There are a few very highly anticipated post-punk album releases this year, and one of them is Lost Hymns by Brooklyn’s A Cloud Of Ravens. Out on the Nexilis label, on the 28th of April, Beth Narducci and Matthew McIntosh have written and recorded an album bound in gothic beauty and often with political and/or moral observations about this modern world. ACTORS‘ Jason Corbett, mastered the album at his Jacknife Sound studio, adding to the seamless flow and rich textures. I was so very fortunate that Beth and Matthew could talk to me about this second album and what has lead them to this point of time. Not only are they making important and gorgeous music, but they are divinely lovely dark hearts to boot!
Welcome to the bowery of Onyx, Beth Narducci, and Matthew McIntosh, where the blue black bower birds have stolen every shiny and blue object to please us.
I am sure a lot of people have asked why the name, A Cloud Of Ravens, but I want to ask what is your connection to ravens?
Matthew: Beth’s connection is probably more obvious, but if I’ve got a personal connection to ravens it’s in an admiration of their inherent qualities; enigmatic, majestic, singular. They’re an iconic animal totem.
Beth: Matt came up with the name. When I was in the goth/industrial scene in New Orleans, my nickname was Raven, which I knew could get a few laughs from people who knew me then.
Both of you have your roots that are deep in this thing called music.
Beth, you are not only an alt rock/industrial musician, you are also a well respected A&R executive (a head hunter of new talent for record labels), a talent manager and importantly, the creative force behind You Plus Me Entertainment. What is it like being on both sides of industry, and has it coloured how you have approached dealing with A Cloud Of Ravens?
Beth: I appreciate the research and kind words. It’s come up from a few people, to be honest. It’s a bit wild to have always been on the other side. Having a long history in the industry is always helpful. I approach both sides with a lot of passion and excitement, but also with the knowledge of how to manage expectations, an ability to trust the process and work ethic that pushes an upward trajectory.
Has it been easy as a female making your mark in the music industry Beth?
Beth: I would say it’s been more of a marathon than a sprint. I’ve had run-ins with inequality. there’s always going to be an asshole in the room. I always try not to be one. I have always tried to lift up other women and I spend a lot of time proving myself over and over but it still remains my life long passion and career.
Matthew, you grew up in a house of music, where your mother was a professional opera singer. You then explored post-punk, deathrock and even hardcore. Did your mum ever despair at your choices or was she super supportive?
Matthew: My mom was and is supportive of what I do creatively. I’m sure there were times, especially when I was in my teens, getting in trouble and screwing up in school, where she was concerned about my future. Maybe she didn’t always understand my choices and motivations, but she never tried to discourage me from pursuing the things I was passionate about. She was musical and creative as a kid and I don’t think her parents encouraged that, coming from a depression-era upbringing— the arts were not seen as a viable life choice. So I give her a lot of credit for breaking that cycle. My mom is still very supportive, and I’m grateful for her.
Speaking as someone that grew up in a house full of classical music, I found post-punk/goth as a way to rebel but as I have gotten older, I really appreciate the exposure to an extensive palate of classic music. Would you say, Matthew, you have had a similar experience and that small bits creep into your composition?
Matthew: Definitely. Everything I love about music makes its way into our sound in some form or another. Whether it’s the aggression or primitivism of hardcore, the melody and rhythm of new wave, or any song from my early childhood that creeps out of my psyche when writing, it all influences the overall dynamic of how and what we write.
Have you both always lived in Brooklyn and how has it influenced A Cloud Of Ravens?
Beth: When I first got to NYC, I lived in Manhattan– both Hell’s Kitchen and the Lower East Side at one point, but I consider myself a Brooklynite since I’ve lived in so many neighborhoods and I own a car.
Matthew: I grew up in southwestern CT, which closely borders the Bronx, where my father was born and raised. On a clear day you can see the NYC skyline from a shore near the house I grew up in, so Manhattan was always just a short train ride for me, and a big part of my childhood. One of my earliest memories is driving around Brooklyn with my dad. It wasn’t the hipster oasis some parts are now. I remember packs of wild dogs stopping traffic, the garbage strikes, blocks of condemned buildings, etc. There’s an aura and energy to NYC that is kind of inexplicable— you can feel its history in the air. Beth and I were driving from her place in Brooklyn to the airport recently, and going around a bend on the BQE, which opens up to the downtown skyline. We’ve seen that view a thousand times but we were both just like “How is this not the best city in the world?” To have that kind of awe and reverence after so many years speaks to the weight and depth of the energy here, and it’s certainly reflected in our songs.
