Sunday, April 10, 2011

Matthew Mayfield Interview Part 2

Photo by Laura Means
Link to full photo shoot and concert photos:!/album.php?fbid=562387783788&id=57701330&aid=2065128
I got the chance to catch up with Mayfield before his album release party in Atlanta, and discuss the new album in-depth....

How has the tour been so far? I know it has been a little while since you have been on the road...
 Mayfield: It's been good man. We are still learning. It's kind of like we are getting our feet wet again. We started last week, and we are doing about five weeks of dates. Like you can see right here(points to equipment on stage), we are troubleshooting. We brought out some production, a little more light, a little more sound, just some things to just add to the show. We are playing small clubs, so we wanted it to feel like a rock show, so we have been adding a little bit more production to kind of give it a little more of a vibe. This is kind of the first time back in the van and the trailer, doing the whole deal. Getting a new band together has been a real challenge. Getting these guys to learn the new songs, play the record right, play with each other and do different things. Its a challenge, but we are getting there.
Where did you assemble the guys from?
 Mayfield: They are all Birmingham guys, which is hard to find. I think I have the cream of the crop with me right now!
When did you finish up the new record, Now You're Free?
Mayfield: We have had it mastered since last July, so it has been in the oven for a while. I have been saying that "I have been pregnant with this record, because nine months later it is out (laughs)." We finished it and I have been super happy with it. Usually when you finish a record, you hate the songs after about a month. You don't hat them, but it feels old. It has been nine months and I still love every song, I still love the record and I still love the sequence. I still wouldn't change any of it, which is a good sign. It feels like the right thing for me, right now.
With so much material to work with, how did you decide which songs you were going to re-record for the new album? Also, how did the new songs come into play?
Mayfield: Paul Moak, the producer for the record, I sent him all of the EP's and about twenty additional demos, so we had a lot to pick from in terms of material. There were probably fifty or sixty songs to pick from. We each whittled our lists down to about twelve or fifteen songs, and it was pretty amazing because our lists were almost exactly the same. There might have been one or two songs that were different. We just put our heads together, and originally I thought that it was going to be a big fight, but there wasn't any of that. We both felt that the repeat songs could have been better, so that's why we wanted to give them a better shot production wise. The new ones were kind of obvious. You would listen to the demos and be like "dude, you got to have this one on there." Sometimes you just know.
Who were some of the people that you worked with in terms of features and co-writing?
 Mayfield: I wrote the song "Ghost," with Paul Moak, and I heard him (Moak) singing on the demo and though that this song would be perfect for Bo Reinhert (NeedtoBreathe guitarist), because his voice is in that register. It is just a background vocal part, but the support was great and I sent it to him and he was like "yeah man, let's do it." He was really into the song, and I think that it is one of the more "rocking" songs on the record. I wrote "Fire Escape" with John Paul White (of the Civil Wars), and that was really easy. He and I have this unspoken chemistry. You don't have to think about it. You can just sit down, have some coffee or a beer, talk, and the songs just kind of happen. You don't have to really force it, or be like "hey here's my demo, or here is a song I have been working on." You just sit down and be like "hey, here is a melody that I have kind of been messing around with." Then from there, we will have a song written in a couple of hours.
Specifically with "Fire Escape," where did the inspiration for the lyrical portion come from?
 Mayfield: Late 2008 and early 2009 was kind of like the worst time of my life, and I'm not being dramatic. There were a lot of thing that were wrong, and a lot of really heavy things were going on in my life personally. I needed him (John Paul White), I needed a song and I need a place to kind of get it out. John Paul was there for me as a friend, and I really appreciated that because I just needed a place to go. He was actually the first person to know about the stuff that I was going through. In that way, pretty honored.
My girlfriend was at your show in Opelika, Alabama and said that in between songs people were shouting out song requests. When some people shouted "Element," you stated that you are still surprised people still want to hear that song, even after all this time. After "Element" has made appearances on the Moses Mayfield record and "The Fire EP," did you put a new version of it on Now You're Free because you feel that it hasn't gotten the recognition that it deserves?
