Name: Arne Kjelsrud Mathisen (Rural Tapes)
Occupation: producer / multi-instrumentalist
Current Release: Rural Tapes on Smuggler Music
Recommendation: Contrepoint by Nicolas Godin / Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany - a BBC documentary about the krautrock scene growing out of the culture ruins of the war.
Arne has Facebook, Instagram and Bandcamp accounts for Rural Tapes.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Well, I created my first musical pieces on piano when I was maybe 9 or 10 years old. They were not songs with a standard structure, but chords put together in a way I thought sounded nice. Later, I started playing in bands and writing songs. Some songs consisted of three chords like a simple punk tune, some with a more delicate structure. When I was about 18 I started using the studio as a method for creating music for the first time. I borrowed a cheap digital hard disc recorder and started producing. I never learned how to mix down tracks, so I ended up filling up every free space on every track with whatever instrument or potential sound I had in the near. My main influences at this time were probably Beck and maybe The Flaming Lips. In this period, my own bands did more traditional rock stuff, but all the music I produced in my living room had these psychedelic, lo-fi vibes. I was always drawn to weird soundscapes and tried to get something out of every instrument, even if I didn’t have skills to play it.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In my early years as a musician, I thought it was pretty difficult to hide my influences in my work. And that is even clearer now when I listen back to old stuff that I`ve done. Now, I try not to have too many clear references when I work with new music. I don't listen to a song and immediately want to do the same thing. If I work with others, I try to make them explain what they are searching for instead of putting on a song to show in what direction they want to go. I believe, if you work this way, you may automatically become a kind of copy, and rarely better than the original. Of course, everyone is inspired by other artists, but I always try to find methods to let the inspiration transform to my own music early in the process. I`ve had music as a job for 15 years, developed a lot, and will hopefully continue to develop in a good direction further on. I also think working with others makes you develop and creates originality. Probably, every musician I have ever played with has had some impact on me and has helped shape who I am as a musician and composer today. I have a lot of people to thank for that.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Tricky question. If I understood it right, I don’t think it influences me at all. I am who I am, and I do what I do. No filters, I don’t create any identity for me as a musician. I create what I think is great art and don't hide behind anything.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I don’t think I ever have had any challenges with being creative. Now it’s just a matter of hours available. How much time do I have to do creative stuff besides all the everyday life stuff I also have to do. I still have the same creative abundance that I had 20 years ago.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Well, when music suddenly became my job in my early twenties, I had no interest in studio equipment. I made and played music, and that was it. My passion was instruments and what I could create with them. I knew nothing about compressors, preamps or microphones. As I gained experience in recording albums with the bands I played with, my interest in production grew. I got a home studio and produced obscure lo-fi sketches and demos. A lot was intended for the bands I played with, but much of what I made did not fit in anywhere. That didn't stop me from continuing to make all these weird sketches, and many of them somehow turned out to be what Rural Tapes is today. Eventually I became interested in equipment such as old organs, tape echo machines and analog synthesizers. Much of the money I made playing music was invested in such equipment. Later I upgraded to a studio with better recording equipment, quality microphones and all that. But I still don't have too much interest in technics. I enjoy working with knobs and filters, but I do not care that much about how the technique is created. I'm still just a music nerd trying to get the most out of the instruments and boxes that I have, and I work very intuitively.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with instruments, hardware effects and analogue equipment. I play all kinds of instruments; piano, string instruments, drums, brass instruments and so on. I even bought an Indonesian gamelan orchestra last year and I have a collection of old organs. I do recording in a standard Protools set up, and sometimes use some of the basic plugins there, but I don't have internet in my studio and haven't upgraded my Protools since 2014. So, I don’t care too much about plugins, but use my knobs and hardware stuff till I`m happy with how it sounds. So, no, not much has changed in the way I make music. I really enjoy the hands-on way of working, and have no intentions of changing my methods for now.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love all kinds of collaborations. Jamming together, sending files back and forth and exchanging ideas by talking about and listening to music. On this album, I`ve been lucky to get small or big contributions from tons of great musicians. Some of them old band fellows from way back, some of them totally new acquaintances, musically. Lars Løberg Tofte, who I`ve played with for more than 20 years, does all bass guitar on the album. He is a safe card for me. I know what I can expect from him and I often like to produce a steady basis comp using him. But, on this album I also wanted to step out of my usual musical framework and invite new people in to create a broader palette. I play most of the keys myself, but I`ve had the honour of playing a couple of shows with Hot Chip`s Alexis Taylor some years ago, and I knew he was a great Rhodes player. I had a couple of tracks where I wanted something looser, and asked him to join in on them. What he sent back was stuff that I never would have been able to come up with myself, and it took especially the track ‘Pardon My French’ to a whole new level. This also affected what sax player Terry Edwards did on the same track. Suddenly the song had transformed from a chill Air`y vibe to a chaotic, psychedelic explosion. Another example from the making of this album was when I played together with Boston Red Sox` organ player Josh Kantor at a festival in Egersund some years ago. I`d met him a couple of years before this and knew he had some sick skills both on keys and accordion. I brought some recording equipment to the festival and asked him to do a short recording session in my hotel room. He showed up with a tiny accordion and I think he listened to the songs once and gave it a couple of tries of improvised stuff and suddenly it was a wrap. Simply magical.