Matthew Mayfield
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Matthew Mayfield

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The indie life often involves a lot of re-inventing one’s musical self, of rising phoenix-like from the ashes of some deal gone bad or some longtime association that fizzles. Both have happened to Matthew Mayfield, and he’s never been happier than he is rebuilding himself as a solo artist.

He was the main songwriter and shaper of the vision for a band called Moses Mayfield for a few years until January 2008. Its members were good friends and its sound was aggressively exuberant, busy and rowdy. The group had even released an album on Columbia. Ironically, that was the beginning of the end. Columbia fired the A&R person and the publicist they had worked with and let their contract expire. One of the members left to get married.

After much touring and career momentum, Mayfield found himself back in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama. It proved to be a great place to launch the next phase of his activities. “The scene here is real tight-knit,” he says. “There’s a wide diversity of sound and a lot of support and mutual respect.”

His solo work, which can be heard on his independently released EP The Fire, is far more spare and acoustic than what his band had done. A glance at his MySpace gig calendar shows that he’s booking himself into smaller venues that are more conducive to intimate sharing of the kinds of personal songs he’s writing now.

He manages himself these days. His marketing effort is centered around the MySpace page, but he also has a presence on Facebook and Noisetrade, which he’s particularly enthusiastic about. “You offer fans a free download for five legitimate email addresses,” he explains. “It’s really been helping me get the word out.”

Radio exposure is happening now as well. “The program director at 100.5 (a Birmingham rock outlet) texted me and said, ‘Hey, I’ve heard your record. Bring a copy on down,’” Mayfield recalls, indicating that he was floored. “’I said, ‘What, you mean I don’t have to do you any favors?’ Very few program directors say, ‘Hey, we wanna play your record ‘cause we like you.’ Usually it’s because they’re told by their parent corporation to play it, or because they want you to play an event for them.”

Melody is the key to great music according to Mayfield. “That’s how my songwriting generally starts,” he explains. “I’ll be singing something, not necessarily with a specific lyric, and I’ll hit on something I like.”

His main period of honing his guitar chops happened in early adolescence, while he was recuperating from a football mishap. “I snapped both main bones in one leg in half,” he recalls. “So I was laid up for a half-year. I put Guns and Roses’ Use Your Illusion album in my Walkman and learned licks from that. I’d rewind it over and over. I was enamored with Slash.”

He still gets his rock and roll fix by playing with a trio, Blue Cut Robbery. “It’s a fun side project,” he says.

He is beginning to expand the radius in which he plays a bit more again. “I keep it reasonable, just for economic reasons,” he explains, but I’m more open to being on the road now. When I got away from it after the band broke up, I could sort things out better.”

Would he ever consider embarking on a relationship with a major label again? “My eyes and ears are open, but it would have to be the right thing,” he says.

Actually, he feels a great deal of relief to be handling things for himself at this point. “I feel a lot more free now,” he asserts, noting the bottom-line-driven way the majors operate. “What it’s all about is making the art you want to make.” - Barney Quick - Indie-Music.com


The largest ever Acoustic Night show at the Bama Theatre will be held this evening and feature singer-songwriter Matthew Mayfield. Instead of being held in the Greensboro Room like other Acoustic Night events, tonight’s show will be in the large theater and is sponsored by University Programs. Admission is free, and the concert starts at 8 p.m.

Matthew Mayfield, a Birmingham native, has performed with well-known bands including Blue October, Switchfoot and Needtobreathe. In 2008, he released an EP titled “The Fire,” and some of his songs are played on Birmingham’s Live 100.5 radio station.

Sara Nagel of Revival Management describes Mayfield’s acoustic style as “gritty and honest.”

“I’ve honestly not heard another acoustic act that sounds anything like him,” she said. “His voice has a distinct quality to it -- it’s almost dirty sounding, like he just rolled out of bed, but it never loses pitch.”

Mayfield writes all of his own music and lyrics, and he said he thinks his songwriting sets him apart from other acoustic artists.

“There are a lot of white boys out there with acoustic guitars playing good music and it’s tough to set yourself apart,” he said. “I think for me -- trying to make songwriting and the way I write songs and the way I play guitar -- it’s trying to make something that has a signature to it and that has my own personal stamp.”

In 2002, Mayfield dropped out of college to prepare for a major record release with his band Moses Mayfield. The band was dropped six weeks into its release, but Mayfield now enjoys playing in the intimate acoustic environment. He said audience enthusiasm is what makes a show special, and he cited as an example one occasion when a girl threw a shirt onstage with lyrics to one of his songs embroidered across the front.

