Mitchmatic plays the field [Interview]
Edmonton, AB – It’s been said that hip-hop is dead and the era of b-boys is too. Though this may true on the grand scale of rap, b-boys and great hip-hop still exist under the radar. Canada is a great resource for such great hip-hop and Edmonton’s own Mitchmatic is a classic representation of the popular saying “Hip-Hop ain’t dead, it lives in the North.” More than just a rapper who produces his own music, Mitchmatic is a one man band. This dude plays almost any world instrument and his engineering and mixing are completely appropriate for his sound. HipHopCanada had a chance to sit down with each persona that is… Mitchmatic!
HipHopCanada: Your style is not one you hear in 2012 too much anymore. Why the “old school” choice of flow and where does all the jazz influence come from in your music?
Mitchmatic: Yeah to be honest I never really meant to sound “old school” at all, but I guess with my earlier influences it was inevitable – guys like The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, Hieroglyphics, Jurassic 5, Slick Rick, etc. The Jazz aspect can definitely be credited to my dad, it was all we heard growing up. Some of the songs I’m sampling these days are the same ones I’d hear while eating breakfast before elementary school.
HipHopCanada: To be able to write, arrange, record, produce and mix your own music seems essential in today’s rap game. Tell me about the process of making a Mitchmatic classic. What instruments, methods and techniques do you use try and make your music stand out?
Mitchmatic: It’s definitely a do-it-yourself world these days. For me, I started recording myself at the same time I started rapping, so by the time I was ready to release something my production quality was up to at least listenable standards. It was hard though, cause no one showed me how to record, I remember manually going through and adjusting volumes in specific parts of my vocals before I learned about compressors (and had my mind blown). As for techniques, I’ve tried all sorts of things to get a good take. One of the tracks on my last album was recorded on a little mini trampoline so I could move around without shaking my floor/mic, but usually it just takes staying up all night to get in the right mindset. I’ve bought a lot of instruments over the past few years too (usually in hopes that making music will be easier with each acquisition), so I try to include whatever live elements I can to liven it up. But, the most important thing for me has been capturing the right emotion in the recording though, I could never be happy with a track unless at some point in time I was completely obsessed with it.
HipHopCanada: I can’t stress enough how much subject matter we’ve lost in rap. Maybe I’m just behind but it seems that I have no clue what most upcoming rappers these days are talking about. Your music tells a story, and for the first time in a long time I found myself listening to the lyrics and not so much the beat. What are some of the influences in your subject matter?
Mitchmatic: I usually don’t even mean to, but most of my tracks end up being pretty introspective. I guess whenever I sit down to write and don’t have a clear concept in mind I default to whatever I’m feeling in that moment. With that in mind I think my label-mates on Old Ugly, mainly those that were/are also my roommates, have had an effect on my subject matter. We have a lot of late-night hang-outs and discussions, usually ending in all of us going our separate ways to work on whatever songs we have going at the time. The importance of having that kind of community while developing as an artist can be overlooked.
HipHopCanada: Business. If you don’t have it in this game, you’re wasting your time. You seem to have a key sense of music management I know your album has been all over college radio and even charted on earshot. Do you do all your own business? What are some things you can tell artists like yourself who feel it’s hard for “old school” rappers to survive in a swagged out world?
Mitchmatic: Yeah, I’ve been handling my own business for a while. It can be draining, but there’s really no alternative for independent musicians unless you’re one of the lucky few who are seen by the right people early on, or have a family member in the music industry. But really, if you’re working your way up through a scene and are truly interested in pursuing your craft, you’re bound to meet others who are further along and can offer some appropriate, useful tips. The best advice I can give, based on my experience, is just to follow every lead (at least for the first few years), and always approach others with respect. Don’t expect it to happen overnight.
HipHopCanada: You’ve played over two hundred shows since 2007, had some big openers and got some great love while doing it. Your live performances are absolutely magnificent man. How have you been so successful with performing and how important to think live performance is to hip-hop?
Mitchmatic: Thanks, yeah I try to keep things pretty lively – for me it was almost out of necessity. Coming up I played a lot of shows for non hip-hop audiences, so I had to approach every one not only trying to convince them that I was a good rapper, but also that they could even like rap at all. Nowadays it’s as much about entertaining myself as it is the crowd, I couldn’t handle playing so many gigs if I weren’t having fun on stage. Also, I’ve noticed people really respond well to open personality, just being confident and comfortable with who you are is a major advantage in winning over an audience. As for live hip-hop, I can only say that I’ve been to way too many boring rap shows that only rappers can enjoy – one person standing motionless on stage. Some guys/gals need to realize that, however unfortunately, a lot of people won’t be able to completely follow the words to your songs. You need a lot more to actually maintain their attention.
