If you are trying to find criteria to differentiate a new band from an established one, do not use The Mattson 2 as an example. Technically the “2,” identical twin brothers Jared (guitar/bass) and Jonathan Mattson (drums) have been a national touring act after signing with an agent in 2016. The twins released A Love Supreme – the duo’s interpretation of the classic John Coltrane album – in 2018, but 2019’s Paradise is the first full album with original Mattson 2 material in almost a decade. Paradise went to number one on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts so most people would think they’re a hot, new band off to a great start. That’s where they would be wrong.
It doesn’t take much searching to find a trove of Mattson 2 material that dates back to the mid-2000s. The Mattsons grew up and still live in the San Diego area where they were heavily influenced by the skateboarding scene that exploded in the mid- to late-90s. Classic skateboarding films like ‘Thrill of it All’ and ‘Misled Youth,’ along with their soundtracks, had a tremendous impact on the brothers.
“I literally think that’s what revived the punk scene in Southern California. You didn’t see anyone wearing leather jackets,” said Jonathan. “You didn’t see anyone listening to punk until those films came out. That helped me to identify, and internalized what it was that moved me at a young age.”
Jared adds, “To us, the skateboarders and movie makers were our version of tastemakers where we grew up. If they put a movie out with music in it, we’re going to want to listen to that music.”
It’s through the skateboarding scene where the Mattsons met Ray Barbee,a legendary skateboarder and accomplished musician. Barbee was one of several contributors on 2009’s Introducing the Mattson 2, a 6-song EP with about 30 minutes of material. Both Barbee and the Mattsons were recording with Galaxia records at the time.
The California skateboard-loving trio teamed up again later in 2009 for a full album Ray Barbee meets The Mattson 2. Despite their love of skateboarding films and their soundtracks, the recording is a jazz album better suited for San Diego sunsets than half pipes. The album is calming and laid back, and as Jared points out, “It’s the idea of simplicity and minimalism and using those elements in music to relate to more people and a wider audience.”
While still not an “official” touring band, The Mattson 2 showed their ability to create a mental picture for the listener again with 2011’s Feeling Hands (10 songs 37 minutes). For this release, the brothers added another San Diego music style to the mix…surf. Jared’s twangy, wave-riding guitar sound permeates throughout, creating another musical avenue for their listeners.
Changing the music up is something Jonathan finds very important. “The power of certain types of music is it’s able to relate completely too different types of people,” he states. “We’d love to keep developing that vibe, where it’s welcoming to many different types of people. Many types of genre listeners and things like that.”
True to their word, the Mattsons added to their sound again in 2014 with Agar. The 5-song EP is 30 more minutes of original Mattson material and this time, the brothers added a new layer of space and depth to the recording. The album was recorded live in the studio, which was a new experience for Jonathan.
“Agar is the first time we recorded a live record together in the studio where nothing was overdubbed. The compositions have been conceived by us playing as a unit as twins. We call it twinchronicity.”
As identical twins, Jared and Jonathan have literally been together as far back as you can go; they are in complete agreement that bond creates a telepathic connection only twins can understand.
As Jonathan says, “What it comes down to is we are kind of the same person. We split on the embryonic level, but we’re pretty much the same DNA. We are almost a carbon copy of each other. Like the same person playing two different things. Chemistry wise and emotionally and spiritually we are very much interconnected using the same language at the same time we are making music. It’s literally like playing with a body double who has the same DNA.”
Not surprising, Jared shares the same opinion. “You can get close, but nothing compares to that blood connection. As twins, we can go as far as we want, and we will always be there to back each other up.”
One place where the Mattsons back each other up the most is during live performances. There is no Mattson 3 or Mattson 4. As Jared points out, on the road it’s up to the “2.” “The integral part of our performance live is that I’m able to do real time looping and that’s able to build a rhythm section on the fly. That’s a big reason why we have the ‘twinchronicity,’ because we are in control of all of the elements.”
Jonathan adds performing live as identical twins has a natural impact on their audiences. “Twins are weird, so weird. When you see that on stage, it has a powerful impact on the people. It’s a very interesting thing to bring that vibe over to musical endeavors.”
Despite nine years’ worth of EPs, meetings, and introductions totaling around three hours of released music, the modest Mattsons still didn’t consider themselves a national band until 2016. Whether it’s modesty or honesty, Jared appreciates the journey he’s taken to this point.
“It’s weird,” he says. “We’ve been performing as The Mattson 2 for 16 years. It would be a discredit to us to say we’ve been a band that long with touring and stuff. We’ve been fortunate to have outlets to release music all those years.”
It’s those outlets that can be a blessing or a curse for musicians trying to make it in the music industry. Current technology allows any musician to create an EP, single, or full album without having to get anywhere close to a professional recording studio.
Jonathan feels the influx of music being self-produced and distributed has changed today’s music game. “I feel the whole landscape of the music business is totally changing due to streaming. At first, people in our industry didn’t know what to do about it. I feel the new radio is now a playlist on Spotify. You don’t necessarily have to sign with a label to be successful. You can have a gnarly You Tube video.”
