By Kyle Harcott
As evidenced by my previous review of their infectious Ain’t No Night album, Heinali and Matt Finney’s music really crept up on me this year. A taut, vivid marriage of shoegaze, post-metal and doomy spoken-word, the duo craft something very special, unlike anything I’d heard before. That they do it from separate continents, despite having never met in person, just ups the impressiveness factor for me.
I recently caught up with Matt Finney to discuss what duo have been working on recently, and what they’ve got planned for the near future.
What can we expect from your upcoming album On Mercy’s Shore? Does the mood of the new record continue down a dark and hurtful path like Ain’t No Night, or should listeners expect something more hopeful?
There’s definitely a lot more hurt to come. This album has probably our darkest material and everyone’s gonna have a hard time believing that. The lyrics are a lot more subtle, but probably more twisted than anything I’ve written before. There’s also one character that people will have to get used to hanging around in some of our songs here and there; he’s The Dishwasher.
The music Heinali has done so far is painful to listen to. Whenever I go back and listen to what we’ve finished I can’t even talk to anyone – it takes me a while to get over hearing it. It’s black on black but there is a tiny flicker of hope.
Without giving too much away, what more can you reveal about The Dishwasher? Is he a narrator, or someone observed in your narrative? How does his persona relate to your own as storyteller?
He’s someone observed through my lyrics. I introduced the filthy diner setting in ‘Ain’t No Night’ so I could bring this character out in the new album. I’ve done a lot with him since [that song] and people will see him expand.
He’s based loosely on a friend of mine that I had in high school. He died late last year in a drunk driving accident. He was a really cool guy but he also made me really fucking nervous. I can’t put it all on him [though]. It’s several people rolled-up-into-one, as well as having some of my own fucked up thoughts channelled through him.
I want to ask about a couple of the collaborations you two have done: First, the Dreamcatcher work with Olia Pishchanska. How did this come about and were the songs on Dreamcatcher written prior to any inkling of the songs being used in the show?
Heinali was originally gonna do the music for Olia’s art exhibition by himself but at the last minute he asked if I’d like to help out with it. I asked him what it was about and he said ‘dreams, both good and bad’. A lot of the stuff I write about anyway comes from dreams and I try to make our songs have that feeling. Very surreal, very blurred. This was my chance to go overboard. I was nervous about sending him the lyrics and vocals but it ended up working out perfectly. Olia has become a great friend of ours and I hope we can work with her more for exhibitions and using her amazing photos for our album covers. She’s beautiful inside and out.
You guys also got Merzbow to guest on the new record. What does he contribute and again, how did that pairing come about?
We both freaked out about this one. When we first started talking about the direction we wanted to take with this we both agreed that we wanted to show a more noisey/droney side to things. We’ve shown that off on previous releases but we wanted to push this into the red. We’re both HUGE fans of Merzbow and he’s a hero to us. I got the idea to email him about maybe working with us on a track. I emailed him on a Saturday and heard back from him Monday. I told him about the idea we had – a few hours later he sends back this 16-minute beast. We got to work on it immediately. The song is sixteen minutes still, but we did 8 minutes, and we took 8 minutes from him and mashed them together. It’s the loudest thing that we’ve ever done and probably the catchiest thing [Merzbow’s] ever done. Still, it’s bleak as fuck.
Finally, Stephen Wilson aka Black Uroborus is doing the art for On Mercy’s Shore. Who initiated this matchup?
That was all me. I heard about him from the LURKER’S PATH guys, and I fell in love with his art; he’s one of my favorites. He’s also become a close friend of mine. I talk to him just about every day and I love him to death. Glad to have him be a part of this project.
To that end, who is the art director for your releases? Who comes up with the imagery to be used on your album covers?
On all of our physical releases so far, it’s been Paradigms [Recordings] – but they’ve done a great job. Especially by picking a still from Freddie [Lloyd]’s video for the title track on Ain’t No Night. Freddie went above and beyond for that. It’s impossible for me to even hear that song without thinking of his video. We’re lucky to have him on our team as well. He really gets what we’re doing visually.
Back to album covers though, on the early releases we just got lucky. We’re big fans of My Bloody Valentine, big surprise, and the cover for Loveless is one of the best I’ve seen. [Looking at] it can tell you what this album is gonna sound like, and that’s the approach we take.
We’ve also gotten really lucky by coming across artists who would let us use their work without being able to pay them; they’re on some of our earlier releases on bandcamp so definitely look them up. Endless thanks to them again.
You guys have recorded some amazing covers: Nirvana, Joy Division, The Cure. Who chooses the cover songs? And, of them, are you able to choose one that’s been a ‘favorite’ so far? What do you have up your sleeve for future covers?
