In all honesty and with the best will in the world I could have really done with a few days to reflect and come back down to earth after that astonishing Starcrawler gig on Sunday and just a couple of hours sleep but when Mattiel’s name appeared on the Arts Centre gig list some months ago it was one I eagerly marked on my calendar and I wasn’t going to miss it so was back at the NAC for the third night in succession. Besides which, I’m sure the travelling acts are more tired than I was feeling. Since then her star has risen further with the release of second album Satis Faction and she was another headed to the intimacy of Norwich straight off the back of some triumphant and much-talked about Glastonbury sets at the weekend (same with Starcrawler), her set on iPlayer had over 2M views. It’s also worth noting that playing at The Waterfront at the same time on the same night as this NAC gig was Sharon Van Etten, herself also treading that seemingly well-worn direct path from Glastonbury to Norwich. And it’s only Monday!
Nearly caught out by weariness and an 8pm start Honey Harper (also from Georgia) had already just started the set as I arrived. Initially I felt a Townes Van Zandt country vibe but that was just one song and the set was full of surprises with changing styles and sound effects and some delightfully unexpected covers which showed a real sense of fun. Wanda Jackson’s Funnel of Love was one of them but the finale was something else! It was all playing tricks on my brain a bit hearing birds and thunderstorms coming from the stage bearing in mind the events here twenty four hours earlier and my lack of sleep but it was wonderfully charming, beautiful and different. Really lovely.
By 9pm Georgia’s Mattiel and her band were already on stage and the hall had suddenly filled up considerably. I was struck by the huge amount of warmth for her and the audience’s familiary with the songs. For me, Count Your Blessings somehow has a feel and production that powerfully evokes summers spent in France during the school holidays, probably my highlight of the set was almost the entire audience singing it back to her.
The crowd were clearly enjoying the varied set from Mattiel Brown and her excellent band taking in garage rock and country. Somewhat surprisingly though the whole set and encore was done and dusted before 10pm but it was a triumphant opener for her European tour after Glastonbury (the “Norwich warm-up!” as someone called out). I didn’t mind though, I really needed an early night and it was a set of high quality songs, musicianship, and that stunning voice. Mattiel is a big deal and means a heck of a lot to the people making up this audience and there was a long line waiting for merch and to say hello to her afterwards. From Georgia to Norwich via Glastonbury. The Atlanta Georgia that is, which I point out as I have only just realised the irony of having a lovely chat with friends before the set who are lucky enough to be headed towards the Republic of Georgia soon about one of my most favourite places in the world.
“It’s a familiar story: fledgling singer does soul-sucking day job in order to fund their real passion during the nocturnal hours.
Except Mattiel Brown, Atlanta’s rising star, is a rare exception to this time-honoured tradition: a fulfilled creative by day and
night, albeit in different contexts. “It’s like I have two full-time jobs: designer and musician,” she says, humbly hip to her
During office hours, Brown works as an ad designer and illustrator at MailChimp, a position she’s enjoyed for four years. “I
work with a great video production team, in a great studio. Luckily, they’re a company that encourage side gigs.” Out of
office hours, Brown swaps the design studio for the stage, a softly-spoken, chilled-out design nerd turned rock & roll belter,
performing bold, vintage soul as Mattiel (pronounced ‘maa-TEEL’).
Brown grew up on a five-acre farm in rural Brooks, Georgia, the only child of a Detroit native. “My mom bought the farm in
the early ‘90s. She had – still has – horses, so I learned to ride western-style when I was 6, 7 years-old,” (a skill Brown nods
to in her cover art).
As an adolescent, Brown delighted in the ‘60s folk and pop of her mother’s limited vinyl collection: Donovan, Peter Paul and
Mary, and Joan Baez. As an adult, relocated in neighbouring Atlanta, she’d sing along to the radio on the long drives to work:
Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Andre 3000, Dylan, Marc Bolan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Jack White.
When Brown first began jamming with InCrowd, the Atlanta-based song-writing and production team behind her dynamite
eponymous debut, she had no real designs on making a whole album and no gameplan beyond the fun of “creating
something out of nothing.” She said, “That process is always pretty astounding to me, and doing it with other people is even
better.” But her producers, Randy Michael and Jonah Swilley, knew a good thing when they heard it: Brown and InCrowd
InCrowd’s founders, both skilled multi-instrumentalists, met in 2014, as session musicians touring with soul man Curtis
Harding. Michael – an experienced player who’d co-written with Harding and racked up impressive session spots with the
likes of Bruno Mars, and The Next Day-era Bowie – played guitar, while Swilley (producer, writer and performer since age 9
and younger brother of Black Lips bassist Jared) played drums. On the road, they bonded over a mutual love of vintage R&R
and ‘90s rap. “We discovered we both loved The Beatles as much as Jay-Z, Dylan as much as the Arctic Monkeys,” remembers
Swilley. Back in Atlanta, once the Harding tour had wrapped, the pair formed a band, Black Linen, writing reverb-washed
guitar music inspired by Tarantino soundtracks, by way of ‘60s Cambodian psych.
Mattiel’s sound might borrow from the past, but their art direction – Brown’s inspiring handiwork, of course – is decidedly
forward-thinking, all colour block aesthetics (á la the White Stripes) and artful, design-savvy music videos. “I don’t wanna
hit people over the head with like, bell bottoms and long hair and a Jimmy Hendrix outfit,” Brown laughs. “People have seen
all that before.”
Mattiel is a “fresh mesh of retro and contemporary,” says Swilley, the latter thanks in large part to Brown’s vision, voice and
on-stage energy. “She’s very exciting to watch. She doesn’t rehearse it or try to emulate anyone; she’s just doing own her
thing. And she’s not fazed by the crowds [as evidenced during their shows to date: a recent, three-date support slot for
Portugal The Man]. It’s kind of incredible really, because in person she’s pretty chilled and softly spoken, but when she gets
on stage…in the last six months, she’s really been killing it.”
With a European festival circuit tour scheduled for this summer, Mattiel is no longer Atlanta’s best kept secret. Look out,
On Thursday Solana play at the Arts Centre … on their return from … Glastonbury!