Interview with Matthew J. Tow
By alexander laurence
SUN 12 MAR [2pm]
Los Angeles CA
2PM INSTORE - LIVE & ELECTRIC
+ The Quarter After
SUN 12 MAR - SPACELAND
Los Angeles CA
The Lovetones onstage 11pm
+ Bluebottle Kiss
MON 13 MAR - SILVERLAKE LOUNGE
Los Angeles CA
The Lovetones onstage 9pm
+ The Quarter After
+ The Parson Red Heads
+ Darci Cash
Matthew J. Tow is one of the best songwriters from Australia. I heard about
him back in 2000 or so when he was hanging out in NYC with Anton Newcombe of
The Brian Jonestown Massacre. I found out about his previous band, Drop City.
They had toured with Stone Roses, and Stereolab. After Drop City disbanded in
2000, Tow toured with The Brian Jonestown Massacre. That led to The Lovetones.
They are Matthew J. Tow (guitar/vocals), Serge Luca (guitar), Matthew Sigley
(bass/keyboards) and Chris Cobb (drums).
The Lovetones released their debut album, Be What You Want (2002). I was very
excited. I got to see them for the first time in 2003. The Lovetones spent
about two years touring.
They even supported Morrissey, during his first solo Australian tour. Tow
contributed two tracks to the Brian Jonestown Massacre ...And This Is Our Music
(2003). In the same year, Fire Records invited the Lovetones to contribute to
the James Joyce Chamber Music project alongside Mercury Rev, Mike Watt, Sonic
Youth and REM's Peter Buck.
The second album, Meditations (2005), comes at a crucial time. This album is
a wonderful statement. I got to speak to leader Matthew J. Tow when he was
hanging out in Los Angeles at the end of 2005. The Lovetones will be playing at
Café Du Nord in San Francisco on March 10th. Be sure to make it out for one of
the best international bands out there.
AL: We don’t see a lot of Australia bands over here in America. Only the most
successful bands we ever see playing over here. Since Australia is half a w
orld away, most Australia bands go to England first, do you think?
Matthew: That’s right. Most bands go to England because there are more
affiliations on that side. Most Australian bands find America to be impossible. It’s
so huge. They don’t have the network here to start with. The bigger bands
come over here because they have more money, or the American label picks them up.
A band like us can come over here because of the enthusiasm of other bands
like Rob Campanella (The Quarter After) and Anton (Brian Jonestown Massacre). I
have played on their records. It is so much easier when you have that initial
network of people to help you along. It is helpful for Australian bands and
even American bands to have that support. It all started with Anton.
AL: How did you meet Anton Newcombe?
Matthew: I was doing the last Drop City tour in 1997. This guy, Chris Beyond,
of No-Fi Records, ask me if I heard of Brian Jonestown Massacre. I said
“No.” He said, “Let’s go meet them.” I have been a friend with them since. He was
trying to get me into them for years.
AL: I saw you at a CMJ show.
Matthew: That was back in 2000. He was trying to get me in the band. I was
just hanging out there. I was having a holiday with my wife. We got married
here. It was very flattering to be called out by Anton at that show. Anton told me
to come down to the show. Three years later I was in the band. I was playing
on their records.
AL: Did you meet Greg Shaw?
Matthew: Yeah. The first Lovetones record came out on Bomp Records. I knew
Greg Shaw from a while back. He was going to do some Drop City stuff. But he
never did. Then we broke up. The Lovetones was something different.
AL: Well, getting back to the whole Australia scene: we see a lot of popular
bands, and then once in a while we see a cool indie band like The Lovetones,
Bird Blobs, or Morning After Girls. Are these all bands taking a chance coming
Matthew: It’s basically what it is. Australia is a small place and a small
scene. There are more people in California. There is a small underground scene
in Australia. You can call it the new psychedelic music. Drop City were always
doing that. My first band was signed to Red Eye label, which associates us
with Beasts of Bourbon, The Go-Betweens, and Steve Kilbey. We were at the end of
that movement which started with bands like The Church. We started in 1993 and
ended in 2000. At that time there was no bands like us left. We didn’t have
the same success as the Church but we were the late 1990s version of that. Now
there are bands like The Morning After Girls who have tapped into that, and th
ere is a whole new scene again.
AL: What are some of the other new bands?
Matthew: There’s the Dolly Rocker Movement.
AL: What does that mean?
Matthew: I think it’s some Syd Barrett reference. There are too many bands to
mention. With the Lovetones, I have been really lucky with my association
with Anton. Even though I have been doing music for many years at home, many
people don’t know about it, because Drop City was never released over here. People
only know me through The Lovetones and also Colorsound. I do Colorsound,
which is released on Sonic Boom’s label in England. It’s more like psychedelic
drone music. It’s experimental. We have done five albums.
