You’re onto me, aren’t you? Roping you in with the vague, enticing tagline. Then comes the obscure photograph, the casual persuasion toward “something new,” “something you’ve never seen before,” “the greatest act in the world”– circus talk, what have you. You have an initial hunch as to where this is going because you’ve been down this road before, haven’t you? The path toward some veiled musical movement that has the power to turn wildly contagious if given just a single listen.
If this sounds at all familiar to you, then you’re in luck. Because the road that I’ve just described is far different than the one you are heading down now. As writers, as music lovers, and as a generation, we’ve come to expect “generic.” It’s become the new normal. When’s the last time you were shocked, frightened even, by a message, a note, a melody? Can you remember that far back? It is because we are hesitant to welcome anything that is new, anything that accompanies a change in sound or musical flavor. Maybe we’re scared; or maybe we just need something to be inspired by. This Valentine’s Day, step inside the minds of two individuals that are looking to do just that. Their sound might shock you, their lyrics might frighten you, but a little thrill never hurt anyone.
Given the distance and time zone discrepancies, I recently “sat down” with both artists in an effort to pry them open, make them sweat a little. I can’t tell you if there was sweat, but I did find out a few things worth mentioning. I’ll start with the voice, Matthew Cornwell, who also goes by the stage name, Black&ndWhite. Age 20, originally from Binghamton, NY, currently recording and performing in hotels and nightclubs around Las Vegas, driven by a musical force that appears to be much bigger than himself. Onto the man behind the scenes, Jay Ferriere, sometimes referred to as The Wizerd of Oz.” Age 29, resides in the land down under — specifically Melbourne, Australia –, college grad backed by a family of music makers, extremely passionate about building a career from scratch.
What could these two new musicians tell me that I hadn’t already heard come out of previous artists’ mouths? I could tell you, but it might be more fun to let their lips do the talking. Tune out what you’ve heard and pay no mind to what you think you already know. Step outside of your bubble and take a peek into the wild side. The air is much better out here. Go ahead and jump. I dare you.
When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in music? Was there a specific song or artist that convinced you this was your path? If so, describe your first encounter.
MC: I can’t remember if there was one specific track, but I saw Kid Cudi in concert and was just thinking, “Damn, I’d love to be doing that” the whole time. And the song Ordinary People, by John Legend; that DEFINITELY got me into music.
JF: I guess it wasn’t until my return to Australia (after four years studying at [Manhattanville]) that I realised music was the path I wanted to travel down. Another major influence was my long time friend, Pez. He has experienced, much-deserved success in the Australian music industry due to his talents, and he reinforced the whole “fuck the norm and society, chase your dreams” mentality. At a crossroad in my life, he gave me the confidence to “take a leap of blind faith.”
How did your family/friends respond when you told them that this is what you wanted to do? Did they support your dreams?
MC: Everybody was pretty supportive. They just want to see a level dedication to believe you’re really about it. We’re all about that “sacrifice in pursuit of a dream” movement over here, so they’re on board. Question is, are you?
JF: My family has always been incredibly supportive. They were supportive of me when I said I was traveling to New York on a basketball scholarship, and they’ve been supportive ever since I told them that music is where I wanted to build a career. They just want my happiness, and I’m forever grateful for their support. Some people may be inclined toward doubt because the music Matt and I make isn’t “poppy” or “commercial” enough for what they feel constitutes success; and that’s fine, they’re entitled to their opinion.
Do you remember the first song you ever made? What do you think of it now?
MC: The first song I ever made was a track called Rain on Me. Jay has heard it, it’s OK. It really meant something to me though, and I’m always proud when I can put a part of myself into something. It was for my mom.
JF: I can’t recall the first song I ever made. My lack of memory is both a gift and a curse.
Describe the first time you ever performed on stage in front of a large group of people. Don’t leave anything out; emotions, aftermath, the crowd’s response—give me everything.
MC: The best comparison I could give you is that it felt like I was Zeus and the mic was a fuckin’ lightning bolt or something. The first track came on and I was like, this is what I need to breathe. I don’t remember much about actually being up there, but that first moment is when I knew it was for me.
JF: I’ve never been one to want to be in the “limelight;” I’m more of a behind-the-scenes type guy. I did, however, jump up on stage last year for the first time in my life, to perform with my father. He had a gig and I knew it meant a lot to him to have me up on stage with him. It was great. I was nervous as hell, but the feeling that comes once it’s all said and done is hard to explain—but worth it. I’ve also never been one to show much emotion whilst up on stage. It’s like all of that doesn’t play a big part. You start with your nerves, but once you start playing you fall into the mood of the song and forget that it’s a performance. Well, at least that’s how it felt for me.
How has your musicality transformed/grown since you started? Do you use the same methods to create a track that you did way back when?
MC: I think there was just a point where we both decided to start doing what felt right instead of what we heard going on around us. It’s really helped in terms of allowing us to be open creatively.
JF: I reflect on some of the earlier tracks I’ve made and am near disgusted just by the quality of sound. The ideas and concepts are still workable, but the execution is just poor and novice, and that is obviously what you hope to eradicate as the time passes. When it comes to a method, I think this is where my “lack of memory” comes in handy. I can’t always recall HOW I went about creating a certain track, or what methods I used and in what order, sometimes that’s frustrating. But for the most part, it is handy because it means the ideas are always fresh and experimental. I think as humans we fall into habits too easily, it’s our nature to create shortcuts. But if you go about it this way, your work can easily fall into the trap of becoming a habit, rather than art. So at times, I will start with a piano melody. Sometimes I will start with the drums. Sometimes I’ll string together a nice chord progression; and other times, I might just find a nice synth sound to toy around with. Either way, it’s very rare that the process of creating music remains consistent and unchanged.
