A Cloud of Ravens is a well-respected force in the contemporary post punk scene. The two-piece band from Brooklyn, New York, has achieved memorable success with its releases, with the latest being "Lost Hymns", and is currently on tour. Myth of Rock came in contact with the duo, and Matt and Beth proved to be great talkers, in an interview that covered a lot of topics!
by Dimitris Zacharopoulos
Give us a short biography of the band, please.
Matt: I had recorded some songs at the end of 2018 that would end up being the first few ‘Ravens singles, for a friend who runs a small imprint in Brooklyn. He put them up on Bandcamp and they did pretty well, so he suggested I do a full-length. That’s when I recorded the first album In the Wicked Hours. It was just a personal project at that point, but just after it was done I met Beth at a bar in Brooklyn. We started talking and quickly realized how much we had in common personally, but also at it relates to music. After we’d known each other for a while I sent her the album and she liked it. She had told me she played bass in a shoegaze band when she was like 19, so I asked her if she would be interested in partnering for ‘Ravens, and that’s what happened. It wasn’t really a band until that moment, and every move we’ve made since has been on equal standing.
You are about to release your new album, “Lost Hymns”. What are your ambitions for this album?
Beth: We set out to make an album that encompasses all of our influences, and we hope it connects with people. We want to be out there, playing shows, meeting people and creating a sense of community.
Matt: I’ll echo Beth’s sentiment. We’re looking forward to playing new cities and countries to support the album. The experience is a huge part of what drives us creatively.
Where was this album recorded, who was the producer and who did the mixing/the mastering?
Matt: The album was recorded at my home studio. Beth and I produced and mixed it.
I’m pretty good at getting sounds, and putting what I’m hearing in my head onto the tracks, but Beth’s ear is discerning in a way that mine is not, as it relates to frequency dynamics, EQ, etc. I’m not a tech person either. To me, the less gear I need to employ, the better. My personal nature is to be economical in life and it’s the same way I approach music. I think the power of expression translates best through the least possible amount of components.
Beth: Jason Corbett of the band Actors mastered the album at his studio Jacknife Sound in Vancouver. He really expanded the sound with an analog master.
Why did you name the album, “Lost Hymns”?
Matt: We did a lot of subtle, underlying vocal harmonies on this album, and our choruses tend to open up in a way that lends itself to that kind of vocal dynamic. It gave some of the tracks a kind of hymnal sound, most evident when we finished the rough version of Requiem for the Sun, which reminded me of songs I sang in church as a kid. At that point we decided on the album title, which doesn’t really have anything to do with any kind of organized religion, but more posing the thought; what are the values or ideals in our lives that deserve the kind of devotion that some people give to what or who they worship? Let’s find those things within ourselves because they are most definitely becoming lost in this day and age.
How would you define the music style of A Cloud of Ravens?
Matt: I think it’s a minimal but progressive sound rooted in a traditional post-punk foundation.
Beth: I think we are an amalgamation of influences of many genres, all filtered through a post-punk lens.
Who is the main composer in A Cloud of Ravens? How is a typical song of yours composed?
Matt: I’ll come up with the basis of a song, usually starting with a simple chord progression I’ve come up with on guitar or piano, then start to build around it; phrasing, vocal melody, accompaniment, beat. Lyrics are always last. When I’ve got a rough version I’ll play it for Beth. She’s got an amazing sensibility and instinct for sound and songcraft. We’ll flesh out the final version together and record the master.
What are your music influences? What music do you listen to nowadays?
Matt: When we write we really draw from everything we love and/or grew up on; everything from ‘80s hardcore-punk and hip-hop to ‘70s radio rock and classic post-punk/new wave. You may not be able to hear it in every song, but we really pull from all angles in the creative process.
Matt and Beth: We don’t really listen to much contemporary music but when we do it’s usually bands we know, and/or are friends with; Black Rose Burning, Bootblacks, Pilgrims of Yearning, Vosh, Xymox, Then Comes Silence, The Bellwether Syndicate, Creux Lies, Jason Priest, The Mystic Underground.
