Hidden Gems of Hillside Inside: An Interview with Kalle Mattson

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

  • Kalle Mattson in Guelph, Hillside Inside.

    Kalle Mattson in Guelph, Hillside Inside.

  • JF Beauchamp with Kalle Mattson.

    JF Beauchamp with Kalle Mattson.

  • Rory Lewis with Kalle Mattson

    Rory Lewis with Kalle Mattson

  • Kalle Mattson.

    Kalle Mattson.

  • Sip Club audience.

    Sip Club audience.

Written by Pegleess Barrios

Hillside Inside brought Kalle Mattson and Folly and the Hunter to Guelph for an intimate show at Sip Club, thanks to a new show format being tested out this year which could easily be labelled a success.

It was truly an all-ages event, with children eating nachos in the corner, young adults drinking beers at the bar, and older couples sitting in groups on the sidelines - but age made no difference when the music started. Showgoers were enthralled by the cozy atmosphere, and openly approached the bands as musicians went back and forth between sets.

The venue was packed, and I sat with a kind stranger since there was not a single empty table by the time I arrived. He introduced himself as Trevor Goodman.

"I've been going to Hillside for years, and I was very interested in this show," Goodman told me after the show as I waited to meet with Kalle. "I thought it was great, I bought both of [Kalle Mattson's] albums after the show. His voice is so interesting. I just love the horns, love the bass, there were no drums but it was so great." Goodman, like many in the audience, had purchased a full pass to Hillside Inside and as he headed to see Jeremy Fisher at Van Goh's Ear, Mattson approached me to start our interview.

Ottawa-based Kalle Mattson has an impressive resumé. Mattson, winner of SOCAN's Songwriter of the Year award, 2014 Polaris Music Prize nominee, and New York Times featured artist has been writing songs since 2009 and recently toured with well-known and highly demanded acts such as Jeremy Fisher, The Rural Alberta Advantage, Blue Rodeo, and Hozier.

Despite his calibre of experience, Mattson was approachable and genuine, and easy to talk to. After a bit of small talk about how I would have to take a $20.00 cab home because of Guelph's Sunday bus scheduling's shortcomings, we cut to the interview.

MATTSON: No I know, transit is the worst. I have a van and I refuse to take transit now. The most diva-ish thing I do, is drive my van to go around Ottawa.

CANNON:Oh wait, you mind if I record?

MATTSON: No, no, go ahead.

CANNON: Okay, sounds good [laughs]. Your van. The one parked outside?

MATTSON: Three years ago, we got that van.

CANNON: Is that when you started touring?

MATTSON: No, a bit less than that. My first record came out in 2009, but we didn't start touring, in like any real capacity until two and a half years ago. But yeah, two and a half years ago...it's been a lot, a lot of shows.

CANNON: That kind of works out with the timeline I know of your band. So I've known your horn player, JF, since I was in grade seven or something. He knew me for probably the most awkward days of my life. Then when I was in grade 12, I guess he was in like first or second year of university, and one day he was just like, "This is it, I'm going, I'm going on tour."

MATTSON: Yeah I think he did two years and that was...I think that's sort of like when it started to happen though. Once that, like...we did about a hundred and forty-one shows last year, and we've been on the road for two hundred and something days a year.

CANNON: And not just in Canada, you went to Europe last year as well, right?

MATTSON: Yep, four tours in Europe last year.

CANNON: Wow. So how does that work - four tours in Europe - do you go to different places every time, or...?

MATTSON: We doubled up on places, um, but yeah we played like, I played in nine different countries last year.

CANNON: That's amazing. And how was your reception overseas?

MATTSON: It's great. It's sort of further along there than here, almost. In a lot of ways. I've had a label there for a few years, so I guess, the team has been there for a while. But yeah it's great. That's...that's really going well there.

CANNON: And so it was about, was it one year or two years ago that you were featured in the New York Times?

MATTSON: Yeah, that was last year.

CANNON: I remember seeing that, I was so excited.

MATTSON: That was actually just around this time, last year, actually.

CANNNON: Have you found a big increase in bookings, followers, shows from that?

MATTSON: Yeah I mean, this record, that I put out last year, changed...my life. In a lot of ways.

CANNON: Definitely got great reception. I checked your Wikipedia page -

MATTSON: Oh, we have one?

CANNON: Yeah, did you write it? Or did someone else write it?

MATTSON: Oh yeah, we have a Wikipedia page then I guess. No, I don't know who wrote it, really.

CANNON: Well they did a pretty good job, a good summary there.

MATTSON: I think they got some stuff wrong, I kind of remember someone editing it at some point in time. But yeah, that record, it sort of changed my life. And it's done so much more for me than I thought I could ever do, I guess.

