Matthew Koma Never Sleeps: Working With Britney Spears and Shania Twain, Touring The World And Oatmeal Ambitions
By Bradley Stern
August 13, 2015
When Matthew Koma arrived in our New York office yesterday, heíd just come in from doing an event in New Jersey, where heíd just landed from Los Angeles right after spinning a DJ set in Las Vegas, which happened just after touching down in San Francisco following a stop in Germany, and, right before that, Ibiza.
A whole summer tour? No, that was merely the past 72 hours.
If the blur of crowded airports, customs officers, strobe lights and sweaty clubs has worn him down, he doesnít show any outward signs of exhaustion: ďYou just canít think about it,Ē he advised with a smile while recounting his overstuffed itinerary from the past few days. ďBreakfast for dinner happens a lot.Ē
Even if youíve not been formally introduced to the 28-year-old musical multihyphenate by name, you already know his work ó and likely his voice, too.
As a songwriter, Komaís crafted dozens of pop gems and dance floor anthems in the past few years, including ZeddĎs Top 10 global hit, ďClarity (feat. Foxes).Ē Heís worked with some of the biggest names in pop ó Kelly Clarkson, Hilary Duff and Carly Rae Jepsen all have album cuts barring Komaís name in the credits ó and heís just added two bonafide legends to his repertoire: Britney Spears and, unexpectedly, Shania Twain.
As a singer (which he doesnít consider himself to be ó more on that later), heís supplied his distinctive chops on festival-ready smashes for Alesso, Hardwell, RAC and Tiesto. But as an actual artist in his own right, Matthew is only just getting started.
Last week, the singer-songwriter formally announced his newly inked deal with RCA Records with the debut of his cheeky new single ďSo F**kiní RomanticĒ, a throbbing, horn-filled surge of energy that feels like an appropriately joyous celebration of his latest feat.
In between an ongoing tour and hitting the studio with pop royalty, Matthew sat down and discussed songwriting, his forthcoming debut record and building a cross-platform musical legacy. (ErrÖand potentially an oatmeal store, too.)
Bradley Stern: Letís start with ďSo F**kiní Romantic.Ē I think the most interesting thing ó right out the gate ó is that you say ďfĖkiníĒ in the first second. Itís a bold move for your lead single! Was there any hesitation with deciding to put this song out?
Matthew Koma: No, I donít know. In a lot of the songs that Iíve released or been a part of in the past, Iíve come fromÖI wouldnít say a serious place, but a more serious place than this. This just felt like something kind of fun, and it came about naturally. It felt suitable. It was something to listen to with a smile on your face. It didnít feel risquť or anything like that. Itís just a sincere caricature of sorts. I donít think anybody could really take it too seriously and say ďIím so f**kiní romantic!Ē It didnít feel like it carried the weight of the cuss ó itís just part of the humorousness.
Somewhere in the songís press release you said itís about a sense of overconfidence, like youíre ďRyan Goslingís middle ab.Ē
Totally! To me, thatís whatís been fun about the song. Itís a statement of overconfidence ó itís an exaggeration.
Is it safe to say this isnít really a representation of what youíre building for your debut then?
As far as my personal life, yes, absolutely. Itís 100% what Iím building everything on as a foundation.
[Laughs] Right, of course.
I feel like Iíve gotten to show a more serious side through songs like ďClarityĒ or ďSpectrumĒ or ďYears,Ē and through songs like ďWastedĒ and ďCheap Sunglasses,Ē thereís been a bit more of that cheekiness. I think the record kind of continues on building along that thought process, because those are both sides of me. Thereís not necessarily just one lane that I belong to, or that I only write one specific thing. I have that serious side and I have that playful side, and I think this is a representation of that particular side, which is absolutely a part of the record, but itís not defining in the sense that this is the only side of the record.
Youíve written a lot of songs, presumably, that were meant for you and ended up going to other people. Kelly Clarksonís ďSomeone,Ē you said, was for you originally.
Yeah. Itís funny. The best songs always come from a place where youíre not necessarily thinking about it for another person. If youíre treating it as if itís your own, regardless of who records it, it still needs to go through that same process. I donít necessarily think about it in terms of ĎOh, Iím writing for so-and-soí unless itís a specific sit-down with somebody for their record.
When I heard that she had liked the song ó that kind of voice delivering that song as a songwriter? Itís awesome. Sheís an incredible talent. You never know what songs are going to go where necessarily, especially now. Itís such a single-driven world. Itís almost the equivalent of 10, 15 years ago, being able to put out a record where people would absorb all those songs. Now, being able to have different artists and different voices as vehicles for the songs, itís nice to be able to release a couple different songs around the same two-to-three month period that maybe you wouldnít be able to do just as yourself.
I was just listening to ďBreathe In. Breathe Out.Ē A great record, by the way. Was that part of a writing camp situation or was it written with her in mind?
