17 September 2013

Q&A: Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole (Kevin Pearce, singer-songwriter)

Essex singer-songwriter Kevin Pearce. Photo: © Kevin Pearce.

An article in the Independent about indie artists who’ve recently looked to the 17th century for inspiration brought me to Kevin Pearce.

The Essex singer-songwriter's latest album, Matthew Hopkins and Wormhole, has an ethereal, acoustic-electric sound, with Kevin's vocals soaring like a kaleidoscopic ray from the future returning to stir ghosts from the past.

I asked Kevin about his work, and how he came to write an album inspired by Hopkins, the 'Witchfinder General' who terrorised East Anglia in the 1640s …

Struan: The cover of your debut album Pocket Handkerchief Lane features a man in a space suit, while Matthew Hopkins and Wormhole depicts the 17th century witchfinder. Yet the albums clearly share an aesthetic. How would you define your sound?

Kevin: I recently heard it described as 'Future Folk', which I think sums it up. I guess its core is within folk music, but I'm very keen to experiment with a wide palette of sounds, including electronic music, so maybe that's where the future part comes in.

S: What brought you to write about Hopkins?

K: I moved to Mistley in Essex in 2012 and discovered it was historically the home of Matthew Hopkins, the infamous 'Witchfinder General'. I began to research the history of his life and it kind of led me to using his character - almost how an actor would use a character.

It was a way of losing myself in a part-historical, part-imaginative world to write within. It allowed me room to explore a wider range of human emotions, I guess, while also leaving the album more open to others to interpret the songs for themselves.

S: How much does the Essex landscape influence your writing? Do you sense that the legacy of the 17th century witchcraft trials is still part of local consciousness?

K: Where I live has a lot of wild landscape: rivers, seas and woodland. All good places to roam and let your imagination drift off. I guess it's embeded within me. I've always been drawn to the countryside over city life.

When talking about the 17th century witchtrials to folks it almost feels like it has fallen into folklore, as opposed to being something that was very real and horrific. I think we as people have a strange habit of that, in that way that we interpret history as well as in our own lives. Maybe its a survival instinct - that we don't want to remember bad events or something. I don't know.

The video to the single Peaceful Skies, taken from Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole.

What research did you do about Hopkins and the witch trials during the making of the album?

K: I found a book called A Candle in the Dark, written by Jan Williams, which is an exploration into the dark world of the Manningtree/Mistley witches. It brought a real atmosphere to the time where this all took place.

I also went to The Thorn restaurant in Mistley, which was once owned by Hopkins. As stunning as the restaurant is today, I couldn't help but feel think about what schemes he plotted there!

S: How familiar are you with the English Civil War period? Had you read much about it/studied it before you made the album?

K: Oddly enough, about 10 years ago, I found myself in a very old, large house. Upon the wall, in a frame, was a pair of Oliver Cromwell's gloves! I did some basic ground research back then, but I hadn't looked into it in-depth as I did for making this album.

S: You were recently featured in an Independent article about a new wave of indie artists taking inspiration from history, including previous times of conflict, in their work. To what extent do you think this might be a reaction to recent events in the UK and elsewhere?

K: Well it doesn't change does it? I mean history, war, politics and power. It all goes round in a spiral throughout time, where the rich are in power and dictate to those with less. They can colour it, or call it 'Democracy' or 'Capitalism', but it's all the same. It's no different (apart from technology) to what was going on way back. It just all wears different clothing now, so to speak.

I think that's why we are seeing works looking back as a reference point to such times. To get the point across. History seems to hold truth of the horror somewhere within itself. Maybe it's all the books on such subjects in countless libraries/museums across the world. Whereas today we live in incredibly fast and disposable times. I think, for some, horrors of the world seem less real as the news is here today and in the binary bin on some computer tomorrow!

Cover art from Matthew Hopkins and the Wormhole. Image: © Kevin Pearce.

S: Did you see the recent Ben Wheatley film A Field in England?

K: I've not as yet, but everyone keeps telling me I would love it, so its definitely on my films-to-watch list!

S: I love the video for Serves Me Right by your previous band Skywatchers, which also features a Hopkins-like figure skulking in the woods. Are Skywatchers still going?

K: Skywatchers is on a hiatus at the moment. Everyone involved is so busy with other projects, but we may well get round to doing another record in the future.

S: A striking feature of your work is the production. The Hopkins album is produced by Dean Honer (I Monster/Skywatchers) who's previously worked with The Human League and Roisin Murphy. What has his production brought to your solo work?

K: I think it's helped me to open up musically. Dean's background is in electronic music and production and mine in folk music, so it helped me to cross-thread the old and the new.

S: You've received airplay recently on Radio 2 and 6 Music, and have just landed a touring spot with Turin Brakes. What's next recording-wise? The Hopkins album is subtitled 'Act One' - will there be an Act Two?

K: There is an Act Two, yes. It's a complete reworking of the album, electronically, by Dean Honer. It completely flips the album on its head. It's a piece of work in its own right, as opposed to being a bunch of remixes.

S: I'll be looking out for it!


Many thanks to Kevin for taking time out to answer my questions. All of his releases can be purchased from iTunes and Amazon.

You can catch him live on his current solo tour at Colchester (21 Sept), Brighton (24 Sept) and Manningtree (19 Oct), then supporting Turin Brakes on their UK tour from 27 Oct.

Photos from a recent exhibition about Hopkins and witchcraft in East Anglia

1 comment:

  1. What an interesting interview! I look forward to listening.