What is the dark alternative scene like in Brooklyn?
Beth: It’s been growing exponentially for the last 5 years. There are many more bands, live
music venues, bars and clubs. At this point, even some of the more mainstream venues are promoting goth/darkwave/’80s nights, which depending on your perspective could be good or bad, but either way it’s booming. The monthly parties are great. I really enjoy turning up at places and knowing so many interesting people in the scene.
The band started in 2018, with the first album “Another Kind Of Midnight” released in the midst of the Covid pandemic in 2021. What was it like bringing forth your debut into a strange new world at the time?
Matt: The pandemic had a huge impact on the writing. There was so much political unrest going on at the same time, so you’ve got this dour sense of isolation, and essentially watching society implode everyday on TV. We tried to channel that anxiety into a creative energy, as I think a lot of bands were doing at the time. Working on that album was cathartic, gave us something positive to focus on, and really helped us come through those dark times intact. We knew other bands releasing records around the same time, and there was this whole new learning curve with how to approach the album cycle, since no one was touring. It was definitely trial by fire, and learning as you proceed.
You released the stand alone single “The Call Up”, a cover of the anti war anthem of The Clash, at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Who chose this particular track?
Matthew and Beth: We honestly don’t remember who chose it. We’re both huge fans of The Clash, and The Call Up seemed like the perfect song. There wasn’t ever any deliberation of how to approach it, it just worked. It didn’t solve Ukraine’s problems, but we were glad we could contribute in some small way, even if it’s just raising awareness.
Music has been used for years to protest against injustices and a lot of music you write, has a big core of political or humanitarian truth. What would you say to people who say goth should not be political?
Matthew: I’d say they’re not looking at the history. The gothic subculture has always been
socially aware; anti-fascist, pro animal rights, etc. While that’s not directly political, it ties into a political bent as it relates to social conscience. I think there’s an element within the scene that flies hard to the right as well. While we’re not overtly political as a band, it’s likely pretty easy to see we align left of center. As I’ve gotten older I tend to not look at things as necessarily being left or right, but how we treat each other. There’s a universal truth that doesn’t care whose flag you wave, but how you’re treating people in your everyday life. Things are very polarized and tribal right now, and it’ll likely get worse before it gets better, but If you’re being good to people regardless of where they stand politically, and they’re doing the same, it’s a good start.
2023 sees the release of the new album, “Lost Hymns” after four wonderful singles. How hard was it to write the new album to follow up a great debut or did you find the experience a little easier?
Matthew: We started writing Lost Hymns a few weeks before the previous album was even released. Maybe it was a reaction to the doldrums and anxiety of covid lockdown, but we had tons of ideas. I was hearing new things in my head and Beth and I were throwing ideas back and forth every day. That’s the most exciting part for me. We wrote and recorded it all within about six months. It’s actually been finished since the fall of 2021. Seems crazy now that it’s been that long.
Jason Corbett of ACTORS has been doing a fabulous job with mastering and was involved in the original remix EP, so how did you end up with Corbett in the mastering seat?
Beth: We LOVED his remix of our song “The Earthen Call” and we respect his production quality so much that when we heard he was also mastering, we asked him to lend his skills yet again.
Talking of remixes, is there a remix for “Lost Hymns” in the works?
Beth: We have a few conversations happening but nothing has been created yet!
I know songs can be like children, but is there a favourite track off the new album?
Matthew: Yeah, that’s a hard one. When I got the preliminary demo fleshed out for “Requiem for the Sun” I was kind of geeking on it. It was what I heard us sounding like when it was just me recording the earliest ‘Ravens’ demos in my bedroom in 2018, before Beth and I had even met. I felt like “Requiem” finally brought it to that place sonically. That being said, “Parable” also came out pretty nifty, and it’s fun to play live.
