At Caribana Festival, the first open air of the Summer, I had the pleasure to have a nice chat with Mat Bastard, stage name and solo project of former Skip The Use’s leader Mathieu-Emmanuel Monnaert. Among other things, he told me about the making of his solo album LOOV, his life in the USA and his belief that rock ‘n’ roll is very much alive.
Thank you to Mat Bastard and the Caribana team for making this interview possible.
The Liberation: Skip The Use, the band you were part of for 8 years, had a huge success. How come did you decide to leave the band and start a solo career?
- Mat Bastard: It was not exactly like this, we decided together. Skip The Use was mostly a duet with Yan Stefani, the guitar player and I. We worked for eight years together and it was so good, I had lots of fun playing music with him but we also needed to do stuff by ourselves. Because sometimes it’s good to take a break and do some stuff on your own. It was really a great partnership during eight years. I had the feeling to do something different, maybe more rock ‘n’ roll, punk rock, which was my previous music, I felt a sort of need to come back to that. But it’s not that I have an issue with Yan, it was just a decision to take a few years break to do our own stuff.
The Liberation: Ok. You needed a change.
- Mat Bastard: Yeah.
The Liberation: So your first solo album LOOV came out in June 2017, so one year ago, it is a really energetic and explosive album with lots of different influences. How did you make this album?
- Mat Bastard: I started writing the songs during the last Skip The Use tour, for me it was not incompatible to do both, so I started to work on my own project. You know, I’m a producer too and I do music for other people. I do some songs, I give some songs to other artists and I keep some songs that I like for myself in the computer and then 2, 3, 5, 6, 8. And then one day I say “Ok I’ve got like 15 songs and maybe I should do something with this”. Maybe the time between the beginning and the end of the album lasted three years. And my wife told me it would be a good idea to release that and do another tour. And I said “ok, I’ll go for it”. My break from Skip The Use was mostly focused in producing some bands. I was not really into touring again and then I said “mmmh ok I will try it” and it was really good, the first part of the tour was a little bit hard because lots of people didn’t know that I was also a composer, for many I’m just a singer. “What will he do? what can he do alone?”. And then the second half of the tour was really pretty good and now it’s really cool.
The Liberation: Great! So since you’re also a composer and a producer how do you decide which music is for your own solo project and which for other artists?
- Mat Bastard: I don’t really know, it’s like a feeling I really love this song I want to do it by myself, or I wanna sing this song, something like that. And I wanna do this song with my friends.
The Liberation: What inspired your first solo album LOOV?
- Mat Bastard: I’ve not changed the way I do music, it’s like for me music and doing an album is like taking a picture of the world. I’ve done just exactly like this as I’ve done with all the music I’ve done in my life. Even in the Skip The Use album or my solo album, it’s always the same, like I watch TV, I read books or I talk to people and sometimes I say “oh that subject could be interesting to do a song with or about”. And I do it, sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s not, and when it’s good I try to keep it. It’s just really easy!
The Liberation: It’s really a good method! So you’ve been living in the USA for quite a while now. Why did you chose to move away from Europe? How did this influence your music?
- Mat Bastard: I decided to move to Los Angeles because I was in touch with many producers, to produce with them and also most of them were really big producers, I was willing to work with them and learn some stuff. And as I told you this break for me was really a break focusing in producing so I said “Ok I’ll go there and work with those guys and it’ll be really interesting”, and yeah I’ve learned lots of things with them and obviously everything that I’ve learned with those guys is now in my music, it’s an influence on the way I do music cause I met so many wonderful people so yeah I guess it’s different, I’m not the same musician as before I went to the USA.
The Liberation: You also collaborated with hip-hop producers, isn’t it weird for a punk rocker?
- Mat Bastard: Not really, because when I’m a producer I’m not a punk-rocker or a rocker, I’m just producing music.
The Liberation: All sorts of music and styles.
- Mat Bastard: I live in L.A., I live in California, so hip hop music is really huge there like here in Europe. Actually I think it’d be interesting to do hip hop music with a rock n roll vision. A lot of rapper want to come back to those feelings with their hip hop, a lot of rappers use a band on tour. They like having much beat. Yeah so it’s interesting for them to work with rockers, because it’s another feeling about the hip hop. And yeah I had really good relationships, sessions and meetings with those guys. It was really interesting.
The Liberation: And it’s cool because you can really hear a bit of the hip hop influence in your album, in some of the songs at least.
- Mat Bastard: Yes, definitely.
The Liberation: So how does your songwriting process work? Do you write the lyrics or the melody first?