AL: What other bands have you played with in Australia?
Matthew: There is a band called The Dappled Cities Fly. They are good. There
is a band called Sounds Like Sunset. There is a band called Bells Will Ring.
Gaslight Radio is probably the best band at the moment. They are from
AL: What’s up with Kilbey?
Matthew: Kilbey is hanging out in Sydney. The Church are always doing stuff.
Kilbey is always active. EMI has just re-released all their records. There is
always a big interest.
AL: We have all seen this Dig! documentary over here. Was there ever a Brian
Jonestown Massacre/Lovetones rivalry?
Matthew: No. It’s one big happy family.
AL: How did end up doing some songs with Anton for the Brian Jonestown
Matthew: I was in town during 2003. The Lovetones had just toured with Anton.
The idea then was that Anton was going to produced the first Lovetones
record. I did two songs and Anton said, “I really like these.” And I said: “I will
let you have one, and the other will be on the Lovetones record.” Anton said:
“I love them. I want them both on my record.” It was that simple. Songs from
that session when on the Brian Jonestown Massacre record and the first
AL: “Starcleaner” was on that record?
Matthew: Yeah. That and “A New Low In Getting High.” That song
“Starcleaner” was also on the greatest hits record. We have produced most of my records
with Jason Blackwell.
AL: The Lovetones has always had the same lineup?
Matthew: No. Serge Luca played drums on the first album. Now he plays guitar.
Chris Cobb plays drums now. Everyone was at one time in Drop City too. We
have known each other for a long time. When we are on the road there are no
AL: You were in Brian Jonestown Massacre too?
Matthew: Yeah. I was in the touring band for 2003. I played on a three-month
tour. Ricky Maymi took my place.
AL: Do you like vintage gear?
Matthew: Yeah. I love Vox guitars. There are a few places in Sydney who have
vintage stuff. But you have to come to America to find old guitars. I have
played through Vox amps.
AL: On your albums how do you do all those horns and strings parts?
Matthew: We had a guy do a lot of that stuff on keyboards. We record the
albums on tape. Then we switched over to Pro Tools and did overdubs. It takes a
lot longer to do it that way. We worked over a long people of time.
AL: Do you tell people what to do in the studio?
Matthew: I don’t rule with an iron first. It’s an iron fist, velvet glove.
Matthew Sigley wrote a few songs on the new album. He has his own band called
The Daytime Frequency. They are really cool.
AL: How do the songs start for you?
Matthew: It’s always starts with me strumming a few chords and humming some
lyrics. Lyrics always come last. Melody is something that I am working toward.
It’s melody and chords first, and then lyrics. Sometimes the lyrics are
written right before I am doing the vocal takes. With the second album, we went in
the studio without anyone knowing the songs. I just said “Follow me” and it
AL: Is there some personal philosophy in the songs?
Matthew: Most of the songs are about understanding one’s self. My songs are
political in the sense that here is how I want to live my life. Politics
shouldn’t be about telling other people how to live their lives. When you get your
life right, other things fall into place.
AL: You say that lyrics come last. So when you have a melody that suggests
longing for home, do you say to yourself “This must be a song about going home?”
Matthew: Exactly. I have general ideas and images of what a song is going to
AL: What bands have you always been into?
Matthew: When I was younger I was into The Smiths, The Stone Roses, and The
Beatles. Later I got into Spaceman 3 very heavily. I got into some experimental
drone music and psych bands. I like all the 1960s music and stuff that is
going on now.
AL: Did you get to play with some of the more experimental artists?
Matthew: Funny you should mention it. The Silver Apples are one of my
favorite bands. They actually remixed one of my Colorsound songs. It was amazing to
be involved with those guys. I haven’t really collaborated with a lot of people.
AL: Is there any literature that turns you on?
Matthew: I am a big fan of Dylan Thomas. I like the Beat Generation. There
are too many to mention.
AL: Did you go to art school?
Matthew: Yeah. I did an art’s degree. I was at a university for a few years.
AL: Did you grow up with a political environment?
Matthew: I was raised in a very left wing environment. In Australia, I was
into the Labour Party and the left. All my family are on the left and that is
where my loyalties lie. I believe strongly in a fair social system, and health,
and education. The government has a responsibility to look after people. You
help people who can’t help themselves. The current government is trying to be
like another America. We don’t want to be another America where the underclass
is screwed. Free health and free education I think is the cornerstone for any
decent society. Those are rights and not a privilege.
AL: When people come to see you play what should they expect?
Matthew: Great psychedelic rock. That is what it’s all about! We are looking
forward to playing SXSW.
AL: Any final words?
Matthew: Keep on the left side, because the right side is too cold.