This week on The Songwriter Series, we’re glad to have Alabama’s Matthew Mayfield with us.
A prolific singer-songwriter, he’s offered up a string of EPs which are well worth hunting down, as well as two studio albums.
2011’s Now You’re Free made iTunes’ Top 20 on release, while A Banquet for Ghosts was released earlier this year.
We like to think of Matthew Mayfield as sort of an ambassador for the broken hearted, with a grand catalogue of heartache anthems to his name.
His are the records you’ll want to hear after the break-up, when your heart’s all itchy and restless, and things are broken and you start asking why.
Here’s what he had to say.
At what point did you know that you wanted to be a songwriter professionally? Was there something that made you realise it was the best thing for you?
Well — I suppose the answer is two fold. The moment I decided I wanted be in a rock’n’roll band was the first time I saw the November Rain video. Slash hops on top of the piano for the last of three (THREE!) guitar solos. I was 9 years old. I played guitar every waking moment after that — I was completely enthralled and obsessed.
A love for songwriting followed shortly after I figured out I was never gonna be the best guitar player on planet Earth. I realized that without my own songs–my own personal stamps of authenticity–I’d never truly be able to impact people’s lives with the magic of music. It changed my life. I’ve always wanted to be a part of doing the same for other folks.
What do you hope people take from a Matthew Mayfield record?
A feeling. Good, bad, happy, sad, etc. There’s nothing more undeniable than a sensation… and melodies have their own unique way of getting to the parts of us that nothing else can. I only had one rule while making this last record (A Banquet For Ghosts). I told Paul (Moak, the producer) ‘I want you to keep me in here until you get chills’.
I wanted every song to have that sort of raw authenticity that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. I hope I succeeded on a few from that record.
Can you think of a gig, or a moment during a performance, when you realised you were doing something bigger than you had been before?
For sure — there are lots of those moments in the archives. On this last run there was a show in Atlanta where as soon as I hit the first note of the first song, I immediately felt the crowd get silent and join me. They listened so intently — they were equally invested in every lyric, every peak, every valley. As a result, I felt like I could give them everything I had.
The owner came over afterwards and told me that he’d never heard the room be that silent. I felt honored that both David [Ramirez] and I could be a part of something special with just a couple microphones and acoustic guitars.
Is there a song on your set list that you look forward to playing a little bit more than the others?
I tend to look forward to the ones that allow me to release whatever’s inside on that particular day. Songs like Track You Down, Fact or Fable, and Heart in Wire — they’re intense in certain sections, and I can literally feel my insides pouring out into the microphone. When I leave the stage, I feel completely exhausted. It’s cathartic for me. Those are the nights where I know I’ve done my job.
Is there a song that you wish you’d written?
So many — definitely too many to list. But off the current playlist: State of Union by David Ford, I’m Sold by The Triceratops, and Save You by Matthew Perryman Jones. I’ve been listening to a lot of my friends’ records lately ’cause I feel a certain personal connection to it. Those songs are all mind-blowing. The lyric, the melody, the sonics… it’s all there. I love when that happens.
Please describe what it is that you experience when you’re on stage.
On the road, the show is the only hour of the day where I feel like I’m truly home. People forget that van touring involves a lot of driving and staring out the window in silence. It’s a strange and exhausting process that takes you away from your friends and family and can often leave you feeling super disconnected.
On stage, I feel like I can connect–both with the audience and with myself. Everything is on limits–no rules or regulations or things that need to be done at any particular time. It’s a freeing thing for me. On occasion, in the strangest places, I connect with God. Or maybe he connects with me. I know it sounds strange–but it’s very personal. It’s by far the most raw sensation I’ve ever experienced.
Can you please explain what a ‘fire escape’ is, figuratively, as you mean it in your eponymous song?
That song was one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to write. I rarely co-write, but I knew John Paul [White, of The Civil Wars] was the guy to help me put that feeling into song form. I had the chorus in tact — but the verses weren’t doing it for me.
I suppose the fire escape is a metaphor for that space just outside what was once ‘home’ for you–but you’re not a part of it anymore. I had to hide there for a while and wait for something that never came. That’s certainly one of the best songs I’ve got — if not the best.
Is there a songwriter who you love, that you wish more people had heard of?
I wish my friend David Ramirez was selling out giant theaters as we speak. He will — it’s just a matter of time. He’s the real deal. A hell of a writer, singer, and performer-he puts every ounce of himself into his songs every single night. We did 17 shows in 17 days and I never once saw him half-ass it.
In an industry full of mediocrity, he’s something remarkable. That’s the kind of artist this world needs more of.
Please tell us your pick of the all-time, Top 5 Songs About Broken Hearts (any artist, any era), and why you’ve picked them.
Click the image for Matthew’s amazing playlist.
Matthew Mayfield’s A Banquet for Ghosts is available on iTunes.
Last week on The Songwriter Series: Bootstraps