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Interview With 'Twisted Illusion'

I recently had a chance to ask Matt Jones (the brains & driving force behind Twisted Illusion) a few questions so, I jumped at the opportunity (I have censored curse words from some of Matt's responses, just in case) but here's what I asked and what Matt had to offer as insight into his perspective on many things relating to the band and the position they have reached along with some possible hints as to what may come next for this band.

Writing a concept album is not the easiest of processes (I know, I tried it myself), tying together the various pieces on the album lyrically and sometimes musically can be a real challenge but it's one you seem to enjoy repeating and making more tricky each time, if I'm right there's an underlying concept behind each Twisted Illusion album, but on top of that you seem to be making more and more music each time, your first was a single disc album, followed by a double album, and (fingers crossed) next year will see the release of a trilogy, do you enjoy the challenge or are you perhaps a little bit of a masochist who enjoys giving yourself more involved and bigger projects each time? Also, will this trend continue, can we expect a 4 CD box set to be released by the band early in the next decade, or do you feel like you might want to do things a bit differently after 'Excite The Light'?

Matt: As much as it seems a conscious effort to create more content each time, it really is just coincidental. TOA (Temple Of Artifice) to me was this perfect thought. It was succinct and it only needed the 7 tracks it is. It was originally a 10 track album that was cut down. Insight was mammoth in comparison and just had to be a double album. It was immensely personal and such a catharsis for me personally. 'Excite The Light' however to me is the encompassing of everything TI has done in the years we have been active. I see this as the end of a chapter for TI. I see it is a transitional period artistically and I am certain that beyond this trilogy people will view us differently. I feel these 5 records will encapsulate this era of TI whilst also bringing an end to it. The idea of doing a trilogy was so that I could make the influence of sound much more expansive without it seeming disjointed as one album. So each particular part will have a particular vibe. Part 1 is in my mind TOA part 2, at least sonically. Not at all lyrically. Part 2 will be the most commercial and straight ahead of the 3 records. Part 3 will explore the darker side of TI, a more brooding influence and will feature an epic 20+ minute piece to end it entitled 'Calm The Dark', bringing the discography full circle.

Is there a particular process that you follow when writing songs, will you have any idea on the lyrical slant of a song when you sit to write the music or do you compose the music and then fit a lyrical theme to that?

Matt: This has changed considerably in the last few albums. I used to just write the music, record it then write the lyrics as I recorded them in the vocal booth. I now take a lot more time considering my words. This is mainly a reflection of seeing how much people have responded to my lyrics. I really want to live up to what they saw in a previous lyric and provide some continuity of thought if possible. I write music every day though and that has never changed, whether it's a full song or two or just one melody or one chord progression, I write every day. Songwriting to me is a filtering process. 300 songs a year may come to me but you will only hear 10 or so. People get hung on ideas and spend time chasing them. I move onto something new every day and I think that how prolific I am can be attributed to that process.

I know the band (and you, yourself as a solo performer) like to play live often, with a fan-base that I believe stretches worldwide at this point do you feel that a repeat of the tour the band had earlier this year will become an annual (and potentially expanding) thing?

Matt: Yes, if it was up to me I'd have us gig all the time. Eventually, I'd love us to tour for 8-9 months a year, record/write for 3 months and have a well earned month off once a year. This would be my ideal working situation with TI but as ever, the music industry is a complex beast. So we shall see where things take us. We know that hard work and dedication will always be a factor that separates us.

The whole band interact and connect on a personal level with fans of the band (particularly through the Facebook fan page and YouTube), not a lot of more established bands do this (indeed many less known bands don't either) how important do you feel online interaction is for new bands emerging in the modern era, can give us a sense of what you feel other bands are missing by keeping themselves to themselves instead of interacting with their supporters?

Matt: I feel it is absolutely imperative. I don't care how big we get, I will always have time for my fans. I am flattered and often overwhelmed by the support we receive and the impact these albums have had on our fans. If I can't spend a couple hours replying to messages and emails, I am not worthy of having said support. It will kill a band if they don't nurture their fan base. In a time where oversaturation is a factor and the competition is unbelievable, you best make sure your fans are truly invested in every moment.

Last year the band released 'Molly's Smile', a charity single, and over the last few months you've released a T-Shirt with proceeds going to charity also, there aren't many signed label backed bands that do this, can you talk a little about why doing your bit for charity is important to the band?

Matt: It's again this relaying of support. We are small and we don't make a lot of money. We just about get by and fund things. We care about the community we have created, not just because it's good PR, or it makes us look good but because there is a genuine want to help and further not only ourselves but the amazing people around us. Charity will always play into that.

