Mike Mattison is one of the best singers I ever worked with and also of the best on music scene as well. His wonderful soulful vibe can be heard on his albums with The Tedeschi Trucks Band. I’ve known Mike now for about 12 years and he is not only a great artist but one of those Salt of The Earth people. You can hear him singing on my on the tracks “What’s Going On The Songs of Marvin Gaye”, Soul Summit” and “Global Noise. I was thrilled when he agreed to do this interview
1-I first heard you with The Derek Trucks band in 2004. What were you doing before DTB and how did you begin your association with him?
I was playing with my writing partner Paul Olsen in our blues/roots band Scrapomatic. Paul and I are both from Minnesota and had been knocking around New York as a duo for about a year and a half. Derek’s singer at the time had left the DTB to pursue a solo career right before the release of their major label debut. They found an amazing group of people to fill in with Solomon Burke, Ruben Blades, Derek’s wife Susan Tedeschi, etc. but they were in the market for a new singer. I was recommended to Derek on two fronts: By the great downtown singer/songwriter Chocolate Genius (aka Marc Anthony Thompson) and by producer John Snyder, who had produced the DTB’s first two albums and was about to produce the first Scrapomatic album. It’s sounds apocryphal and a bit too pat, but honestly I was on my way home from my day job in Manhattan, stepping on the E train, when Derek recognized me from the two Scrapomatic cds that had just been delivered to his hotel room. He introduced himself and we chatted. I ended up doing a little audition a few weeks later and it just took off from there. I like to say he plucked me from a life of cubicle drudgery.
2- I found your history pretty fascinating. From Harvard to the Blues and Soul. Did you have plans to sing and perform while you studying?
I always sang and played instruments growing up. I took piano lessons starting in first grade and added string bass in third grade, so for most of my youth I was a (not very dedicated) chamber-group bassist. I added electric bass in junior high. I was always drawn to the blues as a kid; the sounds, the emotion. There was probably an element of contrariness in there, too: If everybody else was listening to Nu Shooz, I was going to listen to Howlin’ Wolf. The Minneapolis music scene was really happening in the 1980s, and even at my high school there were astonishing players — like the matchless pianist Craig Tayborn — but I couldn’t really claim a musical identity at the time.
I had a great high-school English teacher who encouraged me to leave Minnesota and see the world: At that time if you went to college out-of-state you were some kind of striving lunatic. At Harvard I studied English and American Lit. and got pretty heavy into creative writing. I didn’t play much music. I ended up on the humor magazine, the Lampoon and considered a career in comedy writing (I had a few unappealing offers on graduating) but realized that path would probably just lengthen my youthful neurosis. A friend from the class above me (Arthur Phillips, who ended up a celebrated novelist) had moved to Budapest and invited me over to sing in his jazz band (standards, ballads) which I did for a year because I didn’t have anything better to do. It was a great way to hone one’s musical chops. We had a memorable time!
3-You are a very accomplished songwriter. What is your approach to finding that creative spark that starts a song?
Thank you. I’m open to any snatches of melody or poetic-sounding phrases that drift through my brain, often upon waking. I don’t really sit down with a guitar or keyboard and try to force anything out (although I have tried that and it works to a degree.) I treat songwriting more as a brain teaser or a puzzle. Once I grab a melody or lyric, I just play with it as I go through my day-to-day stuff. It’s a work-in-progress that you can do while you’re doing other things. Once enough of an idea reveals itself, I’ll sit down and try to hammer the rest of it out. I try to keep two or three ideas in the air at a time, rotating them. You can get a lot of work done when you’re not thinking about it!
4-Do you get inspiration from being on the road?
Sure. Being around music 24-7 obviously keeps your creative juices going. Also, you see and hear things that you might miss if your life was more routine. I’ve always found traveling to be inspiring: Once you get over the logistical hassles, constantly displacing yourself from town to town, state to state, country to country, you kind of out-run your preconceptions and prejudices and discover — internally and externally — stuff you weren’t expecting.
5- You spent years with DTB living on a bus for so many days a year. What’s your secret for surviving the rigors of the road
It’s a lot easier now. When I started with Derek back in 2002 we didn’t really have cell phones or laptops, so you stayed in touch with loved ones using calling cards and borrowed computers. For me, though — then and now — the struggle is to get your exercise in and to eat healthy, stay healthy. That’s not always possible, but it’s a priority. Also, because we keep weird hours, I always try to grab a nap whenever I can. Sleep kind of cumulatively gets away from you on the road.
6-Your band Scrapomatic is such an interesting concept. It’s very down home yet built on good songs. How was that project developed and are there future plans for it
Scapomatic was built on my belting, Paul’s songwriting chops and a shared love of the blues — the old, nasty blues. We’ve been on a hiatus for the past year, but it wasn’t self-imposed. The TTB schedule has been so hectic that there really hasn’t been time to do Scrapomatic stuff. However, Paul and I are always writing on our own, and we manage to share song ideas and collaborate over the Internet, so we’ve got a ton of material piled up. We’d like to record another Scrapomatic record sometime this Spring or Summer. As long as Paul and I are pulling air, there will always be a Scrapomatic.
7-What do you listen to for enjoyment?
