In our latest interview, we caught up with Mathien to talk about the release of his latest project, Bad Friend, traveling and recording in different cities, and the importance of working with friends. Indulge below and follow Mathien on social.
Hey everyone, i’m Mathien. I’m 33 years old and I make alternative soul music, that would be the best way to put it. Or disco influenced music with sleepy dark lyrics. At least these are things people have used to describe my music.
Congratulations! The new album just dropped and it is titled “Good Friend.” I know the previous album was titled “Bad Friend.” Are the two albums in direct juxtaposition to each other?
When I recorded “Bad Friend” there’s a song called “Pass the Vino”. When I was writing the album I experienced some writer’s block. I started looping the chorus and trying to write to it. The only thing that came out of my head was “Pass the vino mi mal amigo.” It’s a Spanglish, sort of phrase that I found catchy. I didn’t think about what it meant until it finally hit, “pass the wine, my bad friend.” I decided to name the album that because you hear that phrase all the time, “you’re a bad friend,” but it’s really oxymoronic because if you’re a bad friend you are not a friend at all.
When I thought of the name of the record for “Good Friend” I had flown to Amsterdam and I recorded about half the album there with Louk Cox, who goes under the moniker Soul Food Horns. It was a really crazy experience because when I landed in Amsterdam he came and picked me up and we went to a rehearsal spot and there was a bunch of people that knew my music. It made me feel like I was doing what I was set out to do. While in Amsterdam, Louk set up three shows for me and we recorded a bunch of music together in various studios. It was a lot of fun. Then we were riding the train one night, I joked to him that I should name this record “Good Friend” after him because he was so hospitable.
While Good Friend was a great project from front to back, I want to talk about the meanings behind two of my favorites, Lawn Chair and Here’s To You
Lawn Chair was really about Amsterdam itself and the whole scene there. Everybody knows it’s a party atmosphere out there. However, where I was staying it felt like I was part of Dutch culture. I was staying in this weird experimental loft with five floors and you had to get to each floor with a ladder. There were no doors so if you took a shower there would be people walking up and see you naked, I just got used to it. That song is about the chill and wild times you can have in Amsterdam.
Here’s to You, there’s actually a sense of sarcasm in that song because I wrote it after going to a wedding in the suburbs and sort of feeling disconnected from the place I came from.
The album was recorded in Toronto, Amsterdam, and Chicago. What was it like recording an album in three different places and how did that come to be?
Toronto was very cold and isolated. I don’t mean weather wise either. For me, there was a sense of isolation and I think it’s because I didn’t really know anyone up there. When I was recording out there, it was me in a room by myself for a long time and it really allowed me to hone in on my craft. Amsterdam was just fun and freewheeling. Random people would show up and play on my record. It was very communal and friendly. Then when I came home to Chicago, I still know a lot of musicians and friends out here so I was able to reconnect with them and record. Overall, the recording process was great and I was able to keep the same level of inspiration wherever I was.
You’ve spoken on how a lot of your friends helped make this project come to life. How important is it for you to work with your friends?
It is more important than it has ever been. For so many years, especially when I first started the project, I kind of thought I was a genius. I thought I could just do everything myself. That was kind of ignorant and over time I have learned collaboration is so important because people can bring different things out of your music. You can’t do everything, so incorporating other talented people in your work is really important.
Let’s talk about the album cover. What is the story behind it?
I was in Bridgeport with Gama and Oddcouple who had taken me over to Rosie’s photo studio. However, I didn’t look great because I was a tad hungover. I wore what I already had on that day so when we got there I caught my reflection in the mirror and I looked like hell, but Rosie just started shooting pictures. I noticed this plant on the ground so I just picked it up and used it to cover my face. He sent the photo to me later and I just loved it and knew it had to be the cover.
From “Hello Again” to “The Freedom Tapes” to this latest album, how would you say your sound has changed and how have you grown as an artist?
With “Hello Again” to “Daring Television” they were recorded through MMG, Midwest Music Group. At the time my music was being overseen by the label and management and so I wasn’t always 100% happy with how the records came out. For me, personally, “Unique Man” was the first record I recorded alone and it made me notice right away how much I preferred independently recording my music. Actually, right when I signed is when a lot of independent artists started taking off and I was a little salty because I saw people functioning and doing well without any label support and I realized I wanted to be doing that, but couldn’t legally. If you listen to my independent records you can hear that; you can hear what I was trying to do with my songs.
When creating a new album do you try to make it sound completely different from any music you have made before or do you think you have found you specific rhythm and groove and try to grow from that lane?
When I record a song I want to surprise myself so each song I treat as a venture into somewhere I have never been before. At the same time though, I do maintain a sound, so it’s about being diverse and eclectic, but that in itself creates a sound. I don’t really think about aesthetic because to me that is more of a by-product. My music hero is George Clinton. Growing up listening to P-funk taught me that you can do anything. You can make a punk song or you can make a hip-hop song because music is whatever you want it to be. It’s all about expression.
Going off of your sound, I heard in an interview with you that learning guitar all began with a mariachi band, do you ever put that style into your music or get inspiration from it?
MMG was owned by these guys from Little Village and they were of Mexican descent. One time I told them that we should get a mariachi band in the studio to do a song with me. It was kind of a half-baked idea that never really came of anything. I guess the short answer is, no.
On the new album what song was the easiest to write? Which one just flowed right out?
The last song, “You Changed the Wind.” It is a love song. It took me about as long as the song is to write it. It just poured out of me.
Opposite of that, what one gave you the most trouble to break through the lyrics? And why do you think it did?
“What’s it all for?!” was the toughest. It was tough because that was recorded a lot in Amsterdam and a lot in Chicago so mixing it was difficult. That’s really all it was. At one point I thought I was going to have to re-record the vocals because I wasn’t happy with the performance, but I sat down and I remixed the bass and the drums because I knew if the vocals sounded good over the bass and the drums I could figure out where the rest of the sounds fits in.
The song “Perfect Zero” is very dreamy. What does the concept of someone being a perfect zero exactly mean to you?
The perfect zero is basically a creepy love song about two people that aren’t too satisfied with themselves. It’s kind of sad, but kind of comforting because you are commiserating and sharing sadness together.
If your listeners could take one thing away from the album whether it be a specific lyric or overall theme from the album what would you want it to be?
I would go back to that last song, “You Change the Wind.” As the song goes, “Time after time and wine glass after wine glass I made it to you.” It is really talking about how you can be so dissatisfied and you work and you work and finally, it happens. It is really a message of hope and that is the best sentiment I can offer from this record.
Written by: Colleen Kennedy