What album/project/song/collaboration are you most proud of and why?
MC: Right now Pyramid and Sing Along really have my heart, but Lonely Valentine is dope too. Colours is also something I’m really excited about. Really looking forward to Colours.
JF: Obviously, I have to say my work within The Red Heels. It’s just been a privilege to work with someone with the talents of Matt, the fact that we were friends long before we became The Red Heels just means I enjoy the process that much more. There hasn’t been a moment yet where we’ve bounced ideas back and forth and I’ve walked away feeling like we aren’t onto something special, and that in itself is always an encouraging feeling to have.
You go by The Red Heels. There has to be a story behind that.
MC: So what had happened was, I had taken the stage name Black&ndWhite and Jay was going by The WIzerd of Oz at the time. When we decided to collab, we wanted a name for the collective so we threw some ideas around. I asked Jay, “Where do The WIzerd of Oz and Black&ndWhite meet?” That’s more or less how the idea of The Red Heels came to be. Plus it sounds badass.
JF: Well as Matt stated, there was a reasoning and purpose behind it. Since then, it’s kind of taken on its own meaning, though. For me personally, music is the only place where I really feel at ease, feel at peace and free of thought. When I get in that flow in the studio, it’s just intoxicating; I can go hours without stopping. It feels like home. Dorothy clicked her heels to get home, so it all makes sense to me to call us that now.
When did you two decide to join forces? Was it a “love at first note” experience, or did the partnership progress slowly?
MC: We will ALWAYS have Empty Love. That’s been this mantra him and I have had for a while. I can’t remember what conversation led to it, but somehow I found out he made beats and ended up listening to some in his room. Soon as he put them on I was like “I gotta work with this dude.” We wrote this track called Empty Love in like two hours and that kinda sealed the deal. That cat can really play the keys. This type of music we’re making now, though, just kind of came from nowhere. We just kind of fell into it and it felt right.
JF: For me, it was when Matt first played me a song he had written for his mother. To this day it’s still one of my favourites, and it’d just been a while since I had heard music so honest and thoughtful. From there we wrote Empty Love, and the rest is history.
How would you describe your intended genre of music?
MC: I feel like it’ll be called R&B just because I’m singing and black(ish), but I don’t think that’s what we do. There are some songs that are R&B, some Rap, some Folky stuff, lots of 80’s, a little Dance, all that. But in the sense of literal Rhythm and Blues? Yeah, I guess we do that.
JF: What I love most about working with Matt is we both share the common thought of “fuck genres!” Let’s just make music! How are we ever going to be true to ourselves as artists, if we feel we have to “stick” to one genre? Bound to never have an original thought or vibe with that type of thinking. As Matt once told me, people will try to categorise us and box us into a genre, and that’s fine – leave that to them. We just focus on ourselves and making music.
Jay, you produce the beats, while Matt is in charge of lyrical content and song direction. Because you’re both coming from different musical angles, is it ever difficult to meet your partner’s expectations? What comes first, the beat, or the melody? Overall, give me an idea of what your process is like.
MC: I send an idea to Jason, he conducts some sort of unholy witchery on it and then it becomes a song. I’d love to give you more, that’s about all I know.
JF: I send an idea to Matthew, he conducts some sort of unholy witchery on it and then it becomes a song. I’d love to give you more, that’s about all I know. Sorry, obviously can’t let you into the secrets of the processes. We don’t even try to understand how we do it anymore; we just enjoy it and go where the process leads.
Speaking of “coming from different angles,” you live on opposite sides of the world, literally. Do either of you have plans of visiting/moving? How do you work as a team to bridge the international gap?
MC: Oh I’m coming for Oz. I just hope Oz is ready to rage with me. In the meantime, Dropbox, FaceTime, and patience for poor Internet connections are the foundation for us working together for sure.
JF: Matt said it perfectly, Dropbox, FaceTime, and a whole lot of patience. The world has become a small place with today’s technology, so thankfully it’s not as complicated as one would think. The plan is certainly to fly Matt out within the year to work on the album together though.
Give three major lessons that you’ve learned thus far about the music business. What are some concerns an up-and-coming artist has to be fearful/aware of? What kind of sacrifices should you be willing to make without compromising your happiness?
MC: Don’t forget to eat. That’s been happening a lot lately for some reason…
JF: NEVER force it. If you ever feel you are forcing the music, then it’s not right. It will flow through you when it’s supposed to – give it time.
MC: Once you’re doing it because other people like it, it stops being “art.” I’ve tried to make music that I thought other people would like. It sucked. Then I tried to make music that intentionally sounded different than what other people would like. It sucked. I’m way more proud of the music I make that I think is cool, it’s so much more fulfilling.
JF: I have to agree with Matt on this one. It also refers back to my first lesson – don’t force it. If I’m making something to be “commercial,” it sounds forced and it has no soul because it’s not what I’m about, so it’s a real effort for me to create. You gotta make what you are feeling, your soul then comes through in the music, and I feel people will connect with that more.
MC: Presentation is Key. Make it shiny.
JF: Let it go. Nothing is perfect in this world. Matt is correct, make is shiny. But as artists, we could pick apart our music to the point where it never gets released because we become so pedantic with the smallest of details. Eventually, you just have to let it go.
Untitled EP/Valentine’s Day 2013
Vocals/Co-Production: Matthew Cornwell
Instrumentation/Production/Engineering: Jay Ferriere
Recorded/Mixed: Pigback Records Studios
Co-Production: Sensei Jezza
Engineering: Bernard Roberts
Artwork: Olivia Jacqueline