One-on-One with Kalle Mattson

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by Laura Stanley

Kalle Mattson is not afraid of success. “For musicians nowadays, especially in indie-rock, saying you’re ambitious about your music is a dirty word. It’s not cool to say you want to be big but I don’t care. If you’re not striving to be big then what’s the point? I want a song on the radio, I’m not ashamed to say that,” the Sault Ste. Marie-born, Ottawa-based songwriter tells me over Skype.

The release of his third LP Someday, The Moon Will Be Gold in 2014 propelled his career forward and earned him a spot on the 2014 Polaris Music Prize long list, a seemingly never-ending stream of tour dates both in North America and abroad, and Pitchfork gave the record a positive rating if you care about such a thing.

As a collection of raw emotions that include Mattson dealing with the passing of his mother, Someday is also a very personal record. A year after its release and hundreds of shows performing it later and Mattson remains very proud of what is has done for him. It’s still obviously really meaningful to me and I’m really happy that that record was the one that really got me a lot of the things that I really wanted,” he says.

“It was really hard singing those songs on Someday every single night. You couldn’t really disconnect from it. I realized that a lot of what made Someday special and made it connect with people is that the more personal I got the more universal it became.”

Like Someday, his new EP Avalanche, due out August 21st, is very personal. The title Avalanche comes from the feeling of everything falling apart, a feeling that he has become too familiar with. “One thing I really realized when I started touring so much is that when one thing starts going well in your life all of the other stuff starts falling about. I had three band members quit in the span of a year, I became technically homeless,” he reveals.

Avalanche is also about the desperate feelings of uncertainty that come with being in your early 20s. The feeling when your friends start getting married and finding great jobs and you’re left in their dust. In an open letter about the EP, Mattson states that he sees the EP as a “mini-record” because of this idea that runs throughout the six songs.

As the next step in his ongoing unabashed quest for more popularity, Avalanche expands Mattson’s pop tendencies and explores a soundscape that, at times, is unlike anything heard from him before. “From where I’m at, there’s a few different ways I could have gone and I don’t think going weirder and less accessible would be the smart way to go at this point in time,” he says. 

“I really like pop music and I always think that I make some version of pop music but I think it’s a bit more out in the open now.”

Teaming up with Jim Bryson and various contributing musicians, he estimates that he plays about 70% of the instruments. The title track is anthemic sounding with a big catchy chorus that’s filled with “woahs,” “New Romantics” is another big number that’s anchored by a memorable melody, and in the EP’s first single “A Long Time Ago” (heard below), Mattson tests out a higher vocal register and expands his instrumental use. 

“There’s no electric guitar on [“A Long Time Ago”] which is a first for me, or close to it. It’s just mountains of synths and building it around that and when Jim added all the harmonies it really came together,” explains Mattson. 

For those who are fans of his acoustic songs, fear not, Avalanche is not without them. The expansion of his sound is merely the product of his continual determination to be a successful musician, “I think that all of my records show a bit of an evolution. I don’t like doing the same thing over and over again,” he observes. 

The next step in Mattson’s evolution will soon be unveiled as he will be spending his summer writing a new album. “I have to have another record done by the end of the year,” he says. “A lot of people put out EPs now and they’ll take that EP and add 7 songs and make a record out of it. I think that might be a possibility what will happen to this EP but I’m sort of writing a brand new record.”

He laughs and says, “It never ends.”

Catch Kalle at the Dragonboat Festival in Ottawa tomorrow and watch out for some more tour dates this summer. 

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