Sackville musician takes a break from collaborating to perform some new material of his own.
Sackville, New Brunswick’s Evan Matthews makes a lot of music. As a performer, writer, composer, collaborator, engineer, mixer and producer, his eclectic ear and sonic vision have helped shape the sound of dozens of East Coast artists over the past five years or more. And while he continues to devote an admirable amount of time and energy into countless collaborative projects, Matthews also makes time for exploring his own creative muse in all its splendid, chaotic glory. One of his latest projects, Liken, a psych-pop-noise-experiment, will perform this weekend as part of this year’s Flourish Festival lineup. In advance of what may be one of the most unique sets of the weekend, we reached out to Matthews to learn more about the music he makes and the many people he has collaborated with.
Matthews’ appreciation for all aspects of the music creation process dates back to before he entered university, although it was there were his interests changed from passive to aggressive. He studied at Mount Allison University for a time before becoming enthralled with the many touring bands that were passing through Sackville, NB at the time. Halfway through his studies in classical percussion, Matthews decided he’d rather be playing music night after night rather than studying the fundamentals day after day, so he dropped out and embraced live performance with everything he had. This led to stints with the Sackville bands Killer Haze, Yellowteeth and Mouthbreathers, sideman gigs with the likes of Marine Dreams, Jon Mckiel, Baby Eagle, and Corey Isenor as well as experimental work with local avante-garde composer W.L. Altman.
After a brief stint in Halifax performing with the group Best Friends and playing semi-regularly with New Brunswick expats Adam Mowery, Mike Trask and David R. Elliott, Matthews returned to Sackville where he would spend the next 18 months touring with Jay Arner, Owen Meaney’s Batting Stance, David R. Elliott, and Devarrow, while also occasionally sitting in on shows with Year of Glad and the bedroom-pop band, Fish Food. A lot of these collaborations remain ongoing.
“I’m involved in several collaborations at the moment,” said Matthews. “The longest-running ones are Owen Meaney’s Batting Stance and David R. Elliott.”
Matthews’ involvement with OMBS came about after meeting the band’s singer Daniel Walker while the two were working as banquet servers at the World Trade and Convention Centre in Halifax.
“Daniel mentioned that he had recording time booked for his songs at a studio I liked,” said Matthews. “He sent me his demos and I started playing with him and ended up doing all the bass and drums and a bunch of production and arrangements on what became the self-titled album. We’ve since gotten hooked-in with the boutique Brooklyn label Rhyme & Reason Records and I’m in the process of doing preproduction with him for the next record.”
Matthews can be heard playing drums on the last two David R. Elliott albums and remains an active part of the live band whenever possible.
“I met David R. while playing in Mike Trask’s band,” said Matthews. “He was living in Fredericton but once the business he worked at went under he moved to Halifax and we started playing together. I did a bunch of work on his albums Sunshine and Strawberry Grass, and we did several tours.”
Through his work with Elliott, Matthews became friends with Ocean Charter of Values’ Nicholas Laugher. The two have since collaborated numerous times.
“I had the good fortune of meeting Nick while playing with David R. because Nick was his bass player around the time he was making and touring Sunshine,” said Matthews. “He initially asked me to play bass but the project has shape-shifted such that I’ve played drums, bass, or synth depending on whether it’s a freak-folk, indie rock, or an ambient project at whichever moment. We’ve done some touring around central Canada and a whole lot out east.”
“Evan was someone I knew I wanted involved in Ocean Charter of Values pretty early on when I decided to make it an actual band and not just a solo project,” said Laugher. “I had played with Evan in David R. Elliott’s band and then got him in to do some stuff with Year of Glad, and of course I had seen him play with everyone under the sun, so I knew he had this incredible range of musicality, not just on drums but on a variety of things, and I thought that Ocean Charter of Values could really use that kind of multi-instrumentality, and I was completely right.”
Laugher and his OCOV project could be a bit intimidating for any musician just stepping into the fold. Ranging from folk to ambient drone to pure noisy sonic chaos, depending on the gig and the mood of the room, the project’s unpredictability could easily prove frustrating for some. But in the case of Matthews and Laugher, OCOV proved to be a perfect vessel for experimentation.
