At work with: Cassius Matthias, Yes & No

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New magazine Yes & No has been under development for over a year, its founder (and newcomer to publishing) Cassius Matthias working closely with art director and Pentagram partner Domenic Lippa. It’s a tricky magazine to describe, encompassing the arts, technology, business and science. We catch up with Matthias to find out more about the magazine and his working week.

How was your weekend?
The weekend was good, thanks; a combination of working at the grind with a little down time, just to keep things in balance, keep things real.

Tell us about your typical Monday journey to work.
I wish I could say there was anything at all typical about my journey to work on Monday or any other day. But I can’t. I don’t have an office. This morning, having started work sitting at my kitchen table, I’m now in my favourite Muswell Hill café, my local. Flesh & Flour has great service and great food procured through local, home-grown producers. Before my first meeting of the day starts I’ll get some more work done while drinking a pot of English Breakfast tea.

Describe the state of your desk.
The desk is fairly ordered with all the things I need to work with right now as I put together issue two of Yes & No – a paper diary, a Shinola daybook, a Moleskin notebook for ongoing ideas and stuff, my trusty MacBook, and, of course, my iPhone which I’m using to take this photo!

Which magazine do you first remember?
Well, the publication I first remember as a magazine was in fact a weekly comic – Topolino. I spent most of my childhood in Trieste before starting school in the East End. At that time in Italy Topolino, a Walt Disney title, was essential reading for pre-school kids – and probably still is today.

But then, when I reached my early adolescence, my mum used to give me her old Vogue magazines. I was fascinated with the photography and obsessed with the design of the ads. The interview I remember reading in Vogue which made a big impression on me was with Yves Saint Laurent. It accompanied a multi-page spread called Superlatives. As a young teenager, it was a real inspiration! I pay tribute to that memory in issue one of Yes & No. Generally the magazine is an homage and a fusion of all the people and things that have inspired me throughout my life.

Which magazine matters to you the most right now?
Yes & No excluded, the magazine that matters to me most at the moment is Foreign Affairs. I subscribe to it. I usually carry a copy with me for those moments when I can grab pockets of time to read something that’s not directly related to Yes & No. Foreign Affairs is a great publication to peruse if you want to get a broad overview of world events – past and present.

Yes & No is a very abstract magazine; can you sum up its ambitions and scope in a brief sentence?
I like how you describe Yes & No as ‘abstract’. It’s a fairly broad term, but I’m pleased you think it is so. There are already plenty of magazines that come across more like still life paintings – what you see is what you get. Invariably, however, these magazines often tell you what to see and what to get.

I am more interested in outside-of-the-box thinking. We live in abstract times, where weirdly nothing is quite what it appears. One of my goals is to create a magazine that is part of a dialogue. Readers can make up their own mind, but I think whether we like it or not we need to look at the world differently. It’s my feeling that this approach more accurately reflects, and addresses, a growing need.

‘London Made’ figures heavily through the magazine. Why so big on the London connection?
I was born in the East End of London and, for good or bad, that fact has played a big part in shaping my outlook. Since I was a babe in arms I’ve travelled all over the world. From the hundreds if not thousands of people I’ve been lucky enough to have met, I grew to understand that for many London is a symbol. It represents modernity, freedom, and hope. Nearly everyone I meet seems to love London. Or at least the idea of it.

I don’t think it’s just about London being a place, either. As with all symbols you can make of it what you will. London is a city that’s been scarred by wars; it’s a defiant city yet its arms are wide open. For me that is the paradox at its heart, and this very real sense of openness is probably more potent, and necessary, now than ever before. I would like to see Yes & No reflecting this essential quality – basically to be an extension of the symbol of London. And apart from everything else, the magazine itself – its concept, design, print & finishing – is actually made in London.

You’ve been preparing the first issue for some time – how do you feel now its out in shops?
I am amazed! It took 18 months to take Yes & No from idea to newsstands. When I see the magazine sitting on the shelves in places like WHSmiths at St Pancras International, I think it’s quite incredible. And when people from all over the world, some of whom I’ve never met, post comments on social media saying how much the magazine means to them, it’s a thrill. But the thing is, I’m incredibly humbled and proud of the work of so many devoted people who have given of their time and energy to make Yes & No a physical reality.

Apart from the many contributors – artists, writers, photographers, illustrators, thinkers and so on – I am hugely grateful to Richard Davey at Leycol Print, Domenic Lippa and Jeremy Kunze at Pentagram, and Intermedia and Ra & Olly who are doing a wonderful job on the distribution side. Not to mention my backers, and the many individuals behind-the-scenes who helped and guided me through the process. I was a complete novice, and I feel I still am. It’s been an incredible learning experience.

The reactions I’m receiving are too numerous to mention here; generally they’ve been very positive indeed. I’ve not received one negative reaction. Not yet, anyway. It’s a bit frustrating, though, because I believe we tend to learn mostly from our mistakes and not necessarily from our apparent successes. So if there’s anyone out there who genuinely doesn’t have anything good to say about Yes & No, please do get in touch, I’d love to hear from you!

Pick a spread from the launch issue that best sums up Yes & No.
Difficult to pick one spread that sums up Yes & No because they’re all unique and each one represent a different aspect of the magazine’s overarching attitude and character. But seeing as you’re putting me on the spot, I’m going to be audacious and pick two – the Contents spread and the one of Sam & Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s hips photographed by Brigitte Lacombe.

What are you finding most frustrating about your work this week?
The most frustrating thing about work right now is juggling the 24 hours I have in a day. Simultaneously I’m trying to divide my time between taking care of the business side of things and putting together the second issue. The deadline to have the content ready for Jez, the designer, was confirmed three days ago, and it’s considerably closer than I thought it would be; the pressure’s on – but that’s OK.

What’s going to be the highlight of this week for you?
The highlight this week will be breaking the back of the second Yes & No cover story.

What will you be doing after this chat?
I’ll be doing what I enjoy the most – going back to the grind, working with the team.

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