Matthew J Van Howe creates industrial / dark wave music that weaves together the dark and the light. His wife, Angel is his light and his sister’s death is his dark. A junior high music teacher and film maker, MJVH leads a busy, yet productive life. We sat down to ask Matthew a bit about his music, his life, and the meaning behind some of his songs off of his latest release, “Transmogrify.”
Entertwine: Could you tell us a bit about your musical background?
Matthew: I took a year of piano when I was 5 or 6. I quit playing anything until about 11, and then I started writing songs on the piano. Just instrumental, simple and easy. Then over the years, I started singing, and when I went to college I was a music education major, and was trained in piano, voice, and cello. I found solace in music as a way for me to communicate the complexity of my ideas and emotions.
You’re a junior high teacher, correct?
Yep. That’s right. I’ve been teaching for 10 years. Music, film making, and chorus. I really love what I do, and I’m passionate about what I teach.
What inspires you to create music?
New ideas about the world we live in. I feel so much and think so deeply on something, and never seem to have the words to fully express the concept. Music facilitates my desire to communicate.
What is the significance of the Octopus logo?
It’s from the tattoo on my arm. I never thought I’d get a tattoo, but then again, I never thought my sister, Ace would have died from cancer. Two days before she died, I had a dream about an octopus sitting on a fireplace mantle. I looked it up in one of my wife, Angel’s guidebooks, and it said an octopus comes to you to help you with coping skills. Well, I never had a chance to tell that dream to my sister, and after she died, she gave me a box of her things she wanted me to have, and on the top was a turquoise octopus bracelet. I thought, “That’s got to be my tattoo to remember her.” In addition to that story, the eight tentacles of the octopus and the relative autonomy that each tentacle has is representational of the many artistic interests that I am involved in.
What has been your experience with the music scenes of Chicago, Illinois?
There’s a wide variety of ideas and music, and it’s a place where you can still catch some decent metal.
What is it like living in Chicago?
I really like it. I feel like there is a lot of experimenting happening in theater, music, and the arts.
What life experiences and events led to the writing and recording of your album “Transmogrify”?
My sister’s death influenced the album a lot. I had been reading a lot of quantum physics books that expanded my views of reality. I was also exploring Vedic concepts of consciousness. In addition, I have gained a perspective on time. I’m not a kid anymore, and I have seen changes in people and things that only the passage of time would permit.
This is a concept album, correct?
You got it. We are taken on a journey from the initial spark, changing the way we view reality, to a futile attempt to regain normalcy, and ultimately embracing the unknown.
What is the significance of the album’s title?
Transmogrify means to change in a grotesque or magical way. You’ve become something completely different from what you were, and you can’t go back. It’s also the coolest spell from the adventure video game, Loom, and there are definitely some references to that game on the album. I’d love to hear if people out there know what I’m talking about.
Could you walk us through each of the featured tracks?
Sure. “Irrevocable” is the first track and we’re exposed to this new way of thinking. It’s challenging and a little terrifying, but once you’ve been exposed, you can’t go back. The initial descent into madness culminates with the song “8 milliseconds”, which is roughly the time it takes for a brain to react to things. Essentially the song is saying that since we really can’t agree on what exactly happened in the past (i.e. eye witness accounts of crimes often contradict each other) and we all perceive reality 8 milliseconds ago, well, that just means you can’t trust anything that happens to be real at all. The turning point is “Human Again” in which grief is so powerful that it makes us feel normal, emotional, human. It doesn’t last too long, and “Event Horizon” is where we dive deep into embracing the unknown and unknowable. Crossing over a line where information cannot be passed. A black hole, death. In the song, the narrator is a little too confident thinking that he’s not afraid of what is going to happen, but when it comes down to it, he’s terrified. The album ends with “The Dark”, a macabre piano driven piece in which we accept there is only the dark, the unknown and unknowable. And we come to a place of peace.
What was it like working with Sean O’Connor on the album’s cover and your overall visual presentation?
He’s a really interesting guy. I thought his ideas were very creative, and I pretty much gave him the reigns on creative control. It was actually a little intimidating shooting the cover, because I had to crawl into a cocoon made out of plastic wrap. I had a breathing tube, and there were holes, but man was that claustrophobia inducing!
How would you describe your sound to someone who has not heard your original music?
It’s dark, electronic, industrial, with a dash of rock and a pinch of hip-hop. I’d say its an amalgamate of Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode, and Muse.
What went into the filming of the music video for ‘Event Horizon’?
Director Chris Eastman had some really interesting ideas for how to film my vocal performance. He wanted to play with the perception of time, and all my parts were recorded at twice the speed and then slowed down. Then we added the story elements with the help of my wife, Angel. There’s a ton of symbolism that went into it, especially involving the number eight. The Frugal Muse Bookstore in Darien was awesome enough to let us film there and it was really great. The actor, Chris Waldron, did a stellar job and I feel like my parts look better because his acting has so much gravitas.
What about the music video for ‘The Space Between’?
I had asked a few of my artist friends to think about video ideas for any song from my album and tromp l’oeil painter, Anthony Adcock had a vision for the song. Once again, he plays with the concept of perception, especially repetition. We had to hike a mile and a half through sand dunes, but once we arrived, it was like we were on a private set. It was so surreal. Brittany Thill the actress and artist was so much fun to work with. She just has a joy for life that is contagious. Angelo Di Nunno took care of all the gear for us and offered some creative ideas. Overall it was probably one of the most enjoyable days of shooting ever.
What can you tell us about the films and short videos you’ve directed and worked on / been a part of?
I collaborated on an art film for Anthony Adock that showed at the Packer Shopf Art Gallery in Chicago called “Gyre”. I’ve been collaborating with him a lot lately and we’ve been making films that he is painting QR codes for, so people will scan them and watch them on their phone. That way, everybody will be on their phone in a gallery where there’s art that took hundreds of hours to make hanging on the wall.
What is The Voice of the Vespers?
Voice of the Vespers is the feature length, science fiction/action film that I directed, wrote, produced, edited, and did the special effects for. It took four and a half years of blood, sweat, and tears to make. Right now I’m waiting to hear back from film festivals, and once that’s finished, then I’ll either find distribution or distribute it myself. It feels great to have completed a feature film, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I also have a comic book made by the talented artist, Jen Brazas. There is a introductory chapter of a video game that takes place before the film and also a two player card game. So, lots of things happening with the film and the world.
What does 2015 hold in store for Matthew J Van Howe?
I’m working on my next album, “Whispers and Echoes.” It’s about the stories of souls lost between realms, and the whispers of long forgotten dreams. The sound is definitely more progressive and electronic, less dark, much weirder, and subtly influenced by trap-step and hip-hop rhythms. Also, I’m ready to perform songs from Transmogrify live and I’ll be looking to play out in Chicago and the Midwest in general. I’d totally love to do a small tour over the summer.
Thanks so very much for the interview!