A record so genuinely beautiful its craft shines through in every single song.
River Matthews is an artist for whom the stars seem to have aligned since the days of playing cover songs in local pubs. A career as a musical therapy teacher, and no small amount of heartbreak has led to working with world renowned songwriter Jamie Scott, supporting Rag ‘N’ Bone Man on his sold-out Human tour, two sold-out headline London shows in 2017.
River’s first steps into music came at the age of 7 when he started learning classical guitar. Then, as with most young boys, he lost interest in his teenage years as he embarked on an informal education of The Beach Boys, Cat Stevens, the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, from the school of Mum and Dad. After fanning the musical flames, River soon found himself performing 60’s & 70’s hits at local pubs and venues, alongside some more crowd-friendly tracks from Oasis & Radiohead.
Next, River put his musical ability to altruistic use, spending years working with children with learning difficulties, using music to help build confidence and self-esteem in the students. It was this path that eventually led River to songwriter, Jamie Scott, and since then the pieces have all fallen into place. The conclusion of all this work and stunning music, is River’s debut album Imogen (listen to the record here).
Imogen‘s genuineness and crafty songwriting are clearly audible in every song, it flows together beautifully while still giving each tune its own endearing character. Tracks like Sunshine and Butterflies deliver an uplifting lightness with the depth of a 70’s Dylan track. This eleven track record demands the listeners attention from the first note to the last, and rewards with the ultimate satisfaction that you just listened to potentially one of the best records of 2018.
Ahead of the release of Imogen, I had a chat to River Matthews about writing his new album and his inspirations.
You used to be a musical therapy teacher, how did you go from doing that to recording music yourself?
I worked as a music therapist for a long time while I started thinking seriously about songwriting. I was too scared for years to show anyone or really put anything out there. Then I came out of a relationship and was massively bummed out about everything, and that’s when I made a real decision to do it properly. Like most people do when they’re bummed out I joined a gym! And that’s where I met Mikey Needle, Jamie’s brother… we got on well and started writing together. A few months later I met and signed to Jamie…
Having that background with musical therapy, do you keep that at the back of your mind when writing songs – how they will affect people and their lives?
I gotta be honest, I don’t really think of that when I’m writing. If I feel something good when I sing a line, or see a song laid out then I’m kinda pretty sure at least one other person will too.
How did you first get to working with Jamie Scott?
As I mentioned before it was a chance meeting with his brother at the gym! When I first met Jamie it was at his home studio where I was working with Mikey. I sang a bunch of half songs I’d been messing around to Jamie and a Ray Lamontagne cover. A few weeks later we started working on the first EP, and planning for the album.
Tell me about your 2017 – what were your highlights?
Definitely finishing the album, very proud of that. Playing a bunch of really great venues. Selling out and playing St Pancras Old Church on my first headline show was amazing. Headlining in Holland, the UK and Ireland. Going into Radio 2 to play Stars and then again to play Sunshine! So much stuff happened last year… pretty amazing year.
Your debut album Imogen came out on 16 February, tell me a bit more about the writing process. Are they songs you had been working on for a while?
All the songs from the album were written around the last two years. A couple ideas for songs, like Stars, were taken from further back. Some I knew what they were gonna be about when I started writing them. A couple, like Feels Like Morning, I had no idea until near the end what they were actually about. All in all though, they kinda capture a lot of the feelings I had during those two years.
Overall the record sounds like it could be from the 60’s or 70’s, in the best way possible, is that an era you draw a lot of inspiration from?
Yeah I do. I love that period of songwriting, and the sound. Van Morrison, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan… I think it was a magic time for songwriting… songwriting we’ll probably never get back.
The cover of House of The Rising Sun at the end of the record is absolutely stunning! What made you pick this song to cover on the album?
Thanks, I love that one – so pleased it made the record! It’s one of the first songs I learnt on the guitar, and still one of my fav’s… I mean the song’s so old, but the animals version is incredible. It’s just a bad ass song.