Beth: I can agree with Matt’s sentiments on those songs. Other personal favorites for me are “The Blackest Mantra” and “Nature of Artifice”, which are also really fun to play live. But the stand-out favorite of mine has been “Fear Not”. To me it’s one of the darkest and most impactful.
As A Cloud Of Ravens, you are doing your own recording, so is it empowering to have that much control over your project?
Matthew: Yes. As Beth can tell you, likely to her aggravation— when we’re not playing shows, I can be a bit of a hermit. At this point in my life the idea of spending weeks or months in and out of someone’s studio seems untenable. It took me a while to get to a point where I could record something at the quality of “Lost Hymns”, but with Beth’s help we got there. It is liberating to be able to walk into a room any minute of any day and record an idea you’ve got for a song. That said, I don’t place a ton of importance on production. The quality of the song comes first. If the song itself is middling, the slickest production in the world won’t make it great.
Beth: This whole project is empowering to me in that we are the beginning and the end of the creative process. With both albums that I’ve been involved in, we shopped a fully mastered album to first Cleopatra and then the second to Nexilis. As an A&R person by trade I typically help people through that creative process and in this case I’m both the artist and the A&R person. It’s really meaningful to have that kind of relationship with someone as creative as Matt.
So, how do you go about the song creation process and, who is the more headstrong one and stickler for getting stuff done?
Matthew: We’re both equally headstrong as far as standing behind our opinions and
perspectives. We’ve had, let’s say, ‘passionate exchanges’ as it relates to the creative process, but we always find a middle ground. Beth has such an innate musical instinct, at the end of the day, her perspective is generally the correct one. As far as writing, I’ll usually start with a chord progression I’ve come up with on guitar or piano. I’ll flesh out a rough verse and chorus, work out some phrasing, and a vocal melody. Sometimes
I’ll have a very definite idea of a specific drum pattern I want to use or a rough aesthetic concept. Lyrics are always last, usually built around a phrase I’ll find coming up with the vocal melody. When I get a preliminary demo fleshed out I’ll play it for Beth, and she invariably has ideas that bring it to another level. Whether it’s her experience in the music industry, just an inherent appreciation for sonics and song craft, or both, I ultimately trust Beth’s ear more than my own.
What bands got you into the dark alt scene?
Beth: Depeche Mode, The Cure, Sister of Mercy, Tones On Tail, Ministry, New Order, Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, The The, Clan of Xymox.
Matthew: Misfits, Samhain, The Damned, Siouxsie, TSOL, the Batcave scene. Those bands were the impetus for me as a kid of like 14, 15.
What new musicians light your fire now?
Beth and Matthew: We tend to listen to bands we know and have played with; Creux Lies, Bootblacks, Black Rose Burning, The Mystic Underground, Vosh, Jason Priest, Then Comes Silence, The Bellwether Syndicate, Pilgrims of Yearning. There are so many great bands out there right now.
The band is about to go on tour. Is the live thing something you really enjoy?
Matthew: It’s a two-way street for me. Yes, I absolutely love to play live. It’s what drew me into playing music as a teenager, and it’s still my go-to emotional outlet. On the other hand I’m an introvert by nature, always have been. So reconciling those two immutable truths is an ongoing and daily process.
Beth: For me it’s fairly new so it feels like a rollercoaster. I enjoy the connection with people, but the flipside is that I have a lot of emotional attachment to my home, my son, and my pets.
A Cloud Of Ravens is headlining a 3 day extravaganza, and you get to choose the other acts. Who do you choose? We are willing to rob graves and perform necromancy to get you what you
Beth: ELO, INXS, Duran Duran, The Smiths, Camouflage, OMD, The Fixx.
Matthew: The Clash, Public Enemy, Fugazi, Laughing Hyenas, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and ELO.
Get out the divination ball, and can you tell us what is in the future for Beth, Matthew, and A Cloud Of Ravens?
Beth: I’ve got a lot of plates spinning; a business, a son, and personal goals. I’m finding little pockets of time for joy and recharging.
Matt: More travel, exploring creativity, and trying to be present in the moment.
Birds of a feather flock together, and your new album is dark post-punk classic. Thank you so much for talking to us today.
Matthew: Thank you, Adele!
Beth: Much appreciated Adele x
‘LOST HYMNS’ | A Cloud of Ravens (bandcamp.com)