CANNON: That's amazing. Was this the record that you wrote about your mom's passing?

MATTSON: Yeah... yeah.

CANNON: So I guess like, maybe just a really genuine record, eh.

MATTSON: I think so, I think it's like the first time I'm really singing about something meaningful to me. And like, it takes a while to hopefully get better at writing songs, and singing songs, and making records...I have recorded a lot of songs, in the 5 years I've been in music. And that just takes a long time to figure it out.

CANNON: Definitely. Sounds like you guys have really got your vibe together.

MATTSON: I hope so, I mean.

CANNON: It was funny, a lot of people I talked to was like, "I was worried when there weren't drums. But then, it was so amazing without the drums." They said, you didn't miss it.

MATTSON: Oh yeah, that's great. I mean like, I tour with a full band when it warrants it, you know. But I really like this trio set-up, it feels like the songs can just be. That's how I write the songs, I write the horn and guitar parts.

CANNON: Oh really, you write the horn parts too?

MATTSON: Yeah, and then you really sort of get the songs exactly how I write them - it's intimate, and hopefully it gets quiet, and then it gets loud as the three of us make it together.

CANNON: That's really cool.

MATTSON: Why thank you.

CANNON: That brings to mind The Black Keys - they're just two people, but when they go on tour, there's like ten people...but you miss that two person sound.

MATTSON: There's something about that, yeah.

CANNON: It's very...intimate seems like a weird word? But it feels like the right word?

MATTSON: No, totally. Yeah. I mean those guys are like...those guys are like masters of what they do, two guys just totally locked in together and making great songs. I think that, I hope that the idea of a really good song is that you can break it down and make it ten people or just one person and it's still really there, you know.

CANNON: Yeah, I agree. One thing I was really curious about was, I guess, sort of your journey - not today, but over the past few years. I've been following you guys, I guess for five years now? Maybe 4. Since JF starting playing with you.

MATTSON: Oh, three. Three and a half years now.

CANNON: You two were together as a band before then, right?

MATTSON: Yeah, we've had around fourteen different musicians play with us by now.

CANNON: So is this like your core group?

MATTSON: Now it is, for sure. Rory has been with me since day one. And everyone else, drummers, bass players, JF... But us three have been together for like, three and a half years.

CANNON: So you know Rory the longest, right? Since when you lived in Sault Ste-Marie?

MATTSON: Rory and I have been best friends since we were thirteen.

CANNON: Aw. That worked out well. I don't think I even talk to my best friends from when I was nineteen anymore.

MATTSON: Yeah I mean, I'm sort of lucky that a lot of my good friends from when I was that young are still my good friends, so...

CANNON: That's so cool. So what brought you to Ottawa?

MATTSON: I went to school there. Carleton. I went for classical guitar. It's cool, it's fine [laughs].

CANNON: Do you feel that you grew as a musician there?

MATTSON: I definitely did my own thing [laughs]. I don't think I really learned to write songs better or anything like that, I think it was more like I got, you know like writing for JF or something like that, I can transpose quick, and good. I can do that stuff really quickly...that's what they sort of drill into you. That sort of thing. And I mean honestly that's useful. I think of myself, like, I graduated with a degree...I went to school for music, and I am in music. That's my job, that's my only job, that's my music. Most people can't say that.

CANNON: Yeah that's pretty rare, I know a lot of people who even started in music, but they quit.

MATTSON: Yeah, or take someone who went to school for English - they're usually not like, writing a novel.

CANNON: So I guess that's great that you're able...able to do what you wanted.

MATTSON: I mean it's kind of luck, and just, sheer determination, and being really poor. But that's just whatever, you know.

CANNON: Story of all of our lives at some point I guess.

MATTSON: Yeah, there's no "woe is me", it's pretty great.

CANNON: That's awesome [laughs], I'm happy to hear that. So do you have anything coming up soon in terms of albums?

MATTSON: Yeah I signed a record deal with Network Records, and I recorded some new songs with this guy named Marcus Paquin, he's produced a lot of really great records. Like he did the newest The National record, Arcade Fire's Suburbs record, Local Natives, their newest one...he's going to come out in a few months. And my record, it's going to come out again, we're doing a re-release, deluxe edition.

CANNON: Ooooh -

MATTSON: Yeah it sounds ridiculous to me too [laughs], it's horrible.

CANNON: They'll probably put like a gold lining on the cover, and -

MATTSON: I hope so! Yeah. I hope so.

CANNON: I had another question...it was about touring. Do you find yourself touring within Canada, or mostly out?

