Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
Kalle Mattson just capped recording of his new album. The 12-song release, expected in early 2014, benefits from some flakey studio antics. The Sault-Ste. Marie reared musician — who calls Ottawa home — recorded his fourth album with producer Gavin Gardiner, who is also the lead singer of The Wooden Sky.
To coax out a more intense vocal sound, Gardiner would have Mattson jog on the spot before doing a vocal take in order to give his voice a bit more urgency, the way it might sound at a live gig while holding a guitar under hot lights.
During the recording sessions, Gardiner also tried a bit of visual stimulation. On the music stand in front of Mattson’s mic, the producer would place Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album or a picture of Tom Petty in hopes of teasing out a subconscious vocal link between Mattson’s unadorned sing-speak style and the two masters of their genres.
On the surface, Mattson acknowledges that these gestures may seem silly and cutesy, but he can’t entirely dismiss them either. “I don’t know how much of a difference those things made, but maybe they did add something,” he says. “It can be hard to tell.”
It is hard to tell, because in the recording process Mattson and his fellow musicians were chasing something immeasurable and intangible. It’s a “vibe” or a “rock and roll feeling” or some other sensation that it is extremely subjective. There are no hard guidelines for making the right sound; you just kind of know it when you hear it.
For Mattson, the right sound for his this new album was something that was vaguely Wilco-ish, and that built upon his first three recordings: his 2010 debut, 2011’s Anchors, and 2012’s Lives in Between. Those albums brought about singles such as “Thick As Thieves.” Its companion video, made for about $250 in supplies, went viral last year catapulting Mattson into the spotlight and putting him in the U.S. field of view with attention from CBS, The Huffington Post, and Time Magazine.
After that media blitz, Mattson put into place all those infrastructural elements required for music-making today. He got a booking agent, publicists in the U.S. and Canada, and started investing in more videos. Mattson put his music online in exchange for an email address and started to build up his contact list, which eventually leads to more butts in seats at gigs, and serves as a direct contact point for information about new merch, such as a new seven-inch record expected out this fall. The A-side will feature the song “An American Dream” and the B-side will play the song “Darkness”— both tracks from the forthcoming full-length album.
An early spin (er, click) of the new album shows Mattson with a more robust vocal style. The songs are more adorned with horns and guests lyricists, including Jeremy Fisher, and guest musicians from The Wooden Sky and Cuff the Duke, bands that Mattson has toured with in the past.
That tour schedule — he had 100 dates in 2012 — meant that Mattson had to record the new album in bits over a year. He took twice that long to write the thing, and the slow, considered pace shows in the songwriting and in the sound.
It’s definitely a concept album. It deals with the death of Mattson’s mother five years ago, when he was 16. In one song, he imagines what it might be like for his mother’s former boyfriend to hear of her death years after they went their separate ways. In other tunes, he deftly puts profound sadness in its place. It’s contemplative without being a total downer.
Mattson will play a pre-release European tour in the fall, followed by another European tour after the album is released in January or February 2014. He’ll play an Ottawa show on Friday — his last in the area until the fall when he’ll play the NAC Presents series in October.
The Friday show is a release party for Herd magazine, a free publication that is slick in its production values. It publishes unpaid contributions from establishing photographers and artists in the city.
Mattson will play selections from the new album at Friday’s show at The Fall Down Gallery.