Why I Love: Jo Quail on Sieben

Jo Quail is surely one of the most innovative composers and musicians you’re likely to encounter. Her approach to the cello has caught the attention of many a band. From classical and orchestral to industrial and dark metal, their music has been enhanced by the contribution of the tones she coaxes from her instrument. She’s recently re-issued her Five Incantations album (our review) which is a genuine work of art.

We’re totally stoked that she’s joined us, at the barrier, to regale us with why she loves the “one man whirlwind of violin and voice” – Sieben.


Matt Howden, aka Sieben, is an extraordinary composer and performer, one who constantly evolves and challenges himself. Primarily a soloist, Matt combines looped violin, vocals and effects to create his concerts and produce his music. I first heard Sieben live on a boat on the Thames several years ago, but I’d heard his music in clubs and events many times before that. 

From the very outset I was transfixed by what Matt could do, the sounds he could coax from his instrument, at the time it was an acoustic violin though now he performs with electric. To quote Specs Blog (Adrian Ainsworth) “this seemingly limited set-up works more as a springboard than a straitjacket” and I could not put it better! Matt has a freedom in his live performance that I find deeply refreshing and highly inspirational too. His candid interactions with his audiences heighten the electric performances he stages, at times literally speaking or shouting in to his instrument, commanding a stage, an audience with just violin and voice, whirling his bow around like a possessed creature and fully captivating all who are present!

Though he frequently collaborates with other artists Matt is first and foremost a soloist, and I think it was the recognition of this for me; the penny dropped, yes it was possible to play concerts, festivals, stages of all sizes on your own, and make a performance as fine as any five-piece (or more!) band may do. 

Matt continuously inspires me, and in the early days it was obviously his use of live looping that, along with my early explorations, got me to a stage. Matt allowed me to see the possibilities afforded combining this technology with string instruments. In particular in a live setting it was Matt’s use of violin-body percussions that led me to create some of the sounds I still work with today, and through this I began to develop some of the more complex percussions and textures that pepper the music I create. 

My favourite Sieben tracks are probably We Wait For Them and Old Magic.  Old Magic showcases how Matt can develop and create an entire universe from a single loop, a gradual yet monumental build, yet solid and full of intent from the very outset.  Matt is an expressive and insightful poet, all his lyrics are highly significant, and for me, they form ‘another line’ in the compositions, rather than the music simply serving the lyric. The fact that he can set up his loops, make his sonic bed so to speak, and then deliver these profound or thought-provoking lyrics over the top never ceases to amaze me (I can’t even speak when I’m playing!)  all whilst delivering a stunning performance, and all of this with a genuine humbleness, a connectedness, and a sense of humour too. 

I think Matt places the same level of importance on artwork as I do – each of the Sieben album covers have a particular identity – you can see the story and intent of the music for example when you look at the cover for 2020 Vision, and on the other side there’s the simple yet iconic image for Each Divine Spark.

I love the fact that Matt can fully translate the recorded version of his songs to the live setting, which is one of the most important factors for me as a soloist and recording artist. We must be able to bring a version of the recorded work to the stage, it doesn’t have to be ‘as per the album’ and this is something I sense Matt embraces. 
Over the lockdown, Matt has been bringing live concerts every single week from his home, and he has created a true community here, something which has connected people in this difficult time, bringing enjoyment, entertainment, interaction and a sense of positivity, all of which are invaluable, and indeed are the very lifeblood of live music for me. 

Our thanks to Jo for taking the time to share her thoughts with us and we should also give a shout out to the recent announcement of a European tour for 2021 opening for Amenra & Envy.

Watch Jo performing a hypnotic Mandrel Cantus at Hellfest:

Jo Quail online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram / Youtube

Check our Why I Love archive here

You can follow At The Barrier on Twitter here, and like us on Facebook here. We really appreciate your support.

Categories: Uncategorised

Tagged as: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.