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MATEO: Songs About Love

Krucial Noise recording artist Mateo doesn’t shy away from songs about love, doubt or getting to know someone. With his latest EP, “Love and Stadiums II”, he’s also ushering in his own blend of Urban, R&B and Pop, while setting his sights on becoming that next career artist that we just can’t get enough of.

Words & Interview: Aimstar
Images: alex-ray kairos*

Mateo is a humble, yet confident cat. An R&B crooner from Cincinnati, whose Twitter bio reads, “I’m a first rate version of myself instead of a second rate version of somebody else.” He comes from that school of thought where artistry trumps releasing hot singles every once in a blue moon. Mateo wants to build a career, and not just score some fly-by-night props for being able to woo a couple of tunes.

Between his packed schedule of flights, interviews and performances all over the place, including his EP release party this past Thursday at SOB’s in New York City, Mateo is curating a hit-list of songs that he’s written, and of artists like Melanie Fiona, Lauryn Hill and others that he’d love to collaborate with. It doesn’t hurt that he’s got Kerry “Krucial” Brothers, Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz already in his corner….

What’s going on these days?

Oh man, I’m feeling great. We got up really early today to get on the road to [Las] Vegas for a residency at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. So it’s pretty dope. We’re going to do eight shows. By that eighth show, I think we’ll be dying [laughs], but I think we’re going to have fun and it’s cool. Life’s been good, everything is great.

But eight shows though? Like back to back? How do you prepare?

Literally, two shows a night for four days. Yeah, it’s a lot. But you just kind of rehearse it as much as possible and build the stamina for it. Some of those big artists are doing like a crazy amount of shows for like everyday for like a month… you just gotta build your stamina up for it. It should be cool though. I mean, I’ve never been to the Cosmo because it’s a brand new hotel in Vegas, but I think it should be pretty crazy.

Growing up, were you a performer? Are you used to the stage? I just imagine it being tough being a fairly new artist/performer and having to commit to a run like that.

[Laughs] I know, I know right? Actually, I didn’t perform when I was younger, but I was heavily in music because my family is like really into music. My grandfather was a big Blues Jazz guitarist in Ohio. He played for Kings Records, he played for James Brown and a couple of other artists out then, on King Records. And then my grandmother was a touring musician, so like she would travel and sing all over the place. She’s like a diva [laughs], the quintessential diva. She still is to this day….

I’m sure she’d be happy to hear you say that… [laughs]

I know! [Laughs] She’s really hilarious. But I started on the piano when I was age five, doing classical piano. It was like, “You’re going to do something musically, even if it’s on the side.” And I was that guy who had to be forced to perform every Thanksgiving and I would hate that! I would have to do some sort of classical piece in front of everybody, so it kind of prepared me a little bit. But I didn’t really start performing for real for real until a few years ago, when I decided to really do music professionally. I had my first show in L.A. and been doing it since.

Is that how you hooked up with Quddus Philippe?

The funny thing is I met Quddus through Hill Harper, you know, the actor. At that time, I had already done a few shows and he came out to maybe the third show I had ever done, and we got real cool after that. Quddus has worn many hats in my career because he’s been literally not only a friend, but he’s been my manager at one point, my co-manager. He was also the person who brought me to MySpace Records; he was one of my A&Rs over there. You know, he’s directed a video, my “Empire State of Mind” video…. So, yeah, that’s how we met a few years back.

I feel like you’ve had the dream career so far and you’ve just started off.

Really? The dream career, huh?

Let me tell you why I say that… you have tons of artists on the come up nowadays and they’re looking for the kinds of opportunities you’ve landed already. They want to be on MySpace Records—well, back then, [laughs]. They want to meet those VJs. They want to meet those Grammy award-winning producers. And you’ve hit all of them in one fell swoop.

See that’s funny because when I look back, you know, you don’t see it that way when you’re in the midst of it. Yeah, I’ve definitely been blessed to be able to do stuff that I wasn’t doing and to meet the people that I’ve met, and all of the support. It’s just one of those things though that did take time. There’s been a lot of roadtrips packed up in a van, like we’re doing right now. Still doing stuff like that, which takes a lot, a lot of work that a lot of people don’t realize. But I do consider myself very fortunate that I was able to come out here and really just start meeting people and then immediately, making progress.

What do you think it is about you that people see?

