Today’s Feature, August 21-22: Matthew McAvene

January 18, 2008 at 5:36 pm (Today's Feature)

Matthew McAvene (It’s pronounced Mack-Uh-Veen for those of you unaware), is the definition of a true renaissance man. Yea, yea – that phrase needs to be retired. However, if anyone deserves the title, it is Matthew McAvene. I could literally spend the rest of this intro listing the accomplishments of this musician, sculptor, painter, inventor, producer, writer and designer… but there’s more to him than awards and praise (though it doesn’t hurt to bring it up):

McAvene, according to Montecito Journal, is “one of the most prolific artists in multiple mediums.”

During a radio interview on July 12, 2006, McAvene was recognized as the best band in Santa Barbara after winning the FM107.7 Battle of the Bands. Out of 50 band submissions, McAvene was crowned champion and was featured at the 2006 MDA Black & Blue Ball benefit.

But like I said, there’s more to Matthew McAvene than awards and praise. While blessed with unreal talent and skill, McAvene continued to hone his crafts – a task that was anything but simple. Before he landed in Santa Barbara, CA, McAvene traveled wherever he could, educating himself, finding the pieces of his creative mind, and putting them together. He began a renunciation period in the early 1990’s, simplifying his life to focus on his own inner development, and even apprenticed with a variety of progressive artists from sculptors and painters to poets and performers. The result is the artist you can see today, producing “Wasting Time,” (www.wastingtimetv.com) a “1/2 hour television show about artists, the creative process and the struggle for creative expression.”

Matthew McAvene is also the creator of an intuitive song-writing process that has created over 2000 songs he calls the “One Take Sessions.” His album, “777,” features 15 of these tunes, songs that have been called Acoustic exSTREAM of Consciousness. Even though McAvene has excelled in so many avenues, he continues to maintain one fundamental goal – to remain a “visionary artist and musician dedicated to the creation of positive and lasting change in the global community.” Read his XXQ’s to learn more.

XXQs: Matthew McAvene

PensEyeView.com (PEV): First of all, how and when did you first get interested in music?

Matthew McAvene (PIP): I guess my interest in music began as a kid. I guess I grew up with my parents listening to music, just being around music on a daily basis kind of help developed the interest and started playing music. My folks didn’t just play music but they listened to music a lot and I think that has a lot to do with creating a foundation of musical sensibility. I started playing guitar in about 1990 I picked up the guitar and started learning the hard way, just kind of self-taught, playing around, and was very critical of how I was playing and what I was playing and didn’t really have a creative breakthrough until I was able to put aside my internal critic that would try to judge whatever was coming through. At a certain point I started to undergo this process called the one take sessions where I would basically sit down with the guitar and have some recording equipment there and start strumming the guitar and find some cool chord progressions the push RECORD and then play the chord progression and start just belting out whatever came to mind, stream of consciousness style. I started doing this process, one, to overcome the inn critic, and the other to kind of explore the element of soul because I think that each medium of artistic expression will kind of help reveal oneself. So I started doing these recordings basically an hour a day and I was listening to the recordings back throughout the day and then paint and sculpt to the music so the music would influence the art. So as far as the music the music goes I started playing in about 1990 and then in about 1997 started doing the one take sessions, stream of consciousness songwriting then through the stream of consciousness songwriting recorded just over 2000 songs over a 3 year period and that was kind of the incubation phase for the professional aspect of my music career: just kind of laid the foundation and kind of helped me get over the inner critic which seems to be a major obstacle for most artists.

PEV: You mention the part about how you recorded over 2000 songs with the one take sessions. You say it so casually, but 2000 songs is a lot of music! Where did you find the passion or the energy to make that big of a catalog since you started?

