Studio Focus: Matthew Neighbour
Matthew Neighbour thrives off half-formed musical ideas. The Melbourne-based freelance producer has developed an addiction for fleshing out half-baked tracks by mashing and mangling sounds from his eclectic collection of instruments and effects. In fact, Matt actively hunts for bands whose music has lots of wiggle room arrangement-wise so he can unleash his creative streak.
Prior to freelancing, Matt worked as an engineer at Melbourne’s Sing Sing Studios. “There were a lot of instruments and gear lying around at Sing Sing, and I really developed a love for experimenting with that equipment to create new sounds,” recalled Matt. “I didn’t want to lose that aspect when working on freelance projects, even if the budget wasn’t huge.”
The latest band to team up with Matt was chill indie group Cousin Tony’s Brand New Firebird (CTBNF). “Often artists are keen to experiment a little bit, but the core of the song is locked in and can’t be touched,” said Matt. “CTBNF is different because everyone’s really open to letting the songs develop. That’s why we set up the space to make the album, so we could come in with a blank canvas, chase ideas down and let the songs develop.”
That’s right, Matt set up a studio space from scratch solely to create the perfect temperature for preparing slow-cooked songs for CTBNF’s new album. The space is decked out with vintage organs including a Hammond and Farfisa VIP 500, various analogue synths, guitar pedals, an old upright piano, even a Yamaha suitcase electric piano. Outboard gear includes a couple of ELI Distressors, an API lunchbox loaded with tasty modules, and a Lynx Aurora porting it all into the digital world.
What exactly happens in one of Matt’s sessions? Well, the whole idea is to avoid a fixed schedule or time constraint. Usually there’s lots of sitting around on comfy couches, playing with musical ideas, finding a riff that’ll stick, then recording it in a creative, mostly unconventional way. Organs are a favourite, as are guitar pedals and effects units.
Matt: “I’ve got this great Dynacord Echochord Mini tape delay. I can’t tell you how much I use it. It’s got this great, warbly character. Sometimes I’ll record music to it with a single repeat, then put it back in time and replace the dry signal with what’s come back from the delay. It just gives this really natural filtering and distortion.
“The production work I like to focus on is a retro futurist style. Lots of old sounds but tweaked, twisted and manipulated to try and create something different and new. I definitely look out for stuff that lends itself to that experimental style. Some people will write these loose, open songs that you can fill with ideas. I also like when people come in with really high-functioning simple songs but aren’t too attached, and therefore open to letting the song take a different form.”
Matt is in the privileged position of wearing the freelance producer hat and having a packed diary. So what’s his take on the role of a producer in today’s world of home studios? “On top of all the creative, musical, vibe stuff, the role of a young producer is someone who can oversee the whole production process,” says Matt. “I don’t think there are many young producers out there who wouldn’t be working on their mixing chops, or trying to become better engineers. I think the role is three jobs bundled into one. It’s being able to facilitate what the artist wants, but also being able to challenge them to see things a different way and work differently to what they’re completely comfortable with, for the sake of the song and direction of the music.”
It seems to work, Matt’s mixes for CTBNF pull together the swirling stewpot of textures and unexpected sounds into a cohesive auditory experience that listeners are loving. Melbourne Bitter, the band’s lead single from last year’s EP, has topped 400,000 plays on Spotify.