MSW Interview (Hell)

Salem, Oregon’s Matthew S. Williams is M.S.W. and he’s also Hell (and sometimes MSW Cloud). MSW makes what he calls “extreme doom and piano music” and it can take the listener to extremes of both sonic intensity and poignant beauty over the course of one record, with some of the most sonically and emotionally heavy music out there.

I wasn’t sure what MSW had going on right now, but I love the music, so I reached out for an interview, he said yes and here we are. Turns out he’s been busy, so read on to discover what projects are in the pipeline as well as info on MSW’s current engineering work.

You mentioned when I first contacted you that you’re planning to put together a vinyl collection of the various splits Hell’s done with other bands. How far along are you with that in terms of a release date and artwork and things like that?

MSW: I’m not sure about a release date but I know we are waiting on some art to be drawn up. Originally I was going to use some photography that I found at an antique shop in Salem but since I can’t seem to get in contact with the photographer we are attempting to find somebody to re-create it. Besides that, everything is mastered and ready to go ideally.

You were based in Salem, Oregon for a long time, but you moved to Texas around a year ago I think? How has this past year been for you in terms of the Covid effect? How are things in Texas?

MSW: It’s definitely been weird. I’ve lived in Salem, Or my whole life. When the lock down was introduced we had only been in Texas for a few months. It has also made it difficult to meet or work with other musicians in the area.

Last year you released “Obliviosus” as MSW (a really wonderful album in my opinion).  Your credits on that record include the line “Also, once again, I want to thank depression, fear and misery.” To what extent is the music you make a way to work through difficult situations and emotions? Do you see your creative process as a form of therapy?

MSW: To the extent that I feel like I’ve got to thank it in the album credits! Music, or any form of art, is a form of therapy for sure. That said, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to go see a shrink every once in a while anyways. I don’t but I probably should.

The first Hell album has a very relentless, enveloping, heavy sound. With subsequent releases you’ve added different dynamics, like acoustic guitars on Hell II, viola, flute and operatic vocals on Hell III, and violin on Hell (2017). Have you consciously tried to broaden the sound of Hell over the years, or is this more something that’s happened organically?

MSW: I’d say it happened organically. Every album’s sound is just how I was feeling at the time. There was no sonic agenda of any kind.

Hell has had a striking visual identity since very early on, with artwork that alludes to Gustave Doré and his illustrations for Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno. You seem to have found a perfect visual companion to your music. What first drew you to this artwork? Have you actually used any of Doré’s original illustrations for your releases? 

MSW: That came about after I finished Hell I. Paul Riedl and the other BG Woodsmoke guys were showing me art that I could or “should” use for the project. The Gustave Dore art caught my eye immediately. I think it was the first thing they showed me too.

A lot of people consider the song “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath to be the origin of Doom Metal and Rob Zombie famously said that every cool riff has already been written by Black Sabbath. What have been your biggest musical influences and how important (and difficult) is it to create music that offers something new?

MSW: It’s not difficult at all. You really just can’t be afraid to throw something weird in there or try something different. Use instruments that normally wouldn’t be used in that genre. Try stuff that you haven’t heard. Even if they’ve already been done and you just haven’t come across it yet. The music I’ve made still sounds like all sorts of other bands mashed together I’m sure, but that’s normal these days.

I really don’t listen to a lot of Metal. I’ll have a small handful of artists from every genre that I will listen to. It’s rare when I’ll hear something that sticks out, but when I do, it hits hard. Some people listen to Hell and probably think, that part sounds like X band or oh, that effect is the same effect Y band did on the Z album. Realistically, all things have been done. I just do it my way.

Aside from the compilation release, are there any other projects you’re working on at the moment? Can we expect some new Hell or MSW material in the near future?

MSW: Unfortunately no. I’ve been messing around with some ideas but nothing is ready for even pre production. I’ve been so busy with school, work, building a business, a puppy, a relationship etc. Sometimes I wish I was 16 again in my parents basement just riffing around without a care in the world. Peace, pain, and boredom  is the perfect combination for creativity.

Lastly is there anything else you’d like to promote or draw people’s attention to?

MSW: There sure is. I’ve dove deeper into the audio engineering side of things so have started a business in it. It’s called Sub Odin Studios (Subodinstudios.com). If anyone needs any audio mixed or mastered hit me up. I’ve started to get into film audio work as well.

Interview by Tom Boatman

Much thanks to MSW for the interview. Follow MSW on social media to keep updated with all forthcoming releases and go to the Lower Your Head Big Cartel site to check out all the releases and merch available now. “Obliviosus” can still be got on CD, cassette and vinyl. If you haven’t listened to the album yet, do so! And for any musicians in need of audio mixing or mastering check out the Sub Odin Studios website for more information.

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