The Poor Farm & Rag Lore of Matthew Russell Boteilho – Interview

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Matthew Russell Boteilho is a young guitar player and graphic designer from Houston, TX. I guess, meeting him in person on a concert could end up in night nerding around about music, art and culture. So for this interview you should take some time. Turn on your audio and open another tab with the search engine you prefer, to look up the names he drops and the references he fires up.

Matthew Russell Boteilho – Lapstyle Guitar, Tape Loops, Production & Design
Eyebeams – Marcus Obst

Handmade prints on Stumptown CD Folders.
Sophisticated and limited as fuck. (Edition of 60)

4 tracks in total


Artist Website:

  powered by bandcamp

Rag Lore[/bandcamp]

Hi Matthew, how are you and where are you?

Been doing just fine, moved over to Houston Texas not too long ago - new apartment, things have been finally falling into place recently.

What is the most significant difference between Houston, TX and Richmond, VA where are you from?

Size, seven lane highways. I've still only been able to see a couple small corners of Houston so far. Richmond's wholly something else though, we miss it. We want to make our way over to Austin soon, then California. Keep on moving around. 

Tell us about your musical project Rag Lore and Poor Farm, and about Poor Farm Editions Press.

Rag Lore is the name I annotate my lapslide guitar ideas with - not solely an unaccompanied guitar endeavor though; just an on-going project that'll hopefully keep seeing more output. 

Poor Farm was the title that I attributed to music recorded over the course of 3 years between me and my friend Olivia Grey Lewis. We had recorded a good amount of material but never really carried any intentions, release-wise. It was always a spur of the moment, wide-eyed type of process. Just seeing what we could do ourselves from the standpoint of loving all these small circle avant-folk type of projects that had been making their way into my tape player. 

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As far as the Press itself, something of that nature had always been sitting at the back of my head when I began to study & dedicate my time to Graphic Design. But what I pictured back then never included music of my own, maybe music of others, but mostly pictured an imprint concerned with print design, the love for type+ink+paper, and documenting ideas - written/musical/or otherwise.

My old mantra was 'never throw anything away'. I would horde all my past projects, 'scrap' materials that appear during the design process, old torn up books, printed ephemeral. So the natural solution to this was starting The Press, perfect way to put all this to use and bring to light my goal of a self-initiated private press. I love making books; my first project for the Press was a series of letterpress books, hard cover + soft cover editions. Some more print projects came to be and then the first batch of tapes fell into place: two Rag Lore full lengths, the Poor Farm 'archive' album, and a full on boxset about a mountain in Virginia called Old Rag. Old Rag is my favorite, it's the only bare top mountain in the Blue Ridge range. No trees once you reach the summit. So when you get up there you can see for miles.

This is the little bio that I made for the Press' website: "Poor Farm Editions Press is a private press publication and music label interested in producing print materials and audio artifacts for limited distribution. From the synthesis of analog and digital reproduction techniques - the Press holds its emphasis on creating tangible materials for utilitarian use, alongside visual and typographic printmaking, as well as releasing albums and compositions of audio rooted in esoteric origin."

Did you have any formal education in playing music or is it self-taught in the best "American Primitive" tradition? What were your influences?

No education; just growing up had always played music with friends in our band, couple years of bass lessons as a kid.

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I used to live with a good friend of mine who definitely earned his opportunity to study guitar at our university - so it was great to be able to ask him what exactly is going on with a certain tuning, hand position, what have you. The hows and whys of it all. Hearing someone play quality music constantly around the house is one of the best things; there's a certain sense of 'centering' that happens inside your head when you get to experience something like that on a daily basis. 

What music inspires you?

Country blues is my first love. But I guess there's kinda two mindsets for me while digging around for music. Country blues forces me to search around so to speak - when I hear a new player for the first time, it'll open up a field of information. I get to go and look into all their other recordings, read about their life, their contemporaries or friends, the context of their tunes -- and that'll eventually lead to carving out a new niche or subset of guitar playing or some other form of rural music that I hadn't heard before. It's kinda a labor of love, where I yearn to seek out for new stuff here and there & obsess over the fine print. The thing that I love about country blues is that it's all already out there. It's just a matter of putting in the time to look out for it and dig deep for some great rural gospel or more raw Piedmont picking.

