Photo: Ryley Dawson

Talented singer-songwriter and FTS pal Mattie Leon has recently released his latest album, In Natural Light. We caught up with Mattie to learn more about the new release, his dream Canadian music festival lineup, and the advice he’d give to new musicians just starting out.

From The Strait: Tell us about the new album, In Natural Light – what was the writing and recording process like, especially during a pandemic?

Mattie Leon: The process for this record was an interesting one. The writing came about in two parts.  

By the start of 2019 I’d accumulated about 12 songs in demo form. At the time I had just quit my job at a high school but most of the lyrics for those songs were written on commutes from Toronto to Brampton, on lunch breaks, and really whenever I could find a minute. The plan was to get the demos mixed and put out a full length independently. Right around that time we were picked up by Inside Pocket and those demos became the starting point for this new record. 

We picked the 6 strongest tunes and booked a full day at Noble Street Studios in Toronto to record them with acclaimed Canadian producer, Gavin Brown. From that recording session only three songs made it on the album; Silver Line, How Could I Want Someone, and Brother Should. Working closely with Gavin lit a creative fire in us. In a really short period of time he taught me a lot about writing and arranging and I was inspired to take those lessons and get to work on new songs. All The Time, Hallelujah (I Found You), Myself Soon, and Carolina all came in a flurry between June 2019 and Dec 2019. 

The bulk of recording took place at Noble Street Studios in Toronto but extra guitars and vocals were done at Gavin’s home studio, Albany Acres. All of these sessions were engineered by David Mohacsi (who also mixed the record). 

Noble Street was like the recording experience you have in your dreams; assistants, mic lockers, grand pianos, drum booths, enormous SSL board, etc. I found myself muttering, “we’re not worthy” constantly. 

Albany Acres was a little more familiar and laid back; A dog upstairs, coffee on, singing close to the mixing board. 

We were VERY fortunate to get all the recording done before the pandemic hit. The plan was to have the album out in April 2020 so we could tour all year but, I’m not sure if you heard, the world basically stopped and made that impossible. So we put it on ice, slowly released a few extra singles throughout 2020, and here we are a year later putting it out. 

FTS: We’re always quick to call you one of the hardest working musicians we know, and your live shows are a big part of that. What are you missing most about playing live, and have the livestreams helped to fill that void?

Mattie Leon: Thank you so much! 

I miss everything about live shows right now. It’s such an important part of being a musician; that balance between writing and performing. 

I miss chatting with people after shows and hearing how songs have affected them.

I miss rubbing shoulders with other musicians. 

I miss going to different cities and the hours leading up to the performance. 

I miss that euphoria on stage when everything is clicking. 

I miss travel time in the van with Nelson and Mike, chatting about life and music and drinking too much coffee. 

Live-streaming has been good. It’s poured something into the void but it hasn’t filled it! I think live-streaming is something that we would have ignored if it wasn’t for this year. One major benefit is that there are a lot of people outside of Ontario that want to see us perform and this has been a great platform for them. 

FTS: If you were curating your own Canadian music festival (with you headlining, of course), what would you call it and who would you add to the line-up?

Mattie Leon: The Northern Melodic 

In no particular order:
Nelson Sobral 
Tim Baker 
Skye Wallace
Weather Wild 
Wild Rivers
The Redhill Valleys 
Fortunate Ones 
Jeremie Albino 
Kate Boothman 
Mikhail Laxton 
Laurent Bourque 
Daniel Caesar 
Joey Landreth 
Jeremy Voltz
Lennon Stella
Lydia Persaud 

FTS: What advice would you give to new musicians just starting out? Is there any specific advice you wish you had been given early on?

Mattie Leon: Hmm. I don’t know if I’m qualified to give advice but this is what I’d say…

First. Don’t worry about trends and fitting into a scene that’s cool right now. It’ll pass and there will be a new scene and you’ll just be running in circles. Try to be the best version of you, even if that isn’t trendy right now. 

Second. Work on your craft, don’t just work on “making it”. If you’re a singer, take lessons. If you’re a guitarist, take lessons and learn new moves. Learn production so you know how it works. Read songwriting books. Nobody can improve at finding inspiration but you can be better equipped for when inspiration does come. 

Third. For songwriters. Find a couple of people that you trust that will tell you the truth about your songs. If you are able to listen to criticism and use it that’s the name of the game. 

Regarding social media. It’s important to be interacting there. It’s important to get your stuff heard. It’s a major piece of things these days. But don’t forget that you’re trying to be a musician…it’s way more important that your music and your performances are great. There isn’t an artist out there that I love because they have an amazing social media presence. I love them because of their music. 

Finally. Enjoy it. Enjoy the writing process. Enjoy performing. Enjoy being around your band mates. Enjoy the fact that people are listening to your stuff. Enjoy it all. There’s nothing better. 

FTS: If you weren’t a musician, what career would you have right now?

Mattie Leon: Back in my youth I was a serious golfer. I was on the Junior national team. Travelled all over the place. Went on a scholarship to Penn State for golf. In another life maybe I would have continued down that road. 

I put golf away after college. Didn’t want anything to do with it. In the last 5 years I’ve started to fall back in love with it. I have no doubt that if I wasn’t a musician I’d be a teaching pro. Maybe I can pull a Jack Johnson (Surfing/Musician) or a Gregory Alan Isakov (Farmer/Musician) and build a successful tandem career. 

You guys need lessons?

FTS: If you’re looking for a challenge, then yes. Yes we do. (I’ve never golfed, and lack coordination.)

Check out “Myself Soon” from Mattie Leon’s new album, In Natural Light!