North East Noise: An Interview with Matt Dunbar

“I probably got serious about music during school, actually. Me and one of my friends used to write songs all the time, and we even built a little recording studio in my bedroom.” Matt Dunbar laughs and tells the story of how he bought a tape player for £2, worked out how to plug it into a computer and created what was, in his own words “essentially an analogue recording studio on a terrible, cheap, rubbish sounding scale.” While this goes a long way to describe Matt’s long term passion for music and music production, it definitely doesn’t reflect on Matt as a performer now, and though he did write, mix and produce his own tracks for his debut EP, just as he would have done in his makeshift recording studio years ago, the result is far from “cheap” or “rubbish sounding”. It’s captivating, folky and expertly crafted, all of which will be proven at the EP launch in Ashington on the 18th March.

Matt is a singer-songwriter from Morpeth in the north east, and has played his unique blend of acoustic folk that has what he describes as “a bit of an 80’s edge” all around the country, from our well-loved local venues like The Sage Gateshead and Newcastle’s Cluny, all the way down to The Eden Project in Cornwall. After completing a degree in Music production at York St. John University, Matt returned home and now works as a sound engineer at a very real recording studio in Ashington, as well as gigging around the north east and focusing on his own music career.

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Being an experienced sound engineer has given Matt an interesting point of view when it came to crafting his own EP, which he started working on 3 years ago for his final project at uni. While most artists write their tracks, record them, then have the luxury of passing it on to a producer to deliver the final product, Matt is solely responsible for each stage of his work, and is involved in complex aspects of producing. He agrees, to a certain extent that this gives him a technical advantage with his projects, however he admits that “the issue is that you get really picky with everything you do” because you know exactly what it is you want, and for him, “it’ll never be perfect”. It can be said in a sense that Matt has nowhere to hide with his work, that any potential criticism falls directly on him, as it’s his project completely from start to finish. However, this is something that he takes in his stride, and jokes that “It’s like having a child. I’ve recorded it, written it, mixed it, the only thing I haven’t done is mastered it.”

Matt’s career has taken him up and down the country, and even oversees to Prague where he represented the UK at the YMCA Europe festival, yet he’s a loyal ambassador for his home in the north east. The title track for his EP release, and admittedly his own favourite, is called “Home”, and was written while feeling homesick at university. Matt explains how he’d “just watched an episode of Robson Green around Northumberland, it was all the places I love to go and I immediately wanted to be back there”. Using this, he was able to write the song in around 20 minutes, and now three years later he’ll be debuting the music video for it at his very own EP launch, with Robson Green to thank. A lot of Matt’s other tracks also take inspiration from the north east, including his song “Miners day”, which begins with Thatcher’s voice at a press conference, and gradually tells the tale of a miner losing hope, and despite being taken from historical events, this is a theme that is extremely relevant today. Whether it be a miner under Thatcher’s government, or a modern voter struggling with losing faith in the government, we can all relate to the feeling described in “Miners Day”, and that’s a credit to Matt as a songwriter.

Matt’s appreciation for the north east doesn’t just stop at his songs. He’s also greatly appreciative of our local music scene for singer-songwriters like himself. When chatting about it, Matt threw around words like “strong” and “hugely varied”. He said that “It’s like a microcosm of a community, everybody knows each other and it’s rare you’ll go to a night and not end up seeing somebody you know there” but that’s something he’s grateful for, given that the majority of musicians are glad to support each other. Matt noted that “as much as everybody is in direct competition with each other, everybody gives something a little bit different” so it’s easy to appreciate what each artist does as an individual, rather than focusing on the competition.

With that in mind, you can expect to see a variety of musicians supporting Matt for his EP Launch, which is to be held at The Arts Hub, Ashington on the 18th March. As well as performing tracks from his EP with a live band, he’ll be debuting his first music video for title track “Home” and the night will also feature support from Brother Joe and Melissa Rose Davison. There’s a sense of excitement around the event, but the ever-humble Matt assured us that “I’ll be happy, as long as I don’t get slated. Three stars, and I’ll be happy”. At Ride, however, we have a sneaking suspicion that it’ll go down a whole lot better than that.

Words by Ellen Barr

See Matt Dunbar Live

  • 18th March, The Arts Hub, Ashington

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