At the end of the ‘90s, Matt Elliott sailed wave after wave of critical acclaim under the guise of Third Eye Foundation. The Bristol-based musician successfully fused dark drum and bass with eerie guitar atmospherics and rumbling shoegaze on his self-released 1996 debut, Semtex, but he first came to this writer’s attention with his second album, Ghost.
Released in ’97, Ghost received the seal of approval from my personal musical bible of the time, Select, and that was that: straight on the must-buy list it went. Further endorsements aided its cause, and by the time of You Guys Kill Me’s release a year later – through Domino, the same label that released Ghost – Elliott was quite the critical darling; admirable comparisons abounded, to everyone from Squarepusher to U-Ziq, via everything that should and should never have been regarded as ‘trip-hop’.
In 2000 Elliott released his final studio album for Domino under the Third Eye Foundation moniker – Little Lost Soul would be followed by a collection of remixes entitled I Poo Poo On Your JuJu, but his next ‘proper’ album, 2003’s The Mess We Made (also on Domino), was released under his own name. Third Eye Foundation, it seemed, was dead and buried.
In late 2006, though, the Third Eye Foundation name rose from the soil, clawing its way back into the public consciousness with the release of Collected Works, albums two to four neatly packaged in box set form. If you’re yet to buy anything for that weird electronica-loving nephew of yours this Christmas, you know what to do. DiS caught up with Elliott around the time of Collected Works’ release to find out what the thinking was behind the re-packaging, why the Third Eye Foundation name was laid to rest, and what he’s got planned for the future.
Firstly, whose idea was it to collect the first three Third Eye Foundation LPs in a single package, your own or Domino’s? Is it something either you or the label had been considering for a while?
Well as I remember it, it was Stephane from Ici D’Ailleurs (Elliott’s latest label) who first mentioned it to me. Then I asked Domino and they said that they’d do it but perhaps domino were thinking of it by coincidence as well, I really can’t remember. I’d always wanted to do it, because it should be available but cheap.
Do you think, listening with the benefit of hindsight, that the three albums exhibit a progression, from the sometimes harsh Ghosts through to the rather more listener-friendly Little Lost Soul? Is the latter record where the ‘Matt Elliott’ career really began, as you shelved the TEF moniker?
Well it basically catalogues my learning curve: I still say that Ghost is a terrible record, but people still tell me it’s their favourite, so I don’t know what to think. I’m still kind of proud of You Guys Kill Me and Little Lost Soul, but it reminds me of who I was back then and that’s not always nice.
And what led you to stop recording under the TEF name?
Well I wanted to be free of my own self-imposed shackles. I didn’t want Third Eye Foundation fans being duped, so I just thought I’d use my real name and that was that,
Sampling played a vital part in the recording of Ghost – what artists were inspiring you at the time? DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing (1996) is obviously regarded as the first record to be built entirely of samples – at the time, did you think the approach was one that could yield many a fruit? Nowadays, how do you feel about sampling?
Well I found it useful, and it taught me a lot in a kind of abstract way. I thought it was the future of all music. Nowadays my attitude has changed, and I think that samples are a tool like any other. I still use samples for manipulation and all my music is recorded on digital software, which is essentially a fuck-off sampler you can manipulate each soundwave individually on, so… But personally I don’t listen to much sample-based music these days, perhaps because I’m becoming an old bastard.
Was being from Bristol in the mid-to-late Nineties any hindrance, at all, as you were probably unfairly shoehorned in with the whole trip-hop ‘movement’? What was the music scene in Bristol like at the time, when the likes of Portishead and Tricky were making sizeable waves? Was there a rash of copycat acts?
Well I think the only hindrance was that I was perhaps negatively influenced because I spent my life in record shops, but the whole Bristol thing… I mean, it was kind of useful at the time. I had a classic ‘right place, right time’ thing going on. Anyway, Bristol as a tag means nothing: bands like Amp saying there was a Bristol connection and they’re from fucking London. Most of today’s Bristol scene bands are made up of people who came to Bristol University. I had a journalist who works for a Bristol magazine tell me that, essentially, I was irrelevant to Bristol because I’d moved away and this guy was from fucking Leamington or something, so basically it all means a load of shit. But that’s what music industry is all about, tags and soundbites like everything else in this fucking world. You see, I am an old bastard.
You’ve acted as a producer for Hood – have you worked on records by any other acts, and what attracted you to Hood, specifically? Is there more production work in the pipeline?
Well, really I engineered Rustic Houses, Forlorn Valleys (1998), and for The Cycle Of Days And Seasons (1999) I just hung around the studio. What attracted me to Hood was that they were really the first musicians I really got on well with; they were enthusiastic and I’m still good friends with them now, and apart from anything I’ve never laughed so much as when I first met Andrew, the then drummer, so… I’m not even going to engineer most of my next album (slight exaggeration), so I haven’t got the energy for anything else. Saying that, there is a project but I can’t say anything about it.
I recall reading positive press for Ghost at the time – particularly from Select. Did you experience any sort of monetary boost, at all, from the acclaim? Did your profile grow, noticeably?
Well, yes, I’ve been blessed with support from at least written press, but it rarely translates to sales. But to be honest I’m happy as I am, playing small shows and having a small but dedicated audience. I have no desire to be on the big time or whatever. I’m not really built for it.
What does the immediate future hold for Matt Elliott? Do you have any hopes that the re-issue of the three TEF albums will introduce people to the Matt Elliott recordings, or do you expect the release to be picked up primarily by those already into The Mess We Made and later albums?
Well, the one thing I’ve learnt is that usually when I have a fixed idea about something, by fate or design or coincidence someone or something happens to change my view, so now I just let things go on. At the moment I’m working on a new album plus a European (mainland) tour and some other things I can’t talk about. It sounds much more mysterious than it actually is, but suffice to say I have most of next year booked up already.
Third Eye Foundation’s three-disc Collected Works is available now via Domino; for more information visit Matt Elliott’s website here.