An Interview with re:tract

retract - Anara Publishing Artist
retract - Anara Publishing Artist

re:tract (multi-instrumentalist and producer Matt Gill) crafts dense, honest and often heart wrenching musical worlds to lose yourself in. His debut album charted in the iTunes electronic Top 10, and his sonic soundscapes continued to captivate the listener with the release of Waiting feat. IORA back in March.

We caught up with him to discuss how it all started, his creative process and get his thoughts on the importance of music publishing.

Tell us about how you started making music or what initially got you into music?
I’ve always been into music and even from a young age I used to steal my brother’s jungle mixtapes to listen to. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I started to mess around with making music though. It was fairly basic stuff; digital samplers and Recycle’s Reason loops etc. I really loved being able to cut up drum loops and make something of my own and from that I used to make little tracks for my mates. I decided to put myself through college to learn how to do it properly and it just stemmed from there. I do look back fondly at those early times as there were no real rules to music making, I just sampled and had fun!

What is your typical songwriting process? Is it the same every time? Do you have any routines to get you in the creative frame of mind?
I don’t have a typical process as such, I usually just start with an 8-bar loop and work outwards from there. Sometimes it can be drums, a chord progression or riff, it varies every time. That loop often becomes the breakdown and main chorus. A lot of the time I’ll keep adding/deleting ideas as I go and work with whatever feels right. I always tend to go for a little walk to my local coffee shop. I listen to some music for 30 minutes or so, just taking in the landscape for a bit, that usually gives me inspiration. It also works for listening back to tracks to try and add some parts or sort the mix out. I listen to a lot of music on my headphones, so it gives me a good reference.

Can you describe a pivotal moment in your career?
I think there’s been a few moments actually. Firstly, deciding to go back to college was the best decision I ever made. It gave my life focus and drive to start doing what I was passionate about. I was a mature student, so did everything later than most people but it took me a bit longer to realize what I wanted to do. My first radio play on BBC Introducing was another moment for me. I realised that maybe I could do it, and that people liked what I was writing. Finally playing the BBC Introducing Stage at Bluedot festival, was nothing short of life affirming. It was a great crowd and the feedback was amazing.

How important do you think publishing representation is for artists and composers?
I never really paid too much attention to publishing. It wasn’t until I realised I was missing out on a whole other income from music publishing that I thought it was worthwhile doing. Having someone trying to make you money from your back-catalogue wasn’t something I had considered before. It’s a necessity in both income and exposure, especially in these current times when gigging is slim.

Who would you say has been the greatest influence on your music?
There’s been so much musical influence throughout my life that it’s hard to answer. I grew up with pop and jungle, very different I know. In my early teens I used to go to a gig night at a local venue where they used to play punk and rock music and I loved the energy. I got introduced to Bonobo’s music at University back in 2007 and it changed my musical outlook massively. I instantly fell in love with the soundscapes and the sampled feel to the music. I saw him play at a small venue in Leeds to about 60 people. Years later I saw him again at a sold-out show at Alexandra Palace. Seeing that type of music being able to pull in a 10k crowd also gave me hope that I could sustain a career making downtempo electronic music.

Do you have a favourite use of music in TV or Film?
I think almost everything Thomas Newman writes. His use of melancholic chord progressions, instrumentation and timing have always blown me away. The Road To Pedition score is a great example. The music makes that film, it’s so moving. More recently, another personal favourite is the Arrival soundtrack by Johann Johannsson. The minimalist electronic and orchestral crossover is stunning, and the mix is incredible.

Do you have any advice for aspiring songwriters/composers/producers?
Keep going. There are days when I hate everything, I think I’m awful and rubbish and then something amazing happens. You finally land an amazing gig to a great crowd. You get a Radio 1 play, or you write music that you yourself fall in love with. Every songwriter or producer I know has days where they hate everything and think they’re worthless but you have to push through those to get to the amazing days. It’s worth it. It takes time.