Firstly, I’d like to try and clear something up. Is ‘The Gospel According to Matthew J. Anthony’ Life After Modelling’s new – or should I say – debut and long-overdue album or just a live show?
Ha! That’s a good question! Life After Modelling (previously Deputy Fuzz with Bronwyn Murphy White) was a creative entity that really only existed for a couple of years (2003-2005) and we only ever released one single, ‘December 21st’. We played an awful lot of gigs in Dublin and Ireland and wrote and recorded a plenitude of songs that were never released properly. Myself, Bennie Reilly (Little Xs for Eyes) and James Byrne (Villagers/Any Other City Records) called it a day in early 2005 but James and I continued writing and recording songs despite the group disbanding.
So it’s not a Life After Modelling project…?
Well it’s not quite as clear-cut as that. James and I wrote at least an album-and-a-half of very electric guitar heavy indie-type of songs – which essentially pushed the old Life After Modelling sound to it’s limit – and then I started to really fall in love with the piano as an instrument. James had gotten me the Antony and the Johnsons album ‘I Am a Bird Now’ for my birthday and from that I also got into Rufus Wainwright – as he featured on the track ‘What Can I Do?‘ from Antony’s album – and I then saw Rufus in Vicar St. touring his ‘Want One’ and ‘Want Two’ albums around the same time as well(2005). I was just so captivated by what these two artists were doing that I decided to take a year or so to twinkle the ivory and see what the hell I could do in terms of song writing using the piano as the starting point rather than electric bass or guitar.
You still haven’t really clarified my initial question…
Ha! I know! But I’m trying to set the scene so as to provide the clearest answer possible!
Well I started to really like where the piano-based material was going and I started to get really focused on how I should and shouldn’t be singing and finally started to realise how I could use my voice to the best of it’s capability – something I had never quite understood before then. It was quite a revelation for me and the piano songs just started to sound…well…different. I worked a long time at home with demos and then James and I headed into K9 Studio with Shane Cullen to record all the material, both the newer piano-based songs and the indie-electric stuff too. That basically took years. Partially because I had become a pedantic motherf*cker and partially because something organic was taking place…an idea was forming. Actually, a story was happening…and much more again; a personality, the living figure that is Matthew J. Anthony, was ‘being born’ if you will.
Right. I’m still a little confused.
I know! It’s tricky. I’ll try to simplify. ‘The Gospel According to Matthew J. Anthony’ is going to be – at some date in the near future – a properly released album of songs, like any band would do, but the upcoming live show in Smock Alley Theatre‘s Main Space is more than a straightforward gig. It is an account of one man’s encounter with the larger-than-life being that is Matthew J. Anthony. The songs occur at different stages within the verbal telling of this story in order to amplify and compliment the story. So, to put it more simply: the current stage and music project from two of the guys who were in Life After Modelling is called ‘The Gospel According to Matthew J. Anthony,’ but because the story and the music is more about Matthew J. Anthony than either of the two Life After Modelling guys, you might as well refer to it – or even them – as ‘Matthew J. Anthony’.
Ok. So it’s more like ‘Life After Modelling as Matthew J. Anthony’…?
Pretty much. For this batch of songs and this story, yes. That’s it exactly! A sort of mish-mash: ‘Matthew J. Modelling’ or ‘Life After Anthony’!
Let’s not let things get anymore complicated! Please!
Fair enough! ‘Life After Modelling as Matthew J. Anthony’ it is!
Is the story a work of pure fiction then? I initially thought it might be a confessional or biographical piece.
Well fiction can be a misleading word if you ask me. In this overly extraverted world which deems external, physical reality – i.e., that which can be consensually observed with the physical eye – to be the only factual reality, all other realities are considered to be fiction or fantasy. And this categorisation is misleading. There is another reality, the reality of the psyche or the imagination, and it is no less actual or objectively real than the air we breathe with our lungs. You see, the imagination is really an interface, i.e., that which personifies the non-physical realities which affect us all on a minute-by-minute basis, and so calling the workings of the imagination ‘fiction’ often undermines our ability to responsibly interact with and respond to the products of the imagination positively. So in many ways ‘The Gospel’ is entirely factual and autobiographical. I am the protagonist of the story, the man Matthew who really encounters the otherworldly Matthew J. Anthony and has an extraordinary experience, but, in another sense, I could be anybody and so therefore it is not about me specifically.