MATTSON: No I tour Canada a lot, it feels like. I did more shows in Europe than Canada, but I had my first few shows in the states in the fall as well. I did New York and L.A. It's sort of, I do Canadian shows that are close, and then last year we did two cross-Canada rounds. I just did a festival in Halifax two weeks ago, and now we're going back out East again in a few weeks for The Rural Alberta Advantage tour.

CANNON: Oh I love them. So great.

MATTSON: Yeah I know right? We'll be with them for a couple weeks, and yeah, so looks like Canada is definitely the easiest. It's close. I mean, obviously, but like yeah. It's nice to come to Guelph and be part of a festival like Hillside.

CANNON: I noticed that your Wikipedia page also said you toured with Hozier?

MATTSON: Yeah, I did, I played a show with Hozier.

CANNON: Was that before the whole "Take Me To Church" crazy?

MATTSON: It was out, it was starting. I was with this guy. It was crazy. I opened for him, and we played this venue in Toronto that's like a 250 person room, tiny. Something like that. I don't think the demand was there quite yet for somewhere bigger, but he had a bus, and I remember being like, that's crazy, that there's a bus [laughs]. And we played and it was great! And then we were talking and he was like, "Ohh yeah, I'm doing Letterman tomorrow."

CANNON: So casual.

MATTSON: Yeah and he was like, "I'm going to be on Ellen, I guess that's alright." And my manager was like, "He's signed to Columbia, he's going to be the male Adele." And I was like, alright. You can see it, you can see it right there. That song is like, so good. It's so good. And when you have a song that good, that's the kind of stuff that happens. That song is great. Sometimes you just need one really good song.

CANNON: [Laughs] well to be honest, that's the only song of his I've heard!

MATTSON: Really? You should check it out. He's great. It's sort of, I'll walk down the street and hear him everywhere.

CANNON: That's true. I had...one more question...sorry my memory's not so great today, it's the one day this week I forgot to take my ADHD pills [laughs].

MATTSON: [Laughs] oh no, take your time. Don't worry about it.

CANNON: It's actually been a crazy day - I woke up at 2PM today and that's when you guys posted on Facebook that you were doing a show today, and I was like, "I need to be there!"

MATTSON: Oh yeah for sure! Tell me more about the newspaper, magazine you work for?

CANNON: It's TheCannon.ca, we're an online newspaper here in Guelph. I guess it's pretty cool, we focus a lot on issues of oppression, and also on supporting local art.

MATTSON: Pretty unique in terms of a newspaper. Yeah, there's other things going on in the world. That stuff is needed.

CANNON: I was so excited when I saw you guys were playing here today, I messaged JF right away and was just thinking, "pleeease answer your phone," and when he said I could meet with you I was so happy. I definitely thought your name was pronounced "Cah-lie" though, for the longest time.

MATTSON: Oh no, everyone does. But no, it's just Kalle. Like the vegetable. "Kale."

CANNON: Did you say "Mikayl" at some point?

MATTSON: Nope, just "kale".

CANNON: So did you get your name before kale was big?

MATTSON: Oh yeah, my parents were so ahead of the times. Naming their kid after food.

CANNON: Better than Apple!

MATTSON: Yeah yeah, I want to make a shirt like, you know how Beyoncé makes the kale shirt? I want to make the same shirt, just with two L's like my name.

CANNON: That would be fantastic.

MATTSON: I think that would work.

CANNON: That would make really great merch, you know.

MATTSON: I'd like to, yeah.

CANNON: So how often are you in Ottawa? Not a lot, I guess, with all the touring?

MATTSON: Actually recently a lot! It's been nice, yeah. Writing. Busy for me still, in a different way, but good.

CANNON: I know you mentioned in your show that one song you wrote in the van when you were sleeping in a Wal-Mart parking lot, and really sick...tell me more about your writing process?

MATTSON: Usually things like...you end up coming up with an idea, or an emotion, a moment, a point in time...I don't know. It's never the same. Different every time, that's what's fun about it. It's my favourite thing to do. I'm having a good time, making something that wasn't there before - that's cool.

CANNON: I just had one more wrap-up question, I'd love to hear about your experience here, playing today.

MATTSON: It was really nice. These afternoon things, you never know exactly what they're going to be like, but it was really nice. Nice crowd, hopefully we'll be back soon!

CANNON: I hope so too. Thank you so much for meeting with me today!

MATTSON: Thank you as well. Hope to be back here soon!

Wrapping up the interview, Kalle, Rory and JF hung out and chatted off the record with myself, fans, and Folly the Hunter, for a while after the set, and packed up for a long ride back to Ottawa.

Best of luck to all the band members and with the new album! We hope to hear it live in Guelph soon.

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