Scrapomatic: Musical Shorthand
For many readers, Mike Mattison is familiar in face, if not necessarily in name. As the Derek Trucks Band’s lead singer, Mattison has performed all over the world and shared the stage with a number of genuine jam-rock deities. But, long before Mattison lent Trucks his voice, the singer formed one half of the roots-rock combo, Scrapomatic.
Along with Paul Olsen, Mattison has spent a decade sculpting slowly Scrapomatic’s sound, eventually settling on the song-oriented grooves heard on the duo’s second album Alligator Love Cry. In-between Scrapomatic dates and preparations for the Derek Trucks Band’s New Year’s Eve run, Mattison taught Jambands.com a bit about his band’s musical shorthand.
MG- Scrapomatic furthers a musical relationship that existed long before you joined the Derek Trucks Band. How did you and Paul first meet?
MM- Well, Paul and I both hail from the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. We met at a P-Funk concert in ’93 through some mutual friends and began playing in a couple different bands. We all moved to New York around 1996 or 1997 and our old band sort of disintegrated. But Paul and I realized we sort of had a mutual interest in roots music so we kind of went with it. That’s how Scrapomatic came about.
We made a self-titled album, but it was on a label that kind of folded. We had all these songs piled up, so we went and recorded Alligator Love Cry ourselves with the help of John Snyder who did our first record two and we shopped it around from there. So, we kind if implemented the process for this new record ourselves.
MG- In what ways did you aim to make Alligator Love Cry different from your self-titled debut?
MM- Well, we recorded them both at the same place in Louisiana called Dockside. When we made out first album, Paul and I had just been playing as a duo, so we had some pickup players for the project. We had some great players, like Johnny Vidacovich, who they call the king of the street beat. It was great, but it was the first time we transferred the music into a full band context. But by the time we recorded our second album, we had been playing as a band for a few years, mostly with guys we met in Brooklyn. So everyone went down there and the project was a little more organic this time. We didn’t change the songs too much—-we kind of just laid what we have been doing for four years down on tape. Kristina Beaty also joined us, played fiddle and sang. She is such a bad ass!
MG- At this point, do you write with a duo or a full band in mind?
MM- Now, I write with a full band in mind. Paul and I both write and will bring completed songs to the table and then collaborate on certain songs. But, we always think about playing as a full band. Since it’s difficult to tour as a full band, we have been on the road as a duo this fall. We want to remain light on our feet as well.
MG- You met Derek through a series of chance encounters, correct?
MM- Yeah, their singer left when they were recording Joyful Noise. I had been playing with Chocolate Genius and Craig Street, who produced the album, was a friend of mine. Basically, two people sent Derek my demo the same day, but he didn’t open either one. But he happened to be riding the subway and recognized me. He came home and had both of these demos on his desk and called me in to audition.
MG- What is the greatest lesson you have taken from playing with the Derek Trucks Band?
MM- Playing with Derek has been both a musical and practical education. He basically taught me how to tour and how to be a band leader. So, all kinds of stuff. He has been doing it for over a decade and touring is definitely a different way of life. It’s got its own logic and rules. You learn how to travel light and tolerate each other. You also have to keep yourself together and deliver because hopefully people are paying money to see you. There is not a lot of room for crying!
MG- How would you describe your musical relationship with Paul?
MM- We are good friends, who are rather similar. He is a very laid back guy and I think touring works because we are such good friends and share a sense of humor. So, we are lucky that way. He actually played in Susan Tedeschi’s band and has been playing with Kristina Beaty. He is on her new record, which is coming out on Blue Note. He is just an active musician in Brooklyn. We both write, but come from a similar sensibility, so the material we collaborate on is fun as well. We both are from Minnesota and grew up in the 1980s in this Replacements, Husker Du-era. So we have a musical shorthand.
MG- Are your writing styles similar or complementary?
MM- Paul is an accomplished musician. I haven’t I played bass for a number of years, but now I don’t have a harmonic instrument, so my songs tend to be a bit more simple. Paul went to music school, so we has the whole package [laughs]. His songs are little more sophisticated and jazz leaning and mine a more folk and straightforward.
MG- Do you find it challenging being a singer in a scene primarily based on instrumental improvisation?
MM- It’s interesting. I’m not primarily an improvisatory singer. You can improvise all the livelong day, but people do like to hear songs and stories. So, I think it’s a welcome thing with Derek. It is more difficult to improvise with two people. It’s hard to bust out a solo without a full band, but we do implement that in some ways. Paul is a great improvisational player, so it creeps in. But, mostly, this band is about serving the song, telling a story and keeping it fresh. So, while there might not been improvisation, there is an effort to keep the songs live and fresh.
In general, playing with Derek has definitely increased our visibility. We did this one show at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with the Derek Trucks Band and it was a great way to get the word out. Every once and a while I’ll ride the subway and someone will notice me from that gig. Basically we have been on the fall warming up for bigger bands and doing our own shows as well. It’s nice, as a sort of baby band, to just get out there. You might be playing for eight people, but it’s nice to have that intimacy and grow from there. It’s difficult to tour since Paul has a new baby and it’s hard for us to be away from home. But, for now, we are hoping to get out there in front of as many people as possible.
_The duo of Mike Greenhaus and Benjy Eisen podcast at www.relix.com/radio