It’s guaranteed that when spending time with Ard Matthews you will always end up laughing, or many LOLs, as the social network kids like to write.
On a cold winter’s day in Cape Town this is no exception. He invited me to a private listening session in his hotel room on the waterfront. It was nifty. All he had to do was plug his iPhone into some attachment on the wall and hey, presto! the music was playing on some pretty damn fine surround sound speakers. The wonders of technology.
Matthews was on top form, in fact, better than usual. His sense of humour, quick wit and mischievous ways were firing on all cylinders.
After a two-year journey which included travelling to parts of the world for inspiration, he has finally released his debut album. First Offerings is his first release since his last effort with the SA super group, Just Jinjer.
But first thing’s first, we needed to be fed and quenched. Duck and vodka limes on ice were decided on. He picks up the phone and dials the number: “Hmm, the person whom they decided to put behind the bar has gone for a walk.
“Yes, hi Ron. Is the barman at work today?”
After babbling and confusing them, the order is placed and it’s time to listen to the music.
First Offerings is certainly an unexpected, er, offering from Matthews. While it is left-of-centre of the adult contemporary sound of Just Jinjer, it still has that commercial appeal. This is because Matthews is an excellent songwriter who understands the ear of the masses, but who also has lyrics which are universal and therefore timeless.
“Nothing I do is deliberate,” he explains. “I can have songs in my head for ages before recording them. I have limits as to what people wouldn’t like in terms of creating music, but I write for myself.”
The album was recorded entirely by Matthews who also played all the instruments. As I listen to the album the influence of his charming one-man show which he performs via his iPad is evident. The music is a lot more electronic and relies on many more effects. But he is also exploring his voice.
It’s not just that all-familiar gravelled voice South African rock fans adore.
The opening track, System Used, has him singing unusually high with the lyrics: I want to rise above conditioning, thrive in a world where walls are four dimensional, built by good souls.
Deep, indeed. During the course of the crazy afternoon with the oh-so-charming Matthews and his music, I discover the man does not really like music.
“I have only bought four CDs in my life. The first was Tracy Chapman and the others were probably mistakes, but I have received a lot free.
“This next track is called Got Time. This is a Beatles track.”
Definitely The Beatles, all quirky and happy. It has to be a single, I say.
He nods: “Wait for the chorus, it’s catchy.”
The chorus kicks in and its vintage Ard Matthews.
“I was having such fun doing this track and this album because I didn’t have to answer to anyone. This is my best work in three years. It’s full of hits. Oh, wait, check out the ugly guitar solo.”
He plays air guitar and throws his head back with that infectious cackle.
Matthews has chosen a three-piece vehicle called the Ard Matthews Affair to play the music live. It comprises himself on bass, John Ellis on guitar and Gangs of Ballet drummer, Josh Klynsmith, on drums. All three are proudly Durban-based with Matthews’ love of the ocean manifesting in daily surfing and kite surfing, come rain or shine. But the project, as the name loudly says, is definitely Matthews’ baby.
“I can’t invest my time and energy into a band anymore. I can’t. I’m done. This album was me being so free and not answering to anyone. I was so enamoured with fellow Just Jinjer band members back in the day, Brent and Denholm, that I thought their opinion was the be all and end all. I didn’t think I was good enough. I wonder what I would have done if left to my own devices…”
He features Tumi Molekane (of the Volume) on a track called Bolder.
“We were backstage at some ‘hurry up and wait’ thang and I asked him to be on a song. It took me a month to send it to him. I think he was p**sed off I took so long. It was written on my bass guitar.”
He shows me a music video he shot of himself in India on a motorbike.
“I shot myself on the busiest market with a hand-held camera.”
He sings with such honesty, and he looks at the camera with such honesty. He knows his presence.
That’s Love is the closest he gets to Just Jinjer.
“Wait, listen. I rip off a cheesy Phil Collins-style drum beat. Talk about me having fun. I would never have been allowed to do this in Just Jinjer.
“This next song is called One Day My Lover and is the first sexy song I have written. It’s an INXS rip off.”
You can’t say that.
“Yes I can, because it’s true. I had two big wave surfers, Ryan Butcher and Greg Bertish, as well as rugby player Alistair Hargreaves on the chorus. The bass is done by Ellis.”
Finally, he plays me what he calls his Picasso.
“Its called Providence. Now check how free I am on this song. It’s a disco song. It has seven changes on the song. It’s about a conscious change that is happening in the world.”
The track begins with winsome piano chords. He looks at me as the pace picks up. I laugh and he smiles:
“I wasn’t allowed to do this before. I was never allowed. Radio likes this song and wants me to send them a three-minute, 30-second version, but f*** that. Gosh, are we raising a bunch of retards on radio? I used to write three minute, 30-second songs because they were easier.”
With the listening session over, I leave the man heading to meet up with some Capetonian mates, looking happier and freer than I have ever seen him. He is happy in his creative skin and, well, he has always been happy in his real skin.
And if you’re with a happy Matthews there is no more fun or funnier place to be.
• First Offering is in stores or download it in any format at www.ardmatthews.com/store