I never do writing camps, per se. If thereís an opportunity to write with an artist, and I like the artist, Iíll work on something catered to what I think could be a cool angle for them, but itís usually always based on a conversation I have with the artist. I donít want to just pitch a song blindly. Itís more of like: Who are you? Where are you coming from? Whatís your vision? What do you like? How can we marry that to what I do? I can help you execute your vision with my toolbox.
With her, it was a mix of both. ďBreathe In. Breathe Out.Ē was written specifically for her. ďArms Around A MemoryĒ was a song that I had previously written, and it just kind of fit the script after conceptually speaking with her about what sheís going for. Itís always different. Every song, itís never the same process or birth. Itís always so specific to the situation.
And sheís super cool, too.
Sheís super sincere. Super hard working. From the standpoint of working with a lot of different artists, that really matters. Thatís whoís going to go out there and sell it. Youíre making what you do a part of their world, and to feel good about the person doing it just makes it a lot more rewarding.
You had some studio time, or youíre continuing to, with Britney. What is that like?
Sheís extremely talented. Itís funny getting to work with her sometimes, you know, because you just think about the history and how much of pop music is influenced today by things sheís done and invented.
Itís gotta be surreal.
Itís super surreal to sit there and hear Britney Spears sing one of your songs. Itís like ó itís one of those things on the checklist. You know, I checked off Kelly Clarkson too. There are very few of those marquee artists where itís like, okay, check, thatís really cool. It just feels likeÖit holds a different weight.
I love working with new artists because youíre always getting to start with a clean palette and something that hasnít been treaded on yet, but when youíre working with artists like that... Iím producing Shania Twainís album right now , and thatís another completeó
Wow, thatís out of left field!
Yeah! You go back and youíre like ďLet me reference one of her old records to see what they were doing on ĎMan, I Feel Like A Woman.íĒ Itís likeÖjeez. Itís crazy!
Before I get to Shania, which Iím very interested in, everyoneís always fascinated: What is Britney like in the studio, and what is the recording process like?
Super, beyond pro. Beyond sweet. Comes in. Nails it. Knows the tunes. With her, itís been a very different thing, case by case. There are songs where she has a lot of input, as far as ďI wanna go for this vibe and this is what Iím listening to, and this is what Iím into and this is what I want to execute,Ē and there are other times where sheís like ďThis song speaks to me. I learned it and I wanna kill it.Ē And she does. Sheís been wonderful.
Thereís one song thatís inspired byÖ
Squeeze, yeah. What is that all about? That seems entirely unlikely.
Itís cool. Itís a little left-of-center. Iím a huge Squeeze fan, so anytime I can ó no pun intended ó try to squeeze them or Elvis Costello into some sort of influence in whatever it is weíre doing, the happier I am. Iím excited about how the musicís coming out.
And youíre working with Tinashe as well?
Oh, absolutely. Sheís one of those cases where, after you meet with her, itís not an if, itís a when. Sheís just doing it. People catch on as they catch on because sheís just good. Just real. Another example of a voice bringing a song to life, where youíre just like ďWow, she brought another texture and another dimension to something that I had.Ē Itís an amazing thing to feel like ďOkay, you took something that I had and made it way better.Ē
Every step of the way.
Back to Shania ó I couldnít see that coming. How did that happen?
I randomly saw a tweet one day, and it was a photo of her in her car saying she was singing along to ďSuitcaseĒ, one of my songs. She had heard my music through her son. I went to go see her show in Vegas. We wound up hanging out for a bit, connected and starting working on music together. It just clicked. Before I knew it, we were in the Bahamas starting pre-production and listening to a bunch of her songs. Itís just been a great relationship. Itís been really fun. Sheís been touring a ton and Iíve been touring a ton, so weíve had to do a lot of it remotely. So we just talk a lot and keep sending ideas back and forth and weíll block out chunks of time to connect in person. You donít find a sweeter person. You can just sit there and talk to her for days ó about her experience, about that table ó sheís just such a well-rounded, great person. Itís been such a pleasure to work with her.
And she holds a best-selling record for her album (Come On Over)...
And you would never know. You would never, in a thousand years, think that she was anybody different than someone who went to college and got a degree and pursued whatever it is theyíre passionate about. She just looks at it as a gift and loves what she does, and loves the craft, and is married to the craft. Truly. Maybe more than anybody Iíve ever met. Just married to the craft and the art of songwriting and creating. Itís all about that for herÖitís truly sincere.
Does that mean weíre getting electronic Shania?
No, not at all. No, no. Itís definitely a departure in some ways from some things sheís been a part of previously, but in no way is it an insincere stretch. Itís her vision that Iím hoping to execute.
You wear several hats, because youíre also touring as a DJ.
Yes, and hats get crushed in luggage. Thank you for noticing.
With DJing, how is that compared to songwriting? Itís a totally different vibe.
You know what it is? People ask that a lot. Sometimes you play band shows. Sometimes you play acoustic shows. Sometimes you DJ. Theyíre all just vehicles for the songs. I consider myself first and foremost a storyteller and a songwriter. I never consider myself a singer. I use my voice as a tool.
You do sing well, though.
