Singer-songwriter Matthew Mayfield is back with his latest release A Banquet For Ghosts. His most personal release to date, Mayfield raised $17,000 to record the album via Pledge Music by selling handwritten lyrics, messages in whiskey bottles and signed guitars to his fans. The standout album reveals Mayfield’s sensitive side as he sings of lost love, relationships gone wrong and his search for answers.
“We burned away a lot of the distractions and it’s just very raw and pure and honest,” he said of the recording process.
The LP begins with the emotional “Ain’t Much More to Say.” The song tells the tale of a returning lover who has made an unwanted appearance. Mayfield’s rustic vocals are at the forefront of the track and accompanied by delicate acoustic guitar, gentle strokes of the piano and wavering pedal steel.
“Take What I Can Get” picks up the pace with Mayfield’s inner dialogue displayed throughout the track. A song he cites as the most triumphant on the record it continues to take the listener on a journey. Meanwhile, the standout “Track You Down” brings together multiple genres showcasing Mayfield’s versatility. A blend of roots, blues, country and rock, foot-stomping percussion combines with striking string features. All the while his raspy vocals only add to the track. The song transforms Mayfield from simply a singer-songwriter to a major force to reckon with.
Next song, “Heart In Wire” further demonstrates this. As he alternates from a wounded whisper to a guttural growl it’s easy to feel the pain within the song. Violin parts rise and fall at the most opportune moments and further exemplify the poignant number.
The heartbreaking “I Don’t Know You At All” follows suit while title track, the stripped down “A Banquet For Ghosts” continues the somber tone. As the emotive “Beautiful” and “Safe & Sound” close the LP it’s uncertain whether or not Mayfield found what he was looking for but he hopes his listeners have a different experience.
“I want to be that record in your ears. I want to be the sound of something that’s soothing but also something that’s really heartfelt and honest,” he said.
With such a solid release, Mayfield will no doubt succeed in this.
To purchase the album visit iTunes. To learn more about Matthew Mayfield, visit his Website.
I witnessed Matthew Mayfield live for the first time last October during CMJ when I stumbled into Rockwood Music Hall in between a few band interviews. Alone on acoustic guitar, his deep, rustic vocals and emotion-fueled lyrics echoed throughout the silent room and blew me away.
After the show, he said his debut solo album would be released in a few months and I scoured the Web to find out more about this artist who I was certain I heard before. His former band, Moses Mayfield, was signed to Epic Records in 2005, released an album and toured with major acts. A few years later, though, they broke up and Mayfield found himself questioning his next steps.
“When the band broke up there was a six month period where I debated whether or not I was going to keep doing it. You have to pick up the pieces and start all over, write all new songs, a new band, a new everything. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, but if I wasn’t doing it I’d be super unhappy,” Mayfield said.
Mayfield’s solo album, Now You’re Free, was released earlier this year and encompasses 11 tracks of impeccable songwriting, standout musical accompaniment, and impressive collaborations. Singing of love and heartache, the listener can relate to every track. Songs like the powerful “Fire Escape,” written with John Paul White of The Civil Wars, and the poignant “Element” showcase his remarkable talent. A track he originally wrote 10 years ago and has appeared on numerous records, at a recent concert at The Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, Mayfield said, “I put this song out a few times but the best version to date is on this new record.” A longtime fan favorite, the song was received with much excitement at the packed venue.
I chatted with Matthew earlier this month while in California right before his intimate performance at The Hotel Cafe. He filled me in on many of the stories behind his songs as well as the struggles he has faced as a musician and collaborating with friends The Civil Wars and NEEDTOBREATHE. Read the complete interview below and be sure to check him out on tour this August.
Now You’re Free is your first solo LP. Was the recording process any different than with your previous band, Moses Mayfield?