HipHopCanada: You play several instruments both recording and live. What is the influence behind Mitchmatic as a multi-Instrumentalist, what instruments do you play and what types of training have you had?
Mitchmatic: Well, I was actually playing instruments for a while before I started rapping to be honest. My siblings and I were lucky enough to grow up in a house where they were always around, I picked up piano and drums pretty early on as a result of that. But, I never took lessons really, the only one I have any training on is sax I guess – with 5 years of school band. It’s funny though, in a way a lot of the abilities I have can be attributed to the Alberta Oil Industry. I worked in a warehouse in Edmonton for about 2 years after high school and spent most of my money on putting together a moderately well-equipped home studio. All in all I’ve got a bunch of random stuff but these days my show set-up usually just includes alto-sax, turntables (serato/midi set-up), keyboard, MPC, bongos, a looping pedal, and some effects units.
HipHopCanada: Tell me a bit about your awesome critically-acclaimed video for “Why Don’t You Know” off your EP It’s Probably Raining.
Mitchmatic: Well I’ve known Mike Robertson for a while (the filmmaker/director), through various friends and connecting scenes. I was in his video for The Joe’s track “You’re Cool” back in 2009 as well so I had a chance to see how he operated. He’s someone who really understands how to create a narrative, which isn’t surprising as he’s produced many shorts and several full-length films. I’d approached him last summer about the video for WDYK, but we didn’t end up finding time until December, when we shot it in a quick 3 days. Joleen Ballendine, who acts as the “stalkee”, seemed like an obvious choice too since she is in The Joe’s and Mikey Maybe’s (both label-mates) videos and plays basically the same character – we figured we may as well make it a trilogy. As for the video though, the idea is that there are 4 Mitches all after the same girl, but from her perspective it’s just one ridiculously persistent admirer.
HipHopCanada: Who are some your favourite Canadian rap artists?
Mitchmatic: Although I try to stay aware as best I can, I’m sure I’m still pretty ignorant when it comes to Canadian hip-hop and its history unfortunately. You can thank my growing up isolated in a small town for that. But, there are definitely some acts I can get into these days. I really respect what Shad’s doing, Cadence Weapon, D-Sisive, I’ve had a lot of fun rocking shows with guys like Ghettosocks, Timbuktu, Thesis Sahib, Touch and Nato, The Lytics and Pip Skid too. Those who’ve influenced me the most are probably the friends I developed with though, The Joe, Mikey Maybe, and my brother Teddy (who’s since moved to Brooklyn).
HipHopCanada: What influence (if any) has moving to Edmonton [from Clearwater B.C.] had on your music today?
Mitchmatic: Clearwater was a great place to live, and some of my best memories are swimming in rivers and jumping off waterfalls there, but it’s not exactly a great launching platform for a career in music. Part of me often wonders where I’d be artistically had I not moved – I think it’s at least safe to say I’d be operating at a much lower level. Coming to Edmonton in 2006 was definitely a new beginning. I was exposed to people involved in the scene through my older brother and I realized that this was something I’d actually want to pursue. Music here was pleasantly surprising, the deeper I’d get involved, the more inspiring artists I’d meet. Everyone always seemed open to anything so long as it was well executed, so I never felt obligated to write for a particular crowd. It’s just about finding your own style, doing it well, and trying to connect with the people that will appreciate it.
HipHopCanada: Tell us a bit about what you got going on now and future moves.
Mitchmatic: Things have been picking up a bit with my last release. It was (admittedly surprisingly) really well-received by press and radio stations locally, and I was lucky enough to be a recipient of The 2012 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Emerging Artist Award too. I’m mostly just seeing where this all takes me. For June I was invited to play the Winnipeg Jazz fest with Rakim, but after he unfortunately cancelled I ended up just jumping on a bill there with some friends from Van. I’m currently at Sled Island in Calgary playing in a couple friends’ bands. For the rest of the summer I’m mostly just trying to work on some new material before a Western Canadian tour in the fall with friend/labelmate Doug Hoyer. I’ve never really done one, but with “Why Don’t You Know” being nominated for Video of the Year at the WCMAs I figured I’ll be going to Regina for the awards anyway so we may as well make a trip out of it. I’ll be posting the dates on my website as soon as they’re confirmed.
HipHopCanada: Well MitchMatic, always a pleasure to sit down with you and tell the public what you got going on. We’ll be sure to stay on top of your moves and touch base with sometime in the future to see how awesome things are going.
Interview conducted by BMoney Grenier for HipHopCanada
Photography by Angie Sobota for HipHopCanada