MM: I had a mentor once that told me that once your creative outlet becomes an obsession and you are on the verge of something and I think what happened at a certain point, initially it was very exciting. The first one take was like, wow, I would listen back to it and say wow, this is very interesting. It’s beyond what I could come up with. I was more of an interactive experience with a cosmic force in a way. You really feel like you’re connecting something larger than yourself and that’s how it felt and so through that feeling it’s developed an excitement of ìwhat can I find todayî? At a certain point I realized that it was infinite. Every day there was always something there and that realization really created the excitement which created the motivation to continue doing it. Only years later did I look back and go wow…there’s this body of material that has developed through this processî and in no way was there any point where I was like, “I’m going to record X amount of songs.” There was no competitive spirit to drive it. There was just a spirit of exploration and self-discovery to see what was new. I think just having something new to listen to every day kind of kept things fresh on a regular basis and started realizing that every day was different and was interesting to be the source of that something. Like I’ll have some sort of interactive participation and bringing it to the world. Something good on a daily basis.

PEV: Was there a certain time in your life when you said ìArt is going to be my career? I want to be a musician. I want to be an artist. I want to work in the creative field. That’s going to be my profession?”

MM: I think yes there was actually. I was at an art show. It was a Picasso art exhibit for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and I remember walking through and there was something really liberating about the work that they had displayed because a lot of his abstract pieces that were very loose and childlike in a way and I think there was something that moment where I realized ìwow, there are no rules to thisî. There is no real rules to art. There are rules that art critics put on art, but there are no real parameters for self-expression and I think something about the freedom that emanated from Picasso’s work and that showed me. I really felt just kind of a whimsical, child-like joy from it. And from that I was like, I just want to start painting again and after that I went home that night and tried a painting. This was like in 1990. No, about 1997 or so. And started painting and I started kind of challenging myself. Let’s see if you can do a painting a day, and I kept it up for a while but eventually the paintings started encroaching on my living area. Started growing out from the walls. (Laughs.) There’s only so much you can stack up. Again, I think at that moment, that was kind of a moment where I felt like art was the direction I wanted to go for a career.

PEV: You currently live in Santa Barbara. What is it about West Coast life that you think is better than any where else?

MM: I definitely feel the draw towards the Pacific Ocean. Something about the vastness of the ocean and having a large body of water nearby. I’ve heard that I generates a kind of kinetic energy, but I think the ruggedness of the West Coast is something that draws me to it and also just the basic, I’m very family oriented and my folks and 4 older brothers are all out on the West Coast so I like to be kind of close where I can interact with their lives. I don’t like drifting away from family. I think family is a good foundation to build a career on and a life on.

PEV: Speaking of family and friends, what do your family and friends like about your success and your career?

MM: My family and friends are very supportive at this point. I think it is difficult for parents to be supportive in the early stages of an artist’s development because there can be a great deal of struggle and kind of abstract ways of living. I don’t think any parent wants to see their kid living in the garage and painting and sculpting and making music. Or living in their cars, for that matter. I’ve kind of been through both and so I think my parents being supportive throughout the process, although no comfortable with the idea of their kid living that way, but through it all, now that we’re on the tail end of the poverty phase of being an artist, I think that they are gaining support. My friends are extremely supportive and they jump in and they have creative ideas, when they jump I and embrace it. A lot of my friends, we incorporate puppets into the live show, like larger puppets and creatures and stuff that I build and they jump in with full black out suits like raccoon puppeteers. It’s the puppets that add a whole visual element to the show that wasn’t there before, that I think people in general appreciate the visual element.

PEV: Speaking of your shows, what can people expect from a live show from you?

MM: I try to incorporate as much visual stimulation as possible as fitting for the music. So, generally we have a 4 piece band that plays. I play the guitar and sing and we have drums, bass, mandolin players also. Sometimes we have a banjo and other instruments, so that’s kind of a musical foundation and then the visual element, depending on where we are, usually there is some kind of a backdrop, some kind of colorful backdrop, and we usually incorporate smoke effects, lighting effects, and then, interwoven throughout the set, say we do a 10 song set, I’d say about 5 out of the 10 songs have some visual elements like large scale puppets or props or creature costumes that come out and kind of perform along with us and they are all operated by puppeteers in blackout suits who seem to go invisible if it is a night situation. A lot of times we incorporate black light paints and other visual elements into the show just to keep. It seems to kind of stimulate a childlike place within the viewer and it also makes the shows a lot more fun, as an artist, to perform, because a lot of times I think musicians don’t want to feel like they’re somehow repeating the same material so it helps keep my interest into the performance. And I do really appreciate the opportunity to perform and share life experiences with people so there’s that motivation, but also the creative motivation like “okay, there’s something new to share.” That feels good too.