Yeah, it was different. This time around, I think the songs are stronger and the players I was playing with in Nashville were some good friends and also super pro guys. We tried to make it a band thing. We were in a room, in a circle, and we wanted it to feel alive and have that energy that a big, anthemic rock record would have. The process was similar in terms of going through the motions and making a record, but at the same time, we tried so many new things which was cool. I’m excited about people hearing us in a studio where there were bells on a song or there’s cello or weird toy piano. Whatever it is, that kind of stuff is fun for us.
Why did you decide to use Pledge Music to fund your album?
At the time, my manager suggested it to me. It was cool. I looked at it, but I was kind of hesitant because I really didn’t want to ask people for money but then I realized it was a win-win. They get things that they want, whether it was handwritten lyrics or a house party, or we’ll play at the wedding. There were all kinds of weird stuff; microphones and gear. Everybody gets something which is really cool. We raised $14 grand for the record.
“Element” is my favorite track of yours and you wrote it a decade ago. Why did you decide to add it to this album?
We had the album down to 10 songs and I just felt like there was something missing. I feel like it’s one of those songs that I keep wanting to put onto a record because every time you take a step forward, that’s one I want to bring with me. The guy that produced the record and my management said, ‘This song is so strong, I really feel like it should come with you.’ I thought about it for a long time and I thought it was a great idea.
What’s the story behind “Element?”
I wrote that song when I was 18 and I was in this long distance relationship with a girl. I was just a kid. I think it’s very honest. It doesn’t feel particularly young, but it was very honest, from a very honest place. I feel like a song like that, that just comes from the heart, there was nothing about it that was forced. I sat down with a guitar and wrote it. It wasn’t in pieces. It all came at once.
Do you get tired of playing it?
Sometimes. I feel like with anything, sometimes there are songs that are going to be a little bit of a chore to play. It depends. If the crowd is great and they love it and you can see it in their eyes that they’re enjoying you play it, then it’s great.
What is your typical songwriting process like?
It usually starts with a guitar and a melody and I bring the lyrics in when I feel like I got the vibe down. There are times where the lyric is the inspiration. It changes quite a bit. I’d say 90% of the time it’s me and my guitar singing, humming things. It’s a strange thing, chasing songs.
Do you feel a song comes out better when it actually happened to you? Do you always write from firsthand experience?
Pretty much. I think everything on the record is firsthand. There are a couple that are hypothetical I guess, but I certainly can relate to the things that I’m singing about. “Can’t Change My Mind” is hypothetical in a sense to me. I wrote it from the perspective of that person who’s sold. I know that feeling; to be sold. You write it from the perspective of somebody that’s found something that you want to find.
Are you ever nervous to reveal too much in a song, like “Fire Escape?”
Yeah. Honestly, that’s probably the hardest one. I’m never scared because it’s like therapy for me. I need to do it, to get it out. I don’t know. I feel like there’s a release that you get from putting it on paper and singing it in a song that’s healthy. It’s always been an outlet for me since I was a little kid.
Are there nights you don’t want to play a certain song because it’s too personal and brings back a specific relationship or memory?
It can be. It depends on the night and it depends where my head’s at and if I was thinking about it before a show or not. Sometimes it can sting a little more than others. Sometimes you just do it because it feels good to know that you’re helping somebody else out. I think that’s the reason why the sad songs resonate more with people. I’ve noticed that. People love the upbeat stuff, but when it’s real heartache people are like, ‘Yeah, I know what you mean.’ More so than, ‘I’m really happy, everything’s great.’ That’s pretty rare. It’s good to write a song about it when it happens.
Isn’t that depressing though? When everyone’s like, ‘Yeah! That’s real heartbreak. We love that you’re depressed.’
It’s a weird world. I just write it from wherever I can find it. So if it’s sad, it’s sad. If it’s happy, it’s happy. If it’s confusing, it’s confusing.
Is there a song that means more to you now then when you first wrote it?
Yeah, there are a couple. I really like a song called “Her Name Was December.” That song, we don’t play it a lot live, but when I hear it on the record I’m like, ‘Man, we’ve got to get that one back because I love that song.’ I feel like the lyric and the melody, everything about it is special to me and came from a really real place.