While on the other hand, I love following new labels like Housecraft, House of Sun, L'animaux Tryst, or No Kings - that's what I see as this other mindset of listening to music. I don't mean to read into this too much, but rather than digging up info on a new ragtime picker - following a whole host of new labels allows me to just absorb whatever their the next update is. For around the price of a record, I can grab the latest batch of cassette releases from a label like Hooker Vision and dive straight into all these eye opening sounds + textures. As far as 'looking out' for it, the ease of accessibility to contemporary experimental music is an inspiring thing for sure. There's so much coming into the picture on any given day that you can be enticed on so many different levels - surely a good thing in my eyes.

A guy named Ralph Johnson, who used to go by the moniker Ragtime Ralph, has really informed me the best things there are about solo guitar excursions. For sure, his recordings are some of my favorite to date. Ragtime Ralph stuff was done throughout the 70's and 80's, but more over, it's his recent project called Blind Brand X that I dig the most. He slows some of his pieces down to a crawl and inserts these loud poundings of all 6 six strings after lines of melody, it's great. The work on "Yesterday I'll Be Happy" is my go-to.

What music is on heavy rotation for you right now?

Found out recently about the Texas guitar player Smith Casey. For the Library Of Congress, The Lomaxes recorded a dozen tunes of his while he was serving time at the Clemens State Farm in Brazoria, Texas. Born in 1895 and recorded in 1935. Under the radar people like Casey are always such a great thing to come across, he could've easily been passed over and never recorded, which woulda been a shame. Huge voice and really fine finger picker of the older traditions. His slide playing is something else as well. Texas seems to keep coming up with great country blues players - like Oscar Buddy Woods' "Don't Sell It - Don't Give It Away".

The Piedmont region is always on heavy rotation for me - guys like Frank Stokes, Peg Leg Howell, the Hicks brothers, Mctell & Blake, and Kokomo Arnold. But my heart lies in the Virginia region, though I'll include WV and NC too, like Blind Boy Fuller or Frank Hutchison. I've been loving Flora Molton lately, shes from Virginia and does some really intense vesatpol slide gospel tunes. There's this video of her playing at a party hosted by John Jackson in Fairfax County in the late 80s, love it. 

Sampson Pittman did this long-form talking gospel blues in 1938 called "Brother Low-Down and Sister Do-Dad" - that tune is too damn good; was recorded by Alan Lomax too.

Ian Nagoski's compilations are always great, really into the recent Ottoman-American release "To What Strange Place". On that same vein, Middle Eastern music is on in the house a lot too. My wife frequently listens to recitations of the Quran, real beautiful. And Egyptian singers like her grandmother Nagat, and Om Kalthoum are played a lot around the house too.

A good crop of artists contributed to an album dedicated to early Rebetika music of the '20s, Steve Gunn is on there and nails it as always - the comp is called "On A Steady Diet of Hash, Bread, & Salt". Really looking forward to "Time Off" by Gunn, should be out soon. His duet albums with John Truscinski are some of my favorites; always good to see him doing stuff with the Black Twigs too.

Also been playing Grant Evans "Dragging Alabaster" on House of Sun, Matthew Doc Dunn "Tecumseh" on Healing Power Records, and Tuluum Shimmering "Raag Wichikapache/Lake of Mapang" on Space Slave.

Describe the perfect release for you, in terms of music, format, production and manufacturing. It could be the vision of your own music or someone else’s music.

That's a hard one, but as a recent post-grad and still within the world of 'first jobs' - the Press is a refreshing way to take a big breath of my own air. As far as being within the world of working for agencies that are bigger than me - my day to day routine is designing or implementing other peoples ideas and concepts. So the perfect release or avenue for me, in a liberating sense, is doing something like Poor Farm Editions Press - where I can fully wallow in mediums, processes, and materials that are born from my own decisions.

What else inspires you?

I'm always really inspired by Dust-to-Digitals work, they're really cementing important ground and it's awesome being alive + being able to grab the releases that they put so much effort into.

But the world of music is still something that I'm lucky to be able to spend some spare time to bask in. The focal point of Design in my wife and I's life is really what runs things on a day-to-day basis. So, we're constantly inspired by design process, and every form that can take. Deadlines are inspiring in one way or other, albeit in a sometimes frightening way, but it's what keeps everything in line. Knowing that one day we could perhaps do work under our own personal names is a big drive - hopefully sooner rather than later.

Which live appearance impressed you lately?

