is spare and beautiful, often featuring only Gabriel, a piano, and a whole lot of room to muse or lament at your leisure. The difference between the reverbed-out layered vocals of a song like "Two Years," (from Bison) and the softened creaking of Mathews' voice on India Ink opener "No Bones" makes it all the more affecting. Even a more bizarre and kinetic piece like "Worth" seems an inch a way from breakdown on an album this introverse.
There's a ramshackled focus running high through this one-man project that's supes intriguing soooo we recently had a digital sit-down (no relationnnn!) with ibid./Gabriel Mathews!
Prepare for compound questions and answers!
RFC: Your art is pretty enigmatic, so for starters- what do you consider most important about what you create/the way you create?
GM: I guess this makes me want to ask you to ask me why my stuff is so enigmatic, but then I'm not sure I'd have an answer. I think I'm trying to make things that are really unified, but at the same time I'm trying not to edit myself much. Like, if I write a song, I'll probably record it. I don't write that many songs. So that's an interesting push/pull, I suppose. I think also there's something to the fact that I'm also trying to be a writer, and I'm not sure exactly how that fits into my music, but yeah. Maybe something to look into?
Do you feel like you're trying to convey the same emotions through your musical output as you are in your writing? What do you value most about each of those formats' uniqueness (music vs writing, I mean)? And further in the direction of the formats' respective uniquenesses, do you feel like the experience of creating as .ibid allows you different freedoms (or imposes different restrictions) than the work Gabriel Matews the writer does?
I think the primary difference for me between music and writing/literature is that with music, I can be much more abstract. I approach music sort of literarily, generally writing lyrics long before writing music for them, which is not really standard, if I understand correctly. But I guess music provides a way for me to express poetic/abstract thoughts and images in a non-literary format. I'm very conscious when I'm writing lyrics that they are lyrics and not poems, which is sort of odd. I don't really know why I gravitate towards that, seeing as they're sort of the same thing, but I guess it seems like with poetry, you have to be making some sort of point or telling some sort of story, whereas lyrics are more open to complete abstraction. Like on Missive, my lyrics were really influences by bands like Clinic and Spoon who pretty much eschew any sort of logic whatsoever and just go for interesting images or sonics a lot of the time. I was pretty much just trying to imitate Clinic, really. When I write stories, I'm definitely trying to get at things that are probably more real, I'm working on expressing some sort of truth, whereas with music, it's maybe more pure and abstracted, unfiltered.
On the other hand, I've also been writing more songs lately that aren't so abstracted, being rather personal instead, i.e. India Ink. Comparing those songs to the stories I write, I feel that the songs are a lot more intimate, while the stories are more observational. I don't really write stories about myself, but these songs are personal. So my songs veer from being really completely impersonal abstractions to really personal stuff, while my stories are kind of outside either of those realms because they're very concrete, but they're not related to me at all, ultimately. In terms of your third question, I guess that I feel like music is one of the few media where people are really allowed to be pretty open and naked, aside from maybe memoir. And I'd never want/be able to write a memoir, mainly because I don't really think my life is that fascinating. So music is my outlet of choice for that more personal stuff. But I definitely don't write confessional things, really, nothing detailed. People like WHY? and EMA/Gowns, I love that type of lyricism, and WHY? especially impresses me endlessly, but I could never write in that way, I don't think. When I get personal, it tends to be more impressionistic, I guess, not so concrete and blunt. I can be blunt in stories, when I'm not talking about myself, but not about my own experiences.
The thing I'm working on currently, musically, is going to be a full-length called This Could Have Been A Warmth, which I'm splitting into two distinct halves, the first being pretty personal stuff, real-life/impressionistic lyrics, and the second being more abstract and maybe darker, in a way. I'm trying to make them somewhat musically different as well, through instrumentation and different drumming styles (I'm getting my buddy Zack Levinger to do some long-distance drumming). Hopefully that will be done by the end of the summer. I've got pretty much all of the songs written, I just need to record everything and get Zack to do his thing. So that's exciting.
Back in line with your questions, it just occurred to me that, moving away from lyrics and into actual musical territory, there is a big difference for me in the technicality of writing versus music. I'm not a very good musician, technically, I can't really read music, I'm not all that skilled. So it's kind of a place where I can be sloppy and fuck around. With writing, I think of myself as fairly proficient, and I'm really interested in the formal and technical aspects of writing. So it's more precise and controlled. ibid. is just me kind of fucking around in whatever way I want. Like, with India Ink, I used to play the piano when I was a kid, but now I pretty much suck at it. And that EP is entirely me bashing [Ed. note: spare, beautiful bashing!] on a piano. So it's definitely a freer medium, for me, music.
Do you see yourself introducing a live component to ibid. any time soon? Are you interested in expanding the project in any other ways at all (besides getting Zack to drum) or is this more of a solitary pursuit?
I've played tiny, sad little things a couple times as ibid. The first was last summer, and that was before I had really done anything in the current format in which I'm working, so that was sort of disastrous. It was this friend's birthday party, and he's sort of big in the Portland indie scene, so he had some folks playing at his party. I was trying to do all of this craziness with a loop pedal and so on. I had a guitar, a bass, a snare drum, a keyboard, a toy piano, a Kaoss Pad and a microphone or two, and I had all these songs that required complex looping of all those. It was going sort of alright until the guitar went way out of tune and ruined the last couple of songs. And then more recently I played a self-congratulatory little set to like fifteen friends at school for the physical release (so to speak) of Missive. At first I couldn't remember how to play "Mother", which I was trying to open with, so I just did an Okkervil River cover and came back to it later. Fairly pathetic stuff.
To better answer your question, though, I would like to play live, definitely. I think, though, that it would be overall a better thing if I had other people on stage with me, for a few reasons. One, I get nervous when it's just me, and two, it would just make for a better show. A guy with a guitar playing songs that have should have drums and bass is not all that much fun to watch. So in terms of expanding the project, I think that if I want to really play live, it'll have to, definitely. I think basically I'd give the "ibid." name to any musical project where I was the chief creative component, whether it's a band or just me. I do really like playing with other people, being in a band, but I also like being in control, so we'll see what happens. And of course, ibid. is purely a musical thing, so if I were to try to tie it in with different media, like video or what-have-you, I'd have other people do that. Except for cover art, that's mine.
So is This Could Have Been A Warmth being made with a possible live aspect in mind, or are you just doing what you're doing regardless as far as writing and creation goes and treating the live translation as a seperate project?
Well, at root, all of the songs are just acoustic guitar and vocals, so they could feasibly be played live as such, and I might do a bit of that if I get the chance. But I'm not really planning any sort of major live version at the moment, largely because I just have no one to play with. I suppose I could conceivably figure out how to rig backing tracks/drums to play from a computer, but I'd still have the problem of having a lackluster show, and being alone on stage. Of course, I do fantasize occasionally about playing with a drummer (Zack, specifically) but that logistically couldn't happen for quite a while, and who knows what I'll be doing at that point.