Monday, 19 September 2011

Interview - Matthew Lawes

The BBC Music Video Festival kicks off this week and runs until October 1st. It's the only dedicated music video festival in the UK and specialises in promoting talented, up and coming filmmakers.

Matthew Lawes is one such filmmaker/ director, founder of City Sessions and all-round lovely man. His first film, a vibrant animated music video for Fyfe Dangerfield’s Faster Than The Setting Sun, is one of 30-odd shortlisted acts that will be shown on big BBC screens all around the country. IWAOS caught up with him to talk about the festival, his plans and the importance of live music.

Fyfe Dangerfield - Faster Than The Setting Sun by Matthew Lawes from BBC Music Video Festival on Vimeo.

How did you get involved in the music video festival?
Ages ago I read about it online and I wanted to do it because if you get selected they play the videos on these huge screens all across the UK, apparently they go out to 1000s of people. And I chose the Fyfe video because it was the first thing I ever did, it’s the most lof-fi and I thought it sort of represented what I'm about.

So how did making a video for Fyfe first come about?

I was starting to do animation in my bedroom because I wanted to get into film. I seemed to be listening to Fyfe’s song a lot, I had it on all the time and I was thinking it would be so great if I could do something for him but I wasn’t really thinking it could be a something that could actually happen. But then Fyfe was playing in Rough Trade East, just a solo show and I went up to him at the end of the show and showed his some stills that I’d just done and I asked, ‘Do you fancy maybe letting me make a video for you?’ And he went, ‘Yeah alright then!’

How did City Sessions start?
Well basically me and Joe [Bulmer, sound engineer], were looking a lot at how to get into film and we were wanting to focus on music, but more in a live sense and making it really raw. I bought all the equipment, just totally ruined my bank account and then we started filming – Kevin Tuffy, Marques Toliver, then Kit Downes at the Royal Festival Hall. Then Bea Kerlin came on board as producer and everything accelerated after that to where we are now.

City Sessions_Film Four_Kit Downes from City Sessions on Vimeo.

How did you get to film at the Festival Hall?
I got in touch with Kit, and he said they couldn’t really do anything acoustically outside of a gig so he asked if I wanted to do it at the Royal festival Hall. So we said yes, of course! So I’m sitting down on the side of the stage, crouching out of the way with my camera and I was trying to find the right song and then he kind of gave me this look so I went in and filmed it in all in one go. A lot of the sessions are really high pressure because the artists have got almost no time but that’s the other thing about what we’re trying to do with these music videos – it’s easy for the artist to do, we only get them to do one or maybe two takes and we choose the best take. The videos will only ever be as good as they are so and I’m just trying to work with the talent rather than hiding behind postproduction, mirrors and effects, all that kind of stuff.
City Session - Film Twenty - Rosey Chan from City Sessions on Vimeo.

What do you hope comes across from your work?
Well I want people to realise that it doesn’t have to be about going to film school and getting into film that way, I’m completely self-taught and I’m not saying that I completely know what I’m doing but I have learnt everything from scratch! It shouldn’t be about high production values it should be about the talent that’s there – not from me, from the musicians and I want to be able to film that. All these musicians are just amazing and as long as they do their thing, it doesn’t really matter.

City Sessions - Film Ten - Michael Kiwanuka from City Sessions on Vimeo.

Is there an ethos behind your films about supporting up and coming talent or is it just that you like them so you film them?
We really want to push those acts who are up and coming and it is such a buzz to catch someone who is just on their way up. It’s amazing. It’s not like we’ve found them or anything but if we can help in anyway and put them out there and help their careers… that’s just such a buzz. And we’re in a same sort of place as them because we’re starting out too. But we also like having a go with more established artists, I think the main thing is that they have to be good live – if they’re not good live, we don’t do it.

You've certainly worked with some great new talent, how does working with these acts come about?
I mean someone like Marques [Toliver], I actually saw him busking when we were getting started and, I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this, but he was basically busking for money for food because he was so broke. He was unsigned, I think he had just come over from America, and he was trying to make it. I saw him in the street and thought he was amazing. Fast forward three weeks when we did the session with him and he had been signed, he had been on Jools Holland and we just thought 'Wow!' So with all these acts, it’s just great if we can give them a platform. There are lot of other session websites and you know, you can look at it like we’re all competing but I think we’re all just promoting good music, which is so important.

City Sessions_Film Three_Marques Toliver from City Sessions on Vimeo.

And your films were shown at Latitude this year too?
We were selected to showcase a selection of our videos at the Festival by Tania Harrison who runs the Film & Music Arena at the Festival. We compiled a half hour edit with films including Michael Kiwanuka, Goldheart Assembly and The Turbans. It was shown to 500-odd people, which was such a buzz. We would love to do more festival slots in the future.

How do you come up with locations?
Well sometimes it’s not really up to us. Like when we filmed We Are Scientists we caught them just on the back of their tour so we filmed them in their dressing room because it was literally the only place they could do it, which was a bit of a shame because really I like to do something different, do it on a boat, for example! Location-wise I just really want to explore – there are so many amazing locations in London and people are so generous, there is no money changing hands in any of this at all. So we’ve had churches, where they’ve given it to us for two hours and then the Royal Festival Hall. The thing is people are so nice and supportive of the whole thing.
City Sessions - Film Seven - We Are Scientists from City Sessions on Vimeo.

And now you’re expanding City Sessions...
We do a monthly night at the Wheelbarrow in Camden but we are also going to do some residencies with Goldheart Assembly so there’s four nights at the end of October and beginning of November at the Spice of Life in Leicester Square. Joe is actually building a studio at the moment which will be the City Session studio and on the back of that we really want to start a record label. It’s really about promoting live music, that’s the real buzz for us and people seem to enjoy it.

Any tips on a band that we are likely to be hearing about soon?
There’s a band called Other Lives who we did recently who are going to be massive, I just think they are absolutely amazing. Just after we filmed them they confirmed a support slot for Bon Iver so they are just going to be huge. They’ve got a real Fleet Foxes/ My Morning Jacket appeal to them and it’s all stripped back.

So what does the future hold for you?
Well I'm working on some scripts and film music but with City Sessions there’s a couple of things we want to do. I really want to be making a music video a week just to keep really pushing that and learn as much as I can. And we’re looking to getting it out there to more people, widening the appeal and doing a hell of a lot more bands, playing all different kinds of music. I hope we are going to do a City Sessions roadtrip in the States and get a van and a projector and get round some events. And the studio with Joe and record label. And of course, film as much and show off as many amazing artists as possible. Its’really good getting to work with so many amazing people – I have to pinch myself sometimes.

Keep an eye out for the big screens all over the country that will be showing Matthew's and other new and talented filmmaker's videos over the next couple of weeks and don't forget to visit City Sessions for more live music videos.