I don’t know. Hopefully it comes back to the music, you know what I mean. I know that people really like the type of sound that we’re creating and I love it, too. So it’s one of those things where, like the stars are aligning for you, but also, if you really try to hone in on a unique style and sound, you know, people will definitely start gravitating towards it. Also, a really, really great big thing that I did early on, especially, is going after people online. We really started building a grassroots fanbase to a certain extent. I started off because of the Internet and MySpace, and those kinds of things, like really getting those people to get on board because sometimes you’ve got these business folks and these executives that can’t really appreciate the music from an unbiased opinion. Whereas a person from like Kansas, who just likes to listen to music, you can reach out to those people and they could give you like a really, really good response. They will like support the music and tell you which songs they like. And that’s the type of stuff that’s been really, really helpful.

And now you’re working with Kerry [“Krucial” Brothers], Alicia [Keys] and Swizz [Beatz], which doesn’t hurt either, you know. What was it like working with Alicia, especially given how similar your come-ups?

I was/am a huge, huge fan. The thing about Alicia and Krucial is that they were able to create a really authentic type of sound for their music, especially considering the kind of music that comes on the radio and how most people try to follow a formula. They stuck to creating something really, really great and authentic, and they won with it. They were actually able to get mainstream appeal off of it and that’s something that I kind of admire because it takes a lot of guts to stick to the type of quality of music that you want to put out there. So just working with Krucial alone—and he’s worked on all of the Alicia Keys’ albums from the very, very beginning— there’s a different level of quality and standard in creating music. You know, before, me and my homie were in a bedroom studio recording. Now I’m going from that, to big studios and thinking like, what kind of gear you want to get, vintage gear, instruments and all that kind of stuff, which is something you don’t really hear a lot of these days. It’s just refreshing and really, really dope. With Alicia, I’ve only had just one session with her so far [at interview time], and we’re setting up time for more, hopefully for when I work on the album. She’s great. She’s down to earth, just humble with a great spirit about her. She’s all about the vibe, great energy and that’s probably why she can create just great music through that chemistry.

Let’s talk about your sound a little bit. I heard that you call the music you create, “Urban Mod”. What does that mean? Do you think others will get it and are you worried about falling into the trap of being a one-hit wonder?

I think I’m always concerned about that. I want to be a career artist, you know, and I think that’s the thing I respect about Alicia Keys, John Legend, John Mayer—all of these artists who have fans who buy into the experience of what their art provides, instead of being about just a song. The latter is where you get the one-hit wonders, you know. But in response to Urban Mod, that was a term that I kind of came up with a couple of years ago. It’s urban modernism, the new state of Urban music, that I feel is like infused and influenced by a lot of different genres all over the world. That’s why you can have someone like a Kanye West have a song with Daft Punk, or even Jay-Z doing something with Chris Martin or Frank Ocean flipping a Coldplay song. I just feel that’s where music is going, and I’m excited about it. And I feel like that’s how my music fits in, in that kind of vein.

With new artists, we tend to not know how to define them, so we often compare them to someone we already know. Who would you want to be compared to?

Whoa. Oh man. It’s like one of those things like you want to be compared to the greats, but then you don’t want to be compared at all. You just want to be yourself because I’m just me. But I’d love to be at the stature of those career artists who can have a show tomorrow and like they pack it out. They can travel the world. Even if it’s old school like people like Stevie Wonder or current people like the artists I named.

It’s nice to know that you’re appreciative of artists that came before you, which is a rarity for a lot of new artists. But can I test your musical skills? I’m going to name an artist and you tell me your favorite song from this artist… okay?

Yeah, yeah, let’s do it!

Lauryn Hill…

“The Miseducation”…

Donny Hathaway…

“A Song For You”, of course.

John Legend….

“Show Me”….

John Mayer….

“The Heart of Life”, it’s off the Continuum album, so dope.

Kings of Leon…

That’s a tie between “Use Somebody” and “Sex on Fire” actually….

So all of the songs about love are the ones you like, I see…. Can you remember the first time you ever sat down to write a song?

The very first time I wrote a song, I was actually in school, in college, and at the time, I really wasn’t trying to do music. I was trying to do something else, like, “People don’t really make it in music…” I was just following that other path that everyone else chooses. You go to school; you get a regular 9-5 job and get a paycheck every two weeks. And I had this homie who was like, “You could really sing, man. You should really try to record.” So he linked me up with a producer in Atlanta, and I did this song called, “I Appreciate”. This song, probably if I heard it now, I would probably die because it’s not that dope. [Laughs] It’s like horrible, but it was my first time, really trying to think about what my voice was in the music and what I really wanted to say.

Would you ever perform it now? Ever?

No, never. [Laughs]

[Laughs]

I won’t let anyone hear it! That’s blackmail material right there. No way. [Laughs]

Mateo’s Love and Stadiums II EP is now available for download, HERE

Follow Mateo on Twitter, @MateoOnline

Images of Mateo by alex-ray kairos* exclusively for STARK.

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