Interview by Jason Guest
Jason: Hi Mat. Thanks for taking time out for this interview. Congratulations on No Holier Temple, it’s a fantastic album (Jason’s review is here). To begin, your 2011 album Dawnbearer has been described as a spiritual rite of passage. Is No Holier Temple the next step?
Mat: Hello Jason. Thanks for the interest and for the review! I wouldn’t say that No Holier Temple is the next step to Dawnbearer. Dawnbearer was about spiritual enlightenment and No Holier Temple is about a contemplation of what holiness means. It’s a discourse on the holy and what we hold sacred.
I think that where Dawnbearer was the introspective and personal, No Holier Temple is the extrovert and universal. It’s an experience of life, versus a way of living. I think with No Holier Temple we’re setting out the path through the forest that the shaman reveals in the drawing on the booklet cover. Once you step inside then you’re on the road. Where the road leads will be revealed on the next record I think.
Jason: For you, how does No Holier Temple follow on from Dawnbearer?
Mat: It’s the sound of a band. Of 8 souls boiling and sweating together, sharing their auras. Dawnbearer was one person relaying his personal journey. This is now a seance or a cult channelled in ceremonial mass. It’s the difference between praying alone and a congregation. I think that you can relate it to a band like Yes or bands of the late 60s/early 70s moving from psychedelic folk into progressive acid rock. We’re going from Saucerful Of Secrets into Ummagumma. It’s like a small drag of a joint compared to full blown acid. You catch my drift?
When you listen to folk music it’s often more powerful when it springs from the soul of one person. Acid rock must dwell in a group performance. When you’re doing complicated magic you need more vessels to conjure very strong demons!
Jason: Is No Holier Temple all new compositions, or is there material that’s been around for a while on there?
Mat: There’s some old and some new. I’ve been writing for years so I have a lot of sketches saved away. Some tracks like Woods To Conjure were made in the studio. I had a riff or two and we just jammed away. We’re quite inspired when we’re together and like good conductors, the electricity flows.
Jason: Are the compositions all your work or do you write with any of the other musicians, the ‘Death Magicians’?
Mat: I write the music and arrange it together with the band. They play their own parts and play it their own way. The album wouldn’t be the same without their input. It’s a shared creation. I wrote the first album as a love song to my wife. I wrote this album as a love song to my band.
I usually play them my ideas and then they get busy with working out how to make them work! The reason why I call them magicians and specifically Death Magicians is because when they play I think of them as journeymen – like the boatman on the river Styx. They travel into the realm of the dead and when they return, they return with the music. Every soul has a song. Every spirit has a tune. Whether you channel theta sound or blow against their bones and sinew, you will always get a sound. Sometimes the sounds that we create together can really make you transcend time and space. I think of it as time travel, or magic, or like dying.
Jason: How did/do you choose the musicians that you work with for Hexvessel?
Mat: I met most of them at my wedding. They performed in a band called Dark Buddha Rising and it was like being struck by a white light of god. I’d been looking for those guys for many years. It was like meeting my soul mates. That’s how it has to feel and how it’s felt with every member of Hexvessel when they have joined the band. I want to live and die with these guys and reach the zenith of enlightenment. It’s like we’re all on the same journey and we’re meeting on the road. Kindred travelers. I guess I don’t chose them, but we’re drawn to each other mystically. We’re now written into each other’s stars. We’re all made of the same elements in the end, so it’s obvious that like metal’s attract. Swords sharpen swords.
Jason: The promo I received for the album has the genre tag “Psychedelic Forest Folk”. Genre tags, it seems, are becoming increasingly creative but consistently fail to capture the essence of the music and bands usually say that they are more than the genre they are associated with. What are your thoughts on genre tags?
Mat: I don’t mind too much. The description, as I think of it, describes us well. That’s all we need really. It really doesn’t matter what people call us. I quite like that people are being creative these days.
I would just say that we’re folk-rock. I guess the images that some people create within a genre can define it in a good and bad way and people of the present always want to be of the future. I just want to be me.
Jason: In an interview elsewhere on-line, you stated that the name Hexvessl is a metaphor for “possession, carrying out the law of the will, magical workings and being a channel for divine or spiritual truth/enlightenment”. Is Hexvessel a name that allows transcendence from the mundanities of everyday life?
