Every week, KEXP features a new local artist with an interview and suggested tracks for where to start. This week we're highlighting Seattle songwriter and producer RVN, who recently self-released his LP GREYNEON.
Raven Matthews, aka RVN, can't be put into a box. His willingness to defy expectations from track-to-track and embrace what might be considered "shocking imagery" in his videos that makes him such a groundbreaking artist. It's not uncommon to find images of him covered in blood or mud, immersing himself in the grime of life while also unearthing some unseen beauty in the process. While he's become a fixture in the Seattle hip-hop scene, he's always pushed the limits of genre and embracing extremes. On his latest LP, GREYNEON, he's exploring these ideas with the strums of acoustic guitars and the low bellow of his voice. He samples the late Portland songwriter Elliott Smith and slows down the tempo compared to previous releases like Disco Christ. We caught up with RVN to discuss the sonic shifts and confessional themes on his new album, the brilliance of Elliott Smith, and his passion for the visual arts.
One of the things that's immediately exciting about your music is that it's really hard to place it into a preconceived genre. You've become a big part of the hip-hop scene here in Seattle, yet you're also heard singing over acoustic guitars and don't always even rap on your tracks. What has been the process been like shaping your sound and what have you wanted to convey sonically in your music?
Hip-hop is how I got involved in music. I studied all the greats, they taught me how to find confidence in myself and how to put words together in a poetic way. I also grew up in a musical household so I was surrounded by all kinds of music as a child. I started rapping at the age of about nine, and soon after began drumming in a punk band. So my evolution as an artist is really just slowly incorporating more and more of my influences, and trying to make the most honest and interesting work possible. Lately, I've been experimenting with acoustic guitar and exploring different things with my voice. I've been enjoying slowing things down a bit, as opposed to the rapid-fire delivery of my past. I also feel like being a whitey, it feels more and more like cultural appropriation to be rapping all the time at this point.
A lot of this record feels like it’s dealing with themes of depression and reflecting on family and youth. You've always been willing to explore uncomfortable topics and push boundaries in your music, but there's a special line of intimacy on this record. What made you want to focus on these ideas on GREYNEON?
I think it's just becoming more mature as a songwriter and wanting to dig deeper into my pain and my memories to try and find some kind of resolution or healing. And hopefully, that will give my fans some healing as well. I've also been really inspired by my partner DoNormaal and her fierce vulnerability in her music. She made me want to tell my own story, a story that can only be told by me. We all have a story inside of us that wants to be recognized.
Before I even got to the Elliott Smith samples on “headed out” and “sad sack,” I was already feeling a lot of his influence on this record. What's your relationship to his music and why did you want to incorporate it into GREYNEON?
The first time I heard Elliott Smith I was probably a freshman in high school and I was immediately obsessed. I'm not usually into singer/songwriter kinda stuff but his voice is just so haunting. It's angry but soft. And his lyrics and guitar playing are just pure genius. I think I also related to his painfully shy and self-critical way of being in the world. His music has helped me through some of my darkest days and so I wanted to honor him with this record.
The only other collaborators listed on the album are Wolftone (who produced three of the tracks) and AJ Suede who features on “we need hints.” How did you decide to bring them into the fold and how did they fit into the vision of the record?
Well GREYNEON is largely a self-produced and self-directed project, but I wanted another producer to balance out the sound with a few tracks and Wolftone has a production style that I really connect with, I feel like our sounds mesh well. AJ happened to be over at Wolf's one day when we were recording "we need hints" and since I really like his style as well I asked him to put a verse on it. It all came together really naturally. I was planning on having more features but the cookie crumbled how it crumbled.
Throughout each project you've had some really compelling visuals, with your music videos and album art often pushing to some really exciting extremes. How do you go about conceptualizing the visual components of your music? Do you have any more videos planned for GREYNEON?
I love visual art, it's something I want to pursue more, short films, video directing, etc. When it comes to music videos, I like abstract, visceral imagery. I view my role in front of a camera or on stage as performance art, so I really try to embody my inner weirdness, my repressed emotions. I become a character that I call Slobber God. Slobber God has no boundaries and no concern with manmade morals. I definitely want to make at least a few videos for GREYNEON. I think having a video really boosts a song and allows people to connect on a fuller level.
Alongside music, you also host The RVN Show. Could you describe a little bit about what The RVN Show is and how you conceptualized it?
The RVN Show is something that I started using my Instagram stories. I thought it would be fun to structure it like a show of some kind, with monologues, skits, and segments. But since IG stories disappear after 24 hours, it's a very fleeting kinda show, impermanent. But I've been talking with several filmmakers and directors about creating a more polished version of the show, something to post on YouTube, and maybe one day it'll be on Comedy Central or Netflix. I'm currently working on putting together the first few episodes, with set designs, pranks, theme songs, interviews, etc. It's gonna be like Pee Wee Herman meets Erica Andre.
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