Rasp is the new project of violinist and vocalist Matt Howden, and London-based cellist Jo Quail.
Listen with headphones, if you can, close your eyes and imagine you’re in a vault that is nearly that dark. The ceiling is low, but the space stretches out to the sides. The air carries a kind of vibrant warmth.
Providing this are a man and a woman, loop pedals at their feet. She cradles the outline of a cello –electric, a beautiful skeleton. From this embrace emerge basslines, riffs, deep wells of harmony. He sings or recites a kind of beat poetry, conjuring up hooks and melodies from his violin, or kneeling to trigger a sample or beat from a laptop on the floor. In perfect sync, they dovetail in and out of each other’s music.
The loops swirling around them and us, she steps back momentarily from the cello, lifts her head and smiles, while he whirls his bow on his fingertip before snapping it still to play on.
For about an hour, these two writer-performers made this riot of sound coalesce into the immersive live experience you’re hearing now. Two days earlier, Rasp didn’t exist.
Matt Howden and Jo Quail had collided at concerts before, and soon identified each other as kindred spirits with genuine onstage chemistry. They make very different music as individuals. Matt, a master songwriter, places haunting, concise lyrics over interlocking repeats and rhythms. Jo is a gifted composer of emotionally searching instrumentals that surround the captive listener. But there is a linked aesthetic: both operate strings on the dark side of folk, and both tend to perform alone, building the songs up in layers –same approach, always new results.
The Rasp idea emerged as a way to collaborate further while sidestepping clashing schedules and commitments. What if they went through the creative process – writing, performing and recording their album – but in only two days?
As the project took life, it became as much an event as a record. The writing session was limited to two hours, and took place in front of an audience (live in the studio and online). Matt and Jo each brought ideas and fragments that would all need input from the other to turn them into fully-fledged tracks. Performing as Rasp the same evening, the pair honed the material further, before recording the whole suite to analogue tape – in front of an invited, amazed crowd – the next night.
Rasp could only happen because Matt and Jo are on the creative form of their lives. Outside it, they were both working on extraordinary solo records. Rasp sounds like neither. A punk ethos replaces painstaking precision, and with as much improvisation as composition, they career through electronica, noise, free jazz, folk, classical and even spoken word. Their mutual energy must have been truly kinetic, propelling them to another destination entirely.
A shared adventure, an uncharted landing.
Adrian Ainsworth, April 2014
released November 6, 2014
All tracks were written and performed by Matt Howden and Jo Quail, live at Club60 Recording studio, Sheffield, England. Recorded by Paul Blakeman. Produced by Matt Howden at Redroom studio, Sheffield, England. Mastered for CD by Dan Worrall at The Laundry Rooms. Sleeve design by Martin Bedford.
Track Name: Song Of Strings
Song Of Strings
Song of strings
spring-sing summer song
rasp the bow
string-spring coming home
Track Name: Inside & Beyond
Inside & Beyond
that hang inside and beyond
hang inside and beyond
radiate power words
fold in, incinerate out
radiate power words
Track Name: Sing For All You're Worth
Sing For All You're Worth
We loop it - We love to weave. To hypnotise.
Cycles - Cycle of life, cycles of time, of fascinating lives.
Less is more - it takes a while to really know this.
Music has taken us - so many beautiful places, times, people.
Sometimes you doubt – This is natural. This is entirely part of the process.
Work hard - develop, explore. Never lose the love.
Touch - people's minds, their senses, their hearts, their thoughts.
Feel – be on top of your game, room to sense your audience.
Realise - times when you're creative, times to simply sift and sort.
Work. Perfect. Give of yourself. Be humble. Be gracious.
Beat - like a wave.
Sing - for all you're worth.
Track Name: Green Map
We all need a green map
to know where to go
a virtual signpost, an app
we all need a green map
Track Name: Lost In Red Light
Lost In Red Light
lost in red light
the four faces face
riding the white light
lost in red light
falling through space and time
our burning angels