Singer Mateo is ready to single-handedly bring R&B back!
Taking a leap of faith, Mateo quit his corporate job to peruse music, and now it’s finally paying off.
GlobalGrind caught up with Mateo to chit-chat with him about his new project, the state of R&B music, and his hand in Alicia Keys’ new forthcoming album.
Check out our exclusive interview below!
GlobalGrind: What’s the inspiration behind “Doubt”?
Mateo: One day I was in my room, and I was playing around on the piano, and I had been listening to a lot of 808s & Heartbreaks. Jeff Bhasker produced a lot of that album, and I was just really into that zone and started playing through the choir sound. It started coming to me, just the idea of it, and just some of the melodies. It just kind of came organically. It’s kind of interesting: A lot of times when I start writing a song, the chords kind of tell me what the song’s about or what I’m feeling. And at that time, I was really feeling like no matter what anybody says about you, you’re still my girl. You’re still the person that I love, and I’ll stand behind you no matter what. There’s no doubt about you and me, in my mind. You know what I mean?
So that was a real life situation?
Yeah, most of it is. Everybody got that experience where their friends or somebody’s like ‘yo, you shouldn’t be messing with her.’ You’ve had that talk when people say certain things — you just kind of look past it.
What motivates you to look past it?
Basically, I just trusted in what I felt. And, you know, sometimes it can be dangerous. Sometimes everybody’s telling you the truth, and you don’t want to see it. But then sometimes you can tell there is an energy around when people say certain things. You can tell if it’s from a spiteful place or if it’s from something kind of authentic and real, and you’re just lying to yourself.
Has there ever been a time when you’ve been wronged?
(Laughs) The funny thing is I am a pretty good judge of character when it comes to that. So I haven’t really had that much problems with it. There was one time that I was dating this girl, and I did not realize that she had a little bit of a reputation. Then I started going to my mom: “That was a little bit easy!”
What kind of girl does Mateo like?
I like a girl that is exciting, that can rile me up and can ruffle my feathers. I’ve never been into a girl that can just sit back and be super quiet or say ‘yes’ every time. I’ve always liked the challenge in a girl that’s really funny or really smart. Beyond the first attraction thing, there’s got to be something else to keep it going. I’m into the kind of girl that is definitely very ambitious and knows what they want and knows how they want to be treated. That’s sexier than a girl being a push over because there’s no fun in that.
You come from a musical background. Your grandfather was a jazz player and it’s kind of been in your blood. How was it like growing up around such classical music and all these people who play amazing music?
I think it gives you a great appreciation of true music. It’s one thing to follow what’s trendy and hot right no. But I feel like those genres – jazz, blues, even the old school soul music — there was a depth to it that I feel is really important. It definitely helped me instruct my type of music. If I approach a piano piece, a lot of times it has a classical influence from how the piano is being played. Even if it’s an up tempo song, you still can have depth to it. You can still have some lyricism there. I do feel like we’ve lost the time period where you could take some lyrics from a song and put them on paper and just read them. I think that’s important. It’s not all about what the beat is. It’s also what you’re saying, and if you’re saying it in a way that no on has heard before. All those influences have definitely helped me.
In your opinion, what’s the current state of R&B music?
There’s good and bad. The good part about R&B music, and urban music in general, is that people are not restricted to a box like they used to be. They used to be like: ‘oh, that’s not what black people listen too.’ Or ‘you can’t push it there.’ I think that is changing a lot. Because of the Internet, I think people are listening to different types of things. If I talk to my cousins back in Ohio, they are listening to all types of stuff. To me, that means that I can be more experimental and do a lot of different types of things with the sound I am creating for R&B, which is great. I think it should evolve. On the flipside, I do think there are some people that have stagnated the genre and have made it into songs just about sex. We love sex, but what about love? That was a topic that we owned. That was our thing to talk about, and the fact that we’ve given it up to cheapen it to a certain extent, I don’t get.
Who are R&B artists that you are looking to in general?
Dawn Richards. I think Miguel is dope, really pushing the envelope. I am a huge Frank Ocean fan, too. I think that it’s really funny because they kind of think that you can have one male R&B singer or whatever you want to call him. I think these new guys are bringing something really dope to the table. I’m inspired by it.
What do you plan on bringing to music that’s different?
Mateo is bringing things that Mateo loves. It’s that big stereo music that we don’t really have in urban music. It’s those big drums. If you’re able to infuse some Coldplay into something that’s urban, what would that be? That’s really the stuff that I love. There’s a little bit of alternative rock in it, but it also has some soulfulness in it. It has a lot of different styles in it. I think that’s the difference. Sonically it’s different. It’s love songs. It’s what I do best. Young, foolish and in love — that’s the sentiment of it all.
You’ve shared the stage with Erykah Badu, J. Holiday, Mario and all these really amazing people. When was the first time you realized that you were achieving your dreams?
It happened recently, actually. It was when I was able to play with Alicia Keys. When I was able to go to her studio a few weeks ago and go in her environment and try to be apart of the writing process for her album. That was something amazing to me because she is such an amazing artist and an amazing person. To be that close was one of the bigger things that has happened.
Will we be hearing you on Alicia’s new album or will you be getting any song writing credits?
I’m hoping so! We did some really good stuff. But of course she’s done a lot of great songs, so hopefully we can make it on. That would be a dream come true.
You went to Morehouse, and you graduated and entered into the corporate world. You eventually quit your job. When did you wake up and realize that you wanted to follow your dreams?
I didn’t last very long, which was the funny part. I think it was a day when I had been working an 18-hour day, and I had worked the entire month. Every day. I remember thinking: ‘This is not me. I’m getting a pay check every two weeks, but I don’t even care.’ I decided that very moment that I wanted to try to do music. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I put it in my head that music was going to happen. I didn’t know how it’s going to happen, but it was going to happen. All of a sudden my roommate was like, ‘yo, can my cousin stay for a few days?’ The dude ended up being a rapper. He stayed, and that few days turned into three months. The dude was taking me to the studio, and I started being able to meet people doing music and putting together these really horrible demos in a basement in Brooklyn. That’s what literally lead me to think that I could do this.
If I sent you to a deserted island and you could only have three albums, what three albums would they be?
It would be Coldplay, A Rush of Blood to the Head, the Donny Hathaway album that has “A Song for you” on it and Kanye West’s “Graduation.”
What’s your most embarrassing moment while on stage?
One time I was performing in front of a bunch of execs. I was playing keyboard, and right at the climax of the song, I hit the keyboard and the keyboard totally collapses. It was so horrible! I just leaned down and continued playing. It was hilarious because there was nothing else I could do. You could hear people gasp. It was funny as hell.
When can we expect an EP or mixtape from you?
Yes, we’re putting a single out and a project before the album. I don’t know what we’re calling it yet, but we are putting that out in the next few weeks. It’s dope, too. I am really excited about it.