Matti Roots comes across as a slightly nervous but very affable guy, always smiling and always with a look that hints at the cogs working overtime beyond that smile. His musical virtuosity is matched by an intense desire for knowledge in a far broader sense. Just as he needs to understand music to the fullest extent, his fascination with the universe as a whole is just as passionate.
We met up with him in a fashionable Camden gastro pub and, over tea and laughter, opened up his slightly guarded outer shell and found out why his love of music is so strong.
What, in your opinion, is the most beautiful sound in the world?
Oh my god. I'm going to start with a very, very hard question, the most beautiful sound in the world… There are quite a lot of nice sounds; do I have to pick one? I can't prejudice sound really, it is what it is. Obviously there are nice sounds, there are horrible sounds but you can appreciate them all for what they are I suppose.
I've never been asked that question, that's funny [water runs into a glass as the waiter pours Matti's drink] See, that's a nice sound. The sound of someone doing something that you want them to do, that's also a nice sound. There are soothing sounds, there's the sea you know, and you've got birdsong, silence and ambient noise.
I would imagine that to be in an absolute vacuum would be quite interesting because there's literally no sound and all you're left with is the sound that's in your mind so you would probably start almost sonically hallucinating. Or then there's the sound of your girlfriend when you're making love or a child of yours laughing or crying.
In terms of instruments, I love strings, funnily enough [just as classical strings music comes on over the sound system in the bar]. I really like the Sarangi which is like an Indian violin, it's supposed to be the instrument nearest to the human voice and it kind of sounds like crying. I could list a whole load of instruments that sound great for their own reasons, but I won't. I hope that adequately answers your question.
What's your favourite album and why?
These probing questions! My favourite album and why…probably either 'Here My Dear' or 'I Want You' from Marvin Gaye, 'Music Of My Mind' and 'Songs In The Key Of Life' from Stevie, or '1999', Prince. There's just too many. Miles Davies' 'Bitch's Brew' or 'In A Silent Way' maybe, it depends what mood I'm in. 'Off The Wall' is a pretty dope album.
It's a hard one because I have to judge it on the basis of how you view an entire album from beginning to end, you can just enjoy the whole thing, like a masterwork. Even though there are some amazing artists out there, they don't all create those types of albums. So even though I could say James Brown or Fela Kuti, or all these people who inspire me massively, I couldn't think of an album, for me, that compares to that era of constructing a work of art.
I really like Lewis Taylor's first album, which I think is an untitled album. I know I'm missing a whole load of stuff out as well. We'd be here for a long time if I went through them all I guess. I'm just trying to picture my album collection right now in my head. There's just too many, I could go through all my different favourite artists and tell you the albums of theirs that I like, like early Tribe Called Quest albums, you know 'Midnight Marauders' and those things, but I'll stop there. I just feel bad that I'm going to leave someone out.
What inspired you to become a musician?
Nothing really inspired me to become a musician, I think I just was one. From an early age, like when I was three, music was the most important thing to me, even from that young age. I started learning the piano and it was the biggest focus in my life. Everything related back to that, it was the most important thing to me. Learning my instruments and then just learning about music, studying music, that's what I did with my free time. I didn't question it and never have really. It's just part of me I guess.
If you hadn't been a musician, what would you have liked to do with your life?
I think I would have liked to have done something scientific, because the universe itself, human beings, thought, consciousness, that kind of thing really fascinates me. So I would probably be in a white jacket somewhere, hitting my head against the wall, dribbling, trying to understand everything and anything. I probably would have gone to study science, philosophy, physics, that kind of thing.
You've worked across a lot of different genres, from classical to grime, how do you think class divisions can impact on people's engagement with different genres of music? Do you think that it can close some types of music off to different people?
Yes and no, it depends on the individual I think. Can you be a bit more specific?
For example, traditionally speaking, classical music could be seen as the preserve of the upper classes, something like grime would be seen as more working class. Do you think that those kinds of perceptions could stop say a working class kid from really getting engaged with classical music because of a traditionally held perception of who should be listening to different types of music?
Yes it can, I'm sure it can. But I've seen enough examples of, and worked with enough people who do make grime music, for example, who when they hear music, just close their eyes and it's just music so it resonates with them and they have a feeling about it.
I don't think that, just because you're wealthy, it means that you are necessarily the one that's even created that music with that sort of depth. For example, Mozart was one of the poorest and yet greatest composers that ever lived. He died in a box, no one knows where he lived, no one knows where he's buried. So, I think the establishment makes it what it is, but the musicians are the ones who make the music and they make it for the reasons that are far deeper and far more universal than just a class divide.