“I’d much rather play for five or ten people who care about what I’m doing than 5,000 folks who could care less,” he said.

The Bama Theatre presents Acoustic Nights about once per month to highlight emerging artists and acoustic acts from across the country.

“ I think it’s great that [the Bama Theatre] is highlighting acoustic acts because you've got a lot less to hide behind when it’s just you and your guitar,” Nagel said. “I think a lot of popular music is hard to reproduce live, but when you strip away all of the flashy costumes and sound effects and all you have is your guitar and your voice -- that's when you know someone is truly talented.”

Nagel and Mayfield said they encourage students to come to the show, even if they think acoustic music isn’t for them.

“Matthew touches on painful subjects in his music, but you'll end up singing along with him and relating to every word,” said Nagel.

Mayfield’s music comes from the heart and he said his passion makes his music distinct.

“I never play shows where I’m not giving it everything I possibly have. If the songs don’t hit [the audience], I certainly hope that the passion behind them will,” he said.

Mayfield’s next project is a full band album that will continue the same feel as his solo EP.

He will be working in Nashville with many of the same people who worked on Mat Kearney’s record.

“[Mayfield] is not just some dork who gets on stage to try and impress the ladies -- he's got something to say and nothing to prove...I can’t stress enough how much I believe in this guy’s music,” Nagel said. - Jessica Cheek - The Crimson White


Discography

Five Chances Remain Hers (2009) - Independent release
The Fire EP (2008) - Independent release
The Inside (2007) - Columbia Records

'First In Line' - Grey's Anatomy (Season 5, Episode 22)

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Bio

Birmingham based Matthew Mayfield traces his musical history like a line, from smoky concert halls and Columbia Records, college dorm rooms and garage band battles, all the way back to a bunk bed. He was a kid living in the suburbs, seven years old, sharing a room with his older brother Tommy. It was late at night, and down the hallway Matthew's father pulled out his 1976 Martin D-28 guitar. He played and sang, classics like "Blackbird" and "Fire and Rain" and early Neil Young, faintly but with enough voice for the silent and still Mayfield boys to hear. "Very few things are quite like a melody," Matthew says. "Even as a little kid, I felt something profound listening to dad sing and play."

Even though his dad was a businessman, those solitary evening sessions lit something inside Matthew, pushing him to follow the path of a twisted and narrow journey that, more often than not, had him holding onto melodies like a lantern. "I bought Pearl Jam's album Ten when I was 9 years old," Matthew says. A year later, "Mom took me to see Slash's Snakepit," a side project by the Guns' player. When a pretty horrific leg fracture around that time laid Matthew up for half a year, his dad's old Martin sealed the gently-perceptive Alabama songwriter's fate.

Matthew dropped out of college in 2002 and spent nearly two years preparing for a major label release with his band, Moses Mayfield. After multiple cross country recording sessions and nearly half-million dollars spent, the band felt the corporate crunch and was dropped only six weeks into their release. "Canned is the word," Matthew says. "Honestly though, I am more free now than I've ever been."

In 2008, Matthew self-released The Fire EP, an eight song songwriter-distinctive collection recorded in thirty hours for $1,000. The record quickly caught the attention of Birmingham's Live 100.5 radio station, and, in a sense, brought Matthew back to those lonesome bunk bed nights. A guitar and a room. Honest, underdone, a doubting-Thomas authenticity and, yes, palpably melodic. "Pain and secrets," he calls the record.

It's impossible to listen to songs like "Dead to You," "By Your Side," and crowd favorite "Element," and not hear both the influences and kindreds: Eddie Vedder's great no-namer tracks on Vitalogy; Peter Gabriel's atmospheric odes like "Solsbury Hill"; Kings of Leon's sometimes-Delta-bluesyness. "That's the way Muddy Waters would sing about pain," Matthew says about Kings' "Cold Desert" on Only by the Night.

At this point in the journey, Matthew is back in Birmingham. He's had stints on tour with Pete Yorn, Blue October, Switchfoot, and Needtobreathe. He's written enough songs to fill a whiskey barrel. And, he's enjoying newfound open space in the emerald greenery of his hometown. "Whether it's a golf course at midnight or a rooftop downtown," he says. "I hate being crammed. I'm obsessed with freedom." For proof of this admission, ask him about his tattoos. Or listen to the EP.