Up-and-coming singer Mateo is an artist on the verge. With backing from Kerry "Krucial" Brothers and prime placement on Brother's Krucial Noise label, he's ending the year with the release of his EP Love & Stadiums II and setting up for the release of his album early next year. His single and video "Say It's So" has gotten him notice here at SBHQ, so we dialed up Mateo to discuss his music, the industry, and why Alicia Keys' involvement with "Say It's So" wasn't exactly what he'd planned.
Mateo: We've been trying to make this happen for a while, huh? [laughs]
SoulBounce: I know! [laughter]
SB: I know you're from Ohio and have a musical background. Can you tell me a bit about how music entered your life?
M: I come from a musical family and my grandfather on my mom's side was really big jazz guitarist and he played for King Records. He played for James Brown, he played for Charles Brown, and a lot of artists that came out of King Records. My grandmother on my dad's side is actually a touring singer, so she would sing and tour through Canada and is really, like, a stone cold diva. One of the great divas of our time. She still is to this day, actually. She traveled around and my dad played guitar, so everyone kind of did something musical. So when I was born, I was gonna do something music, even if it was on the side. So I started taking piano lessons when I was like five, mostly classical piano, and then I actually started singing on the side. And that's how I grew up, just always having to perform every holiday. You know, being forced to perform whatever I learned, and that's how it kinda came about. Just doing music every day through the fam.
SB: So when you went to Morehouse you didn't end up majoring in music, so what made the change from childhood to then?
M: Well, actually, I double majored. I majored in music and I also majored marketing. It was really one of those things where, even though I was able to do music and play and sing and stuff, I always thought it was something that was kind of a nowhere kind of dead-end type of job. One of those things like "Yeah you can dream about it but you probably can't make it happen." So I kind of was trying to take the safe route and when I graduated and went to college and tried to do what everybody else was doing, like do business but still I loved music. So I did music on the side and majored in it and just continued through it. I was doing internships in business...I was doing all that kind of stuff just to avoid facing the fact that I really wanted to do music, which is kind of crazy. I mean, people do that stuff all the time, go the road that everybody else is on instead of the road less traveled, and that's kinda how it happened for me. I didn't really decide to do music until I left Morehouse and went to New York.
SB: So you left Morehouse and went to New York and then you got to MySpace Records when you met [former MTV VJ] Quduus?
M: I went to New York on a regular job real briefly, hated it, and I said that "Yo, this year I'm gonna do what I want to do for the rest of my life" and it was music. So I started trying to record in New York in, like, these basement studios. Terrible, terrible studios. Really bad demos, actually. And I took those demos to a producer that was living in Philly. I don't know how I met him, but I met this producer and he was like "Yo, I do some TV shows out in LA and I would love for you to be one of my artists, so come out." And that's what happened. So I quit my job and moved to LA. And while I was in LA kind of working on TV shows trying to make ends meet, I met Quduus, who was an old VJ from TRL, and I started doing live shows and started making a name for myself. [I] Got on MySpace and put some songs on MySpace and started getting featured on there and getting more of a following and stuff. And sure enough, when we started shopping, Quduus was an A&R at MySpace Records and he brought me over. That's how that happened.
SB: When I spoke to you at your listening party, you told me that you met Krucial some time after that. Was that also through Quduus?
M: Yes, yes. Quddus introduced me to many people. He at one time was my manager and A&R, and also while he was my A&R, he introduced me to Krucial and Krucial was gonna do a remix to one of my songs called "Complicated." So we met up then, and I kept in contact with him after that period and it just lead to when I was getting ready to leave MySpace Records. While I was at MySpace it was a really good time because it was like more of an incubation period, and I was able to really figure out the sound and what I really wanted to do from the Get to Know Me live EP. So I was starting to get traction and I knew I wanted to leave MySpace because I felt like I really needed to go to some of the majors. When I left, Krucial at that time was starting a new label and was like, "Yo, I want you to be one of my first artists," and it just made sense, you know, because he's just done so much just amazing music with Alicia. Pretty much music that's defined the first 10 years of this century. I loved how him and Alicia had really defined their own authentic sound in their music and they didn't really follow what radio was doing, they didn't try to follow a sound. They made their sound theirs and they went with it and I was like, "That's exactly what I wanna do." So that's how that happened.
SB: With the Love & Stadiums mixtape, that was a really big deal for you. I know that you made the video with Goapele for "Don't Shoot Me Down." So how did that collaboration come about?
M: So when I signed to Krucial, we wanted to put out another mixtape to say that we were working together. I'd put out a lot of mixtapes before that, that's how I was able to get a lot of blog and internet traction. And so, he was like, "I have this remake of Lil' Wayne's 'Shoot Me Down' and I wanna get Goapele on it." So he called Goapele and she came out and she just layed the verse down and it was perfect. Her voice is so amazing and she's such a beautiful spirit herself. He was able to make that happen and that's how that came about. And people liked it, so we did a video to it and that's how we put that out.
