INTERVIEW: Nestor Matthews of Sky Larkin/Menace Beach

by - Friday, June 13, 2014

With library all-nighters fast becoming nothing but a horrible, panic-inducing memory, and the last ten minutes of that final exam a ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ worthy daydream of summer cider and calippos, festival season is well and truly on it’s way for most students. But whilst you’re going coco bananas down the front at Beacons, Reading and Leeds or Glasto, spare a thought for Nestor Matthews of Leeds Indie Heroes Sky Larkin. Along with sidekick Katie Harkin, the sticksman penned, recorded, toured and promoted third record ‘Motto’, all whilst studying for his final exams as a mature student at Leeds University. Oh, and when he got bored, he also started drumming for newbies Menace Beach, whose EP NME Magazine called ‘one of the most instantly-alluring things we've heard all year’. Not a guy shy of a bit of hard work then. We caught up with Nestor to find out how’s managed to balance his hectic year without having a full scale nervy b…

You’ve just finished up a UK tour, how did it go is it going so far?
We had a blast, especially with the little break in between before our show in Edinburgh. I think the long (and beautiful) drive up to Scotland means that we're always determined to make the most of the trip and put our all into playing which is then reciprocated by the crowd. After Edinburgh it was back to Leeds for Gold Sounds festival at our second home, The Brudenell Social Club! We hadn't played Leeds in ages and the line up was unbelievable so we couldn't wait for that. It just happened to falls slap bang in the middle of my final exams, but even that couldn't dampen my spirits. I've had the new Cloud Nothings record on repeat for weeks. We've hadn't played Leeds in a long time, so what better place than the Bru to play our songs really loud alongside a load of friends?

You’ve seen a lot as a band over 8 years, what do you think has changed most within the music industry during that time?
I think the use of, and perhaps reliance on, digital content has changed, and is still changing, the music industry as a whole. It's allowed artists and labels from all over the world to make their music instantly and unlimitedly available, which is amazing, but what I think is particularly interesting at the moment is the balance that's being found between digital immediacy and tactile intimacy. The current synergy of download codes delivered upon pre-ordering or included with vinyl, for example, suggests that we're still in the midst of change, which is pretty exciting.

During the time you spent prepping Motto, you bandmate Katie was touring with Wild Beasts and you were obviously playing drums with Menace Beach… Was it weird to be making music with other people? It’s almost similar to a couple finding themselves deciding on an an open relationship, if you will…
Ha! I suppose it is, yes. We've been lucky enough to be writing music together for nearly ten years now, so it was initially quite alienating to have to adapt to other people's thought processes. But ultimately it gave us each a musical flexibility, a different musical language if that makes sense, that allowed us to see our approach our writing as Sky Larkin from new and unanticipated perspectives.

During this time, you also began an English degree. Was this a refreshing change? What advice would you give to other students going back into education after a break?
I'm currently mere weeks away from finishing my degree, which is a bit frightening! Sky Larkin was born just as I would have gone to university so when the opportunity arose I leapt at the chance. It's helped me to focus my time, in a work and play sort of way, only it's been more like play and play. My university deadlines meant that I maximised my time and effort to fit in as much music as possible around them. I guess my main advice would be not to feel ostracised by being a bit older and to just enjoy it, you've got that little bit of experience of the outside world that'll make what is normally a pretty scary few years for everyone else a pretty liberating experience.

As a band you’ve always been proud of your Leeds base, what is it that makes the Leeds DIY scene so special?
Well, I've already mentioned the Brudenell but that place and it's curator Nathan have done so, so much for Leeds' independent scene. It's at the heart of Hyde Park, which is where all the students from the universities, art college and music college all live in back to back terraced houses so it's impossible not to hear everything that's going on! I think that's why I find it hard to single out any band in particular, everyone knows each other. We've played with a band called Imp a few times who are technically from Wakefield but are brilliant so definitely have a look/listen!

You’ve had a bit of a line-up shuffle recently, how has this affected the band dynamic?
It's been an eventful year or so yep, but if anything it's made us conscious of our versatility both in writing music and performing it. We recorded the latest album as a four piece, but have since stripped back down to a trio which gave us the opportunity to look at our songs and reinterpret them and reassess our roles with them in order to renew their integrity.

You latest record Motto has received pretty much universally good reviews, is this something you pay much attention to? What is the most misinformed thing you’re ever read about your band?
We'd been away for a while before Motto came out so it was reassuring and encouraging to know that people hadn't forgotten about us and that what we'd spent a year writing and playing over and over again made a modicum of sense to anyone who hadn't been in our practice space with us! As for the most misinformed thing, I think the first iteration of our Wikipedia page had our old bass player Doug listed as having spent most of his life as an Algerian goat herd, although I don't think I ever directly asked him about it so, for all I know, it could be true!

A lot of the reviews made a point about the ‘fuller’ sound of the record, was this a conscious decision? Do you think there is pressure on bands to get noticeably 'bigger’ with every record?
I don't think it was a conscious decision in that respect, I think it was related to our experiences playing music with other people. It gave us the space to think about how we wanted our songs to sound outside of just playing them in our lock up, and it also meant that the time we had together as Sky Larkin was precious. There was a particular drive and direction that was engrained in the songs from their conception and every layer of them only added to it, not necessarily 'bigger' or 'fuller' but more direct, more immediate. In that respect I don't think bands should necessarily feel any pressure to get 'bigger' with every album but to develop or progress a sound, it's just that more often than not getting 'bigger' or louder is any easy solution to a difficult problem!

You recorded the record in Seattle, how did this affect the recording process? Did it make it easier to be away from the distractions of home?
We've actually been lucky enough to record all three albums in Seattle in the capable hands (and ears) of one John Goodmanson. The first time round Seattle certainly was a liberating and rather daunting distance away from distracting home comforts, but for the last record it was almost entirely the opposite. It was an amazing feeling to touch down on the other side of the world and know exactly where we were going, where to get the best coffee and doughnuts in the morning. It meant we could get right into the recording process in a place we are familiar with with people we are a familiar with as soon as we touched down and I think about it a lot. And doughnuts.

Feminism has been a big talking point in the music industry this year – what is your stance on the debate? Have you ever felt like you’ve been treated differently as a band with a female singer than if you’d been all male?
As it should be! The wonderful, progressive open-minded people that we have been lucky enough to work with far outweigh the small minority that were unfortunately close-minded which hopefully implies that, whilst sexism is undoubtedly still a serious and depressingly relevant issue within all levels of the music industry and wider society, there are people doing their best to change the status quo.

Once you’ve finished up touring this record, have you begun to think about making another? What sort of direction do you think you’ll be going in this time?
Touring a record always gets your brain ticking again as the songs flow and shift into each other every night, so even though we might not have consciously started plotting album four there are almost certainly some new ideas floating around! As for a direction, I can't even begin to imagine, but I can't wait to find it.

Sky Larkin's third album 'Motto' is out now on Wichita records.

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