If I’m home for a significant chunk of time, I prefer about a week of silence. I need to clear my head of music and voices. When I do listen to music — just driving around, say — it’s usually older country or blues. I go on jags where I’ll listen to everything an artist has done to get a sense of their creative process and how their song craft has evolved. I just finished with Nick Cave. He’s great.
8 You’ve travelled the world. Is there any particular place that really stays in your memory?
The overseas trips to exotic locales, those are always a blast. Japan, Singapore, Macedonia, Poland are places you never would have gone in your “real” life. But the most memorable trips are when you get to experience the hospitality of the locals. When somebody takes you under their wing and shows you a side of Bangor, Maine, that you never would have discovered in a million years. That’s rare stuff.
9- The formation of the Tedeschi Trucks Band has raised the level of creativity among everybody in the band. Where do you think the next creative space is for the group?
I think we’re finally hitting our stride, creatively. Our most recent album, “Let Me Get By,” seems to be the most fulfilling of our three studio albums, the one that captures our group “personality” and the character of our live shows. I hope Susan and the band keep collaborating and writing songs in-house. I hope we keep recording them at Derek’s studio. I hope Derek keeps producing the albums and Bobby Tis keeps engineering them. The well is so deep we could go on this way for some time.
10- I know you are a reader. 3 of your favorite books
Wow. Well, I’m a huge fan of the Mississippi writer Barry Hannah. He’s the Jimi Hendrix of American fiction: Wild, inscrutable, untamed. His story collection “High Lonesome” is always close at hand. I keep going back to Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” year after year. Its wisdom is inexhaustible. And I always recommend Julian Rubinstein’s “The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber.” It’s a true crime story about a third-string Hungarian hockey goalie who went on a booze-fueled bank robbing jag in Budapest in the late-80s and early-90s. He became a national folk hero. I find his story to be endlessly, gut-achingly funny and poignant. I’ve probably read it ten times.
11- favorite food
Any iteration of The Burrito.
12- what’s next for you?
I’m about to head out on tour with the TTB next week. We’ll be going strong all through the rest of the year. I’m looking forward to our summer “Wheels of Soul” tour with two amazing bands: The North Mississippi All Stars and Los Lobos who, for my money, are the best working band in America. 2016 will be wild!
Thank You Mike-I know the music is in good hands with you and Derek and Susan-Hope to see you soon.
That’s the title of the CD but it’s not his first one. Mocean Worker is the moniker used by bass player producer Adam Dorn as his alter ego for what I believe is a very creative premise. He makes dance,groove and chill,club Music creative and modern yet accessible and likable for all of us that hate pounding 4 on the floor cookie cutter EDM. Adam is the son of the late legendary record producer Joel Dorn who brought us so many great hits of the 60s-80’s with Roberta Flack,Les McCann and others. Adam shows his appreciation by blending 30’s 40’s jazz and samples with modern day sounds and beats and it all comes together in a great stew. I could go on describe each song but the justice is done by putting on this album and just letting the flow happen. It has an intelligence to it that is so hard to find in club music.Tracks like” Soul Swing”,”Clap Yo Hands”,”Savoy Strut” really bring his concept to life-Keep the groove hitting hard but also keep the song moving and add interesting textures colors and samples to keep the listener engaged and not have become zombies by the repetitiveness of bombastic modern dance music. If you want to hear how good of a bass player Adam is just check out Punk Disco and dedication to Jaco Pastorious. You’ll see he hits the perfect chord. He has 4 other albums out as well as he plays on his vibe with Entee the Mowo and Candy Gram for Mowo. If You want to really hear what modern electronic groove music should be just check out Mocean Worker-It has vibe that you’ve been looking for but just couldn’t find until now
Commentary-Trust in the Music Business
Trusting people in everyday life is hard enough but trusting the many different scenarios we come across in this business everyday is another thing. So here is my take for building a lifetime of trust…..Pay people and pay them in a timely manner. When I did my very first recording session on my own back in 1977 I used some of the great NY musicians on it. It was only a demo but yet still quite important for my development. Right after the session I spoke to every musician and paid them right on the spot. They really didn’t know much about me then but it only took a few days for someone to call me and ask if there was going to be another session. The reality was I treated everybody with great appreciation and nobody had to ask me for money. I clear that up right away. At a Jazz Fest Show in NOLA a few years ago I walked into Soundcheck at The Howlin Wolf and went over to all the musicians and paid them for the show in advance. Some of them were really surprised. I said “is there something up because I don’t feel like the show being over at 2 AM (we started at midnight) and I have to hang around and pay everybody after the show; so I’m paying now and please show up for the gig! Everybody laughed but on stage that night I saw the sense that every musician had that look that made me know they weren’t thinking about when they are getting paid. The set by the way with my group Global Noize was off the hook!
Years later and a couple of hundred albums,projects etc The one thing I have gained is the trust of great artists and musicians.People think that friendships in this business revolve around true friendship and talent and in many ways that is true but its also about gaining the trust and respect of the people around you and that happens by not screwing around paying people. When someone asks about you I hope they say “Great Guy with great music and no hassles with getting paid”. You will find that will follow you around for you’re whole career. It may seem like a very easy premise but I can tell you over the years it speaks volumes.