Band of the Week: Kalle Mattson
By Sabrina Nanji
Kalle Mattson wrote his first album when he was 18, and his second when he was 19. A veritable triple threat, the Ottawa musician also plays a role in recording and producing his own albums. Though he started as a solo act, he has joined forces with a fully fledged folk-rock quintet for a new experimental indie-rock sound, which ranges from danceable pop tunes to lyric-heavy music that’s both mellow and disturbing (in a good way).
His sound has received nods from Canadian music elite such as Howie Beck (who has collaborated with the likes of Feist and Jason Collett), who mixed Anchors, his first full-length. Mattson’s name may not be a household one, but you’ve probably heard his music on Degrassi (arguably a rite of passage for Canadian artists) or seen his popular YouTube video, “Thick as Thieves.”
He plans to finish recording his sophomore album, Lives in Between, this year, having released the EP and six tracks earlier this month. All his albums are available for free, which means it won’t be hard to justify checking out his pay-what-you-can show with alt-country duo Old Time Machine at Supermarket tonight. Herewith, Kalle gives us details on his rise to fame and his new sound.
How would you describe your sound? It’s hard to pick just one genre.
That’s probably a good thing, I think! I don’t know — I always tend to say folk rock, because it seems to be that sort of thing, and people sort of get a general idea of what it sounds like, hopefully. But it’s sort of a blending of songwriting, hopefully in the vain of Dylan or Springsteen, and infusing interesting sounds with that and gussying up those songs.
After co-producing Anchors, did you want to take more control for Lives in Between?
Well, there’s a bunch of things that made it different than Anchors, which was our last full-length. We recorded it all ourselves. That’s probably a big one. I also co-produced Anchors, but this time it was all me. I was able to have way more freedom and time, and we were able to just try things. I write a lot of the parts, so it makes sense to follow through with that vision and to record sounds and extras that producing entails. It seems like such a natural thing.
And how did that affect the creative process?
Experimentation is a loaded word, but there was experimentation like, “Hey, I can’t wait to try this.” There was no one to tell us “bad” or tell us “no.” And then there was a lot more orchestration involved — we worked with drum machines and loops and horns, which was new. I wrote horns for a couple songs, and I wrote some string sections for the last few songs. There was a lot more in orchestrating it, and more involved in the recording of it as well. To me, that’s the biggest difference, on top of, you know, hopefully better songs [laughs].
How does playing with a band compare to playing solo?
I record the songs the same way — well, relatively speaking. All of the songs can be played with just me and the acoustic guitar. And then they sort of take a different shape and we go from there. The songwriting, to me, just got better. I wrote Anchors when I was 18, and these songs I wrote when I was 19. It doesn’t seem like a big difference in years, but to me there’s an obvious difference.
You’ve gained YouTube fame for the “Thick as Thieves” video, and won two Northern Ontario Music Awards. Does the recognition change your dynamic?
It’s changed stuff, but it hasn’t changed the way we operate or anything. There are a lot more people involved with helping me out, which is great. The Northern Ontario Music and Film Awards, we got songwriter and album for that, and we got home the next day and we immediately started working on our next record. I mean, it was great to be recognized, but for anyone outside of Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, it doesn’t really mean anything you know? [Laughs.] The video just meant for us that a lot of people heard our record.
All of your albums are available for free on your website, and some would probably think you’re crazy. What’s your motivation?
Well, for us, it just makes sense. There’s no reason for us to be charging people when we’re still trying to build fans. To make our music as easily available as possible is only the smartest decision, I think. We’re not like U2 or Metallica, where we’re about the bottom line, and our records have to sell a million dollars or we lose money. When we put our first record up, it was downloaded about 75,000 times, and that was unbelievable for us, that that many people had heard our record. If more people listen to our music, that is the absolute best thing.
I’m okay with that.
Yeah, great! I think fans are more important than money at this point in time. Maybe at some point we’ll have to charge people, but I think it’s cool. I think Trent Reznor [Nine Inch Nails] says that digital music should be free. It’s invisible; there’s no intrinsic physical product. So why not? People come to our shows and buy the vinyl because they have the digital for free.
You’re a Carleton music major, right?
Yeah, classical guitar performance.
Does being classically trained at a university level affect your outlook on music?
Maybe subconsciously. I don’t want to make music sound like math, but there are options. You’ll find that if you have a good ear, you can find it quicker because you know the theory behind it. But I don’t think studying music changed the way I write songs.