Much as he is proud of what These Single Spies accomplished, Alex Mattinson is understandably keen to move on. He signalled that by unveiling his latest project, Death To Dreaming, at the same time as the Spies’ LP ‘Shipwrecking’ was finally released at the end of June.
Three Death To Dreaming tracks are now available on the D2D Bandcamp and very good they are too. Whilst the songs don’t necessarily amount to an official single or EP at this stage they do indicate the different direction that Alex is heading in.
The demise of his band though came at some cost to Alex’s music making as he explains:
“Once TSS folded last Christmas, I couldn’t write for a while. Nothing. I hated the sight of a guitar and lost faith in my ability to create anything of value.
“I got asked to cover my friend Euan as guitarist for Emmy The Great on a UK tour, and I jumped at the chance. It was good to be playing someone else’s songs and finding ways to express myself in a different way, and I was a fan of Emma’s writing – and especially her lyric writing – from a long time back.
“We did some tours in Europe, in the UK with Noah & The Whale, and played Queen Elizabeth Hall in London with a string section and female choir, which was an amazing experience. During this period I started writing and demoing stuff on tour, and that turned into my new project Death To Dreaming.”
Alex is keen to emphasise, as hinted above, that Death To Dreaming is not These Single Spies Mark II.
“The remit I gave myself for my post-Spies career was that the songs had to be poppy, fuzzy round the edges, and melodic. D2D is principally synth and drum machine-based songs but with – I hope – the same structural and melodic integrity I learned from being in TSS.
“I wanted to have a nice high-end going on to offset my deep voice, so I’m using lots of 12-string electric guitars and twinkling synths and feedback and stuff like that. I really just want to write messed up pop music. My touchstones are Galaxie 500, Teenage Fanclub, Broadcast and The Go-Betweens.”
Initially D2D started off as Alex on his own but he is in the process of involving other musicians to help realise his ambitions for the songs.
“I guess it’s solo-ish. I always write on my own, and I like the idea of exploring different ways of putting songs together. I want to change how I write and I’m getting there.
“I recruited Grace Banks (who plays in Emmy The Great and Razorlight and is a really wonderful songwriter in her own right) to record the first three Death To Dreaming songs because I’m still learning to not be crap on keyboards. I’m starting to think about putting together a live band, and that will involve just three of us. Watch this space.”
It’s common for songwriters to shift the emphasis of their songwriting between different projects so in that regard the fact that D2D is different from TSS is not a surprise. But it’s only fair to point out that Alex’s songwriting evolved significantly during the Spies’ lifetime, starting off sounding far folkier than the way the epic way the album ended up.
But D2D is different again from latter-day TSS and I was interested in what motivates the changes in Alex’s approach.
“I’m happy to say that it’s always been an organic, unseen process rather than a zeitgeist-chasing move to keep my head above water.
“The way These Single Spies changed over time was a product of the people involved, whereas the move towards a brighter, poppier and more electronic sound came into my songwriting towards the end of TSS and morphed into Death To Dreaming in a pretty seamless way.
“These new songs kind of spelled the end of the old way of doing things for me, and that’s why I’m so fucking excited about getting them heard by as many people as possible.”
Which brings us round to the three recordings currently available on Bandcamp. Clearly put up as a statement of intent, great though they are, they may not be the final versions of the songs.
“I guess all recordings are final in and of themselves, but I’m cursed with the need to change things almost as soon as I’ve put them out.
“For an album I would probably expand them and re-evaluate some aspects, but I am really proud of those songs and the way that Ash Gardner at House Of Strange studios found so much life in them and brought that out is just amazing to me. He’s a genius.”
With Death To Dreaming now officially in the public eye, Alex is keen to build some momentum.
“I’m writing lots, and am about to start putting a band together to do some gigs later in the year. I want a much slower start to this project in terms of gigging, and I want to be able to have enough space and time to really find the sound I want. I can hear it in my head but I’ve not worked out how to access it 100 per cent of the time yet.
“I’ve already got a lot of good reviews (even though nothing’s been released) and Jon Hilcock has been very supportive by including the lead song Monster Mask on his podcasts and also playing it on BBC 6Music, so things look good.”
In the These Single Spies segment of our interview Alex admitted that the lack of a manager caused the band problems. He’s determined to avoid a similar fate for Death to Dreaming.
“I’m trying to find a manager right now. That’s my main aim. I’m not a good band manager because I don’t like using the phone and I wrote the book on how not to network with people.
“I probably should have been a librarian or a dusty English professor or something, but I’m stuck with myself now and I love it!”
If you ask me that sounds like a particularly promising job opportunity for someone!
In the meantime the rest of us have the three tracks on the Death to Dreaming Bandcamp to enjoy. And here’s a taster if you’ve not heard them yet with ‘Monster Mask’:
The Death To Dreaming tracks are available on a ‘name your own price’ basis from here.
In case you missed it, Alex looked back on These Single Spies with MPT here.
Main Photo © Charlie Innell, 2012.