Interview: Producer, DJ And Trumpeter Matthew Halsall on studio life and new album

Matthew Halsall is about to release his 9th album An Ever Changing View ahead of his headline show at the Royal Albert Hall on September 21st. Ahead of the September 8th album launch, we caught up with Matthew to talk studio life, jazz trends and what it means to run a influential label (Gondwana) that has hosted releases from Gogo Penguin to Portico Quartet.

Talk us through your studio set up, workflow and general vibe?

So my home studio is set up in a way where I can pretty much record in any room of my house, and I’ve managed to record my 7 piece band plus many other artist’s music with really good isolation at a super high quality in this way. When purchasing studio equipment, I always try to think about how expansive it can be, whether I can travel with it and use it on things like location recording sessions or live shows. So, I bought 3 of the UAD Apollo 8p audio interfaces to allow me to record anything between 8-24 channels of audio and send out 4 headphone mixes to 8 musicians at any point, and this set up has worked really well for me over the years. I also have a decent collection of UAD plugins such as the EMT140 and 250 reverbs, the Fairchild compressor collection, and the Pultec Passive EQ Collection.

Software-wise, I record pretty much everything in Pro Tools, but I compose a lot of my music in Logic beforehand as I really like how the midi / sample libraries flow in Logic and I like the midi score stuff although it’s not the best. I love using a lot of sample libraries like Kontakt Komplete and Spitfire Audio when I’m composing to sketch out ideas quickly and play around with unusual instrumentation.

With regards to my microphone collection, I tend to use a lot of super close DPA 4099 mics both live and in the studio. These are amazing for harp, piano, double bass, strings, congas, rack and floor toms, sax and trumpet. I tend to use a lot of Oktava MK-012 pairs as overheads on drums and percussion, but they also sound great on the harp and piano.

On double bass I tend to use a Blue Baby Bottle mic which works well with other strings and as a close mic on percussion and vocals. I love to spend a lot of time experimenting with drum mics / sounds and I’m currently feeling a combination of the Aston Spirit and Sennheiser e902, as well as recently enjoying the sound of the Beyerdynamic 201s on snare and hats. For lead instruments like flute, sax and vocals I tend to use either a SM7B or a Neumann U87.

In terms of monitors, amps and headphones I absolutely love the sound of my Tannoy Little Red Speakers combined with my Quad 44 pre amp + 405 power amp. I also like to listen to everything on my Beyerdynamic DT 1990 Pro headphones and when I’m recording I always us the Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro headphones as they’re super comfy and have very little spill.

How do you juggle the production work alongside live and album work?

On a day-to-day basis I tend to do all my instrumental practice in the morning to get it out of the way, and then in the afternoons I’ll work on creative things such as writing, recording, editing and producing.

Over the course of the year, I block off certain periods for touring or writing retreats, and this year I’m going on a UK / European tour from September to November, where I won’t do anything other than focus on my live performances.

Running a label is an important way of defining new music in 2023 it seems – how hard is it to run a label in the present day?

I’ve always really enjoyed running my own record label and love the creative freedom I have as an artist. I’m super proud of everything the label has achieved and feel very fortunate to have met so many great people whilst on this journey. We now have an amazing team who support all our artists on each release and that has definitely made life a lot easier.

I also think I was lucky that when I started the company in 2008. The industry was changing with lots of new digital platforms appearing such as Bandcamp, iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, and YouTube. That said, the support we have had from independent record stores has also been incredible and is something I’m very proud of.

The UK jazz scene has exploded in recent years – what’s the main driving force behind this?

I feel like jazz has evolved a lot over the years due to the way we listen to music. You can now access so many amazing albums and genres at the click of a button and people are listening to much more eclectic playlists.

I also think that things like the sample culture of the 90s through to the present has had a huge impact on the feel of contemporary jazz. Artists are listening to and being influenced by a lot of hip-hop, breakbeat, broken beat, dub, and drum and bass records, which are often littered with jazz samples and as a result you have this kind of more accessible new jazz sound which works in night clubs, at festivals, but also in a seated concert.

What are you currently listening to?

I listen to all types of music and always have. I love a lot of the deep spiritual jazz from the 60s / 70s such as Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, Yusef Lateef and Don Cherry. But I also listen to artists like The Cinematic Orchestra, Bonobo, DJ Cam, Madlib and Makaya McCraven and I’m super into a lot of electronic music including Boards of Canada, Aphex Twin, Plaid and Autechre.

What’s your must have piece of gear in the studio?

I guess my laptop, UAD Apollo 8p interfaces and a couple of nice mics are the most essential bits. Plus all my instruments of course.

If you had to pick one studio to work in for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

My dream is to build my own recording studio ideally on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales. I love the beautiful panoramic views of the countryside and nature but failing that I guess somewhere similar such as the Ocean Sound studio in Norway.

Tell us about the inspiration for the new album

All of the music on my new album was composed in beautiful locations with views of mountains, trees and seas and I like to think that when you listen to the music on this record you feel like you’ve escaped and are on holiday enjoying the sea views and stunning landscapes that inspired me.

With regards to the instrumentation, I had a lot of fun playing around with lots of percussive instruments such as: chimes, seeds, shakers, bells, log drums, kalimbas, celestes, glockenspiels and other amazing custom-made things I’ve commissioned people to make.

Whilst I experimented with these lush rhythmic and textural sounds, I began to create the foundations of the new album, and then I added further layers for my band to perform over which worked really well.

Throughout the creative process I wanted to free myself from any rules and formulas and just have a lot of fun. I took a lot of inspiration from one of my favourite Picasso quotes “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up” so I got all my musical toys out and just followed my instincts and I’m super happy with the results.

Immersive music – for or against and why?

I already feel a lot of music is super immersive if it’s well mixed, regardless of whether it’s in surround sound or not. However, of the few immersive experiences I have had, I really enjoyed The Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band’ Dolby Atmos version that Giles Martin created from the original tapes, which was showcased at the Royal Albert Docks in Liverpool.

You can find Matthew on his UK tour on the following dates…

17/06               Glasgow                     St Lukes – SOLD OUT

13/09               Newcastle                                 Wylam Brewery

14/09               Leeds                                         Belgrave Music Hall

15/09               Nottingham                              Metronome

16/09               Manchester                              New Century Hall

21/09               London                                      Royal Albert Hall

22/09               Norwich                                    Norwich Arts Centre

23/09               Sheffield                                    Upper Chapel

30/09               Huddersfield                            The Parish

05/10               Birmingham                             Hare & Hounds

06/10               Stroud                                       The Goods Shed

07/10               Shrewsbury                              Theatre Severn

09/10               Exeter                                        Exeter Phoenix

10/10               Bristol                                        St George’s Bristol

12/10               Southampton                           Turner Sims

13/10               Cardiff                                       RWCMD