Matthew Sear – ‘The Road To Damacus’: Interview

❉ We chat with guitarist and composer Matthew Sear about his forthcoming album.

“…Sear has the measure of the music…a fine guitarist and composer with a chameleon like talent…” (Fanfare, 2014).

London born musician Matthew Sear is a guitarist and composer noted for performances and compositions that borrow from a variety of musical traditions.

He gave his London classical guitar debut in 2006, at St Paul’s church, Covent Garden and has since performed at concert venues that include St James’ Piccadilly, St Martin In The Fields, Wembley Stadium’s VIP Lounge and St John’s Smith Square.

In addition to performances in his native country, Matthew has toured extensively, giving solo recitals throughout North America and Europe, his performances and compositions attracting the attention of a variety of media outlets most notably ‘Classical Guitar’ (UK), and ‘Fanfare‘ (USA) magazines – “…Sear has the measure of the music…a fine guitarist and composer with a chameleon like talent…” (Fanfare, 2014).

Matthew’s work as a composer includes music for solo instruments and ensembles. Concerts, featuring Matthew’s pieces, have been performed in many notable English venues including; St Martin-In-The-Fields (‘New Music Series’ for young composers), St John Smith’s Square and St James’ Piccadily, while international performances have taken Matthew’s music to The Edinburgh, Toronto and Adelaide  fringe festivals, as well as additional performances in concert venues across Europe and North America.

With five albums of classical guitar and acoustic fusion music to date, he has recorded with the labels ‘Cinesphere’ and ‘Clockwork Classics’. He’s recently completed work on ‘The Road To Damascus’, and kindly took time out to chat with We Are Cult about the album and his work and musical influences.

Hi Matthew, thanks for joining us to chat about your album, ‘The Road To Damascus’. This is your fifth album, how would you describe your playing and composition style to someone who hasn’t heard your work?

It’s an absolute pleasure to talk to We Are Cult, thank you for having me. If it was a non musician, perhaps not familiar with classical music, I would describe it as ambient music, with mixtures of classical and jazz – my guitar playing style is much the same. Classical is the basis of it, but I have a range of music I love and have kind of moulded together.

What genre of music do you consider your work to be? Who are your major influences?

Well, for a while, I called myself a freestyle guitarist, because I play a range of styles (classical, gypsy jazz and some blues,) and It just felt too limiting, to say I was ‘just’ a classical guitarist, but it was also confusing for people, so in later years, I began describing myself as a classical/jazz guitarist and composer.

What got you interested in playing and composing music in the first place?

Well I am from non-musical parents so it just never occurred to me to play an instrument…for a long while. I did though develop a love of listening to music at a very early age, (collecting vinyl from the age of three). Sometimes, people have naturally asked “Why didn’t you begin learning an instrument much earlier than age thirteen?” My answer is always the same; school was a lot for me to handle. I took a very long time to settle into it (and was fraught with problems), so I was too busy in my own way, simply surviving and by the time I was thirteen, I had settled and was focused.

It was actually one day in 1987, already with an interest in classical music, that my uncle loaned me a cassette of the guitarist Yepes, playing the lute suites of J.S. Bach. Meanwhiie, the same week, a fellow heavy metal fan and friend of the family loaned me an album called the Ozzy Osbourne/Randy Rhoads Tribute. Both these blew my mind…utterly life changing! I knew I wanted to play the guitar; both electric and classical. So I went straight out and bought a cheap nylon strung guitar, followed shortly after by a Sunn Stratocaster copy and a little practice amp. So; for a year, I taught myself, (practising up to eight hours a day), eventually making the decision to take piano and guitar lessons, (whilst also teaching myself composition) a year or so later. It was a wonderful feeling because finally, I had found something I was good at. Literally, a new world opened up to me.

Has your music evolved since you first began playing?

It definitely has and continues to do so, …every day! I am a passionate student of music and as long as I am alive, I will strive to learn new licks, new pieces and other styles. I think I love the feeling of being a beginner. The feeling of being new to something and putting yourself out there, opening yourself up and saying ‘I know nothing, teach me’ – makes me feel alive.

Can you tell us a little about how this album came to be? What was the process like?

Okay. Well I released an album a few years back that celebrated the English composers Benjamin Britten and John Dowland, which also included my homage composition, ‘The America Suite – Portraits Of North America’. A few years later, The Road To Damascus came along and by then, I had expanded The America piece by an extra theee movements. So this new album brings together my two biggest classical guitar creations on one CD.

The album consists of two works, the first being ‘The America Suite – Portraits Of North America’, a six movement piece. It uses film music, blues, jazz and Spanish influences and the piece has already received praise for its “…fusing of blues, jazz and classical styles…” (Fanfare magazine) and its combining of “…Both the bustling New York Metropolis and hints of Southern Bluegrass.” (BroadwayBaby.com). Can you tell us a bit more about some of those influences?

Well, movements like the opening ‘Fanfare’, have a very deliberate nod to that blockbuster type of film music associated with American cinema. I also tried to create harmonies that borrowed from people like Copland as well as some of the jazz greats. In other movements, like Bluegrass and Chaos, I tried to compose in a style that sounded improvisational. This was probably the hardest thing with the entire piece.