PEV: What can people expect from the Triple 7 album?”

MM: The Triple 7 album is a 15 song album and the songs were originally from the one take sessions, so they were written through the stream of consciousness of process that I mentioned earlier. It was interesting recording the record. When it was time to record I didn’t really know the songs. It was kind of a short notice recording date and when we jumped in I had to listen to the original tracks because they were one takes and I had only played them one time in my life, so going back and rediscovering the songs was an interesting process and we were able to capture kind of the original essence of the one takes, but at a higher quality format. So there’s a wide range of emotional expression throughout the record, a lot of highs and lows, goes from fast pace, hoe-down feeling songs to almost really soothing lullaby songs, simple solo vocal with just an acoustic guitar to full strings.

PEV: How is the Triple 7 album different than other albums out today?

MM: Hmmm. Well, I think the ups and downs of the record give it a distinct feel from most records that are out today and also I think that the stream-of-consciousness songwriting style is a lot different because it comes from a more subconscious place and has word combinations that you don’t normally find on other records for the simple fact that the stream of consciousness songwriting is very subconscious and it’s also very personal to the individual and when it gets that personal there’s an element of originality that just won’t be found somewhere else because each of us as individuals are very unique.

PEV: Living in Santa Barbara, you’re on the West Coast, you’re close to LA one of the art capitals of the world. What is your take on the current LA art scene?

?

MM: Well, here’s my experience in Los Angeles…I spent 5 years in Los Angeles, kind of throughout that whole period it was kind of my artistic development period, working and physical isolation, living and working in a garage, basically to simplify my outer life and my financial life so I could focus on my creative development. So I was kind of in a bubble while I was there although I did go out to some galleries now and again. Generally I think, I’m kind of drawn to art as very honest, just straight from the gut, and I hesitate to stay too much about my feelings on the Los Angeles art scene. I don’t know much about it; I kind of steered clear. I had some experiences where I ran into some situations where I felt like that art wasn’t completely true to the core of the individual. Any time that art in a culture becomes a commodity or an opportunity to create prosperity I think that there is a real danger there that the culture may suffer because of the twisting and manipulation of the visual aspects of art. Or in music as well. I think that commercializing art is a risky thing to do and that’s one of my concerns about the LA art scene. In commercialization of art and music I think a culture can really suffer if we take it too far in a commercial direction because it begins to become kind of manipulated solely for what one thinks would sell or generate prosperity rather than what one thinks is honest true self-expression and a reflection of the times.

PEV: Is there a certain city that you find to have the best appreciation for art and music?

MM: I haven’t done a lot of exploration as far as where the art scene is. I’ve been pretty well absorbed just in the local community in Santa Barbara, just kind of immersed in my process and that of artists and friends around me so I’m a little bit oblivious to what’s going on in the art world abroad. But as far as Santa Barbara goes I think it’s a real art community and the city makes it feasible for an art student to develop their abilities here which is nice. There is a lot of support from the community in general and appreciation for art and artists.

PEV: Is there a certain atmosphere in which you like to surround yourself when you’re creating music or when you decide to work on your paintings?

MM: Yeah. A lot of times while developing a song I’ll usually go to some kind of a natural space and walk or somehow be in movement and that movement or being around the ocean a lot of times will bring new lyrics and melodies and that kind of thing. Also for art and music, creating a quiet, I call it a sacred, space, where you basically put your energy into the walls and what I mean by that is creating art and things that you find beautiful and putting them up around you and creating a safe space for yourself that you can really get quiet. For me all of art and music comes from silence, so that’s kind of the foundation of all of it is silence. If I have a good quiet space that has nice natural lighting, kind of a nice vibe to it, I can generate quite a bit of art.

PEV: What was it like the first time you stepped into a recording studio to record your own music? What was going through your head?

MM: (Laughs) That’s interesting. I guess, I’m trying to think of the real recording studio because the Triple 7 album was recorded in a friend’s two bedroom apartment and I had recorded all my parts in the bathroom sitting on the edge of the bathtub. Which was an interesting process in itself. But I think having a producer there and having a group of musicians there, I think I was just kind of internally praying that something larger than all of us would kind of happen and be captured up on the digital tape.