Perhaps linked to my earlier question about online interaction, your pledge campaigns for "Insight To The Mind Of A Million Faces" and "Excite The Light Part 1" both hit their targets within a matter of a few days, do you feel like other bands are asking for too much in similar campaigns, or do you feel like your campaigns are just offering a better value for money and therefore more attractive to your fans?

Matt: Under 24 hours in both actually (not that I am bragging). Well no... of course, I am bragging. I am very proud of that. Who wouldn't be? And it is fundamentally a result of how engaged we are with our fan base and knowing what they want from a release. Complete transparency in where the money goes, the timescales involved and what we can realistically do. It's a balancing process and can be very tricky to get right. I do think bands just outright have an expectancy that their fans are a financial backbone and will be regardless. I have seen bands berate fans for when things go south financially... what's that gonna solve?

Twisted Illusion is a self-made band, you operate almost as a cottage industry, sourcing and selling merchandise online, distributing it and (one would hope) always covering your costs and then some, obviously a good degree of business acumen is part of the process for you, but at the same time is it never tempting to sign with a label, do you feel that the days of the record label and external management of bands are numbered and Twisted Illusion are (possibly not alone, I haven't really checked) paving the way to a future in which the self-made band manages itself and creates its own opportunities?

Matt: This is where I genuinely don't know. We are currently an independent artist operating at a level where we make a small profit and reinvest every penny to do the next thing. Even this is an immensely hard level to get to for most bands starting out. It seemed a lifetime away for us even 2 years ago but we kept going.

I am certainly not against labels. I would sign a deal if the contract was favourable. I would also be content being fully independent at a much higher level. This is just a question of functionality. TI won't be a failure if it never gets a record deal. We will make records regardless and play regardless. It will be my career regardless. I think it's entirely possible for us to successfully function this way, even at an international touring level. Labels have their uses certainly but it's not the defining of a career in music anymore.

I know the band has recorded a few covers over the years, do you want to name-check any major (but perhaps unexpected) influences on your playing/singing/songwriting for the uninitiated?

Matt: Green Day is probably the most unrecognisable until I actually mention it. 'American Idiot' is the album that birthed me into the world of music. It really was an explosion upon my life. It may not seem so evident as an influence in TI but I fully recognise the influence myself personally.

About your musical education, I understand that with regards to guitar and singing you're self-taught but have you studied music in a more traditional manner? Also, do you work with traditional musical scoring when showing the band what you want them to play in a song or is it more of a show and tell situation, where you will demonstrate the riffs and the band will pick up their parts from there?

Matt: I have studied music up to degree level and I am currently doing a Masters in Music but I can't read notation. I know my chords, my scales and I know my guitar inside and out. I know how my voice works and I have a broad understanding of harmony. In terms of when we put a song together, I will usually have a completed demo or video of me playing the song. Usually, just a guitar, sometimes with vocal tracks. I then do thorough guide tracks and that's what Matt and Mark track and write to. The final vocal arrangement is always the last thing I do and to me the most important thing.

Finally the band line-up has fluctuated for many reasons during your career, it must be difficult finding musicians of the necessary caliber to perform the often challenging arrangements in the Twisted Illusion repertoire (although the current trio seems to be a solid working unit live if I may say so) do you see the band's future as a trio, perhaps with guests enhancing recordings and occasional gigs (like Saxon Davids' performance on the Temple Of Artifice anniversary show) or is it simply a matter of seeking out the right musicians to fill the required positions and flesh out the band line-up when you find them?

Matt: I have found it immensely hard to find someone with the understanding of who we are as a band and our long-term aims that also has the level of musicianship required. These players are either highly monetary orientated and see TI as some sort of stepping stone or cash cow or are really idealistic and see being in a band as a characteristic of their social identity. Saxon is perfect, as a player and as a human being but he is moving to Texas. We are currently talking with a potential keys player who we hope to introduce to the band in 2019. I am always on the lookout for a guitar player but the checklist of criteria is immensely difficult to satisfy, as it goes beyond just playing songs and we can't offer any financial guarantees.

Twisted Illusion is certainly a band to keep at least one eye on, often the band is a hive of activity with frequently updating, well thought out merchandise (understandable as this is Matt's livelihood) and regular gigs there's rarely a dull moment on their Facebook fan page, they also recently released (and sold out of) a book about the tour during which the forthcoming live album was recorded (and if enough people bother Matt about it he may have a second pressing done... don't tell him I said that... ah it's on the website now... oh well).

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