Arlington-based musician Michael Mattice has been taking a break from touring over the past few months to work on his sophomore solo album, which doesn’t have an official title. He told the News-Press it’s going to be a departure from his debut album, Comin’ Home, which he released in 2013.
Comin’ Home was successful; it had two runs atop the Amazon.com Hot New Sellers Blues/Country list and he went on a tour throughout the U.S. and Canada in support of it. So then, why would Mattice, a 24-year-young singer/songwriter still establishing himself in the music business, want to change up an already proven formula?
“I’d be worried if I wasn’t departing because I think only out of change can you grow,” Mattice said. “That sound was really good for me then…I had to strip it down…make a whole album of nothing but acoustic guitar. I had a very vulnerable voice at that point.
“With this album I really want to go back to my roots and forget everything I’ve learned and record and play what I know.”
Mattice is still deciding between a few names for the album and sifting through the sea of songs he’s written for the new album – he said that he’s seeking out the ones that lend themselves to being sweetened up with the production and mastering skills he’s learned over the past few years.
But despite the fact that album is still very much in progress, he told the News-Press, without even a hint of doubt in his voice, that he’s already given it a March 20, 2015 release date. That moment, when he announced his album release date, was one moment when he displayed, what he called choosing confidence over fear.
And he’s able to do that, especially since he graduated from Berklee School of Music in May 2012, because he’s been playing music since he was 8-years-old.
Mattice started teaching himself flute at that age – the first song he learned was the theme song from “Titanic.” Eventually he came under the tutelage of Lynn Hertel, an assistant professor at George Washington University. He had early success playing the flute, the pinnacle of which was an invitational solo performance at the National Flute Convention at the Kennedy Center.
But he got braces in the lead up to the performance, which was well-received, but painful.
“It really hurt to press the lip of the flute to my bottom lip because of the braces,” Mattice said. “Luckily, my flute teacher also played piano, so she started teaching me piano.”
Learning the piano, he said, was the bridge from his start as a prodigy flutist to the improvisational string shredder with an impulse to make songs with mass appeal that he is today.
After playing piano for two years he started to play an electric bass at the urging of his music teacher at Kenmore Middle School, David Rorick. He said his initial experience learning the bass mirrored his time learning the flute.
“The just left me in a room with an amp and an electric bass and I was just plucking away at strings,” Mattice said. “I had to teach myself again.”
He stuck with the guitar, practicing to abate loneliness during his early teen years, which he described as “dark times.” During those years he played jazz and classical music in symphony orchestra and was introduced to punk and indie rock, which he started playing outside of the orchestras he played in.
After graduating from Wakefield High School in 2008 Mattice went to Berklee, an experience he called “insane, in the best way possible.”
He said that while he was there he learned that he really had the chops, and diversity, to make it as a professional musician. “There are things that can not be taught to a musician. I’ve heard some famous celebrities talk about this, too, that just because you can sing doesn’t mean you can be a singer,” Mattice said. “At Berklee, the line is as black and white as it can be…because like people there are ruthless – if they think you’re good and want to play with you, they will play with you. If they don’t then they will not.
“And you’re checking out [other students] all day long, sizing yourself up. The first semester is basically an arms race, like who can play the fastest or who’s got the sickest voice. So I started to realize that I had a sense of feel and diversity. Diversity was my biggest strength, I think, and I capitalized on it while working on my weaknesses in private. Because a lot of players are good at one thing, but it takes a special person to really adapt and be flexible and, most importantly, be open.”
A few months before graduating from Berklee he started a technical metal/djent band called Yantra with Jeffery Bobbin. Mattice said he was listening to and studying a lot of math rock and post-hardcore right before starting Yantra with Bobbin, who was listening to the same stuff.
They put out one album together, Beauty and Balance (2012), signed a deal with Sony IODA and re-released Beauty and Balance on Manta Ray Records in 2013.
But the band ended up being short-lived, though they had success and Mattice said the experience was fun. After that band ended, he said he realized that he needed to strip down what he was doing musically and get back to basics.
“I kind of realized that I was playing for ego and not for my heart and I was playing out fear and not confidence… I was afraid to be exposed, I was afraid to play easy stuff,” Mattice said. “Because easy doesn’t mean dumb or not good.”
In the period after playing in Yantra, Mattice said he came to grips with the fact that he liked less technical, simpler music, too. But when he said that when he went to write new songs or even just practice guitar, he had gotten so used to playing metal that he couldn’t do anything but shred.
“It was frustrating. I mean, I could play other stuff,” Mattice said. “But because I was practicing every day – metal, metal, metal, metal – my hands just automatically went to that style and I was very frustrated with that.”
That led Mattice to put down the electric guitar for a while and pick up the Supertone acoustic guitar that he retrieved from his house in Arlington while on Christmas break. He said that because the Supertone’s strings are so high from the fret board that it forced him to slow down his playing style.
During this period, he started writing songs for himself, some of which ended up on his Comin’ Home. After a long period of writing and working on songs, he had 10 or 12 songs that he wanted to record.
He started shopping for places to record an album and eventually decided on Don Zientara’s Inner Ear Studio in Arlington, which, coupled with the fact that moving back home would give him the financial space to be as creative as he wanted to be, led him to move back to Northern Virginia.
Nowadays, Mattice keeps several irons on the fire. In addition to working on his own music he produces and engineers other projects and started a music tutoring business called Jam Buddies earlier this year. At his next show is Friday, Jan. 9, at Iota Club and Café, at which he’ll be playing older stuff and stuff from his upcoming album.
• For more information about Michael Mattice, visit matticemusic.com.