“We always hope to make timeless records, songs that we’ll love in 30 years” – Mattiel on their new album Georgia Gothic
Formed in Atlanta, Georgia by singer-songwriter Mattiel Brown and producer / guitarist Jonah Swilley, Mattiel quickly made an impression with their eponymous 2017 debut album, earning rave reviews and a list of celebrity fans that includes Jack White, who took the band out on tour with him a year later.
Their second album Satis Factory followed in 2019 and largely continued in a similar vein to its predecessor, Mattiel’s soaring alto vocals and Swilley’s twanging guitars blending with horns, psychedelia and all manner of retro Americana to conjure images of everything from Nico and the Velvet Underground to Lana Del Rey.
These threads remain but evolve into something new on their latest album Georgia Gothic, which arrives in stores this week (March 18) and tips a hat not only to their home state but also their love of gothic literature – and their creepy choice of recording venue.
Ahead of its release this week we caught up with Mattiel and Jonah in the midst of their appearances at SXSW in Austin, Texas, to talk about the sound of their new LP, taking the unusual step of writing love songs, and how they ended up recording the album in the middle of nowhere…
So you’re at SXSW right now? How have the shows been going down?
Jonah: “So far, so good. We got in a couple of days ago and things have been running pretty smoothly ever since.”
Did you get the chance to play much of the new album live, or you still holding some of it back?
Jonah: “We have about 33% of the set that is new, we keep pushing a lot of the new stuff, even though a lot of it is on the record that’s not out yet. But we’ve been touring even before South By Southwest, playing the songs from the record and promoting it pre-emptively. The audiences have been digging it and even though a lot of this is fresh to a lot of people hearing it they’ve been receptive to the music, for sure.”
When did you start to put together the material on this album? Was there any particular song that kicked things off?
Jonah: “Technically we started working on the album in 2020, but the first song that was kind of like the spark for the new stuff was ‘Jeff Goldblum’, I think.”
It does feel like a bit of a departure in terms of sound, particularly on tracks like ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘Cultural Criminal’, which branch out in very different ways – did you go into this with a clear idea of how you wanted the sound to evolve?
Mattiel: “I think we just both wanted to get to know each other’s sensibilities a bit more. I don’t think we went in trying to make it any type of certain way, it just kind of ended up sounding like it did.”
Jonah: “I think the heart of the sound, of what we do, is still integral to the new record. It’s funny, it depends on who you ask about where the music has come from and where it’s heading to. I think a lot of people hear a lot of different things in it. It depends on all the mini-influences that you hear on all the records that we’ve done so far.”
There’s a kind of timeless quality to your first two albums, were there any musical reference points for what you wanted to do on this record?
Jonah: “The new album was less of a ‘let’s make this type of record’, it was more ‘let’s just make songs we really like and want to listen to’. And the timeless quality is a huge aspect, we always hope to make timeless records, songs that we’ll love in 30 years and that can stand on their own.”
What kind of album is this from a lyrical point of view? Have any themes emerged across the record?
Mattiel: “Yeah, I mean I don’t typically write songs about love, but there a couple of them are on there. It’s such a popular subject matter but I don’t often really delve into it, I like to think about a lot f other things, I guess, or write about other things, like current events, or how I feel about my position in the world, some of my songs are kind of critical. But there’s a whole lot of songs on there that are very descriptive, that paint a visual picture. It’s kind of cinematic, in a way.”
Jonah: “Like ‘Subterranean’, for instance. We actually wrote that separately, it was the beginning of quarantine and we write and demoed it from our own places. We’d never done it like that, and some of Mattiel’s lyricism on that reflects what we were experiencing.”
Mattiel: “Yeah, that one specifically is like a Bob Dylan reference, that’s kind of obvious I guess, but there’s all these different phrases that I cut up and moved around, put them in different places so that they work with the song. But I think ‘How It Ends’ is one of my favourite songs that I’ve ever written. It’s really weird and the way that it came about was very weird.”
Jonah: “That was actually one that I did, for whatever reason, because I was trying to make something that sounded like Happy Mondays, and that was my best attempt at doing something like that!”
Mattiel: “Those lyrics were written in like, I don’t know, it probably only took me ten minutes. Usually that doesn’t happen, and it’s always a special thing whenever that happens. That was one of those moments where lightning struck and I was able to get it all out in one go.”
How does the title Georgia Gothic feed into that?
Mattiel: “Well, I’m a fan of gothic literature of all kinds, I grew up on it. And I found the environment in which we were making it to be kind of spooky, and there was another spooky aspect to where the album was recorded and produced. We recorded it in this empty strip mall, with a huge parking lot and nobody there, and Jonah built out a studio in this place that was a former dialysis centre. Some company bought this strip mall, a load of artists moved in for a while, and now it’s not even there any more.”
Are you still producing everything yourselves?
Jonah: “Yeah, I engineered and produced the whole thing. It was still very DIY thing with this record.”
Mattiel: “But it sounds amazing. It’s so great.”
How did you end up recording in an abandoned strip mall?
Jonah: “It was basically the only option at the time. We used to record out of a place in a friend’s store, in the city, but it ended up burning down.”
Oh, really? Wow…
Jonah: “Yeah. And a friend of mine who also reached out to us had a spot in this place, and it was virtually free. During COVID it was such a nice thing having a place to go and create that wasn’t in my living room. But it was really just out of necessity more than anything. “
Do you prefer working that way? Are you ever tempted to work with an external producer?
Jonah: “Not yet. I mean Mattiel does all the design and all the videos herself, I handle all the production, and unless or until we find someone who can elevate us in some way then I think we’ll just keep moving the way we have.”
Mattiel: “Yeah, I mean it’s such a stroke of luck that Jonah and I found each other, with his production skills and my design work we can present something exactly how we want to.”
So when you’ve finished tearing up Austin, Texas, what are your touring plans looking like? You have some shows in the UK in spring, where else is the tour taking you?
Jonah: “We have two weeks off after this, then we go to the West coast and do about a month, then we’ve got another week off. And then we come over to you guys and hang out for a month and some change. From there on we’ll be hopefully busy and keeping it going. We’re really looking forward to coming back to the UK.”
Mattiel. “Oh yeah. That’s going to be so much fun. I can’t wait to be back in London, oh my god. And Leeds! I love Leeds.”
Have you already started thinking about how your next album might sound?
Jonah: “Where we go next, who knows? I think whenever you sit down to make stuff that’s when the ideas come, we don’t pre-emptively think about, it always just comes out the way it does whether you like it or not.”
Mattiel: But I also think the demos for this album are amazing, they stand on their own, and so I would like to maybe get those out there at some point, so that people can hear what the initial birthing of this sound was.”
You think you might do a super-deluxe edition or something?
Mattiel: “Oh yeah, I think that’d be cool.”
Jonah: “For the future, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. We just want to keep on making music that’s elevating our creative zones, you know?”