the newspaper Interviews: Kalle Mattson
Illustration Credit: Jaylin Kim
Kalle Mattson is a Ontario pop/folk musician who began writing his own music during first year university. He is known for being nominated for the 2014 Polaris Music prize and the Video of the Year at the 2016 Juno Awards for “Avalanche” as well as touring with Hozier, Blue Rodeo, and Cuff the Duke.
N: Your album is called Youth. What drove you to look to your youth as inspiration for an album?
K: I had always had this idea of writing a coming of age record; I thought there were a lot of coming of age movies and novels out there but not a lot of records that explored that. I wanted to write a record about the period of time that I’m at in my life where there’s this middle period between post-adolescence and pre-adulthood that affects “millennials”. It’s an album called Youth, but it’s about the loss of youth and becoming nostalgic for the first time for a period of your life that’s sort of gone.
N: Would you say the album is more about celebrating youth or leaving it behind as you grow up?
K: Definitely not celebrating, it’s a pretty sad record. [laughs] I guess it’s about leaving it behind but also it’s about that period of time in your mid-twenties when your teenage dreams become regrets or things you haven’t done. Your first love becomes your first loss. That’s how I would describe it; it’s not a celebration but it’s also not mourning it. It’s meant to capture that entire feeling of not knowing what your life is in your mid-twenties.
N: What contributes to the different sound of Youth in comparison to your other albums?
K: The coming of age concept was one half of the equation of this record and the other half was the motto that I’ve put out there of “folk is dead”. I’m a white guy with an acoustic guitar singing sad songs. There’s a lot of me in the world; probably too many of me. It was a challenge and realization of what I do and how to go at it differently. The “folk is dead” motto is a way of us going into this record to change what folk music sounds like in 2018. We made this record similar to a pop record is made in 2018.
I demoed the songs in my apartment on my acoustic guitar. Then we tore the songs apart, my producer Colin Munro and I, and we sent files back and forth for two years. [We] had a bunch of different versions of songs, went down a bunch of different paths, and the record came out sounding pretty significantly different than all of my past releases, and hopefully sounds like a bit of a different take on genre that I’m in.
N: What have you been up to between albums? Has it all been writing for Youth?
K: Between 2014 and 2015 I toured nonstop. I did six tours in Europe. I was pretty much on the road the entire time. And then Avalanche came out in August 2015 and we toured that. After that I was sort of burnt out. Like I said, that album that was before Avalanche [Someday the Moon WIll Be Gold] was really emotional. It’s a tough record to do every single night, to tell stories about my mom and be really open about it. I wanted to slow things down a bit and not be on the road. I also needed to figure out what kind of record I wanted to make again. I like to say that I make concept records, and coming up with that sort of box and story that you want to thread across ten songs is tricky. It’s easier said than done.
So a lot of it was writing, and we just took our time with this record. The way that this record sounds… it wasn’t like we just stumbled upon the sound of this record right away, it took a lot of work, a lot of trial and error, and it was very frustrating at times. But I’m happy with how it all turned out.
N: In “Once”, you use the line about being “a killer without blood”. What are you trying to convey with this imagery?
K: So “Once” I wrote and right away, I knew it was going to be the first song. Not just because the once/once-upon-a-time thing, but it was sort of meant to be the beginning of a story. The verse has “Once I was a stranger”, “Once I was a killer” and I guess my idea behind it was [that] I was lamenting the way I used to care about things more. As you get older life takes more and more out of you and you become less passionate about things. This could be purely my own experience [laughs] but that was sort of where I was going with that one.
N: “Astronaut” is such a powerful conclusion to the album. Is there a story behind it? Did you want to want to be an astronaut when you grew up?
K: I was a pretty typical young boy in that I wanted to be a firefighter or I wanted to be an athlete, which I definitely didn’t become. [laughs] “Astronaut” was one of the first songs I wrote from this record. Like I said, I always have these rules or boxes of my writing because I find that’s sort of limiting. I don’t get that idea, that “I don’t even know what I want to write about”. But one of them is never write about death again because I have done that before and in 2015 my grandmother got sick and she was going to pass away and I visited with her one last time. She’s my mom’s mom and she spoke really frankly about her life in a way that I’d never heard her talk before and she said the line “every regret is something you never do” and the songwriter part of my brain just immediately turned on. I’d like to think it’s a song about life rather than death but she ended up writing the hook on that song and I built it around it.
Kalle Mattson is playing the Great Hall on November 17th .