photo by Dean Budnick
For much of his time these days, Mike Mattison is a vocalist and occasional guitarist for Tedeschi Trucks Band. The Minneapolis, Minnesota native, and Harvard grad, is also a songwriter, founding member of Scrapomatic, and solo artist in his own right. Six years following a 2014 solo debut, You Can’t Fight Love, Mattison is back with Afterglow, an album of rich Americana and blues he recorded with TTB bandmate Tyler ‘Falcon’ Greenwell and Scrapomatic collaborator Dave Yoke. Mattison had intended to support the record’s release, returning to the road in April with a classic Scrapomatic lineup that features Greenwell, Yoke, Paul Olsen, and Ted Pecchio, although the coronavirus pandemic has postponed these plans.
What led you to release a solo album?
We’ve been working on it for over a year. It was recorded by our drummer, Tyler ‘Falcon’ Greenwell, and Dave Yoke, who plays guitar with Scrapomatic. I had kind of a surplus of songs. Usually I have two different avenues I can go with them: I can bring them to Tedeschi Trucks Band or do them with Scrapomatic. Scrapomatic was kind of on hiatus; my other partner, Paul Olsen, had a bunch of stuff going on in his life. The stack (of songs) was getting kind of high.
High enough for an album, obviously.
I’ve realized if I don’t record something, it disappears. I’ve tried in the past to save things for some future date. I’ve realized that songs that don’t get recorded die where they are. I liked this stack of songs, and I noticed there was kind of a narrative throughline, in that they are all turning-the-page-themed songs; closing the book and moving on.
I’m guessing that theme is connected to the title.
I like the idea of afterglow; moving into a new chapter of your life, hopefully looking back wistfully. Not always, but that’s the hope. I thought it would make a nice album that had an interesting theme and story.
Was there a catalytic event that inspired the writing or just coincidental?
Both, probably. I just turned 50 last year, which was a wonderful thing. I had a great celebration and 50 is great. For me the decades have just gotten better and better because you just give less and less of a shit; what people think of you; what you may or may not have accomplished. It was a great release. It’s a great place to look back and be, like, ‘What was all that about?’
You’ve also had a lot of loss among your musical peers.
People just started disappearing: My bandmate, Kofi Burbridge; former Derek Trucks Band drummer Rico Scott; Col. Bruce Hampton. Having to kind of reckon with that, I’m lucky that it really hasn’t happened to me in a serious way, in terms of friends and colleagues, until now. There are things you can’t control and things you can, that are fading into a rear view mirror, and how you think about that.
You had the fortune of getting Kofi on the record before he passed. Tell me about that.
Kofi was a prolific songwriter. He was brilliant. Everything he touched had so much sophisticated melody. He was kind of a secret hit writer, because he didn’t write hits; he wasn’t in the hit-writing circles. Through the years with Tedeschi Trucks Band, we would collaborate. The song that made it on to Afterglow– “I Really Miss You”- he wrote that about 17 years ago. It didn’t really fit the Derek Trucks Band. It’s more of a Curtis Mayfield-slow jam. He asked if I’d be interested in putting lyrics and a melody to it. It’s this idea: you miss somebody and all you have to do is pick up the phone and you don’t. That theme spoke to me. I always hoped we would get it on a record and we never did. So when we started Afterglow I said we really need to do this.
What was the session like?
He came to Falcon’s garage and recorded it. He really gave us all a great lesson in musicianship. We had to ask him what a diminished diminished chord was. He’s like, ‘Ugh. Idiots.’ (Laughs) It was actually quite educational and entertaining recording it. Looking back over his passing makes it weirdly poignant. I’m glad we got that piece of him put down permanently.
Tell me about Falcon.
I’ve always loved Falcon, from the day I met him. I met him in 2002 or 2003. He was playing with Col. Bruce Hampton. I was living in Brooklyn. They were playing in the basement of the Knitting Factory after an Allman Brothers show. Paul and I were always looking for drummers we could play with in Scrapomatic. At setbreak, I told Falcon that his drumming was devastating. He was like, whatever. He kind of blew me off and walked away, which I always found humorous.
And now, almost two decades later, he’s producing your album.
Having played with him in Scrapomatic, and then in Tedeschi Trucks Band, I’ve seen that he’s one of these guys that’s so brilliant musically. Not necessarily from a technical point of view, but just his intuition. It’s so advanced. He’s a really fully formed musician. It’s fun to collaborate with him. There’s a very fertile imagination there. He’s a really talented engineer and producer. He’s a dynamo. We had a really good time.
What is there in a song that tells you where it should go? To TTB, or Scrapomatic, or as a solo entry?
It’s more intuitive than anything. I just kind of know what’s for me. And even though the people in TTB and Scrapomatic are my dear friends, it’s always weird presenting material to people. It’s a really vulnerable thing. You’ve dug deep, you’ve brought everything to bear, you’ve put yourself out there, and sometimes people are like, eh, whatever. They don’t mean to be rude, but sometimes it doesn’t hook people. These (on Afterglow) are ones that didn’t find a home in either band, but ones I was adamant that there’s something there. There’s a reason why they were written.