INTERVIEW: Holly Rees & Matt Dunbar | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Long lasting and creative artistic partnerships often start in the strangest of ways. John met Yoko half way up a ladder whilst holding a magnifying glass, Sonny met Cher randomly in a coffee shop, and Mick met Keith when they passed each other at Dartford train station holding a collection of records. Details are scarce on how Sting and Shaggy met, but it’s highly likely that the meeting was similarly surreal.

When we come to think of the impact these partnerships had on the music world, and the ultimate depth of their relationships, it’s strange to think how close these random, one in a million moments came to never happening. Local ones-to-watch Holly Rees and Matt Dunbar, both tipped as rising artists independently, also had an interesting way of meeting. “I had my last EP up on Bandcamp and I saw that Matt had ordered a copy,” says Holly, “so I added a note saying that I hoped he liked it and that we should probably write a song together. The next thing I knew Matt got in touch and we did exactly that.”

“It was a little strange I must admit,” laughs Matt, “but I liked Holly’s work and I was incredibly honoured that she’d ask me to do something with her.”

I really like the idea of creative people helping each other and swapping skills

The ‘let’s write a single’ suggestion spiralled into an intertwining artistic collaboration spanning various art forms. “We decided early on that we worked well together and that our early songwriting work would go onto Matt’s EP rather than mine.” Holly explains. “This was what eventually became his release Your Place. I had a lot of material already written and was keen to record this. As it happened I needed a producer for this material and Matt seemed the perfect choice. My first EP wasn’t really produced, it was some live recordings in a studio setting, and so with this EP I wanted to work with a producer who could support the song structures and help me to create the sounds I heard in my head.”

Holly – who’s also an artist – was unable to pay Matt in cash, but they came up with a unique alternative. “Between us we came up with a cool plan for a skills swap, I would paint the front cover of his new EP – and he would produce mine.”

“I certainly got the best deal,” laughs Matt. “I really like the idea of creative people helping each other and swapping skills, and particularly so on our work where we’d started with the idea of writing one track and now we were also producing each other, adding vocals to each other’s tracks and designing cover art.” 

Shared vocals are certainly key on Matt’s lead single Your Place, a track which sees the partnership wrap harmonies around a Ryan Adams-style tale of redemption. By contrast, although familiar in its deeply intimate feel, Holly’s Slow Down EP owes its success to how the mid-tempo, acoustic style blends with stripped-back guitar parts and emotive vocal lines.

With the resulting EPs written, produced and ready to be released, it seemed only right that the next step would be a joint tour, which sees the pair traverse the region and beyond throughout August. “The first night of the tour [at Newcastle’s Head of Steam on Saturday 11th] will be fun,” says Holly, “both mine and Matt’s EP is released that day, and there’ll also be a video out for one of my tracks. Plus we start the tour and it’ll be great to go out and showcase our work together.”

“It seems like a great end to a journey,” agrees Matt, “to think that we’ve been working on each other’s projects and then we’ll have a joint launch day and a joint tour makes it a great way to end the work we’ve been doing together.”

Although they both talk of an end to the journey they’ve been on creatively together, neither Matt or Holly seem keen to end the collaboration just yet. “There’s so many songs written which didn’t make the cut on this EP and I’d love to get back into the studio as soon as I can.” Says Holly. “If Matt could help me with that, it’d be ideal. He has such a supportive way of producing and I’d love him to do it again.”

“I’m looking forward to the tour and what comes after we’ll wait and see,” agrees Matt. “What I like most in an artist is their passion. Regardless of whether a show has three or 300 people in the crowd, I want an artist to give their full commitment to a show. Holly certainly does that both live and when recording.”

We can all learn something important about the nature of shared creativity from Matt and Holly. “In addition to the work,” Matt states, “the most important thing throughout this collaboration is that I’ve gained a great friend and someone who inspires me.”  

Matt Dunbar and Holly Rees perform at Head of Steam, Newcastle on Saturday 11th, Morpeth’s Coach House on Saturday 18th and Tynemouth Surf Café on Sunday 19th August. Their EPs will be available from Saturday 11th August.

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