You collaborated with NEEDTOBREATHE and The Civil Wars on a few tracks. How did that come about?
I co-wrote “Fire Escape” with John Paul [White] of The Civil Wars. He’s fantastic. And Joy [Williams] sang on “Can’t Change My Mind.” They’re some of the sweetest people in the world and certainly in this business it’s so hard to come by people who are so kind and just easygoing. There are no egos. They’re just great people and I’m super happy for them that all the stuff’s happening. It’s good to see that happen with good friends. Same thing with NEEDTOBREATHE. Those guys are coming to the show tonight, they’re in town. I’m super happy for them. They’re so good. Their live show is killer. It’s good to see good things happen to good people that you’re friends with.
Is co-writing an entirely different process for you than writing by yourself?
Usually with me, if I co-write it’s like I have a chorus that I love or a verse that I love but I just can’t find a chorus or I can’t find another verse. Or I’ll have a melody that I really like. Usually it has to be someone I really trust like John Paul or Paul Moak, the guy that produced the record. There has to be that feeling of trust where you’re like, ‘I can let you in on this secret.’ “Fire Escape” was a touchy subject, but John Paul was so cool about talking to me and hearing me out; kind of getting inside my head. We wrote the song really quickly, in a couple of hours and it’s one of my favorites on the record.
Your music has been featured on “Teen Mom” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Have you noticed more fans from different music placement?
I have. Those “Grey’s” placements were really big. I feel like I noticed a big spike in sales but also noticed it helped put me on the map which was funny because I made that record for under $1,000 in a basement for myself. I wasn’t doing it in hopes to get a sync or get on TV and it ended up being a huge thing for me. Those little things are special because you have so many slaps in the face as you’re coming up and it’s cool. When you get a win in a world full of losses it’s something to be celebrated.
What has kept you motivated all these years to keep pursuing music?
I don’t know. I think it’s just that underlying passion for writing songs and playing rock & roll. I’ve always just loved it since I was a little kid. When the band broke up there was a six month period where I debated whether or not I was going to keep doing it. You have to pick up the pieces and start all over, write all new songs. A new band, a new everything. It’s been a hell of a lot of work, but if I wasn’t doing it I’d be super unhappy. It isn’t easy. We push ourselves in every aspect so I feel like it’s hard work, but it’s really rewarding. When the rewards come around, which is not that often, they’re sweet when they do.
Do you think a band needs a record label today to survive?
I don’t. There are some labels that are doing some cool things, some indies that are really smart with their money. But no, I don’t think you need the big machine until you are at a certain level. If you can get to a certain level and you need that monster, mainstream push then you get it when the time’s right. Getting a record deal is definitely not what any band’s goal should be, especially with a major. You may be their favorite band one day and literally the next week they don’t remember who you are ’cause they had a change of regime, they fired everybody and brought on new people. I definitely don’t think you need a label in 2011. At the end of the day, you have to do it all yourself.
What’s the best and worst thing about being a musician?
The best thing is seeing people sing your songs at shows, for me. If I see two or three people, or 30 people or 100 people singing the lyrics to a song, that’s as good as it gets. The worst part I think is a lot of times not feeling like your hard work is being rewarded. You really have to keep on even if you’re not getting any affirmation that what you’re doing is working. But, it’s always like that in music. When you do get those placements or whatever it is, your song is on a TV show or commercial, you play a great show and have a big turn out; those little things add up.
Do you have any advice for other singer-songwriters trying to make it in the industry?
One thing I have to say is don’t expect anyone to do anything for you starting out. You have to hustle and do it yourself. I made that record in my basement just because I wanted to for me. I didn’t have a manager or an agent. I just put it up on iTunes and it got a couple lucky moments and placements. It was fresh enough too, where people knew about the band. You just have to be persistent. As lame of a word as it is, you have to persevere. I started doing this when I was 18 and now I’m 28. I’m not some big, famous rock star. You want to play arenas, but you have to start somewhere. Tonight, if I play for 200 people that’s a huge deal. You just can’t expect it to be fast. That would be my advice.