In 2017, the now official Mattson 2, released another “meeting” album as the brothers teamed up with Chaz Bundick (Toro Y Moi) for Chaz Bundick meets the Mattson 2. Bundick is a prolific musician and independent music producer. The album was another foray into the core jazzy psychedelic sound the Mattsons had become known for. Repeating the same sound album after album is the last thing the Mattsons want to do.
So while this album has the distinct Mattson sound, it’s expanding on that sound is most important to Jared. “The key to originality is being aware of what you’re doing is unique and it’s a certain fingerprint. Don’t become a parody of yourself and try to purposefully do things that are completely different from that.” That strategy worked out perfectly as “Star Stuff” went to #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts.
Once again, the Mattsons showed while they have a unique core sound, they are willing to take that into any direction to expand upon. After their “meeting” with Chaz Bundick, most people would think the Mattsons would stay close to their core instrumental surf and jazzy sound for their next releases. They would be quite wrong.
Instead of continuing to release original material while expanding on their core sound, the brothers took their music in two completely different directions in 2018. As mentioned earlier, the Mattsons released A Love Supreme and took it on the road, performing the entire album each night. This was the first headlining tour for the brothers, and another sign of how all the hard work they had put in over the years was paying off.
Also in 2018, they released Vaults of Eternity. While changing musical directions was nothing new, this was a remarkable genre shift even by their own standards. Vaults is 30 minutes of homage to Japanese music. The duo visited Japan in 2007 and became fascinated with the culture and music. At first, the brothers planned to put out a mix tape of some of their favorite Japanese songs. However, being Mattsons, they chose to put out collaborations with some of their favorite Japanese musicians. Also in Mattson fashion, Vaults is only available as audio on You Tube.
With their palate for Japanese music temporarily cleansed, the Mattson 2 went back to the more familiar laid back San Diego jazz vibe for 2019’s Paradise. Despite all of the music and collaborations the “2” had been a part of for the last decade and a half, Paradise really shows continued growth for the brothers.
From beginning to end, Paradise paints the perfect picture of playing volleyball on the beach as the sun begins to set. The “twinchronicity” is at its peak on this album as the tightness of the brothers hits an all-time high. With their playing at a peak, the Mattsons added something to Paradise they hadn’t put on any of their previous releases – vocals.
The vocals on Paradise are extremely easy to describe. They have the same laid back vibe to them the music does. Neither of the Mattson brothers claim to be trained singers, but as Jared points out, the time to sing had come.
“A lot of times when we played shows there was a barrier there because you weren’t singing and that’s how most people listen to music. So it served two goods. It served appealing to more people which is great,” Jared says. “The other thing is it fulfilled us as musicians. We’re not trying to be singers or anything. We’re mainly using the voice as another instrument. I’m not using crazy techniques. I’m literally just using my voice, by projecting it in a natural way.”
Paradise opens with “Naima’s Dream” a nod to both the Coltrane song and the name of Jonathan’s daughter. The song’s tranquil vibe has had some unexpected bonuses for Jonathan when it comes to her.
“She goes through these different shifts of what she wants for music before she goes to bed. There was a time for a couple of weeks, where she only wanted to hear ‘Naima’s Dream.’ It definitely worked as a lullaby for her.”
“Wavelength” is a perfect showcase of the Mattsons using vocals to act as an instrument as they merge perfectly with the traditional jazz beat sound behind them. Jared’s Pat Metheny-esque guitar tones add an extra layer as well.
“Essence” has the same vibe as “Naima’s Dream” except with lyrics. Jared channels the Metheny sound again in the title track “Paradise.” The brothers change tones again to pay homage to Jonathan’s wife with “Isela.” The song is an example of how the Mattsons have evolved over time by opening the space and sound of the song allowing the different instruments to find the right spot in the mix. “Sea Cliff” was originally meant to be in a movie soundtrack. That movie got canned and was put on the album instead.
For a visual reference to understand the brothers’ thinking, check out the official video for the song “Shell Beach.” The song opens on a warm sunny day with the Mattson brothers walking down the beach. Inspired by the beauty all around, the brothers start playing their music on the beach. As the camera slowly pulls back more and more you see the Mattsons perfectly framed in the shot. What makes it “Mattson,” is once the camera pulls out far enough, you see they’re playing in front of a nuclear reactor in Delaware.
What does the future hold for The Mattson 2? They’ve been around awhile and Jonathan acknowledges they’ve put in an enormous amount of time and effort. “You can only work so hard to get the music out there. We’ve had the best press of our lives with Paradise. It’s taken us so long to get where we’re at now. It’s a difficult industry to make a living in and we are grateful for all the interest that people show for us.”
That time and effort has led them to the top of the contemporary jazz charts twice, which puts the Mattsons ahead of most. The twins are constantly adding new tour dates for 2020 and hope to have a new album out in fall.
Most people would think they can figure out which direction The Mattson 2 will head towards next. Based on the past, they’ll probably be quite wrong.