Gear Talks: Al Matcott & Wade Keighran

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Gear Talks: Al Matcott & Wade Keighran

Al Matcott
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Summer's Coming has been out for about a week now, on high rotation in the Mixdown office, and we spoke to Al and Wade about making the album.

Al Matcott is a Naarm based singer songwriter. A self confessed luddite, Al traditionally writes on pen and paper, his debut record Summer’s Coming was his first time recording in a studio, as well as first time working with a producer: Wade Keighran (The Scare, Wolf & Cub).

Al, congrats on the release of Summer’s Coming. How and where did writing for this album begin?

Most of the inspiration for the album came from working in renewable energy and reading news about the climate crisis every day. Then lockdown on top of that. So it came from feeling very pessimistic about the future, reading a lot, red wine, an acoustic guitar and a lot of time.

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Is this process how you usually write?

Yeah, I write everything on an acoustic guitar and with a pen and paper. I’m a complete luddite, I still haven’t even figured out how to get that U2 album off of my phone.

We understand this is your first time recording in a studio with a producer. Why did you choose to collaborate with someone on this album?

Partly because the stakes were a bit higher, and because I had a specific vision of how I wanted the album to sound. I’d recorded my previous releases with my bandmate Brendan (West – bass, guitars), and they turned out great. But I think we were ready to aim for something bigger, and the songs we had were probably calling for that as well. 

Al Matcott 2

Why Wade? And Wade, why Al?

Al: Wade was a recommendation from Steve (McLennan – guitars) after we were chatting about how I wanted the album to sound like a Rancho De La Luna album. I had a listen to some of his Wolf and Cub recordings, it had a real muscular rhythm section, it seemed like the right path. He had a listen to some of the demos I’d put together and liked them, and we went from there.

Wade: I got a text from Al’s people asking if I’d be interested so we set up a meeting. Immediately I liked Al and I could tell he was well read and wanted to do something pure and interesting. I’d heard the demos prior to our first chat and it had all the right ingredients to get me intrigued. The songs didn’t feel like a game of pop music mathematics that he was trying to win. I never got the feeling that Al was trying to fake his way to commercial radio. The demos had space, there was a journey musically and the lyrics were dark, smart and poetic with a healthy sense of comedy. Those ingredients, especially the lyrics can make or break my involvement in a project and are definitely what I look for when saying yes or no to working with someone. 

How do you think working with a producer ultimately affected the overall process and end result?

Al: In a band I’ve usually been communicating on the level of the song, “what suits this bit here?”, “that bit should go for longer”. This was the first time I was communicating on the level of the overall vision and themes of the album as a whole. And I think that came from Wade. We didn’t have a whole heap of time to work on the album but I think this helped us get to like the core of what the album was quickly, and go from there. The last stage of recording was just Wade and I doing overdubs and getting right into the weeds. I had no real studio experience, but Wade understood my vision and had a whole host of tips and tricks to move it in the right direction.

Wade: Once we have decided to work together I like to see what happens in the moment. with this album my process was to make a judgement call on the spot, never before. I like to work fast and move quickly, always ensuring that I’ve provided enough information in order to give the artist confidence that we are moving forward in the right direction, beyond that I tried to stay out of the way of the music. Al had a very clear picture of the album, it was built into the demos and my goal was to make the best version of that and try to give time and respect to the minutiae that he had injected to his songs. 

We talked a lot about recurring characters, like in cinema. We would talk about a certain sound or musical element that could return for small moments of songs to weave the album together like a film.

He had also assembled an absolutely killer band of players and cameos. Not a single weak link. 

So… it’s different project to project but on this my mission objective was be true to the original idea, find a way to maintain that idea in the event we want to pivot in the moment, try not to spill any of my own personality all over the dinner table and keep the recording process moving fast and fun. 

How clear was your vision for the album going into the studio?

Al: Very clear. All the songs and lyrics were written, I knew the tracklist. Within the first hour of recording Wade asked “so are we fucking around trying to make it sound palatable and making a pretty single, or are we going for it?” I said “we’re going for it” and away we went. When we were finishing up at Golden Retriever, the assistant engineer Ethan complimented me on having such a clear vision. He said he’d just wrapped up recording with a drummer who spent a whole day on take after take obsessing over one 8-bar section. Just doing everyone’s head in. I was apparently a breath of fresh air by comparison.

Wade: Early on I asked Al if he had all the lyrics ready or if it was a work in progress. He immediately sent me a document with the completed lyrics so I knew I was working with a thorough and prepared individual. We had long discussions about the themes and intention for the album and Al had a concise and well considered answer at every turn. He’s a songwriter. Not a single writer. An album architect. Not a label maker. Right away it was clear there was no need for me to step in and add or subtract much in terms of song structure or lyrics/melody but I did want to be sure. 

I do remember that moment where after the first take on the first day on a song with lots of sonic space, big sections of the song with no vocals, that sort of highway driving, cool headphone stuff and when we finished I wanted to check in. I asked if I was correct in assuming we aren’t cutting any cookies in here, making a radio record, that we are all on the same page, it’s ok for the “singles” to be longer than 4 minutes, that if we aren’t bored then we have to give our audience the credit and respect that they are musically evolved enough to also enjoy this too. 

How complete were the songs when you began working on them?

All the songs were written as a full band (also featuring Miranda Holt on drums) we had probably half the songs ready to go, half needed some piecing together in the studio. Luckily for me my band rips, nothing took more than 2 or three takes and there were many moments of individual brilliance.

Thanks for your time! As a closer have you got any stories from the making of Summer’s Coming that you can share?

Umm yes there’s a bit in one of the songs where Brendan says “today Satan” backwards. Shout out to anyone who spots that.

Keep up with Al here. You can pre-order vinyl of Summer’s Coming here.