British guitarist Matt Stevens’ ‘Ghost’ stories

by Michael Popke

With so much legally “free” music available on the Internet these days, it’s easy to go crazy trying to find and listen to everything that might — just might — appeal to you.

Enter British DIY guitarist Matt Stevens, who is one of those musicians who attended the Radiohead School of Business and allows listeners to pay whatever they want to download his incredibly melodic, occasionally proggy and wholly enjoyable music. His signature sound is made with a single acoustic guitar and a sampler to create multilayered tracks – all performed live.

I’m humbled to admit that this guy passed me by with his two instrumental solo albums, 2008’s Echo and last year’s Ghost. By now, he’s an Internet phenom – a “poster child for the digital revolution,” as his website declares – who has taken advantage of social networks and video to cultivate an international audience. His Twitter account (@mattstevensloop) boasts more than 33,000 tweets and almost 6,000 followers, while more than 2,300 people “like” him on Facebook. He even gives online concerts and details the origins of his songs on his website.

After putting in time with bands, Stevens struck out on his own, wielding an expressive sense of songwriting. The result is music that sounds far grander than one man and his guitar. On Echo, Stevens made his guitar sound like keyboards, indulged in some Sunday-morning jazz, penned a stompin’ acoustic rocker and grooved to a flavorful Latin vibe — all in the first four songs. The album became a word-of-mouth success.

The more-complex Ghost – which Stevens says was downloaded more than 1,500 times and recouped all its costs in less than two months – reflects a maturation of  the man’s playing, incorporating elements of King Crimson on “Big Sky” and “Burnt Out Car,” and indulging in some Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons Project mellowness on “Lakeman.” There also are remnants of Radiohead, Nick Drake and Electric Light Orchestra. Stevens’ prog tendencies really come the forefront on his side project, The Fierce & The Dead, which borrows a branch from Porcupine Tree.

This stuff is all instrumental, and all compelling as hell. You won’t even miss the lyrics.

Stevens quietly reached out to Goldmine, inviting us to give his music a listen and write about it, if we’d like. No pressure, no hype. Just a guy and his guitar, hoping to keep spreading the message of unbelievably good music. Well played, sir.

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