Updated: Dec 15, 2020
Mat Ward is a producer, born and bred in Manchester, UK, but who resides in Sydney, New South Wales. He is also the author of the books 'Around The World In 80 AAs', and 'Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country'. In 2017, Mat released a jungle album about financial markets and a chill trap album about Apple. Most recently, in 2018, he released the Future Bass album entitled 'Disrupted', which focuses on the life and innovations of visionary Elon Musk. Above all though, Mat is just a huge fan of music. So what motivated this creative to start releasing music late in life, and what was it about Elon Musk that warranted a whole album about him? Mat Ward speaks to BEAT CONTEXT.
'...I spent half my life severely intoxicated ...'
I came to music production late in life because I spent half my life severely intoxicated and didn't have the focus to do it. That's why my teeth look like your chain-smoking grandad's. I nearly died and ended up in a government-funded rehab in New Zealand, where they recommended clients attend the bizarre cult of Alcoholics Anonymous, which resulted in my book "Around The World in 80 AA's". After that I never went to another AA meeting, but I'm still sober. In one of my first meetings, a Maori guy told me: "Most people get only one life, but people like us are lucky, because we get to have two." And that's true, my life is completely different now to what it was before.
'...I remember staring at the screen and thinking '
nothing else matters now' ...'
In 2016, I saw my five-year-old son making music with Garageband on my wife's iPad and it was amazing because he was coming at it with no fixed idea of how it should sound. It was almost like freeform jazz. I thought: "Wow! It's that easy to make music these days?" So I had a go and I was hooked. I remember staring at the screen and thinking 'nothing else matters now' . Within 18 months I'd put out a hip-hop single with my favourite rapper, Provocalz, a jungle album about financial markets and a chill trap album about Apple, made entirely on the iPad. It's all-consuming. I don't have a social life because I have to go to bed at 8.45pm as I work early shifts. The last two gigs I went to, I fell asleep in the audience. To make music, I've had to give up social media too, which is just as well as I'm socially inept! As soon as I started making music, my wife said: "You seem so much happier now!" It's true. It's like therapy. If you love music I recommend trying it...
The Elon musk factor
'...he fascinates me because he appears to be changing the course of humanity, in real time...
Elon Musk probably fascinates me for the same reason he fascinates many other people, judging by his millions of followers on Twitter. He fascinates me because he appears to be changing the course of humanity, in real time. My new album about him is called Disrupted because he's probably the greatest disruptor of our times. It notes how he's disrupted the fossil fuel industry with Tesla's electric cars, solar roofs and batteries. It illustrates how he's disrupted the space industry with SpaceX's cheaper, reusable rockets. It asks whether Elon himself could be disrupted for disrupting such industries, with the recurring sonic motif of a Tesla door closing and a creepy robot saying "Elon?" It warns how artificial super-intelligence is on the cusp of disrupting the entire human race, hence his projects to try to fight it, Neuralink and OpenAI. It looks at how the human race could be disrupted by an extinction event, as has happened to many other species in Earth's history, hence the mission to Mars. However, it wasn't until the singer of my favourite band, Ian Astbury of The Cult, mentioned Elon in an interview that I realised what all Elon's fans already knew. Ian once said if he himself wasn't a rock star, he'd be an anthropologist. When Ian mentioned Elon, it was only then that I realised what Elon was doing was anthropologically colossal.
Disrupting a cynical outlook
'...this is actually an incredible time to be alive...'
Making the album disrupted my outlook while I made it, as I went from being totally depressed about the future to thinking that this is actually an incredible time to be alive. The reason I used to get depressed about the future is because I've been doing voluntary work for non-corporate, environmental activist media since 2009 and it seemed like things were only getting worse. In many ways things still are only getting worse. It's true that you shouldn't put all your faith in single people, that collective non-hierarchical action is better, and that so-called leaders have a whole team of workers behind them. But the truth is, until Elon came along, the car companies were doing worse than nothing - they'd snuffed out electric cars, as shown in the documentary Who Killed The Electric Car? Elon came along and made not only an electric car, but the best car on the market, that outperformed supercars at a fraction of the price. The result is that all the big car makers have had to, reluctantly, start building electric cars. That was his mission. Even if Tesla goes bankrupt, he's already succeeded.