His first full-length album as a solo artist, Matthew Mayfield‘s newest release, Now You’re Free, encompasses 11 standout tracks of raw vocals combined with solid musical interludes and emotional lyrics. His deep, raspy singing style immediately draws the listener in while soaring guitar and percussion round out much of the LP.
No stranger to the music scene, Mayfield released an LP with his former band, Moses Mayfield, in 2007 and recorded eight solo EPs years later. He’s had much success as a solo artist so far, having songs featured on “Grey’s Anatomy” as well as some going to No. 1 on iTunes’ singer/songwriter chart.
“My journey started in 1992 when I fell in love with Guns N’ Roses after seeing Slash get up on the piano for the finale of “November Rain.” When I was 9, I decided I was either going to be a bank robber/surfer or play in a rock ‘n roll band,” he writes on his website. “I’m not brave enough to ride the big waves and not radical enough to rob banks, so here I am with a guitar in my hand. I think my mother is very happy with that call.”
With the help of fans, Mayfield raised $14,000 via Pledge Music by selling handwritten lyrics, living room demos, house parties, guitar tabs, and more. He took to Nashville to record Now You’re Free with producer Paul Moak and writes that the album is everything he wants it to be.
” Honest, anthemic and diverse. The songs are full of hope, which in some ways is very new to me. They are the sound of a fresh start. I’m excited about attempting to change something with this record. It could be someone’s mood for a few minutes, the temperature in their room, or the way they watch the sunset driving down the interstate. Music has changed everything for me. I want to be a part of that for other people.”
And that he is. Now You’re Free kicks things off with “Come Back Home,” an impressive start to the release. With guitar buildup before Mayfield’s wavering vocals enter, it is easy to picture him in an arena setting as each instrument crescendos at the perfect spot. The song fades to a close with Mayfield alone on vocals singing passionately, “Come back, come back, come back, come back please come back, come back home.”
Next track, “Missed Me” quickly picks up the pace with electric guitar and a faster paced singing style from Mayfield. While the more uptempo numbers showcase Mayfield’s rocker side, it is his heartbreaking ballads that leave the greatest impact. The beautifully haunting “Fire Escape” paints the picture of a man waiting around for a former flame. With deep vocals, the listener can feel the pain he feels as he sings each word.
Standout song, “Element” has quickly become my most listened to track. The song begins with Mayfield lightly strumming the acoustic guitar before his slowed, soft vocals enter. “I’ve been waiting/Wish I was watching you/In the daylight/A perfect view/This is always a favorite of mine/Said I don’t want to go/ ‘Cause it means I’d have to throw/This element of mine aside/What if I don’t want to be the lonely one/The truth I know is this/I don’t want to miss you more/Than I already do,” he sings passionately. Written when he was 19, Mayfield has said it’s the one song that’s stuck around so long that he still likes.
“Ghost” follows suit with guest vocals by Bo Rinehart of NEEDTOBREATHE. While the track picks up the pace, it continues to showcase Mayfield’s introspection with light strokes of the piano. Guest vocals continue, this time by The Civil Wars’ Joy Williams on “Can’t Change My Mind,” a moving ballad before the upbeat and hopeful “Grow Old With You” closes the LP on a strong note.
Though his first full-length solo release, it’s hard to tell. Now You’re Free is an adequate introduction to the singer-songwriter’s talent. One can only wonder what the future will bring for Matthew Mayfield. To listen to his newest release and find out when he’s coming on tour near you, visit his Website.
With hundreds of musicians in New York for CMJ last month, it’s nearly impossible to not discover a new favorite band. While bigger shows like Phoenix at Madison Square Garden created hype, up-and-coming musicians left impressions of their own. Below is a list of five acts to keep your eyes on in the next few months. Whether it was a room of 20 or 200, each band left their mark. Give them a listen and see why.
