by Reece Kovacs

Lee Mvtthews: In Through The Out Door

by Reece Kovacs

Lee Mvtthews: In Through The Out Door

Tāmaki Makaurau DnB act Lee Mvtthews continue to develop a long and illustrious career. Playing alongside industry legends Wilkinson, Kanine, Grafix and Shock One, their accolades include being the first non-Europeans to place in the ‘Best Newcomer’ category at the Drum&BassArena Awards and topping the NZ Top 40 singles charts. The pair won Best Electronic Music Artists at the Aotearoa Music Awards in 2020 and have a new album titled ‘Exit’. Reece Kovacz chatted with Tom Lee and Graham Matthews

Lee Mvtthews have just delivered ‘Exit,’ an album of collaborations representing their last six or so years on the road and in their own studios. Known for their epic builds, vibrant and colourful melodies and massive bass, the duo first began working together in 2012 under the project name Joystix, adopting the Lee Mvttews moniker a year later, 

“We went to MAINZ and studied DJ and electronic music production, then we went on to do audio engineering there,” Tom explains.

Takeover, which featured on their breakout 2019 album ‘Bones’, pushed Lee Mvttews to a new level of notoriety. The track recently hit triple platinum, putting them in a high rollers’ club with the likes of singles by Taylor Swift, Eric Clapton and Coldplay. For all that, Graham professes little insight into the achievements of the track.

“We don’t know the impact. As much as we’ve seen the numbers, we’ve had the accolades, we know it’s a popular song, but we aren’t exposed to it. It’s just out in the world and that is that – surreal! When I saw Linkin Park and Kanye on that list that did kind of hit home a bit, those songs were so influential in our opinion.”

With 12 tracks of crisp synths, punching drums and boasting nine outstanding collaborations,’Exit’ pushed the limits of their music skills as Tom shares.

“I feel like you just get better. You start something new, then you revisit something you did, even a couple months ago and think, ‘Oh, that could have been better.’ I think that’s part of why it took the album so long.”

He tutors other producers, helping with mixing and mastering, and has met a lot of vocalists over the years, making some collab solutions easy, though others were more unorthodox.

“With Circles and Runaway we were after a very specific vocal sound. We went on Instagram and put out a call. ‘Can anyone sing and want to be on a track?’ So many great people submitted. We also got some really weird messages on Saturday night at about 4am!”

Kiwi legend and fellow producer Tiki Taane is also on the album.

“He asked us to do a remix in 2019, and we thought, ‘Well, we’re not writing a liquid track with Tiki.’ We’re going to write a heater. Let’s do him justice and give him a banger! He just sent the vocals. Done, dusted, ready to go.”

They place value in knowing and understanding their processes, plugins and techniques, according to Graham, and took several different approaches to production helping to create a distinct originality.

“We’re very ‘make-everything-fresh-every-single-time’ type producers. It’s obviously more time-consuming, but it keeps us on our toes. We know how to do everything we need. We’re starting to make and save our own presets now, too.”

“Ninety per cent of people are collaborating on Ableton,” reckons Tom. “The only differences we generally have are plug-in choices.”

Vital is his preference.

“It’s pretty cool, considering it’s a six-year-old plug-in, with really cool modulation pathways that I really enjoy. If you’ve used Serum, you can spend 10 minutes on it and understand it. And it’s free!”

Graham has his own favourites.

“ShaperBox. I love it so much, not only for sidechain, but just in your shaping of sounds, even just using the filters can be really cool. Neutron Transient Shaper is fantastic. I use it on nearly every drum sound. You can just grab a sound and shape it easily, hence the name.”

Making use of Dropbox, they can both work on the same file remotely – which can lead to surprises like when Tom returned from the UK and had changed all the drums on his flight home.

“That was great for me,” Graham smiles. “I woke up to an inbox full of just slightly better music.”

The attitude reflects what he describes as a positive approach to critiquing each other’s work, criticism is not their style. “We’re a bit more, ‘Oh, I love what you’ve done… but I think we can do better.'”

Tom gives credit to another collaborator for why their album sounds so clean and fresh.

“We A&R’d the project with Inkscape Music, from which the main feedback we got was through Grafix, a UK-based producer, and now a good friend of ours. He kind of mixed and critiqued the album. He would say, ‘This could be better here, this could be better there’, but it was up to us to go and apply it. We learned a lot from that process, I would say.”

Both have partners in the music industry, and admit to challenges and blessings in their lifestyle in terms of achieving a decent work-life balance. Tom says he and partner Elipsa [Molly Foster] often share their work.

“She’ll ask, ‘Hey, I’ve recorded these vocals today, what do you think?’ I’ll reply, ‘Maybe change those timings a bit, or what if the melody travels up here instead?’ and vice versa. The process is, I guess, very integrated. We’ve got one studio that we share. There’s lots of work in headphones and stuff like that.

“We try and get laptops down at seven and try to unplug, we put on some dumb TV so that we can clock out. Otherwise, you get in bed with the melodies ripping through your brain, and you think, ‘What if I did this to the mix down?'”

Sin [Howard] and I both being in the music industry is such a blessing,” says Graham. “You can feed off each other and support each other, though at times it can be quite overwhelming. Every day I’m not making ground, I’ve got less and less time to get things sorted. Thankfully, we’ve got each other there to keep ourselves in a good state of mind!

“Sin’s also very social media savvy, so it’s great to check, ‘Is my video too long? Is the caption bad?’ We can kind of guide each other in that sense as well. She’s got great taste.”

With a new album to promote, Lee Mvtthews are preparing for an overseas tour, along with some travel time for Tom and partner.

“We’ve got, like, four shows at the front end of the tour, and then shows at the end. Creating a six-week gap. Elipsa played on the UK show with us in London, and her manager is based in the UK as well. She’s hoping to go over and do a bunch of writing sessions. So, we’re going at the same time.”