Interview: Mat McNerney of Hexvessel

Album Review: Hexvessel - Kindred

Interview: Mat McNerney of Hexvessel
Interviewer: Tim Finch

Last Friday Hexvessel launched their latest album 'Kindred', a labour of love from the groups leader Mat McNerney. With the COVID-19 restrictions limiting movement and album launch celebrations, Mat took time out to talk to us here at The Razor's Edge about the new album.

The Razor’s Edge: We can’t escape the current situation, so let’s quickly discuss it and move on. How are you coping with the current pandemic?

Mat: I'm doing fine, I'm creative and an introvert so these two things really help out at times like this. I always find things to do and it's been good to catch up on life as the last five to ten years have been solid music. It's been good for me to slow down a bit and take stock.

The Razor’s Edge: You’re about to release an album, normally that would be followed by a touring cycle. Has the outbreak affected your plans at all?

Mat: We actually booked out tour for the autumn anyway as we are always really busy around the album release. We figured we would take it easy, do a few shows, keep it quite minimal and have a full tour in the autumn, so luckily we haven't had to cancel too much. But I don't think the tour in the autumn will go ahead. It seem's pretty unlikely life and music will get back going until next year. We'll see, we take it as it comes and we still have stuff on the go for the summer. I don't know if that is going to be cancelled yet or not. We had a tour booked for the US that was all ready, we'd applied for the VISA but now it looks pretty unlikely. That's pretty sad because we've been working for many years trying to get to the states and it was finally happening for us and now it is not to be.

It feels really selfish to feel sorry for yourself and your music at times like this because it's nothing to what other people are going through.

The Razor’s Edge: Hopefully the virus won’t hit record sales/streams too much. But are they any other elements of band life the virus is effecting?

Mat: Well we can't meet up for now, we can't rehearse and we can't play together and thats kind of the most important for us. If you can't see each other you're not really a band [laughs]. It's a bit difficult, it would have been nice to celebrate with a few beers with the guys down the pub, but we can';t do any of that. But like I said we are all creatives and most of us introverts as well so it's really just life as usual on the whole.

The Razor’s Edge: Have you tried band practices/meet ups over Skype or Zoom or anything like that?

Mat: No, no. I've never really associated technology, that kind of technology with what we do. We were sort of thinking about doing a live show online, but it's not really something I like watching let alone playing. I like face to face, I like being in the audience, having an audience present. It's part of the magical exchange of performing so for me it's quite difficult to put the technology and music together. I'm always a bit slow moving with the times, we'll see as this thing goes on maybe it gets easier to confront it and just get it done.

The Razor’s Edge: You’ve been in many projects over the years… Void, Code, Grave Pleasures. How does Hexvessel differ from those?

Mat: Those were all, well most of them, were somebody else's music and somebody else's band really. Code was a band that I joined. Void was a band that I formed with another guy who wrote all the music and I just did the metal vocals over it. While they took a lot of time they weren't really deep creatively for me. Where as Hexvessel is my baby, my child, my creative outlet for life and my spiritual journey. It's very deeply a part of me and who I am. Hexvessel, if people have been following what I do musically, this is the most me that you can get.

The Razor’s Edge: ‘Kindred’ is a very special sounding album. Listening to it, it has a very 60’s/70’s feel to it. It would sit well alongside Jethro Tull and King Crimson releases. Was that intentional?

Mat: No, but of course thats the music that I listen to and love and I think really it's in my blood. When I look for a guitar tone or we're looking for a certain sound, that is instinctively the sound we would go for. It's not intentionally retro, it's just that that sound and that era something happened where the equipment and everything else reached its peak and it didn't progress. I think it' just the best that it gets when it comes to the equipment. Of course you can emulate all of that sound with digital technology but it's still just an emulation of that. We are not working along those lines it's really creating something from the heart, from scratch. It's great that there is some sort of touchstones with those records and bands as thats the best that it gets really.

The Razor’s Edge: The sound on the album is very 60's/70's did you use anything production wise or equipment wise to try and capture that sound?

Mat: No, we used all our own equipment this time which is really just a hodge-podge collection of whatever we can get our hands on. It's not easy to come by equipment very cheaply here in Finland. It's very expensive to get gear, especially amplified and thing like that. You kind of cobble together what you can. This time was the first time we didn't hire in specific amplifiers and we just used what we had. It's a mix of different eras and different quality of stuff, some of the sounds aren't particularly crystal clear but it has it's own very personal sound. We self produced this record, it's the first we made on our own so I think it sounds the most personal record of all the ones we've done.

