On a not-so-cold winter’s day somewhere in cyberspace, I conducted an interview with Matthew Thomas Dillon, the lead vocalist/lyricist/pianist and principal force behind Windmill, a British band with two incredible albums under its belt: “Puddle City Racing Lights” and “Epcot Starfields”. Its groundbreaking sound is simultaneously INTIMATE and EPIC, with Dillon’s provocative vocals and experimental use of instrumentation providing an unforgettable sound. If you check them out on YouTube, I heartily recommend “Asthmatic”, “Tokyo Moon”, “Shuttle”, “Boarding Lounges” and “Plastic Pre-Flight Seats”.
(The following are contemplations ranging from writing a sitcom about addictions to chicken skin, mindsets for complete self-destruction and regret, and lacking the ability to play jazz renditions of “Happy Birthday”…)
Jonathan Greenhause (JG): If you could be known for only 1 of your songs, which would it be?
Matthew Thomas Dillon (MTD): I don’t think I have written it yet. I’m still looking for that novelty hit that will keep me in steaks and video games well into retirement. Of the songs I HAVE written, I think ‘Boarding Lounges’ captured the feeling of ambition and exploration that I had been trying to artistically convey. Oddly, it’s often the simpler pieces that work best.
JG: If you were not musically-talented, where would you have ended up?
MTD: I don’t feel like I have ended up in music. I feel like I have been tasted and promptly spat out again. I’m certainly not in a position where I can safely say I will be able to continue writing music successfully. After 5 years of hard work and not getting very far I have decided to switch focus to writing my sitcom. It’s about an aimless bafoon with an addiction to chicken skin.
JG: What makes you write? When is the easiest time to write, & when is the hardest?
MTD: Sadness is a driving force. Writing, for me, is never led by the music but by a need to cope with emotional distress. Happiness is a major enemy for my creativity. If I’m content and settled, I rarely think about music. I don’t even listen to it much in that situation. But I’m only truly happy when I am creating. It’s a good mind set for complete self destruction and regret.
JG: Where does rhyme fit into your lyrics creation? How strictly do you adhere to it?
MTD: I really don’t pay attention to rhyme in my compositions. If I’m making changes to poetry in order to jigsaw in a rhyme then I am compromising the sentiment.
JG: How does the interplay between word & sound affect you? Are the words always accompanied by music?
MTD: There are sentiments and sentences that are better without music, and there is music that benefits from not being trampled by language. With the work I have done with ‘Windmill’ I wanted to be able to recognise myself in it. Like a journal. Through music and language. It’s becomes very personal like that. But music alone can connect with every emotion without even needing to be specific. Like it’s connecting to our instincts, before we had language.
JG: What do you see as being the limits of music?
MTD: Music is vigorously categorised. It has rules and structures and law. There is a huge danger of this limiting us creatively. The one benefit of being self taught is that I don’t know all these rules. I don’t think that not knowing produces better music but it does mean I can create without knowing the boundaries of wrong and right. Only what is interesting to me.
JG: What do you see as YOUR limits? What are you lacking as a musician?
MTD: Technically I’m all over the place. I’m a self taught, bedroom artist. I’d love to have the skills to sheet read Mozart and wow friends and family at gatherings with a jazz rendition of ‘Happy Birthday.’ But my mind wanders around far too much to ever be able to focus on anything but the creative process of getting what’s in my head out and down on record.
JG: What do you see as your role as an artist? What do you strive to accomplish with your music?
MTD: I think it’s about embracing individuality. I believe everyone is very different. We are often easily led into believing we’re not but we are. We have to protect that. If you have unique ideas and you are brave enough to express them, then that’s how you protect who you are. No compromises, remove the fear of criticism and opinions and express yourself. If you produce something from your head, completely undiluted, then it will inspire. But there are so many people and so many ideas. No one would miss my work if it was suddenly removed from the world. That’s why the most important thing is to just creatively satisfy yourself. I think you are doomed if you are creating with anything but utter selfishness.
JG: Do you write more with your heart or your head?
MTD: Absolutely heart. I don’t have the technical skills or the intelligence to do anything but.
JG: Regarding the songs that don’t make it to your albums, why don’t they?
MTD: My first album was pretty much all the songs that existed at that time and all the songs on my second album were written for that album, as it was a concept of sorts. I record as I write and that ends up as the final version. So, there is very little waste. I have to be able to still feel a song is fresh to me after 6 months or a year, if it doesn’t then I wouldn’t want it out there. As long as it can endure then it will make the record. But it’s also very easy to feel embarrassed by work you have produced in the past. If you sit on it too long the chances are you will grow out of it and it’ll never be released. Even though it may still have worth, you can’t see it anymore.
JG: Do you have a target audience when you write or do you sort of write into the void?
MTD: My target audience is myself. Have I helped myself through something by expressing an idea? It really doesn’t go any further than that. Record labels will say “this won’t work at radio” and if you let that change you, then you have lost.
JG: Is poetry a part of your daily life?
MTD: I am always trying to piece together beauty and confusion and uncertainty in my head and reflect that through language. I am intrigued by aesthetics of the written word and obsessed with finding unique ways of saying things. If you understand that you view the world uniquely then you have the potential to be poetic.
JG: Where do you see yourself in 23 years?
MTD: I’ll be 55. I’ll be the TV executive that made his money through that sitcom about chicken skin. I’ve not done anything as good since.
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[The title image is from Citizen Dick, an excellent music blog.]
Jonathan Greenhause is the author of a chapbook, Sebastian’s Relativity (published by Anobium Books), and his poems have appeared in The Believer, Fjords, New Delta Review, Water~Stone Review, and others. He’s been nominated for two Pushcarts and was a runner-up in the 2012Georgetown Review Prize and a semi-finalist for the 2011 Paumanok Poetry Award. Plus, he likes chocolate a lot, and he’s fond of the word “keraunograph.”