I read that you teach music to children, can you tell us a little bit more about that work?
I've been teaching kids for about seven or eight years. It's all just private tuition, I teach, on a one to one basis, piano and saxophone and a bit of computer stuff as well if they have computer programmes at home. I've got some amazing pupils, some that are now going on to make music.
In fact, one of my students is an up and coming dubstep producer, and is making some really incredible music. He's gone from a year ago just sort of mucking around on his mac, to now creating stuff which anyone, of any age, would be proud of making. I'm going to bring him through, because I just think he's got a hell of a lot of talent and I've actually got him to remix my track 'Lust' which is the next track which I'm releasing.
I've got a few pupils who are studying composition at the Guildhall. I've got a couple of pupils that have got music scholarships in their schools, some of whom I've been teaching for like eight or nine years. Yeah, I really enjoy it.
Tell us more about the album Beatroot and double single 'Lust' and 'Don't Worry'.
I'll start with the singles. Basically, the track 'Lust' is more of a funk, Prince inspired track. That one was actually written after a massive session of listening to 1999. For about three of four hours, I was just listening to that album over and over again and then I just started making this tune and 'Lust' came out.
'Don't Worry' is a bit more of a mainstream sort of track. It started off its life as a track called 'I Ain't Got No Girlfriend' and then I changed the lyrics. It was one of these songs that I had chord-wise and was messing around with for a couple of years.
I don't know why, but I just ended up turning it into a track about trying to understand the world around you and trying to make empirical statements on existence and just kind of saying 'don't worry' because, like I was saying before, it could drive you crazy to try and really know everything. There are times when you have to throw up your hands and just let it go. So that's really what that track's about, as much written for myself as for anything else.
Beatroot, the album, I would probably describe as a collection of influences. Just a combination of four or five years worth of songs which I'd written in between all the other stuff that I was doing. I hadn't actually sat down and said 'I'm making an album'. It was only after that period of time, of having all these songs and feeling that I wanted to have a full product that represented my music that it became an album.
So I actually went and I reproduced everything and I remade all the tracks and I tried to create a kind of homogenised group of tracks that worked well together. I did it all in the same studio, used a lot of the same musicians, the same mix engineer. The end result is…online now, for you to download.
What type of music do you hate?
If you'd have asked me years ago, I would have given you a massive list, but now I find it difficult to give you any list at all to be honest. Hate is a very strong word. There are times when I can't listen to a certain type of music because I'm not in the mood for it, but I've always got time to listen to something, because it interests me what people make. I will listen to anything if I'm in the right mood.
I'm not necessarily just talking about genres, are there any attitudes towards making music that irritate you?
I would say that people love to hate, in some senses. Where would we be if we didn't have something to poke fun at, or look down at, or criticise. Everything has its place and purpose in life. Some people might frown on Katy Perry, millions of people might not.
Do you frown on Katy Perry?
I don't do anything with Katy Perry to be honest [laughs]. I accept Katy Perry.
Do you accept people like 'Lil Wayne?
[Smiling] Yeah, I accept 'Lil Wayne, he's got his moments. He's quite amusing, quite entertaining. You know, music has the ability to do a massive variety of things. It can entertain you in the most superficial way, and it can take you somewhere very, very deep. No one is one or other of those things all the time. Music reflects the moods and the attitudes of the society in which it exists.
Do you think pain is necessary to make honest music?
Only if you're writing honestly about a painful experience. If you're writing about happiness then you've just got to be honest with the feeling that you're trying to express I suppose. There's a hell of a lot of good music that's been written through painful experiences, that's for sure. But, conversely, great music's been written through joy as well.
What's coming up next for you? The album came out on the 4th of April, the double singles are coming up, what else is out there for you?
I'm producing some music with a number of different artists. I've just started doing a little project with a Bermudan MC, kind of an underground hip-hop sort of thing. I'm quite excited about it because I really enjoy writing with him, he's really musical and has got a lot of depth, his name's Bento. That's his actual, real name.
Then, there are a few songwriters that I've been working with, trying to write songs for different artists. I'm doing a few bits of advert music and I've started doing some film stuff as well which I'm really excited about.
In terms of my own music, I have another, probably, two albums worth of material which I'm deciding what to do with at the moment. I'm trying to decide whether I want to produce it in a different way, if I want to just scrap it all and start again, if I want to keep the same sort of sound as I did for this album, which I think is unlikely actually because I'd feel as if I was just sticking in one place. So yeah, that's about it really. Thank you for having me [grins].