Matthew Barnes – aka Forest Swords

On his latest album, ‘Bolted’, the distinctive “sonic vocabulary” of producer Matthew Barnes – aka Forest Swords – feels more expansive than ever. Given his wide-ranging influences, it’s no surprise


“I grew up in quite a small town outside Liverpool. Between the ages of 11 and 14, my main access point to music and culture and films was through magazines like The Face, Lodown, The Wire and some European publications that I would pay a lot of money for. It was like a portal to all these amazing things that I didn’t really have a clue about because I wasn’t going to clubs or watching indie cinema. 

“A lot of the cultural things I got excited about were through descriptions of them in magazines. I was so obsessed with them, I became a designer for football programmes after university. I think magazines definitely influenced the way I make music today. I come up with things that are kind of smushed together – ‘What would a jazz record sound like if it was made with an oil barrel?’. I think in terms of what it might sound like when it’s written down in a description.”


“I got a 4-track TASCAM cassette recorder as a Christmas present when I was 12 years old. It shifted my entire perception about how to make music. When you’re growing up, so much of the onus is on joining a band or finding mates to be in a band with you. If people around you don’t play the right instruments or are not into the same stuff as you, then it’s impossible. 

“All of a sudden, I could make entire songs on my own, with drums, guitar or whatever I wanted to put on it. It taught me a lot about layering sounds and how they work together. A lot of the sounds and melodies on ‘Bolted’, my new album, were made on computer and then put through the cassette recorder. It feels like this collection has got a bit of my childhood in there.”


“I had quite temperamental skin as a teenager, but in the past three or four years, I’ve started figuring out what might benefit it. I’ve come to realise that skincare can be quite a meditative thing, and the more I learn about what’s good for me, the more I enjoy it as an activity. Having recently started touring again, I’ve found that a skincare routine in the evening is a really nice habit. 

“If you’re in an unfamiliar city or hotel room, they can sometimes be quite anxious places. When you’ve just played a show and you’re full of adrenaline, the physical process of a skincare ritual is very grounding and a constant because it’s the exact same thing that I do at home, just in a different place. It’s the act of looking after something – it makes me feel good.”


“When I was doing my design degree, a guest lecturer would come in to look over our work and give advice. In my third year, I thought I’d got a really good portfolio together, but he looked at my designs and said, ‘I don’t think you should do this – I don’t really get it’. I sleepwalked through the rest of my degree. A month after I left, I got offered a job doing the football programmes. Their reason for hiring me was that they didn’t understand it – they thought having someone like me onboard would be challenging and interesting. 

“When I began releasing records as Forest Swords, it was a real struggle to get people to understand my work. Now I see that not being understood can actually work in your favour. So I may not ever be the biggest or most acclaimed artist, but the people who do seek out my music and are really into it are going to be the ones that connect and resonate with it.”


“I spend a lot of time walking around museums and galleries – I think because I’m a very visual person. To get inspired, I access ideas through seeing rather than listening. I have a bunch of pasted-up images around my studio that I use as visual jumping-off points while I’m making music. 

“I look at the texture of a sculpture or the way that a painter has applied paint to the canvas, and I think, ‘That’s interesting – how can I reflect that in sound?’. For me, going to a museum is similar to going to church. I don’t love everything that I see. I like looking at things and thinking, ‘Why don’t I like that? What is it that I don’t like about it?’.”


“I have a lot of friends who are musicians, and that’s great, and I’ve been really lucky to meet some of my idols in the business. But I get the most insane inspiration from people who aren’t musicians. In recent years, I’ve written scores for choreographers, film directors, video game developers and people from different artistic sectors who have taught me things about myself that I wouldn’t get from hanging around just with musicians. 

“I’m so in awe of people who can do things I can’t. I find it really nourishing. I also have a lot of friends who have regular jobs and that is really valid too. As much as I love what I do, I feel like there’s a real deification of musicians – you can be just as creative in an insurance job or a teaching job.”

‘Bolted’ is out on Nin

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