How much have you progressed musically in the new album? What would you say the differences are between the new album and your previous ones?
Matt: If we’ve progressed it’s in being more economical with songwriting, cutting out the fat, so to speak. The new album feels a bit more streamlined than the past two. We’ve incorporated more dance beats and maybe even some industrial vibes on this one. Also, Beth sings on several songs on the record, which sounds awesome and adds a new dimension.
Beth: My confidence has grown in terms of my involvement. Because it started out with just Matt it’s been a gradual progression figuring out all the ways to be additive to the process.
What do the lyrics of your songs refer to?
Matt: It’d be tough to go song by song, but generally speaking there are common threads throughout. Life, love, faith, loss; there are always those touchstones. Some songs explore our treatment of the environment, the political and cultural tribalism that’s tearing us apart more and more every day as a people-- earthly concerns. Then there’s a more metaphysical element, which if we understand our true nature, can help us deal with the fear, anger and sadness we’re experiencing from the chaos we’re constantly facing around us. We’re all one here, whether we like it or not, and we’ve got the inherent ability to transcend all the bullshit we see dividing us daily. We’re all made of more than the trivial shit we get consumed with so easily in life, and that includes myself. Somewhere in the songs, if you listen, we’re trying to exemplify that to some degree.
Which feelings of yours do you try to express through A Cloud of Ravens?
Beth: At the end of the day, I feel it’s really all emotions that come through. Some are probably more pervasive than others, whether it’s aggression, sadness, joy, fear, hope, or the absence of it. On a ‘Ravens album they're all pretty well represented.
How does A Cloud of Ravens sound live in concert?
Matt: Well, I think we sound pretty good. Haha.. We use tracks for percussion and synths. When people come to see us we don’t just want to run through the songs and have it sound exactly like the albums, so we punch-up the live tracks for shows to have some variance. We also play some things differently. For instance, Beth sings lead on a chorus recently, that I sing on the album. or I’ll tweak a guitar part. It just makes it a little more exciting and changes up the dynamic for a live audience. The more you play certain songs live, the more the way you play them tends to evolve.
Beth: It seems people are surprised by how much the live instruments bring to it, and in some ways don’t expect it to be as much of a “rock” show as it comes off.
How important are live shows for you?
Matt: Incredibly important. Playing live is why I started writing and recording music as a teenager. It’s my emotional release. Without it, I’m pretty lost.
Beth: Playing live feels very new to me, since I haven’t played in any fashion since I was a teenager. It’s like flying for me; I really get excited and a surge of adrenaline.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic affect you?
Beth: For me personally, a lot of my business was put on hold, which ultimately freed up some time and creativity that was channeled into A Cloud A Ravens. And of course we both ended up getting Covid pretty badly. That part was a big drag. Haha.
Matt: It got dark in a way you don’t feel in the moment, because it’s this gradual slide. I’m a bit of an introvert as it is, so the isolation wasn’t exactly horrible for me initially. Eventually we turned it into something positive, writing and recording Another Kind of Midnight, and then live shows had finally returned. I missed those most.
What do you think about the war against Ukraine?
Matt and Beth: It’s an abomination. We covered The Clash’s The Call Up last year, of which all proceeds went to the people of Ukraine. It’s difficult to sit by and watch what’s going on.
Which are your plans for a tour?
Beth: We’re touring in Germany, Austria and Netherlands in early May with Then Comes Silence. And at the end of May and into June we are on the much anticipated Clan Of Xymox/Curse Mackey tour on the West Coast of the US.
If you had the chance to collaborate with a famous musician in a song of yours, who would he/she be and why?
Beth: Martin Gore, Cy Curnin, Alan Moulder, because they’re all creative geniuses.
Matt: Living? probably Siouxsie Sioux or Chuck D.
Deceased; Joe Strummer. They’re iconic talents that I have tremendous respect and admiration for.
Send your message to the fans!
Matt: We are grateful for you and hope to see you soon.
Beth: We want to meet you and thank you personally for embracing us!
Is there something else you would like to add?
Matt and Beth: Thank you for the interview, Dimitris! Be well.