 Mayfield: Yeah, I just think that it hasn't gotten it's shot. It's funny because I didn't have the song on my song list for the album, and then I sent the song up to my new management (Aware in Chicago). I trust them very much, so I sent the song up to them as an afterthought. I said to them "this is a song I wrote that is off of an EP, and everyone has always told me this should be on every record I put out, until it gets a shot. I didn't know if I should heed that advice or what." They both came back to me and said the record can't exist without this song. To hear them believe in it that much and to hear the people singing back at it in random markets, it just seems to be a favorite. Sometime I get tired with it, just because it has been around so long, but when I still listen to it on the record the arrangements are killer. Best version for sure. The Moses Mayfield version was a full production, and we kind of lost the plot. We started put too many tracks on there, and soon there was 120 tracks on there. It was just getting out of hand, so we stripped it back and added cello. We added some programming to it, and I love that. To me it feels like a Peter Gabriel song, in that there is a lot happening sonically.
How did you come up with the ideas for the EPs? 
 Mayfield: My manager at the time was like "hey man, maybe we should do a free compilation for the holidays." So we did the Maybe Next Christmas album in December of 2009. We decided to put some b-sides and unreleased stuff, and give it away. It went over so well, so I was like "let's try to do one of these every month." It would be a challenge to me as a writer. I had about a third of the songs were already there, but then it was just a challenge to kind of come out with new stuff and push myself. I wasn't touring a ton, so that was my focus, "I want to put out a great EP each month." We did five of them and they all did really well. I feel that people love constant output, and I felt bad not putting out music for almost a year, but I feel like it was necessary to put out a record that made a statement. Like in order to make a record that we wanted to really matter, and make a statement with, we need to take some time out of the constant output mode.
What song were you most pleased by its outcome on the record?
 Mayfield: Its so hard to say, but I would have to say Now You're Free, the title track which is probably going to be a single. As soon as I wrote that song I immediately knew that it was the hook that I wanted, and the anthemic feel. It had that "Piano Man" sway to it, and a lot of guts to it. The hook itself, and the message of the song just felt like a bunch of people singing at you, even though you are in your tiny one-bedroom apartment sining it yourself (laughs). As soon as I sang that melody, I knew that if I worked hard enough we could get some people to sing back at us. I would love for it be Madison Square Garden, but if its Smith's Olde Bar I'm happy.
I think that you will be there soon if the record continues to climb the iTunes charts, like it has....
 Mayfield: We'll see man. Its doing well, so I'm excited to see if it will keep up. We've even shot some videos for the records, like we did one for "Missed Me"  that should be out this week and one for "Now You're Free" which will be out in the coming weeks, and hoping to do one for "Fire Escape" as well. I think that video content is really important for artists these days. Not necessarily for MTV, but to really just get your name out there as a business card. Nowadays, when people want to hear a new song by an artist they immediately go to YouTube. Stream it.
Stage presence wise, who are some people you have looked up to in the past? I know you have always been a big Slash fan....
 Mayfield: Yeah, Slash is going to be there. Slash, Springsteen, I take a lot of ques from a lot of people. Michael Stipe(REM), Eddie Vedder, Julian Casablancas from the Strokes. I even like William Gallager from Oasis, as much as I make fun of him, I think he's an amazing front-man. I tend to gravitate towards the great rock-and-roll front men, the guys that are very "bare bones." I like Bono, I like Chris Martin(Coldplay) and I like the running around. I think they are amazing at it, but I think that there is something great about a guy that can captivate a room, and very little movement and running everywhere.
What would be your advice for D.I.Y. bands/artists?
 Mayfield: There are so many things. Just never rely on anyone else to get it done. I signed to a major label and we relied on them for everything, their money and opinions. Now I've got these guys with me, I have a little bit of a crew, I've got an agent, a management company. I started all of that from nothing. When I made The Fire Ep, there was no manager, there was nothing. Now its 2011, I'm still playing in a 100 cap room tonight, but I've got these guys with me, I've got a van and trailer in the back, I've got a record out. You have to do it for yourself and you have to try and pay for it yourself. I can't pay for it myself, so you should get the fans to help you out, that's what I did. Do a PledgeMusic, do a KickStarter, give your fans something back. Give them handwritten lyrics, demos, give them whatever you would wanted from your favorite band or artist. Its a vinyl, its collectible. People don't buy a vinyl if they want to hear you for the first time, people buy vinyl and pay $40 for it because its signed and has alternate artwork, its a collectible. That's what this is about. The fans keep you alive more than ever these days, because if you don't have them, you might as well go home. I'm not saying I have a billion fans, but I have enough to keep me going for a while.
Perfect day, driving in your car with the windows down, what are you listening to?
 Mayfield: There are so many good ones. Of the top of my head I would say "The First Single" by the Format, Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running," Oasis "Morning Glory," Guns 'n Roses "Night Train" and the Rolling Stones "It's Only Rock n' Roll." Those are some windows down songs.

Link to Mousertime review of Now You're Free:
Link to Mousertime's first interview with Mayfield :