Matt Kivel is no stranger to the music scene. A former member of the indie-pop band Princeton, Kivel has also released several unique solo albums. His most recent, Fires on the Plain, came out Oct. 7 and stays true to the folk-rock sound of his previous records. The album bounces around within that genre and has moments that are perfect for whatever mood you’re in.
From the first track, a wordless, frantic instrumental titled “Opening,” to the album cover, reminiscent of American folk art, the record gives off a sense that a story is about to be told. Some songs, like the subdued standout “The Water” or the melancholy “Other Shore,” offer quiet flashes of introspection, begging the listener to lie down and reflect upon them.
Other tracks, perhaps the best ones on the album, make you want to sit up and just enjoy the music. Some of these head nod-inducing songs include “Velveteen,” “Whirlpool,” and “Permanence,” featuring Robin Pecknold of the veteran indie-rock band Fleet Foxes.
The highs and lows of Fires on the Plain let listeners have it their way, by having a song for however you’re feeling, whether contemplative, hopeful, solemn or relaxed. If any album of Kivel’s is going to propel him to the spotlight, it would be this one, for its sheer accessibility.
The Writer’s Bloc had the chance to talk with Kivel about the album, his inspiration for it and staying true to yourself as a musician.
Setota: First off, congrats on the record. Can you describe the inspiration behind it, as you were writing or recording it?
Matt: I think there were a lot of things going on at the time. I was just writing songs as I normally do, and normally I would’ve cut a lot of these songs over time because they don’t always fit together. But this time as I just kept writing tunes, after a while I was like I think I wanna keep all of these songs, and I think they all fit together really nicely, even though it’s a bit of a longer record.
S: The subject material, do you draw from your own personal experiences or do you take more of a story-writing approach?
Matt: I think it can be both. I don’t think anything on these records are autobiographical, necessarily, but some of them are drawn from my life or depict certain things that have happened. But there’s always a stylized way that it’s presented.
I think there were a few things that happened in my life around that time that definitely impacted some of the content [of the new record. I got married a little more than a year ago …
Matt: Thanks, and I think that had an impact, for sure. My wife’s a big part of my making of music, that whole process, now. She sings on the record and she was pretty involved, so I would say that she had a big impact on it. It’s just like anybody’s life, you know, there are lots of things that happen and some of them feel appropriate to talk about in music and some of them don’t.
S: Who would you say are your biggest musical influences?
Matt: There are people who I’m a huge fan of, but I don’t think necessarily influence what I’m doing. I think in terms of people whose styles directly influence what I do, Brian Eno was always somebody that impacted the way that I make these solo records. There’s a lot of stillness and ambience in these records, and that’s directly attributable to him. There’s Nick Drake and Fairport Convention, all of these folk musicians who I love. Take those bands and people and you get pretty close to where I’m at.
S: Do you have any advice for new or struggling artists out there?
Matt: If you make music, or art, or anything, [and] you’re trying to get the world to listen to it and it’s not going so well, there’s not a lot to console you. What’s kept me doing this for so long is kind of – I just really am committed to it. I would just say be committed to making these things in whatever way that satisfies you and take as much control of the process as you can. Don’t rely on other people to tell you it’s okay to do something. Do the things you wanna do and be brave with them. And if you do that, you usually end up feeling good about something, even if it doesn’t get popular, even if it doesn’t get the views that you wanted.
S: So be your own biggest fan, essentially?
Matt: Mainly it’s this idea of being brave. If somebody who you’re working with is uncomfortable by the direction you wanna go in, then keep going in that direction. I just think those things pay off, because you get more of yourself in the finished product, and then you feel really proud and attached to it. I guess that’s the best advice–try to stay pure.
“Fires on the Plain” is available now on Spotify and Apple Music.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Matt Kivel’s Facebook page.
Setota Hailemariam is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.