The other piece is a three movement work called ‘The Road To Damascus’. This album is dedicated to your mother. Is there a personal significance behind this piece?

She didn’t influence me musically, but her attitude to life and determination did have an affect on how I viewed music, certainly. She was extremely kind and loving, but also a hard as nails type of person. She despised self-pity, but at the same time was so compassionate. As I grow older, I recognise lots of her nature in me and realise how well trained I have been in sticking to my guns!

One fond memory is of when we watched The World’s Fastest Indian together. There is a fantastic moment from Hopkins, when he argues that it is his life to lose and no one else’s. My mum looked very moved. I said to her, you really believe that too don’t you? She nodded very earnestly and said yes. I will never forget that.

When she became ill with cancer, I was 37. She was so proud that I had married and settled down by then. I had given both her and my dad so many grey hairs in my late teens/early 20s, but she in particular never gave up on me. So I always felt that I owed her my loyalty and that should the boot be on the other foot, I would be there as her own rock.

Mum lasted only eighteen months; but boy, did she live in that time. She went to France, to the English coast and just refused to wallow.

The day she died, I had been with her all morning. I played guitar to her and put headphones on her, so she could enjoy Rubinstein’s wonderful recordings of Chopin.

Emotions were running high, but there was something else happening. Someone or something was there with us. I could feel a very definite presence. Mum passed away shortly after. There are no words that can adequately describe it except other worldly. In the days that followed the electrics kept playing up. Every time I would break down in tears the entire house’s electrics would cut. Other things happened too. My dad, a vey skeptical and logical man, reported that mum’s carriage clock had stopped the time she died…

It is these events that I decided to put into a piece of music. That sense of mystery. A feeling that there is more to life than whag we see. Many different Near Death Experiences research describe St. Paul’s vision (on the road to Damascus), as an early recorded account of a NDE. So I decided to use his conversion and story as a type of template for a collection of pieces that followed the turmoil and inner struggle of St. Paul, but resolving in a sense of discovering who you really are and what life is.

You’ve performed with a variety of notable musicians including Jazz guitarists Howard Alden, John Etheridge and Tim Robinson – and the freestyle classical guitarist, Martin Vishnick.  If there was one person you haven’t worked with yet who would like to?

That’s very difficult as some have passed on and some have even retired from public life (I’m thinking the amazing Jimmy Rosenberg here), but I think one day, I would perhaps like to do some classical guitar duos with my former teacher Carlos Bonell. But other than Carlos, I can’t think of anyone. Howard Alden especially was a bucket list type gig, so I am satisfied in this area.

If I was to turn on your iPod right now, what five artists/songs would I see on your recently played list?

I’ve just checked and screen shot! There is AC/DC – Back in Black, The Best Of Art Tatum, two piano albums of Aldred Brenda playing Beethoven sonatas and Barclay James Harvest.

What album would you take on a desert island?

That’s an easy one! Glenn Gould’s 1981 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

Who are your favourite fictional heroes or heroines?

I am 42, but I haven’t changed here since a little boy. It’s always been about James Bond, Batman and Hulk. I must also give an honourable nod to an anti hero; Dr Hannibal Lecter.

What’s your idea of happiness?

Being at home with my wife Suzie and King Charles Spaniel, Ellie; a close second, being alone.

What’s your idea of misery?

Big social dos with loud music I don’t like and a close second, meetings.

Recently, you’ve been perfoming regularly as a member of ‘The Esta Rae Duo’. Where have you performed? What are your favourite and least favourite venues?

I think my favourite gig has been The Celebration Of Django gig in London. Esta and I bounced off each other in a special way that evening and when Tim joined us, it was like we had always been a trio. Worst gig, was a jazz afternoon gig. The beautiful Daisy, a lovely Cavalier we were minding had a heart attack. It was very upsetting for everyone. The venue was superb though. We are returning there on the 17th of December. It’s at 16:00 and the venue is The Iron Horse Sidcup.

You’re also a proud member of ‘Music in Hospitals’ – a charity that provides live music for all ages, in a hospital environment. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

When my mum was in hospital, I would bring my guitar in every day and play to her. I saw the healing power of live music in a hospital environment and when she died, I searched online to see if there were any charities that catered for this type of thing. I found ‘Music In Hospitals’ and wrote a handwritten letter to a lady called Claire Owen, explaining what I had done with my mum and that I wanted to join.

It all started from there. I auditioned and have done perhaps 60/70 concerts with them. I am not afraid to face death or illness and there is something so wonderful about saying up yours to the feeling of fear and worry, by going out there and connecting.

How can fans-to-be gain access to your music? Do you have a website with sample songs or a demo CD? 

Yes, indeed. Most of my albums are on Spotify and Apple Music and I update my website www.matthewsearguitarist.co.uk regularly too.

I also broadcast a lot of my recitals on the facebook live feature. So please feel free to drop in and say hi.

My facebook page is

https://m.facebook.com/searcomposer/


❉ ‘The Road To Damascus’ by Matthew Sear (Guitar) will be available from www.matthewsearguitarist.co.uk  and other online retailers.

1 Comment

  1. Really great to be able to read this interview and learn about some major influences in your life. It was a pleasure to hear your music too.

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