Getting to know the singer-songwriter and guitarist, Matthew Hills
Music isn’t only a life-long career for Matthew Hills: it has changed his entire life. The singer, guitar player, song-writer and sound engineer of the Montreal-based band, Give Me Something Beautiful, has always been heavily involved in music.
In fact, he has been in several different bands over the past 20 years. “I started doing music because music saved my life through some rough times,” he said. These difficult times for Hills began at a young age. “I was a big loner in high school. I find it difficult to relate to people—I just get nervous around people. So my best friend was music. I just felt like I could talk to it or it talked to me.”
While Hills turned to music as a refuge, he has always suffered from severe performance anxiety, which makes playing shows a huge obstacle for him. He said it has gotten progressively worse over the past couple of years—to the point that he sometimes dreads being on a stage. The performance anxiety, he said, may stem from a lot of different factors. “I’ve been doing this a long time, that’s probably mostly it,” he said. “I think, when I was younger, I was more confident because I was certain that success was around the corner. But now I’m more aware that success is really an illusion and that it’s something that you create for yourself.”
It was Concordia vocal professor, Irene Feher, who made a very big impact on Hills’ life and musical career. While Hills was studying electroacoustics a few years ago, Feher was there for him—not only to improve his vocal skills, but to mentor him as well.“[Feher] very much focuses on trying to get to that place where you’re not in your own way,” Hills said. “She’s spent [so] much of her time with me trying to dissolve that sort of egotism that sort of drives that [performance anxiety].” Hills said that Feher is a really fantastic human being, and really opened his eyes on how to improve himself, not only musically but as an individual. While that anxiety on stage hasn’t completely dissolved, Hills’ passion for music propels him forward. He strives to reach people in a way that will change their lives as much as music has changed his.
“I think that great music expresses something that hasn’t been expressed before,” he said. “The really interesting part is when you get really articulate sentiments from emotional, honest artists, and it really describes something about your life that maybe you didn’t really think about before.”
Hills continuously strives to reach people on a deep and emotional level, yet he feels like he keeps failing to do so. He claims that, for the past 10 years, he has struggled with writing relatable lyrics. “I just think that I’m a cryptic, and that the meaning is obscured a lot of the time. The lyrics are sort of coded, I guess,” he said. “There are songs that I wrote specifically about certain things in my life that happened that I don’t think, as an outside listener, you could actually reconstruct.”
Hills began Give Me Something Beautiful six years ago with Raphaël Pellerin, the drummer and back-up singer of the band. Étienne Dextrase-Monast came in two years later as the bass guitar player and back-up singer, replacing the previous bass guitar player. Hills believes that both of his bandmates make the sound of their band more than he does. “I would say that, really, what makes the sound of our band is our rhythm section. I think it’s the drums, and particularly the drums, because Raph is a really unique, imaginative and sensitive player,” he said.
The band’s music is not easily definable, as they take their influences from almost everywhere—from folk music and electronic music, to hip hop and rock. “I guess it’s mostly rock and roll. I would say there’s a lot of straight-up influences [in our music] that maybe get obscured by the fact that we tend to go in a lot of different directions.” He said there are some jazz undercurrents in the music, world influences can be heard in the percussions, and a folk and rock vibe is present. “I don’t think we can say this is a folk band, or this is a rock band, but I think we have moments of all of those things from song to song.”
While their sound is rather complex, the band maintains that, no matter what, they are being genuine and honest through their music. “[Our goal is] to continuously find new ways of expressing ourselves, and to try and be more honest about it every time. I think sincerity is the only reason anybody should be making music. If it’s not sincere, then you shouldn’t be recording it,” Hills said. “I don’t have a choice—I don’t think I could sing it if I didn’t mean it.”
The songs on their latest album, Ghost on a Throne, released in January 2016, reflect this completely. The themes stem from genuine experiences the band has gone through. “The songs are about relationships, the self, in the Buddhist sense… addiction, our need for religion, safety, and the constant destruction of all our constructs in favour of the ego.”
Hills and his former band-mate Rob Helsten, from the Montreal band Forgotten Fix, have just finished building a recording studio in Montreal North. They are using it both as a commercial space for artists to record their music at a low rate, as well as a rehearsal space to record their own music. “Right now, we’re recording various versions of some new songs, essentially. We’ve got four that are in various pieces. […] I’m happy with the process.”
The studio has allowed the band to explore their sound without worrying about the cost of renting out a studio, which have set them back a lot in the past. “[We envision] a funner time of making a record, and more flexibility, and particularly artistic flexibility. Just being able to take anything, as weird as it is or as stupid as it is, and record it because it doesn’t cost any money to do it, and see what happens when it’s finished.”
The band is currently working on their next EP, but the release date has yet to be determined. Give Me Something Beautiful’s upcoming Montreal show is on Nov. 26 at Le Cagibi. They will also be performing in Quebec City at Pantoum on Dec. 2. “We’re ready to play new stuff. We should very well have half a set of new music at Cagibi,” said Hills.