Lowtide Chats: Mat Monro of Serene Serein
Introducing Elsewhere - the latest album from one of Lowtide's resident artists Serene Serein. We spoke with the man behind the music, Mat Monro in retrospect of his release at the studio. Read below to discover his inspiration to write and how his visual arts background created a multi-dimensional live experience.
Introduce us to Serene Serein...
I'm Mat Monro, a Wellington based Lighting VFX Artist working at Weta Digital, and I perform and write music under the name Serene Serein. It's been a project that I've been working on for the past three or four years.
I started off making tracks for fun and uploading them to Soundcloud, but then I wanted to take it a bit more seriously and try my hand at creating an entire album. So that's where the album Elsewhere originated from and I began to tell a story through the music.
How did you find inspiration for the album Elsewhere?
A lot of inspiration has been drawn from travelling, it's one of the main motifs. I drew sonic inspiration from a lot of different sources, music that inspires me, my favourite films, the experiences from other countries. In terms of the main sonic influence, I was mostly trying to evoke the sound of downtempo artists such as Bonobo and Shlohmo.
In the process of making, how did the album come into fruition?
Getting my head around using a DAW (Bitwig) and producing tracks took around two years or so to start with. Then the album has been an effort that took a good part of the past two years, tinkering away on evenings after work and weekends. The album itself took about a year to write and record the tracks, and another year to refine them, make it all sound like a cohesive whole, mix them and then the final step was to send them off to get mastered. Count mastered them in San Francisco, he's a grammy nominated audio engineer that mixed and mastered the last Tycho album, and his final input really added a professional polish.
Describe how the tracks evolved in the process of making the album?
It was an ongoing evolving process where I'd lay down the skeleton or template for what a track would be, and then through the process of going back and re-recording stuff it would evolve into something more than it started off with. The initial idea would be a sound, or a little melody, and then as I would add more things to it, it would change completely and take on a life of its own. Some of the tracks went through maybe five or six iterations before the final product.
How have you developed your authentic sound ?
From the get go I wanted to create music that I personally wanted to hear and listen to without being tied down by genre, if that makes sense. As I created more and more tracks, that sound or sonic atmosphere came about organically, and began to take on a much more concrete and tangible form. I love playing with layers and building up on one initial sketch or idea. That was also one of the big motivators to create Elsewhere, to try and make one body of work as if it sounded like it was one whole thing.
Being a visual artist, how do you feel that affects your creative process?
Yeah definitely ! I feel like they go hand in hand. Because I'm trained as a visual artist, I tend to think about music in very much the same way. Things like colour theory and composition, all the things that make up a visual image, have translated really well into creating space and contrast within the music. I think that all the best music transports your inner mind somewhere else, and so with every track I want to take you on a journey, at least that's the idea.
So its like working with a sonic palette?
Exactly! Whether it's paint or light, I'm using sound in a similar way.
Can we expect that to tie into the visuals curated to each track?
Yeah! So I created the music video for Korasu, and made the posters and album artwork myself. So I feel like it's a whole audio and visual package - it all feeds into one experience. I'm hugely inspired by Scott Hansen who maintains complete creative control of the entire Tycho output. Curating the visuals to each track is one of the lofty long term ambitions and goals. At this stage the live visuals are being run using a program called Synesthesia, which is a fantastic audio-reactive visualiser that uses GLSL shaders, but in the future I want to move towards creating it all myself.
Describe the live set up for your performance ?
So the current live set up is an APC40MkII along with Ableton live which is used as the clip launcher, then I play the guitar with an array of pedals and use a KORG Minilogue for all the synth patches. A long time friend of mine, Sam Money, helps play in the live setup as well, switching between bass and guitar where needed. We've been playing music together for years now, and actually have a side-project called Chateau. We've just finished our first album and it's in the process of being mixed currently, so keep your eyes and ears peeled for that release.
Do you have plans to ever include a full band set up?
Yeah I would love to add a drummer and keyboardist, just so the actual songs when performed live can be a bit more live instead of being constrained to this is what was written so we have to play it like that because we don't have a live drummer.
What are the plans for Serene Serein in the future?
I've already started very preliminary work on a second album, I've got a few tracks and ideas that I'm slowly working on. The idea is to have a longer, more full-length album. On top of that I want to continue building on the live show and doing many more gigs. There's some exciting developments in the works for that!