His distinctive voice, reminiscent of artists like Jeff Buckley and Sixto ‘Sugarman’ Rodriguez, creaks and rasps with wisdom and experience. His patient, personal blend of soul and folk effortlessly transcends eras and genres.
Underlying his work is a poignancy and sincerity that places him – though he would be too modest to say so himself – directly in the lineage of some of his biggest inspirations. “Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, Nina Simone and more recently artists such as Amy Winehouse and Ben Howard… they all feel like honest artists to me,” River says, “which is one of the reasons why I love them. My own music doesn’t feel right if I know I'm not being honest with myself about something.”
With his newest EP, 'Sunshine', available now River sits down for a chin-wag over a tea and coffee.
Was there a specific inspiration for you when writing 'Sunshine'?
[River] It was written after stepping out of the tube station at Seven Sisters in London (‘the sun appeared with seven sisters’) on the first sunny and hot day of the year last year. I jumped in a taxi (‘I fell into a silver carriage’) to my producers studio. The radio in the taxi was playing some rock & roll (‘with those voices ringing in my ears’) and everything felt pretty fucking good! Nothing much else to say… it’s about the sun.
Specifically though, the weight of the unimportant stuff we carry 'round with us being lifted by that feeling of the sun appearing after so long. Re-baptised by sunlight! (‘Today I turned from heathen to believer!!’) And everything’s beautiful again… everything feels lighter and the simplest. Most important things and feelings are there smiling right in front of you.
Aside from the release of the new single, what’s next for River Matthews?
There's the four-track EP with 'Sunshine', a live session with Jo Whiley on BBC2, a bunch of shows including a headline show, a UK tour with Coasts and a couple of festivals that will be announced soon. The album is also coming out later this year :) I want to keep writing and generally to keep growing my hair long.
Was it a difficult process writing 'Sunshine' or did it come to you naturally?
I wrote it over a couple of days where I wasn't thinking about much else... the sun was strong and it all kinda flowed out.
What bands, singers inspire you the most?
I love heartfelt voices with soul, integrity and guts over anything really. Melodies inspire me too, but honest and interesting lyrics kill me every time. From Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, The Stones, Beatles, Bob Marley... my heart is always resting within the late '60's, early '70s, but I'm listening to a lot of '90s bands right now. The Verve's 'Urban Hymns' is on repeat, along with Iggy Pop's 'Lust For Life' album I'm also pretty interested in what Lorde is doing with her lyrics.
Do ever get writer's block? If so, what helps you get creative?
Yes! That's a good question. It's something which is in my head a lot. I'm finding the more my mind wraps itself around an idea before it's begun makes writing really tough. What I mean is if I'm saying to myself 'ok, I've gotta write a song about this or that, or yeah let's write about this experience...' then I'm in the wrong place I think.
The stuff which feels the best tend to be the ideas which pop out when I just sit behind a piano or something and get into a feeling and don't think about it. Going for a run, changing my surroundings or having a cold bath help a lot too! Generally though I seem to write better stuff when I'm feeling good about life.
If you could tour with any musician, who would it be?
So many man. Top of my head it would be someone like Eddie Vedder or Feist.
Has music always been what you wanted to pursue?
When I was really young I remember telling my mum I was gonna be a designer with a big desk and lots of pens all lined up. But music's been a massive part of my youth. I think it was late teens when unconsciously the thought started to grow and it hasn't really stopped since then.
We love your version of 'Wish You Were Here' by Pink Floyd. If you had to pick an Australian song to cover what would it be?
Probably a Crowded House song. Or Natalie Imbruglia's 'Torn'.
Are there any particular Australian artists you'd like to collaborate or tour with?
Would love to write with Nick Cave. He's pretty special.
Do you have any plans on playing a few Australian shows in the future?
No plans at the moment, but I'd bloody love to visit Australia. I have family in Sydney who I've not had a chance to visit yet, so that would be amazing.
The 'Sunshine' EP is available now.