- Mat Bastard: It depends but most of the time I write the lyrics first. I love the way of doing music on lyrics. I think it’s a good way to be compatible with the music and the lyrics because I come from punk-rock and hardcore music where the lyrics are really important. Most punk-rockers are really bad musicians but they are really good writers. You know, it’s always the same, for me lyrics are really important.
The Liberation: Ok. And what do you think of the music made nowadays? Some artists don’t give any importance to the lyrics.
- Mat Bastard: I guess entertainment music is a major vision of the people now in our industry. I think that the new generation is moved by social networks, a lot of virtual stuff and rock ‘n’ roll really needs reality. So it‘s a really bad time for rock ‘n’ roll right now, people prefer easy-listening music like “I don‘t give a shit about what’s going on, I just wanna have fun. And yeah I think the role of rock ‘n’ roll artists is to be on the side of the yellow line, it’s just that it’s not music or an outfit it’s just being. For me Bob Marley is rock ‘n’ roll because he sings “I Shot The Sheriff” in USA, it’s really rock ‘n’ roll but he’s doing reggae. It’s not a description of music it’s a description of spirit. And today I think the new generation needs that, they need someone to say “guys, stop being in the mood, stop following. Do you think you’re free because you have a strong social network but you’re exactly as they want you to be. And what they want you to be is not what you really want”. And I think rock music is just a way during one hour and a half to be yourself. We don’t give a fuck if you’re pretty, skinny or sexy enough, if you have money, a good religion. We don’t give a fuck about your political interest but just who are you, what you’re interested in and just be what you are.
The Liberation: Exactly.
- Mat Bastard: That’s rock ’n’ roll. I think if you’ve got that vision of the market today, rock ‘n’ roll has a big place today. It’s just harder to be there, but it’s cool.
The Liberation: So the rock n roll scene in the US is bigger than here in Europe?
- Mat Bastard: Yeah, because there are more crossovers between rock ‘n’ roll, hip-hop, electronic music so on the radio you can here Kendrick Lamar and after Muse and then Rancid and then you come back to Rihanna, it’s music. In Europe it’s more “I listen to hip hop. I listen to rock. I listen to pop”. In the US is more music.
The Liberation: Yes, that’s interesting. You’re a producer, a composer and you even signed the original soundtrack for an animation movie, Zombillénium. How can you jungle between these different activities?
- Mat Bastard: I guess I live in L.A. and everybody is doing that there, you are a producer then you’re an actor in a movie, then you’re a singer, then you’re a photographer. My wife’s got a blog and sometimes I photograph for her. You have to do a lot of things but it’s so interesting because you learn so much stuff by doing something really different. What we are looking for in the accident, I don’t feel safe in security, I’m just here to make some music then I take pictures for my wife’s blog, “what’s going on?”, I’m not a photographer but I can take a good picture because I’ve got the eye of an artist, of a singer, maybe I can see some things that a photographer can’t see, and that’s why it’s interesting. I mean in L.A. everybody is doing things like these. You have no choice I guess.
The Liberation: You have to jungle between many activities. You’re live shows are amazing, you have a huge energy on stage. I saw you playing at Paléo with Skip The Use and also last year as your solo project Mat Bastard, and both times it was really intense in a good way. How do you do that? How can you play at a high level for an hour and a half?
- Mat Bastard: As I’ve told you rock ‘n’ roll has a mission, which is to be yourself. Everything in life today, the marketing is really strong, stronger then me. The more energetic I am, the more people I can catch, because the trademarks of life are so heavy and people have got lots of stuff around themselves that they are like in jail. And I have to say “No, you gotta be yourself. Come on be yourself we don’t give a shit about that! You look pretty, it’s raining, you don’t give a shit you’re gonna be dirty. Whatever. Ok, I’ll be dirty too, let’s do something together.” And say to people: “Oh my God”. During an hour and a half you’re like 5000 people and you have done something all together. Once you have done that, you don’t give a shit about your religion, about your sexuality, whether you’re a boy or a girl, if you’ve got lots of money or none. You did something together. And to manage to do something like this you need to be energetic, you need to show people that they can do something together, because they don’t think they can. They only search community, I want to be with somebody who feels like me because I feel I’m in security. I want to have a community, that’s why social network are strong today. But here rock ‘n’ roll says fuck it all, the best social network is a festival. That’s the best!
The Liberation: True story! You’re completely right! Rock ‘n’ roll is not dead!
- Mat Bastard: No!
The Liberation: Long live rock ‘n’ roll!