The Razor’s Edge: I think it sounds better for not better being that crystal clear and having all those elements in it. It gives the record some feeling I think

Mat: Thank you, thats what we hoped for.

The Razor’s Edge: Lyrically Kindred is very unique, what provides the inspiration whilst you're writing these?

Mat: Various different things, of course nature being the biggest inspiration for the band and I think there's just an aspect of living in one of the biggest land masses in Europe with the least amount of population, so theres quite a lot of vast wilderness to enjoy and it becomes a big part of the inspiration. The old religion that was based on living hand in hand with nature and so the pagan way of life is rooted in everything we do lyrically.

I'm a great fan of poetry, I read a lot of poetry from all over the world and I collect poetry. I'm interested in getting poetical with the lyrics and exploring different themes. There's lots of different themes on the records but it all comes back to nature being in the heart of it.

The Razor’s Edge: And talking about nature being at the heart of it, you’ve produced a work that really tells a story to the listener. Would you say it was a concept album of sorts?

Mat: I think every Hexvessel record is a concept record going back to the concept of the band itself. It's my spiritual journey and each is a chapter on that spiritual journey a bit like a diary and you get these different entries which are revelations on the path. Kindred is about family and community and that's an important aspect of self discovery and spiritual realisation. That awareness of your family, what makes your family who they are, your community. It's something that resonates with everyone these days as the world becomes a smaller place and we are all finding our communities that are no longer based on national boundaries but a sense of shared cultures as the internet expands our sense of community. It's this idea of what makes us who we are that goes to the heart of what Hexvessel is all about. I think there is a concept underlying everything we do, but not in a sense that this is unique from any of the others concept wise.

The Razor’s Edge: You touched on it before that in your other outfits you were playing other peoples music, so did you approach song writing for Hexvessel any differently than your other projects?

Mat: Absolutely. Hexvessel isn't a project contrived in genre, so it's really based on where the songs take us and where the inspirations comes, and that may come at any point. Most of the songs are written whilst living life. If I am walking in the forest I will write a lot of sings or on a hike or going camping. When I go to our summer place, which is really just a cabin in the middle of nowhere, always getting a lot of inspiration then. It's kind of letting it in, a bit like a summoning exercise. Other bands have been very genre based so it's writing within a genre. You know if it doesn't feel right for death metal we have to throw the riff out or edit the idea before we've even brought it to the table. With Hexvessel it's very open, very free. We always take material forward no matter what. A lot of the songs on Kindred were written some time ago but never completed and now felt like the right time to put them together. It's kind of a different way fo working.

The Razor’s Edge: And the artwork… a collaboration between Thomas Hooper (Neurosis/Converge) and Richey Beckett (Metallica/Foo Fighters). Is there a story behind the concept here?

Mat: I asked Richey Beckett if he was interested in doing a cover and he was, but totally booked up at the time and wasn't going to make the deadline. Then the album kind of slipped deadline wise, we met up at Roadburn and he said he was still interested and he had this artwork that he thought would be perfect for the album. It was originally a sketch he did for Robert Plant and he didn't want it because it was too weird, too dark for him. If it was any other artist that you were taking an idea where it originally started with their work I would be a bit hesitant to take it, but when it's a Robert Plant outcast I'm ok with that. Robert Planet is an artist that admire very much.

It started with that sketch, Thomas Hooper has been a big fan of our work for a while and I've got tattoos from him and he wanted to get involved. So the two of them started collaborating together on this sketch and it became something completely different and inspired by the Hexvessel album.

It's a nice idea that it was a collaboration, with the album being about family and community and things like that, it's nice celebrate the community fo artists that are around right now. Richey and Thomas are like rock stars of the art community and massively talented. It's a real honour for us to have our music with their artwork on it.

The Razor’s Edge: So where do you go from here? After the pandemic of course, what are Hexvessel’s plans?

Mat: It's just about trying to play live when that comes back together and creating new music. I think that the future anyway without this, we would be doing different kinds of releases for the next few years. We've been working on a lot of covers that we've done over the years and it would be nice to put those out. And we've been talking about collaborations as well, so I think that it would be time now to stretch our wings and do different things with the band.

I think this is a blessing in disguise in a way for us, it makes us reset things and do the things that count for us, what we enjoy the most rather than concentrating on playing live as much as we can around an album. You lose a lot of time creatively that way and having kids you kind of miss them growing up. So for us it's a good time to kind of take hold again.

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