It’s not unusual for musicians to attend university, but more often than not art college is the destination with the luckier ones turning their hobby into gainful employment.
Less normal is finding a popular musician working in education, and for Doctor Matt Brennan, combining the two is some sort of holy grail.
“Some days it’s all admin and Excel spreadsheets, where it feels like you’re earning our money,” he says, “then once in a while you get to do an interview or some music and it doesn’t feel like a job at all!”
Lecturing at Glasgow University is the day job for the former member of Zoey Van Goey, when not working on his first solo release.
“When I tell someone in the pub what I do for a living, a fairly common question is, ‘Musicians don’t make any money any more – is that a problem you can solve?’ Unfortunately not!” he laughs.
“But we hear from the baby boomer generation that ‘people today don’t value music like we did back in the 60s and 70s’… and in the vinyl album’s 1977 heyday people would spend 4.83% of their salary on music.
"Now we pay barely 1% to listen, ad free, to just about all music ever recorded”.
So when Brennan working on his first solo album, it seemed like the ideal way to combine work with play.
“Usually research papers are read only by other academics, so doing things like an animated video and a ridiculous sculpture were ways I could hopefully engage people with ideas.”
Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch produced Zoey Van Goey’s first single, and the pop professor again called upon some local talent to aid him in the making of ‘Build A Thing of Beauty’ – as well as Raymond MacDonald of the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, Malcolm Benzie of eagleowl / Withered Hand contributes fiddle and guitar, while Brennan’s spouse Anna Miles provides vocals and “very astute production advice – I should probably have been paying her!”
Frightened Rabbit’s Andy Monaghan produces the 11 tracks, taking the rather unusual demands in his stride.
As did arranger Pete Harvey – “when he found his strings would be transferred onto the Edison cylinder he got quite excited.”
Ah, yes. The new album will be available as a download – very modern – apart from a physical limited edition of one. An interactive musical sculpture known as SCI★FI★HI★FI will play back the album in the most popular seven formats in history – streaming, MP3 download, CD,cassette tape, vinyl LP, the 78... and the earliest musical medium, the phonograph cylinder.
Its two minute time limit, and decidedly lo-fi sound dictated a string quartet, acoustic guitar and vocal for the opening song.
“I was looking back at old photos of people listening to Edison wax cylinders for the first time, and you can see this absolute palpable excitement in these people’s eyes from listening to this miracle of recorded sound – that’s the idea of where the ‘sculpture’ came.”
That and some inspiration from former labelmates at Chemikal Underground, Found, who mixed pop with arty statements such as a chocolate 7” single.
“That left a big impression on me,” Brennan recalls. “There are more exciting ways to make and release music than most people allow themselves to think about.
“Maybe I’m trying to keep that tradition alive!”
‘Build a Thing of Beauty’ is out now. More at citizenbravo.com.