We both go back and forth picking them. The one that I was hell bent on doing was ‘Plainsong’ by The Cure. I have a lot of memories attached to Disintegration and I think [‘Plainsong’ is] one of their most overlooked songs.
The newest cover, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, was Heinali’s idea. He was working on something for On Mercy’s Shore and it ended up sounding like ‘Teen Spirit’. Nirvana is my favorite band, and they have been since I was about 8 years old. I never thought we would’ve been able to pull that [cover] off. I love how it came out , though – and people seem to dig it as well; So that’s probably my favorite one.
People have been requesting The Smiths so maybe at some point. We’ve [also] been talking about doing ‘No River to Take Me Home’ by Neurosis so that will probably be the next one we do.
You’ve stated that every one of your songs starts out as the lyrical content you’ve written and is then turned over to Heinali to compose music around it. How long had you & Heinali ‘known’ each other when you decided to entrust him to compose music around you highly-personal wordcraft?
Not very long. When I first got in touch with him, about maybe working together, we messaged back and forth and got to know each other. We hit it off and I started work on Town Line. That album is kinda personal but a lot less of it is focused on me than the stuff we’d go on to do. While we were promoting that and gaining listeners I asked him if he would be interested in maybe making this a long term thing. He said he’d love to and we’ve [been] together like that [since].
He’s become one of my best friends and I open up to him more than I do people I know in real life and he’s the same with me. I think of him as my brother. So I guess since around Lemonade is when I started pouring all of my emo bullshit on him.
Do you contribute to any of the composing, as far as arranging or sampling? Conversely, does Heinali offer any contribution, criticism, or editing to your lyrics?
We’re both so hard on ourselves, by bringing out our best material for everyone, that we’re our worst critics. So I doubt my lyrics, and he does the same with the music. We balance each other out.
You’re Alabama born-and-raised. Is Millbrook your home town? What is your favorite thing living there?
I grew up in Montgomery and went to kindergarten down there but I’ve lived about 90 percent of my life in Millbrook. I love it here and I don’t think I could handle living anywhere else.
My favourite thing about it is probably the kindness. There are some stupid motherfuckers but you can get that anywhere. And it’s quiet.
When did you start writing poetry and why?
Around 13, I think; mostly because I was angsty. I thought girls liked that too but I was sadly mistaken.
In the event that you and Heinali could one day perform your music in a live setting, what kind of vision do you have for a Heinali & Matt Finney live show? Would the live setting be as cinematic as your records are?
Absolutely. I don’t want to do the whole play-while-a-projector-shows-some-obscure-movie-behind-us [thing], so maybe we could get Freddie Lloyd to do a film specifically for us; something that matches exactly what’s going on [with the music]. Almost completely dark, some tiny white Christmas lights, stuff like that. That sounds more intimate than cinematic, though. I guess that would be better.
Speaking of cinematic, I would think an obvious outlet for your music is film soundtracks. Have you been approached to have your music used on any soundtracks, and if so, what criteria do you look for in a film before you agree to use of your music?
We’ve been approached by a couple of different people. One was a guy making a surf film and that never panned out. Another guy does music placement for trailers, so he’s been looking for the right project to put our music with. He’s been in touch on/off since last december and I don’t have a lot of hope for it.
I’m really surprised those guys who made A Serbian Film didn’t contact us. But they probably think we’re dead too.
Continuing with the cinematic theme – on first listen, I found your spoken-word vocals reminiscent of narration. Almost like the film telling the story, with Heinali’s music as the soundtrack, but also as part of the film. In this vein, are there films you would consider an influence upon your poetry, or the narrative you are trying to illustrate?
No Country for Old Men is probably the biggest [influence]; Ed Tom Bell is just fantastic and I’ve related to him more than anyone else in film. Paris, Texas. Lost Highway. Antichrist. I guess those are The Big 4.
Some other [films] that I enjoy quite a bit: Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Blue Valentine, Half-Nelson, Requiem For A Dream, Observe and Report, Irreversible, Sling Blade, Winter’s Bone, American Psycho, Begotten, Adaptation, Detour.
Besides your own band, what band do you feel more people should be aware of and/or made to listen to?
Sleepmakeswaves, Slow Head (his album Night Glitters is my favorite album of the year), This Will Destroy You (I know a lot of people write them off as a standard post-rock band but everyone should check out [their newest album] Tunnel Blanket, it’s a straight up drone/doom album, and you won’t be sorry), Year of No Light, Wreck and Reference, Nike7Up.
Finally, while your music is not exclusively ‘metal’ per sé, the underground metal community has nevertheless really embraced your music, especially recently. Were you surprised to find such a rapt audience within the metal scene?
I was blown away by that. I know that we’ve gotten progressively heavier and we’ll keep going that route but I wasn’t expecting it at all. They’re some of the most open minded people and we really appreciate it. Hopefully they’ll stay with us for the ride.