SB: Tell us a bit about "Say It's So." How did that come about songwriting-wise and then adding Alicia and Swizz on the track?
M: The crazy part about that...So, "Say It's So," we recorded that, and I had a different version of it. It sounded more like a pop version of it actually. So Kerry was like, "Yo, I want to do a bit more urban mix to it" and was like, "Cool." I was kinda hesitant, I won't lie. I was kinda like, "Man, they're gonna mess my song up." [laughs] You know what I mean? But he went to New York and he totally did a new version of it, and I was in Miami at the time and I flew up. I didn't even know that Alicia had put vocals on it or Swizz. He just kinda set me down in the studio, we were at Jungle Studios, and he was like, "Yo, listen to this record." I listened to it and I was trying to hate on it for a sec. I was like "Ah no no. It can't be like this, it can't be like this." And then as it going I was like "Yo this is fresh, this is crazy," and when I heard Alicia's part I was blown away [that] she was on the record and just the fact that she loved the song and she was down to do it. Krucial at the time was working with her -- he's working with her right now on the new album -- so she's heard a lot of the music and she's just been supportive. It's really crazy to have the support of someone like her.
SB: Is "Say It's So" different for you songwriting wise? Are you usually a balladeer or do you change it up a bit?
M: Well, most of my songs are love songs pretty much. That's why I call the mixtape Love & Stadiums, because the music is more kinda like love songs. But it's really kind of euphoric, big drums, stuff that Kanye would do or even like Coldpl
ay would do. Stuff that I really felt would fill an arena or a stadium, you know what I mean? That's the type of music I do, even if it's really big or if it's small and acoustic. It's always real intimate and real heartfelt.
SB: What can we expect from the new EP? What kind of sound or what direction did you go with it?
M: The EP's following the direction of what I was saying [earlier]. It has a little bit of something organic and acoustic piano and guitars in it but still has that mainstream appeal. It has some of those synths and electronic sounds that are current right now and just real soulful melodies. That's the kind of sound we're going for because I really feel like urban music is changing. It's incorporating a lot of different genres across the world, you know? That's why you can have Kanye do something with Daft Punk or Jay-Z doing something with Chris Martin. It's just because all this stuff is coming together and [the EP] follows that kind of sound.
SB: I had the pleasure of seeing you perform at your listening party, and I know you've recently performed with Dawn Richard. So what is performing like for you? Do you get nervous still?
M: I get nervous every time, and it's kind of crazy. They always say if you're not getting nervous then you should quit, and I definitely get nervous, so I'm gonna keep going. But it's a good nervous though. It's like a feeling of a little bit of anxiety, but it's like energy, you know what I mean? You can feel it. And I actually prefer to be onstage. I'd rather be onstage than in a studio. I love being up there; I love having fun up there and really interacting with the audience and sharing music and sharing an experience with the audience. That's really great for me. So the Roxy show we had was really great. Such a great crowd and I hadn't played the Roxy in a couple of years. And to get Dawn up there...It was just a really good show.
SB: Did Dawn give you any pointers about the business or any experiences that she had?
M: Well, I've been working with her in the studio and we've had many conversations about just the business. Actually, I wrote a song with her for her project that's kind of about that. It's just interesting to hear people's story because I'm an up-and-coming artist, and I haven't seen what's behind the curtain. It's just crazy to hear what it's really like when you're thrust in the limelight. When you're with the big wigs, it's just a different game how you really have to maintain who you really are regardless because it's so many that are pulling you in different directions. We talked about that definitely. Many late nights.
SB: Speaking of your studio work, who else have you worked with in the business? I know you've contributed songs to a couple of people, right?
M: My first placement was Jazmine Sullivan's first album. And now I was able to get into a session with Alicia Keys and hopefully we can get in a bit more with her and see if we can come up with something for her album she's working on right now. Of course, Dawn Richard and hopefully me and Melanie Fiona will be able to get in. We've been trying to do a song together for some time, so we're gonna make that happen.
SB: So when can we expect the full album?
M: The full album is going to come out in the first quarter of next year. So right now we're pushing "Say It's So" as the single and then as the single's out, we're gonna put out the EP just to have something for people to listen to. And then we'll put the full album out. We've been working on the full album for the past few months, so we've got some really, really dope material and we're just trying to wrap it all up.
SB: Where do you hope that you'll be in the next few years? Like, say, two or three years from now?
M: Well, hopefully, I'll have a couple of albums out in three years and be able to travel and really get the music out there and just tour the world. That's what I hope for. I just really want to be able to share what I'm doing and meet people from all over the world. That's like the best I could ask for. Maybe buy my mom a house. That's cliché, but everyone wants to do that. [laughs]