Daniel's [Bachman] shows are great as always. Grateful that I'd always been around to be able to head to his shows in Virgina, so I was glad to be able to see him again but this time out here in Texas. His playing just keeps getting better and better for sure. I remember one of his shows in Fredericksburg where he opened up for Jack Rose, and being blown away, this was just before he put out his first LP. Couple weeks later I came to his house for a Cursillistas show, I asked him about that night with Jack and he noted about being nervous as hell - but you couldn't notice his anxiety at all from the audience's perspective. That show was special not only because of Jack, but I guess since Dan's house was 5min away from the venue, he was able to bring a sitar and play it. That was awesome. Another highlight was that Jack broke a string while playing "Now That I'm A Man Full Grown" - and his commentary about how that rarely happens to him and it only happened ironically because his mom was in the audience. 

There's a live recording of that show on this blog here, no recording of Daniel's set unfortunately.

Do you see any relation between graphic design/typography and music? In particular, do you think in musical terms, such as rhythm and form, when designing?

It all stems from the same area in my brain. Design overall does require a process of rhythm in some sense of the word. And for sure you fall into a system of rhythm while working in a letterpress shop, same goes while setting up the pagination for a book. Typography and music obviously have gone hand in hand since the advent of 'the album cover'; but on a more subliminal level they do share the same restraints and liberations in order to achieve either art form. As far as musical timing, you can certainly kern the space in between your right hands' fingers while picking strings. Space is the place of gold in both typography and solo guitar. Space is your friend. 

As part of your graphic design training, I’m sure you were required to design your own font. Is this something you enjoy, and have continued to explore? If so, what kind of fonts do you like to design? Do you have a favorite font (or fonts)?

Typography is definitely a main interest of mine - but from my personal vantage point, the process of making a typeface is fairly demanding, although it is a process that I was taught in a Typeface Design class. We made 2 typefaces over the course of that semester - one of them that I made was called Cocola Nova, or maybe it was Cocola Neue? I can't remember exactly, but it was based on the type that Matt Valentine used in a couple of those early Child Of Microtones CDrs. I emailed him back and forth a couple times about it and that lettering was developed by hand for those releases. I was really into (and still am too) a lot of those Child of Microtone albums and all the artwork presented with each release. Especially the three volume "Rural Ragas" series, and then specific stuff like the vellum cover pages to the booklet inside of "Sun Catcher Mountain". But the handwritten lettering that I modeled the typeface after can be found in the tracklisting for "I Burned One With God, But Cocola If I'm Peaking Which Way Is The Sky?" or "We Offer You Guru", I'm pretty sure the Bummer Road icon is written in the same style too.

What do you think about the current digital culture in terms of sharing music and making a living by creating music and art?

I was originally really turned on by all these small and like-minded communities that exist in contemporary drone and experimental music. The amount of overlap in terms of artists and collaborations is so great. Seeing 'artist A' being released by 'artist B's label' then in turn seeing 'artist B' being released by 'artist A's label' and so on and so forth. From self-initiated tape labels to slightly bigger multi-format labels, the aspect of sharing ideas and intentions has been inspirational from both sides of the coin. And at the same time, if you can make a living at it, then by all means you've hit the right vein. But I certainly don't think the majority of people make that their initial intention or long time goal. Getting home from whatever work you may do, and getting right on into your personal project of that day, week, or month is a healthy thing to benefit from when you've got the time and aspirations.

Why did you create your own press while you were still a student? Do you think an entrepreneurial approach is the future for creatives like yourself?

The self-initiated approach to doing something, whatever your project may be, is a key thing for sure and is definitely noticed by people with keen eyes. From the perspective of being a designer, on the question of why - becoming the driver behind my own publication or label was something that I needed to do; it's the great reliever of every idea I can't accomplish during my day at work.

On any given day, I feel like I can start out my week on Sunday, and get to Friday with a average amount of rest, with a hindsight of a decent weeks worth of work behind me. Or I can reach Friday a bit dazed from the loss of sleep because something had to be brought into the physical world, or an entity needed to be created and put into place. Sometimes I decide that I need my rest, and sometimes I don't - I just hope it all works out in the end.

So, thank to Matthew for creating and sharing great things and thanks to Patty for helping with the questions (inspiration and proof reading). Check out Matthew's portfolio!

  • discogs

Keep your eyes and ears peeled for the Sabah el Mitragyna Reveries release here on the Dying For Bad Music.

And now some of Matthew's work:

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