Thank you. Itís funny, because a lot of people discovered me first and foremost as a voice for features, and theyíre like ďOh, I thought you were a singer.Ē Well, noÖ
Right, youíre mid-tour right now as a DJ.
Itís great. Itís another way to deliver the songs. A lot of the songs that Iíve been fortunate to be a part of have connected with an electronic audience. To be able to go and play for those people, itís incredible. Itís just as satisfying to stand in front of a crowd thatís singing back. In some ways, itís even more of a license, because Iím getting to play songs that Iíve written or produced that I didnít sing on, which is something you canít necessarily do in the context of a live show. To be able to play ďClarity,Ē because itís a song Iíve written and see the response firsthand, is something that I wouldnít be able to experience without that platform. Itís totally different than the other ways I tour, but I love it. Itís great. Weíre pretty deep right now in tour.
You were just in Vegas.
Just got back from Vegas. We were in Ibiza ó two weeks there, four shows, festivalsÖ
How was that?
It was great. We did shows with Steve Aoki and Hardwell. It was fun. Weíre about to go to Tokyo. Weíre about to do some US stuff. About to do a really cool show in Mexico with Brandon Flowers. Just kind of all over the mapÖ
So, you donít sleep.
I never sleep.
You couldnít. How could you?
I never sleep. I love coffee very much.
Youíre off to a different country every week?
Itís insane, yeah. In the next two weeks, weíre in Mexico, China, Canada, Japan, and then ó just to keep it normal, weíre in Denver and Chicago and San Francisco. Weíre all over.
Your body canít even adjust to that.
In the past 72 hours, we did Ibiza to Germany, Germany to San Francisco, San Francisco to Vegas, played a show in Vegas, got offstage, took 7 hours of traffic to get to LA, dropped some bags off, was home for 3 hours and took a flight to New York. Drove to New Jersey, did an event there and then drove back here, and then we go back to LA tonight for shows this week. Itís just non-stop. But itís great! Itís fun! You just canít think about it. You canít try to plan ó breakfast for dinner happens a lot. You just kind of go with it.
Do you want to still be doing this in five years? Do you have different ambitions?
I want to open up an oatmeal store, for sure. I love oatmeal. Particularly overnight oats ó I think theyíre the greatest thing in the world. I totally wanna open up my oatmeal store one day. But, I still feel like Iíll open it and have somebody else run it so that I can do what Iím doing right now.
Itís funny. The goal has always been [to be an] artist first and foremost, and Iíve been really fortunate. Thatís what Iíve been able to do and continue doing. Itís great to be able to work on something like Shania, which is so different, and such a challenge mentally and musically, and outside of the lane for what people know me for. I just did a song with The Knocks for their album, which is something more in the lane of what people know me for. Iím getting to do my record. Me and Flux Pavilion just did a song thatís totally different. Dillon Francis and I are working on something. Iím getting to do stuff that kinds of ticks all the boxes for me personally, as far as being satisfied. I donít like working on the same stuff over and over. Iím the person who makes a record or makes songs, and three weeks later, Iím like ďOh, thatís old. Whatís next?Ē
Are there any particular tracks youíre excited by on your own record?
I just wrote a crapload in Ibiza that Iím really excited about.
So the albumís still coming together?
No, itís done! I just never stop. Itís a finished record, but until itís outÖ
Youíll just keep going.
Iím excited to have a real, recorded version of ĎSuitcaseí out there. Thereís only been a live version. Thereís a song called ďDay & Night,Ē which is probably one of my favorite songs Iíve ever written that Iím excited for people to hear. I almost try not to get too caught up on people listening to just one record. God willing, itís a continuous conversation. Itís not just this album or this song, itís about the next twenty years of finding and building an audience to just keep talking to and having a conversation with.
Safe to say we can expect some collaborations?
Yes and no. I worked with people on it, but itís definitely time to step out on my own. Itís a record where people can say theyíre getting familiar with me as me. I have been a part of so much that is collaborative, and I think that is a base and a foundation created where people can say, ĎOkay, thatís his world.í But of course, I worked with some people on the record.
Any people down the line that youíd love work with?
Man, so many. I mean, Iíve been really fortunate to work with [Bruce] Springsteen ó heís been my hero forever. To be a part of anything creative with him has been awesome, and will be awesome in the future. Probably just my heroes. Iím a huge Elvis Costello fan. Iíd love to do something with him one day. Thereís a band out called Dawes that is my favorite band on planet Earth, who think I donít want to ever meet or work with because I love them so much that I just donít want to ó but in theory, yeah, I would love to work with them.
This kid Jai Wolf, I think heís really talented. Iíve been doing some stuff with him. And a kid named Tim Gunter, whoís also really talented. Theyíre kind of newer producers that Iíve been doing some stuff with that Iím looking forward for people to hear. Theyíre on the cusp of cool stuff.
Awesome. And do you have a song of the summer?
You know what? Iím going to shout out Jai Wolf and give him ďIndian SummerĒ. Itís appropriate. It is an indian summer ó and itís a hell of a track.
ďSo F**kiní RomanticĒ is out now. Check out Matthew on tour through September.