Mat: It can be that, if you want it to be. It’s your vessel. It’s your channel and your radio receiver. What comes through on the ouija board is whatever you put into it. I also want it to be a sharing experience. I like the idea that it’s like an endless link or chain that you join and become one with. It’s like a seance or mass with an ever increasing congregation. Hexvessel isn’t a band, it’s a family and you can join. You can enter the circle and increase the power of prayer. I like to think that we’re all Hexvessels and we’re all capable of doing great magic.
Jason: Is Hexvessel a way of creating a dialogue with your spiritual self, a platform for expression of the ideas through which they can be discovered and communicated?
Mat: I think it’s a way of discovering your spiritual self. It’s a way to enlighten yourself.
Jason: How has living in Finland, its landscape and culture affected your worldview? And how does that translate into Hexvessel’s music?
Mat: It re-awoke in me an interest in pagan mythology and in nature. There are a lot of pagan traditions still ingrained in the Finnish culture. I have been reminded of my youth growing up in England and my deep seated interest in Paganism and the occult.
Jason: There’s a distinct absence of duality across the album, in the sense that it feels holistic and when listened to in its entirety, it feels like a ritual, a ceremony or a procession and has a strong sense of worship. Is that by design?
Mat: The way we laid out the album was of course by design and it’s supposed to be an album, a journey, a real album as they used to be back in the day!
Jason: Do you think that music, something intangible and abstract, is itself imbued with a power to enact spiritual transformation?
Mat: Yes absolutely. It’s magic by nature. magic is when you use your will to conjure something into reality. It’s from the otherworld. When you channel the sound of this universe then you are looking at it from outside the universe which is bending time and space. You’re working with other dimensions and that’s real magic. when we will something into existence and then we pass that magic on to someone else who experiences it, then they too are possessed.
Jason: How does the Ultimate Spinach track ‘Your Head is Reeling’ fit into Hexvessel and No Holier Temple? Why did you choose that band and that track?
Mat: It’s a message. It’s a key to the gate. You get that song and then you get the album. The choice is symbolic in the band and the album it came from. We’re saying “get down with it brothers and sisters or you shall feel the mighty weight of true 70s acid rock!”
Jason: The visual aspect of Hexvessel is intriguing. Can you tell us about the artwork of No Holier Temple?
Mat: It’s pretty much the perfect visualization of the themes of the album. We’re dealing with a discourse about what it makes something holy. It’s about holiness and the idea of something as being sacred. The idea that nature allows us to contemplate our connection to the universe which makes it in and unto itself holy. Holiness is enlightenment and truth. We are born of stars.
Jason: Who is the artist? How did you choose to work with him/her? And what was it about their work that drew you to him/her?
Mat: The artist is Bastion Kalous. The image is what spoke to me, but Bastion is an amazing artist and a good soul. We connected about nature and he’s a true hiking nut. He’s always outdoors!
Jason: The video for ‘Woods to Conjure’ shows the destruction of huge trees and vast woodlands, all in the name of progress of an industrial society. Where is the footage from? Who was the director? And how much direction and/or freedom did you give him/her?
Mat: The video is spliced from old footage which is not about the progress of an industrial society. It’s put together by my wife Marja. The footage is actually just propaganda showing forest management. We read into it what we will. We’re part of the eco system and so we question our relationship with it. It’s quite unique that mankind is able to do this, to step out and see his role in relationship to the universe. You’d think by doing that we would all be able to see that we have purpose and a chance to make a decision. Somehow people have the blinkers on though. It’s hard to remove them. I like that the video provokes different reactions and it’s not all what it seems.
Jason: For live performances, what would be your ideal setting and/or venue?
Mat: Probably up at Lone Pine in the Mojave on a large stage-like rock in the middle of a giant gathering of rocks that look like giants. Playing to an audience of none, save the clustered stars and some hares, scorpions and black widows.
Jason: Will Hexvessel be performing live? And will you be visiting the UK?
Mat: Yes, we play live. And yes, we will!
Jason: Again, thanks for taking time out for this interview. Do you have anything you’d like to add for our readers?
Mat: Thank you for this opportunity and hails to my mother England!
And you can read Jason’s review of Hexvessel’s No Holier Temple here.