April saw the fourth Black Angel album released, named The Black Rose. The unashamedly gothic project is the brain child of Matt Vowles, a Brit living in the USA, who is the writer, producer, mix/master and musician extraordinaire, with actor Corey Landis, giving Black Angel it’s voice. The album harks back to the the period of time in the mid 80s when goth rock bands such as The Cult, Sisters Of Mercy and The Cure were at their zenith but with a modern twist. Vowles is a very busy fellow, but luckily for us, he found the time to answer some dark and burning questions.
Matt Vowles, welcome to the bowels of gothic central, where black is the absorption of all colour, and therefore superior!
Young Vowles, cut his teeth on the post punk fare of the 1980s, in England. What was it like for you growing up in that era?
Very exciting, this was all new, punk had come and gone and had pretty much left a big exciting scar so it showed that the music industry wasn’t necessarily just dominated by the large record companies, maybe there was something more, and there was. It still baffles me how without the technology of the Internet that we have today, how did so many people know about the new Gothic bands that were coming along and being played in clubs. Every week in Bristol at a club called The Whip that would be something new, some new Gothic or Gothic rock tune that the DJs would play, along with the staples of the time already established like The Sisters of Mercy and The Cult to name just a very few. Along with the fashion and the lifestyle it was a very exciting time to be a 15-year-old.
When we are young, we tend to listen to the more popular acts i.e. The Cure, Sisters of Mercy etc., but as we look back, we gain a new appreciation for other artists. For me these are bands like Play Dead, Danse Society, and such. Which acts did you latch onto as a kid and what did you find yourself getting into later?
Yup, absolutely that, it started with The Cure and then progressed into The Cult, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, Bauhaus, and then over the last three decades, although I do listen to more obscure Gothic- and I do listen to current up-and-coming Gothic rock acts – I still return to and favor the staples, there was a reason they were huge at the time and that’s the reason I still listen to them now.
But you did not stick with the post-punk genre as your followed music as a profession. Can you tell us about your music career before Black Angel?
That is true, after I went to film school in Manchester I spent a couple of decades just listening to very different music, I guess it was held together by 80s new wave and new romantic but my Gothic rock playlist as it were was one of many and not my main focus. As I worked and still work in the film and music industries you are exposed to a very eclectic bunch of musical styles and genres, being from Bristol, I followed the trip hop path for a while and had some success with a act called ‘Interstate Royale’ and got a whole bunch of streaming and TV and film placements. But my heart wasn’t really in that, it was more for financial rewards so one day I decided to just pack it when and just do something that I wanted to do for me, whether anybody liked it or not, and that’s how Black Angel was born.
Did you find that the foray into more mainstream music and film left you with a larger skill set?
It did for sure, I find that as a sound re-recording mixer and sound supervisor, and mastering engineer, you are learning still every single day – and all of that experience helps, and sometimes in the smallest way, but, it’s great to have that wealth of experience and be able to apply it to what I do now. I am very fortunate to be able to work with some of the most incredible engineers, mixers, and composers in the industry and all of that rubs off and it’s a very privileged place to be.
You have moved to the US, setting up a studio there and in 2019, Black Angel brought forth the debut album The Widow, which was very well received. How exciting was it to know people were hungry to hear your music?
It was quite a surprise, I set out with this project to do something that made me happy and if it wasn’t well received, it didn’t really matter.
When I started on “The Widow” I spent many months head scratching and wondering just how I could come up with music that had influenced me in the past with the Gothic rock genre, but sometimes it’s very easy to overthink it and that’s just send you down the wrong path.
So when “The Widow” came out I was very surprised how it was received and it was more like it made me feel as though I was part of a club of people that just appreciated this music and I was able to share it with them.
The singer on “The Widow” was Robert Steffen but by the second album, “Kiss Of Death” in 2020, you had changed leads to Corey Landis. How do you think this changed the sound of Black Angel, if at all?
It change the sound very much, after the widow I wasn’t happy with many things, this included the music and the production values so having Corey come along for “Kiss Of Death” just really help slot things into place and says out in the right direction.
Can you tell us how you met Landis and became the voice of Black Angel?
After “The Widow”, I wanted to make a change and so I started talking to the local Gothic rock community and stretched out across the world as far as I could and nothing happened, then one day, after I pretty much given up, Corey reached out to me out of the blue and as they say, the rest is history
In quick succession, there was the third album, “Prince Of Darkness” in 2021 and the newest, “The Black Rose” released April 2022. You guys are really pumping out the albums, so are you aiming for an album a year?
Pretty much, I’m a bit of a workaholic and I just love doing this so much it seems as though we are on target to pretty much knock out one album per year. As soon as I finish one album albeit my plan is to take a break or do something else but I’m back in the studio with a bunch of ideas that I’ve been recording on my phone was mixing the last album and I really want to try them out so as soon as I’m done I’m trying out new ideas and then I’m back in the saddle and writing the next album
Incredibly, most of this has been accomplished during all the lockdowns with covid. Did you find all that helped or hindered writing and recording?
This works fine, I’m the musician on the albums, apart from the odd session player that I might use so for me it’s just organizing my time and then Corey, as an actor here in Hollywood, his schedule is very busy so it really works well for him to work remotely.
So I’ll send him over guide tracks and he’ll send me back finished tracks and then if we need any tweaks we will just get together and discuss any notes and he’ll send me any fixes so it just works out perfectly.
You must be pleased with how much love “The Black Rose” has been receiving within the gothic community…?
It’s fantastic, as I said earlier, I feel as though it’s more of a club, we are all in this Gothic rock club and I’m just sharing songs with other people that I hope will appreciate them. It is fantastic of course when people buy the album – we will still like to personalize all of our deliveries and I normally send a note or something signed or a guitar pick or a button and it’s really great when people post pictures on social media of them it just makes it more of a Gothic rock family.
Do you have a particular favourite track off the new album and why it is?
I don’t think I really have a favorite but I do feel really good that there’s not any filler on here, I’m previous albums I think there’s a couple of killer tracks and then some mediocre ones and then maybe some of that are not that good but with the black rose I feel is though we’ve got some really good bangers and then some more diverse softer material but I’m not feeling as though there’s not really any filler on there which I think when you get your fourth album can just be an easy thing to do, in fact, as we move forward I think I will be a lot more diligent that the tracks have to be better and better and the album fuller a more complete before it gets released.
How would you describe the sound of Black Angel and how would you like to see it evolve in the future?
It’s definitely Gothic rock with the emphasis on rock, we not really post-punk, I want to be able to feel the energy in the tracks, and as for the future it is definitely more of the same.
Will Black Angel at some point play live or is it a more studio-based project?
Yep, that is the plan, we would really love to play some larger festivals, even if we are the first one on the roster for that day, I’ve been in bands over the years that just tour around the place to smaller clubs, and I know that’s super important and I’m not saying in any way it is not, but, I would rather be writing in the studio and concentrating on that for right now, I’m really hoping someone will invite us to play a festival
What music inspires you these days?
It’s the old staples, I could put on Siouxsie and the Banshees “Happy House” and still scratch my head on how incredibly well written that is and wondering if I could ever write anything like that.
What is in the future for Matt Vowles and Black Angel?
Who knows, I’ll do this as long as I love it, and I absolutely love it, so I have no plans on going anywhere……soon
Spooktacular Mr Vowles. Thank you for your time and goodnight! (Promptly swishes into a bat and squeaks off)
Thanks so much for the questions, I really appreciate it when people do the homework and pose questions that are relevant and interesting so I’d like to thank you guys very much for including us.