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words Chinwe Ojielo / photography Paul Bence
Singer-songwriter, producer, classically trained musician — Matti Roots can do it all and after whetting the appetites of all the Beatnik staff here at the Beatnik bunker with the soulful ‘Raw’, the free download taken from his forthcoming debut album BeatRoot, we just had to track down the north-west Londoner newcomer.
On a dreary London afternoon I met with the rising star for a drink in a quiet spot in east London to talk influences, aspirations and the importance of making the best kind of soul music.
I’m having trouble working out your nationality, can you help me out?
I’m English, well, I’m Jewish but I’ve got family from Lithuania, Georgia, Poland and a little bit of Mongolian as well.
Hmm a very interesting mix. Right let’s get on to the grilling. You’re fascination with music started at age three when you got into playing piano right?
Yeah, my mum started me on piano lessons. I had your typical scary piano teacher, like old lady with warts and things and being really strict, but I dunno, I just took to it; I just loved piano. Then I found a really good teacher when I was about five and I had her for 10 years. She was just really good, a bit of a task master, she really pushed me. Then I picked up a few other instruments as well; I started the saxophone and the clarinet.
How well did your choice to pursue music go down with your family?
My mum was more open-minded about doing it as a career. My dad came from a very traditional background; he’s very pragmatic and so worried about how I was going to make a living. I was always serious about music, you know it wasn’t a joke thing for me. I entered competitions; I used to go to music school on Saturday mornings. I gave up a lot of my free time just for music. They’ve been supportive of me, but sometimes with a bit of pressure applied to kind of sort it out, make sure I’m not living too hand to mouth.
Your debut album is called BeatRoot. How and why did you decide on the name?
I had this idea for the artwork to be a fusion of electric and organic, so I had this stupid idea of say you being able to charge up your studio, or guitar through plugging it into a watermelon, or an avocado or something. I don’t know whether you’ve seen those potato batteries?
So I was just thinking of these fun ways of fusing the two things and the word beatroot kind of fits perfectly into that. It’s also like wordplay; ‘beat’ is like ‘heartbeat’ and this album is kind of personal in contrast to other stuff that I do. It’s all about my personal experiences and the root thing is connected to the music that has gone on before, so just knowing your history.
You say BeatRoot is about your personal experiences. Can you elaborate?
It’s about my feelings on a number of things, so there’s a track there about religion and my general philosophy on that. There’s a track about weed, (laughs) and my feelings on that. There are quite a few tracks on relationships; about would-be relationships, about relationships that have gone sour, about relationships that are good and about trying to heal through the scars of relationships. There are tracks that aren’t about relationships and that are just pure carnal desires; just being human and having needs.
In composing the album, did you feel any pressure to make your music more relevant to mainstream audiences?
When I first produced the songs they were more programmed, more RnB conscious, more electronically based and I kind of made a decision to take it away from that, and try and create something that was a fusion of live and programmed, and as a result that’s not the sound of now. No one is really making the stuff that sounds like what my album sounds like. I think personally that’s its strength as well as its weakness possibly in terms of how readily people will accept it, and I know that I can make and I have made the four-to-the-floor euro-pop that seems to be all-pervasive now in the music industry.
I might as well just stick to what I believe in, and hope that enough people kind of want to get on board with it and enjoy it for what it is.
So what is it that you’ve created and how do you want people to enjoy it?
I like to think that what I’ve created is catchy melodies, memorable melodies and grooves that draw you in; concepts that intrigue and take you on a little journey, like a story. I tend to try and create new loops, new grooves, like the sort of grooves that somebody might sample in 20 years, in the way that people sampled rare grooves 15 years ago. I love those rare grooves, those kind of freshly constructed chords and beats and baselines and melodies and stuff that all kind of come together. I think I would like people who like soul music to dig it, those who like hip-hop to dig it and people who like pop music as well to appreciate it, in the same way that people like Stevie and Prince crossover into that world, you know they straddle, like wicked moving music, soulful, funky music but at the same time it’s accessible.
You just mentioned soul and funk. I take it that’s the sort of music that drives you?
I always find this question difficult because I can literally talk for hours about all the different types of musicians that have influenced me. I’m very interested in sound as a whole, whether it is Indian instruments or sarangi’s; I’m quite interested in different ways of creating a palette. Basically I love music, whether it is Fela Kuti, James Brown, Ravi Shankar or Ali Farka Touré. From a classical point of view, people like Bach, then in the pop and soul kind of world, people like Stevie and The Beatles. I used to listen to Gilles Peterson’s show when I was about 15 and I think that really opened my eyes to a lot of music.
Speaking of other artists, what are your thoughts on collaborating?
I’m very open to working with most people to be honest. I want to work with more emcees; I like their energy. I recently did a track with Wiley, and although I didn’t meet him as it was all done over the internet, I was very impressed by the way he interpreted the song. The lyrics that he decided to put in it just added another dimension.
Okay, before we part, one last question. If you could go back in time and in doing so you could see 3 year old Matti Roots pressing his finger down on Middle C, what would you say to him?
I’ve got things that I do that bring in money; I teach, I write advert music, I do productions for other people, I do bits of session work, and then I’ve got a desire to make innovative music to stretch myself.
To the 3 year old Matti Roots I would say, believe in yourself (laughs).
Check out Matti Roots myspace
Download Matti Roots – ‘Raw’ here