'...if Elon manages to make humans
a multi-planetary species...
he'll be remembered forever...'
The reason I began to think this is actually an incredible time to be alive is because it's entirely possible that the course of human history is being changed dramatically within our lifetimes. If Elon Musk manages to make humans a multi-planetary species - with all the controversial baggage that entails - and then humans are wiped out by an extinction event here on Earth, he'll be remembered forever. I often think about what it would have been like to be alive when Thomas Edison was alive and watch him supposedly inventing recorded music in real time. I can delve into documents about his life and find out to some extent, just as people will be able to dive into records to find out about Elon's achievements, but there's a whole set of nuances and context you don't get from records of events that you do in real time. Just look at all the daily controversies surrounding Elon, that are unlikely to be as readily remembered as his recorded achievements. If he really does alter the course of human history, to have been around at the exact time it was happening is incredible.
talking music shop
I love synths because they look so fucking mad don't they? The first time I looked at one I just laughed, like, what the fuck is that? So it's been a real adventure to find out how they all work. All humans are drawn to organic sounds because we're surrounded by ever-changing, organic sounds in nature and they sound natural to us. What we're hearing all the time around us is ever-changing sonic chaos. That's why people prefer the sound of analogue synths to digital synths and will pay a lot more money for them...
'...I love liner notes because
musicians and their motivations fascinate me...'
The deluxe version of the ('Disrupted') album comes with a synthesizer patch I made out of a photo of Elon's face that I used to play the last note on the entire album. You can see it made and played in the video to 'People In The Picture'. It also comes with a 48-page hyperlinked booklet explaining the concept of the album, the inspiration, the samples and how it was made. I love liner notes because musicians and their motivations fascinate me. I learnt so much from musicians growing up. What's that Bruce Springsteen lyric? "We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school." I think music with a message really resonates with people that way.
'...sometimes the worst musicians
with the most attitude sound fantastic,
and the best musicians can make the most boring music...'
...there are a lot of artists who might not be brilliant musicians or producers but they give it a go anyway. Sometimes the worst musicians with the most attitude sound fantastic, and the best musicians can make the most boring music. I think a lot of producers get really anal and won't release stuff because they don't think it sounds good enough. I'm never happy with the music I make, but put it out anyway because I know it's as good as I can make it at that point in time...Just the other day a stranger in the UK left a review of the iPad album on Bandcamp, saying it had been his constant companion since he bought it a year ago. I thought: 'That's amazing, you like the album better than I do!'
Creating on the run
I don't have a proper studio and it's all done on the laptop wherever I can grab a few minutes away from work and family - in food courts, libraries, bus stops, on trains, in my parked car while I'm waiting for my son to finish school. Some of the percussion noises on my iPad album were recorded straight into the iPad from my mouth while I was sitting in my car. I had to filter out the birdsong and traffic in the background. I feel at home making music because I lose all sense of time. That happens when you're in the "flow", as they say. The only other time that happens to me is when I'm writing words. I'm probably better at writing words than music. I'm certainly far more successful at writing words, but making music is so much more enjoyable to me.
Fun Fact: The Teeth
People think the teeth in my 'People In The Picture' video and promo shots are just a joke, but my real teeth are worse, so they're actually an improvement.
Mat Ward was kind enough to show BEAT CONTEXT around his 'studio'. Enjoy.
Mat Ward is currently working on an album entitled 'Organic', which uses all organic sounds - piano, strings, voice and sounds from Australia's environment. It will also feature some of the 38 rappers that he interviewed for his book 'Real Talk'.