“It’s a lot easier these days to do it from anywhere,” Mayfield says, speaking by phone. “If you’re a writer, you may want to go to Nashville or Muscle Shoals, but with technology it’s easy to live wherever you want if you’re an artist. I made the record in Nashville, but Birmingham’s always been home. Everybody there’s been really good to me and my family’s there. I like it and I don’t have any plans of moving.”
A fixture on Birmingham’s music scene for nearly a decade, Mayfield is the former frontman of Moses Mayfield. After releasing its major label debut, The Inside, in 2007, the quintet disbanded in 2008. Since that time, Mayfield has released a steady stream of solo EPs and has found two of his songs featured in the television series Grey’s Anatomy. In addition, his 2010 EP Matthew Mayfield & The Blue Cut Robbery reached No. 1 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart. Raising $14,000 via Pledge Music by selling handwritten lyrics and studio memorabilia, among other items, Mayfield was able to record Now You’re Free, a disc featuring new songs alongside updated versions some well-worn favorites. The album was released on April 5.
“I’d say there are five tunes on the record that were on the EPs,” he says. “We picked the ‘greatest hits’ off of those and found the ones we wanted to rework and give ‘em a real shot. I wrote a bunch more stuff with Paul (Moak), the producer, and on my own and we put it all together. We probably pulled together 30 or 40 songs and whittled it down to the ones we wanted to be on the record.”
Though Mayfield and Moak entered the studio with a refined list of songs to be recorded, those songs continued to evolve during the recording process.
“They always end up being different than what you envisioned and that’s part of the fun,” Mayfield offers. “Making records is my favorite part of the job. It’s just a blast, especially when you’re with creative, talented people. You’re surrounded with your friends and you’re also surrounded with great players and they have great input. It’s nice to come up with a skeleton of a song and the overall vibe comes when you collaborate with folks in the studio. That makes me happy and excited because you can get tired of [a song] after a while and it’s nice to get a fresh perspective.”
Ask any artist, especially independent ones, about today’s musical climate in the age of iTunes, Youtube and satellite radio and you are sure to get some thoughtful responses based on first-hand experiences. I ask Mayfield how he views the accessibility via technology versus the flood of material it creates in the market place.
“It’s funny, we were just talking about that in the van yesterday,” he says. “It is a double-edge sword—there are definitely pros and cons. I like the fact that anyone can make a record and put it out for the world to hear, whereas 10 years ago it would have been harder and 20 years ago it would have been impossible. In that way, it’s nice to give artists a chance and it feels more real. But, on the other hand, it gives people access to a lot of really bad music and it makes everyone feel like they can be stars. I want to see bands that light me up inside and I want to see a band that puts on a show and has swagger and spectacle—that is rare. There are a million bands on Myspace, but there are a handful of bands that have that. I’m not saying I have that, but I’m working on it. So, all in all, technology is a great thing and the fact that I can make a record and have it up for the world to hear in a matter of days is pretty incredible. But over-saturation can take some of the magic out of it.”
As an artist looking to be noticed among the clutter that exists these days, Mayfield knows the place where he can separate himself from the others—the stage.
“It’s made the live show even more important than ever,” he offers. “I’ve been trying to put life into my live shows and change the songs from the way they are on the record and give people something that they’ve paid their hard-earned money for. They don’t pay just to watch me karaoke the record. I want them to feel like they’re getting an experience and seeing a real show, even if it’s 12 or 13 people. I want those people to get the real thing.”
Now You’re Free can be purchased at www.matthewmayfield.com and the iTunes store.
Brent Thompson writes about popular music for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to email@example.com.