A Conversation with Mike Mattison

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Despite becoming better known over the past few years as the lead singer of the Derek Trucks Band (DTB), Mike Mattison has never forgotten his roots.  Taking time out from his typically busy schedule with DTB that finds him on the road for over a hundred shows a year, Mattison always makes time to get back to where it all started. 

For Mattison that start would be with longtime collaborator Paul Olsen (who himself maintains a busy schedule as a bandleader and songwriter in New York City) as one-half the blues-duo Scrapomatic.

 

Scrapomatic was born in Minneapolis, MN in the mid 1990’s, with Mattison and Olsen coming together to write some songs and play the blues.  Despite their hectic schedules with their numerous other musical projects, they found time to release two albums (2003’s Scrapomatic & 2006’s Alligator Love Cry).  Again taking time out from those other musical endeavors, the duo has recently completed their third album, Sidewalk Caesars.  For Mattison and Olsen it was a chance to get back to their roots, or as they sing on “Remember This Day” it was a chance to “go back where we came from.”

scrap1.jpg Mattison and Olsen have always kept Scrapomatic as just a duo, with them filling out the band from their many musical allies for touring and recording as needed.  This time around they recruited the rhythm section of bassist Ted Pecchio and drummer Tyler Greenwell (both who have played with the Codetalkers and Susan Tedeschi), and Dave Yoke on guitar.  Mattison also looked to his current band as guitarist Derek Trucks and percussionist Count M’Butu both make appearances on the new album. 

For Mattison and Olsen finding the right players was not as hard as finding time when the two principle songwriters could sit-down together.  With each based out of a different city, and each keeping busy with their other projects, finding time to write face to face was difficult.  The two stole time whenever they could, creating songs over long distances before coming together to finish them up.

While navigating through New Jersey on his way to Philadelphia, Mattison took some time to talk about all that and more.

Honest Tune: So how did we get to this point of you guys getting ready to release a new album?  Did you have a schedule set or was it just a matter of realizing you had enough material and were ready to hit the studio?

Mike Mattison: No schedule.  We always just try keep doing a lot of things and moving forward.  Paul is busy doing his own stuff, and I am out with DTB, so it is really just trying to find a time when we can just sit-down and get it done.

HT: How do you deal with that distance when writing?  Do you save everything up for some face to face sessions or is there a lot of emailing going on?

MM:  A little bit of both.  We definitely do a lot of emailing, but when we have a chance to do some Scrapomatic dates we make sure to do some writing then.  We also road test some of the songs.  Last summer we played about six of the songs we ended up recording.  It’s a good time when Paul and I are together to not only be writing but to be testing them out and see what works in front of people.  It is always interesting to see what sticks.  It was nice to get them to a comfortable place so that when we did get to record them we could just go in and knock them off and do them real quickly.  It is a nice time saver in the studio.

scrap-live2.jpgHT:  Do you ever think about taking a whole year away from DTB and just focus on Scrapomatic so that you do not have to work piecemeal like that?

MM:  It actually works out pretty perfectly.  Scrapomatic fills in the holes when DTB is not on the road, which works out nicely because Paul has two kids, so it is hard for him to get away for large chunks of time.  So the way the time breaks down is almost right on the money.

HT:  Do you find that since you are apart so much you incorporate other people into your writing process?

MM: Not really.  It is just the two of us.  We wanted to make this an outlet for our own stuff and what ever we wanted to come up with.  It is basically just Paul and I.

HT: How does the collaborative writing process work for the two of you then?

MM:  It works a lot of different ways.  Sometimes we bring something completely finished to the table, other times not.  I tend to be a little bit of a better editor than Paul, but he is much better at coming up with pure material, so we compliment each other that way.  If you look at the credits for Sidewalk Caesars a lot of the songs are either written by just Paul or just me.  There are only a couple of collaborations this time because we were in two different cities for this one.  But that doesn’t mean he didn’t help me arranging things or finishing off lyrics or getting some melodic stuff right and vice versa.  It is a pretty symbiotic thing between us.  We have been doing it together for fifteen years so we got it down pretty well at this point.

HT:  You guys are old pros.

MM: {Laughs} I don’t know if I would say we are pros.  We just know how the other fella works.

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HT:  Since you both have so many outlets do you find that you write specifically for each of them, or is it more as things develop you see where they fit best?

MM:  The great thing is that nothing ever goes to waste. {Laughs}  If you have an idea and someone in DTB likes it or if someone in another band likes it, it always gets used.  It is like the Indians and the buffalo, nothing ever goes to waste.

HT:  How did these songs evolve this time around?  Did you do anything this time around to change things up?

MM:  This time we where a little less genre specific.  It is a little less from a blues vein and more from a rock vein.  I don’t think it was intentional, it just happened that way.  Also this time around some of the tunes I was writing were really countrified in a way.  I think because I was going through a pretty heavy Willie Nelson phase.  I have been robbing him lately.  The song “The Old Whiskey Show” was actually Derek’s (Trucks) idea.  It was an old spiritual song and we just put some new lyrics to it.  These songs come from all different places, all different angles this time.

scrap-paul.jpgHT:  Is it tough when you are writing or touring with Scrapomatic and you really feel that you start to build some momentum that you then have to shut it back down for a couple months to go back to your other projects or whatever?

MM:  That is kind of the nature of it, and like I said before nothing ever goes to waste.  I am good at playing secretary and keeping track of songs and keeping them on our screens so that nothing disappears.  And that happens a lot!  Unless you really keep track of it stuff disappears and you find yourself looking back asking, “Remember that one song?”{Laughs}

HT:  Do you find after you spend a couple of months apart writing that when you finally get together with Paul, that you are both in two completely different places musically and that they just don’t jive with each other?

MM:  Yeah, that happens.  The good thing is we listen to exactly the same music.  That American roots music.  So if one of us is in Skip James land and the other is in Willie Nelson world it all eventually works out.

HT:  Do you find you ever take a vacation from that safe ground of listening?

MM:  Not really.  I am happy to stick with what I am listening to until it runs it self.  I don’t think I listen myself into a corner too much.

HT:  So nothing newer that really moves you?  No band of 18 year old kids from Saskatoon, Canada that you discovered that no else knows about yet?

MM: {Laughs} No.  I don’t get a lot of the newish stuff.  I hate to sound like an old curmudgeon, but it just hasn’t been hitting me lately.  There is this attitude, especially in a lot of the indie stuff that is kind of annoying to me.  This willful lack of skill which is supposed to be authentic or something and it bugs me.  I just turn it off before I get into a lot of it.  I guess I am an old stick in the mud.

Scrapomatic is currently on tour with Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi’s Soul Stew Revival.

Studio photos courtesy Scrapomatic; live photos by Josh Mintz 

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