Oh, so is this why the show in Smock Alley Theatre is a blindfolded performance? So the audience focus their attention on their inner world…on their own imagination?
Yes. We’re asking that the audience wear blindfolds for the show so that they ‘fall back on themselves’ if you will. So that the world they experience and ‘see’ is the autonomous realm of the imagination and not just the band playing music or me speaking the words on stage; so that the encounter with Matthew J. Anthony is given the chance to occur within it’s natural and undiluted habitat, the imaginations of the individual audience members. It would be too passive and fruitless an act to just observe this story; if there’s a chance the story can be personalised, then something real can happen…then an unmediated encounter with Matthew can actually happen. I’m just hoping that the story and these songs can kick-start the process for other people so that Matthew can become whom or whatever Matthew wishes to be for them.
Ok. So who or what the hell is Matthew J. Anthony exactly…?
Aha ha! That would be telling! You have to come and ‘not see’ the show to find out!
Not even a little hint…?
Well, in short, Matthew is life itself: the living personification of the inexpressible, the origin of the universe, its continuing expansion and its eventually demise; the everything and the nothing; the masculine and the feminine, and yet neither of these and yet both. It’s impossible to fully explain, words just touch the surface and paint only the vaguest of incomplete – albeit necessary – pictures that roughly point the way.
Crikey! So what exactly happens to you when you meet Matthew J. Anthony?
Again, you’ll have to come along to find out the details. But the central motif of ‘The Gospel According to Matthew J. Anthony’ is the archetypal or symbolic journey from death to rebirth; of dying to the extraverted mode of operation in the world and descending, via the imposed introversion of the conscious mind, into the unknown inner world wherein the protagonist encounters all manner of evils, trials and tribulations before returning to life renewed and regenerated.
Jesus! That sounds pretty hardcore.
Ha! I guess it is, but it’s also a common enough mythological motif to be found in numerous places – The Book of Job for instance, Odysseus’s journey to Hades, Faust’s encounter with Mephistopheles, Dante’s ‘The Divine Comedy’ and, perhaps most obviously, Christ’s crucifixion, descent into hell and resurrection. This contemporary ‘gospel’ story basically serves to illustrate the continued reality of such an archetypal journey in the life of person living in the present-day world. In other words, it highlights how these myths are not just fanciful stories, but eternally present and potentially experienceable life patterns with real value and meaning in the here-and-now.
I see. Actually, before we started the interview you were saying how the date of the performance in Smock Alley had surprised and impressed you. Would you like to say a little bit about why that is exactly?
Oh yes! I just realised the other day that the performance takes place on Easter Sunday, the day of the Resurrection in the Christian calendar! A spooky co-incidence or meaningfully synchronistic…? Who knows. But it’s rather fitting given what the story of Matthew J. Anthony is about!
Yes. It’s very fitting indeed!
Absolutely. So I hope to see you…or, should I say, not see you there!
I’ll be there with bells on. Well…with bells and a blindfold!
‘The Gospel According to Matthew J. Anthony’ plays for one night only in Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, on Easter Sunday, Match 31st 2013 at 7.30pm. Tickets cost €10 and are available from the Smock Alley Box Office here.
Life After Modelling on the night will be: Matthew Palmer (Vocals, Piano), James Byrne (Drums), Bronwyn Murphy-White (Vocals), Anna Carey (Vocals), Patrick Freyne (Vocals), Kevin Connolly (Piano, Acoustic Guitar), Ashley Sheil (Sampler), Niall Jackson (Electric Guitar) and Shane Cullen (Bass).