“Evan was a pretty big part in helping me develop Ocean Charter of Values a little bit further when I was doing my residency for Flourish in 2016,” said Laugher. “I really wanted to shift more toward drone and synth-driven kind of stuff instead of the indie rock kind of vibe, but wasn’t sure if I could pull it off or if it could work. Evan jumped at it right away, and he came up for like three days and we basically just did nothing but hang out in Jane Blanchard’s basement and just jam until we couldn’t really make noise anymore. We wrote this entirely new Ocean Charter of Values set and then played my residency show on the last night.
“Evan’s an extremely talented musician and one of his great talents is being able to shift gears so quickly and efficiently,” said Laugher.
In what has now become a familiar and fortunate pattern for Matthews, one project usually leads to another. While playing with OCOV, Matthews met Erin Muir of WROTE and another collaboration quickly began to take shape.
“I really enjoyed Erin and her songs and we started talking about collaborating, which led to me producing an EP with her over the fall of 2017 playing drums, bass, guitar and keyboard as well as contributing to the arrangements and handling all the engineering and production,” said Matthews.
Muir released the first single from that collaboration, Not Afraid, on March 1, 2018 and played a handful of shows around the Maritimes with Matthews on bass.
“Evan has been hugely influential throughout the whole process of this release,” said Muir. “Musically, he brought sounds and influences that I wouldn’t have thought to pair with the songs; psychedelic vibes, and layers upon layers of synth tracks, that manage to highlight the songs structure without burying it. Besides that, he’s very assuring and patient by nature, and working with him gave me a lot of confidence that I had previously been lacking. He’s a great person to collaborate with and a cherished friend.”
As far as his own music goes, Matthews has been writing and composing recently under the names Liken and Tropic Ether, two vastly different projects. Tropic Ether appears rooted in jazz but bears little resemblance to the genre’s traditional forms.
“Tropic Ether is definitely an outgrowth of my ongoing self-teaching on drums, bass, keys, and guitar, as a way to try out different moods and different rhythmic and harmonic theory concepts I’m teaching myself that don’t fit well into my indie collaborations yet,” said Matthews. “It’s definitely influenced by the jazz canon of hardbop, postbop, fusion, Miles Davis, Freddy Hubbard, and Herbie Hancock, Alice Coltrane, and Robert Glasper. The goal was to try to create a series of slightly surreal, psychedelic sonic spaces for the listener to inhabit. I think it works equally well for foreground listening or background mood while you’re doing other stuff.”
His other main solo project, the appropriately titled, Liken, could be compared to dozens of acts and genres without ever truly summarizing its depth and context accurately. It’s an altogether, out there, auditory collision of thoughts and ideas, perhaps most accurately described as being in a constant state of flux and confusion, like waking up with a serious hangover knowing full-well you have to spend the next eight hours serving ice cream to a group of rambunctious children. The project’s five-track EP Tip Out is both unsettling and strangely fulfilling.
“None of the Liken songs were pre-existing before I started producing them,” said Matthews. “I’d lay down the guitar chord structure in my studio and then start layering over it until it was done. The record is based out of my roots playing punk and psych but also being interested in lo-fi and experimental pop. In retrospect they sound sort of like Wire and Jay Reatard and King of the Beach-era Wavves meets like the first Sleigh Bells record filtered through like Jeff Lynn and the Beach Boys. I describe it as ‘noise candy’ or ‘ambient punk’ because the production on it is intentionally distorted, squashy, and smeared.”
- Lucas Hicks – Slower (2013)
- One Meany’s Batting Stance – s/t (2016)
- David R. Elliott – Strawberry Grass (2017)
- WROTE – Not Afraid (2018)
- Tropic Ether – Secret Fusion (2018)
Julie Dorion + Graeme Kennedy + Jane Blanchard + Liken + Hot Garbage Players | April 19 | 9 p.m. | Wilser’s Room – Capital Complex | View Event