Rockwood 2 was packed to capacity Saturday night as Elizabeth and the Catapult took the stage. While a line continued to form out the door, the band impressed with a 40 minute set that featured breathtaking vocals from Elizabeth Ziman combined with fitting musical accompaniment. The official CMJ showcase acted as a mini CD release show as the band’s next release was due out Oct. 26. While fan favorites like “Taller Children“ had concertgoers singing along word for word, newer tracks like the powerful “Go Away My Lover” hushed and captivated the room. As Ziman alternated vocals with Jeff Taylor, additional cello and edgy percussion parts accentuated the song well. Complete with whistling and a darker sound than previous songs on their set-list, the stand-out track impressed.
Watch a video of “Go Away My Lover” from Elizabeth and the Catapult’s CMJ performance below.
Based in Nashville, The Honeymoon Thrillers came together after a discovery of records from the 1950s lying around the house. The five members are from four different bands and while they haven’t left their separate projects just yet, after I witnessed them live at CMJ they might soon reconsider. With classic guitar licks and “woah-oh-oh’s” that bring back rock & roll from the 50s, their energetic set was a crowd pleaser. Tracks like “Shine” embody the Beach Boys with spot-on harmonies and catchy choruses while frontman Nathan Barlowe’s energetic stage presence brought to mind Elvis Presley and his gyrating dance moves.
3. Matthew Mayfield
After a jam-packed morning of panels, while waiting for a friend to finish an interview I stopped by Rockwood 2 just as Matthew Mayfield took the stage at 3pm. Alone on acoustic guitar, his vocals reverberated throughout the room, having all in attendance drop everything to listen. With raspy Dave Matthews-esque vocals accompanied by his emotion-filled lyrics, the singer-songwriter struck a chord. Older songs like “Element” livened up his Friday afternoon performance while his intricate guitar finger picking fueled more angst-ridden songs including “Dead To You.” Mayfield’s vocals sound so familiar it comes as no surprise that his music has appeared on “Grey’s Anatomy.” While “First In Line” can easily be pictured on the show, it was “Fact or Fable” that made the greatest impact. Combined with fierce guitar strumming and Mayfield’s deep vocals, his voice silenced the room.
Watch Mayfield perform “Fact or Fable” on YouTube below and learn why he says it’s the heaviest song he’s written.
Combined with powerful vocals and descriptive lyrics, James Maddock’s music holds a certain timeless quality to it. His songs paint vivid pictures of love and failed relationships accompanied by soaring guitar and Maddock’s wavering vocals. Tracks like “Chance” embody an epic sound that can easily be pictured on the big stage while slower ballads like “Beautiful Now” showcase his more sensitive side. At times, his music evokes a certain Bruce Springsteen quality so it’s no surprise that The Boss himself is a fan and frequently plays Maddock’s music before he takes the stage. In the process of recording his next album, fans can expect to hear much more from the Englishman soon.
Watch James Maddock perform “When the Sun’s Out” on YouTube below.
While they’ve been compared to The Band and “the finest Tennessee sippin’ whiskey,” the New York-based ensemble showcased their southern flavor during a performance at National Underground. The Ramblers had the room stomping their feet during upbeat numbers including “Leave a Letter Behind” and “Matter of Fact.” Alternating vocals between Jeremiah Birnbaum and Scott Stein proved effective and additional singer Shanna Zell added to their classic Americana rock. With soulful vocals and fleshed-out piano and guitar interludes, it was hard to assess who was having more fun: the band onstage or the fans on the floor. The Ramblers transformed the NYC venue into a southern honky tonk, having concertgoers sing and dance along during Birnbaum’s impressive guitar licks and Stein’s ferocious strokes of the piano. With frequent NYC gigs, The Ramblers are never too hard to find.
This article was originally posted on The Jazz Lawyer. Stay tuned for more interviews from CMJ in the coming weeks.