PEV: You’re a painter, a musician, a sculptor, a writer, a designer. You sound very busy, so on the off chance you actually have some spare time, what can we find you doing?

MM: Oh, I have a 5-year-old boy and you’d probably find me on the beach playing with him in the waves.

PEV: So if you could collaborate with one artist, alive or not, with music, who would it be and why?

MM: Good question. I think if I was to collaborate with just one, I think my first pick would be Jack Johnson for the reason that one, I appreciate his musical sensibility, composition, songwriting, style, but also there is a consciousness there that I haven’t found in many other places especially in the current age and I think it’s probably, some would say indisputably, the most pivotal age in human history and I think that art and music will contribute to the culture in a way that will help inspire and generate the change that we need to embody as a collective. So I think that kind of a collaboration I something I’d really be interested because it feels, I guess it would feel bigger than all of us, you know?

PEV: What kind of advice would you give to someone who is just starting out as an artist or musician, they’re struggling in the early part of their career. What kind of advice could you give to them?

MM: I guess my advice would be create a safe shelter for yourself. Don’t share your work for a while because there’s a real tender period as an artist that you want to protect yourself from, both praise and criticism. I think the beginning stages are more about finding yourself and overcoming this inner voice that says that what you make isn’t worthwhile. I would say, yeah, create safe haven, don’t share your work, and keep creating despite the internal voices that say stop.

PEV: What is the best part about playing live?

MM: The audience. (Laughs.) There’s a kinetic interaction I think between audience and performer that, because of the presence of the audience, the individuals that are experiencing the music, it can heighten and expand the musical experience for the performer as well because you almost become a projection of the collective mind; everybody that is there watching and basically can contribute to the quality of the music depending on the quality of their attention. There was this one time at a world music festival, I was watching an Indian performer, I can’t pronounce his name so I’m not going to try, but the beginning of the performance the band was tuning for what seemed like a half hour and everybody was just sitting there on the floor and at a certain point when he was ready to play he held up a finger and he said, ‘One hour, one hour of your life is all I ask. In exchange, I will give you my whole life and I ask that you look to the divine within you and I’ll look to the divine within me and we’ll meet there’ and then they proceeded to play and it was just through the roof. The whole performance just ramped up all the way up to this climactic point and I think there was something about bringing a higher power in to that situation that made the music way more than anybody could expect. So I think that, yeah, just being able to share art and music with the community and people is just a dream come true really.

PEV: You play a lot of shows and you’ve seen a lot of musicians and artists. Is there a certain musician right now that you think we should all be looking out for? Whose sound you think is just really good?

MM: I’ve been interested in a few musicians. I like Matt Costa is doing. I like what Arcade Fire is doing. I think they have a very interesting sound and a pretty deep message. Of course Jack Johnson. I think very highly of his music, composition, and content. I think that’s my top 3 right there.

PEV: So what is next for Matthew McAvene?

MM: Next we’re going to focus on recording a record and the record is going to be interactive with some 3 dimensional art elements. So it’s basically going to be to try to create, the idea is to create a concept record that each song could have a music video to it and each music video, if you put them in a certain order, would create a feature film, so it would basically beÖ. The record is told from the perspective of the main character and the main character basically has these dreams that aren’t really dreams. She falls through these different dimensions so it’s very imaginative and for songwriting I kind of step out of myself a little bit and think about things from a variety of perspectives. I’ve got a song I’m working on that’s called “A Fish” that’s kind of told from the perspective of the fish talking to mankind. Or writing a song from the perspective of the stars, kind of a conversation with mankind. That kind of imaginative stretch. Being a concept record you can take each some and have a music video to each song and then put all the music videos together and create a feature film. Yeah, that’s as far in as I’ve thought about it. The songs are currently in development and I’m excited about them. We just put together a 4 song EP of some of those songs that are going to be on the next record. So recording is probably the next step and after the recordings are done the videos will be the next step which will basically be art created for the music videos which would then be used in the live shows. So you would see a music video and the music video would translate into a live show. So it’s all kind of interconnected in the ecosystem and the art ecosystem, if you will.

Check out Matthew McAvene at http://www.MatthewMcAvene.com

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