“…I was so honoured… She actually said that on one of the tracks ‘Dope’ she was jealous of the singer. So I thought this was a great opportunity to ask her if she wants to sing on the track, and I did, and she said yeah!”
Back in August 2010 an album by an unknown and intriguingly named Matti Roots landed on The Dood’s door mat. On studying the track listing, the name of renowned jazz vocalist Susaye Greene beamed out. On listening to the album and subsequently well impressed by the live instrumentation, lyrics and structure of the songs, The Dood arranged to sit down with UK born Matti Roots aka Matt Goodman in a green space in Central London to get enlightened and brought out of the darkness.
The Dood: Matti Roots, nuff respect for your debut release, it was definitely an album that blindsided me -in a good way! It’s very infectious and has a warm feel good factor throughout. Was this your intention?
Matti Roots: Basically, all the songs on this album that I’ve written are really personal stuff, and generally it’s stuff that I’m thinking about or that I’m worried about or trying to work out. All the songs act as this kind of positive outlet to like deal with that situation. So yeah, I guess the feel good thing comes from the fact that I’m trying to make myself feel good making the tracks – if that makes sense.
For example like OCD, which is the first single, was about a really bad break-up. I was feeling really terrible about the whole thing and I just felt like channelling it into like this song…It’s still kinda like an uplifting song and it’s got like a groove that makes you smile as well. So that kinda brought me out of the painful situation and helped me cope with it…And I guess all those personal songs are very much like that.
The Dood: Tracks like OCD, Rough Love, I Miss You, See You Again and Let’s Get Back Together are all like individual life stories put to music. I get the impression that you left a lot of Matti Roots on this album i.e. heart and soul?
Matti Roots: Totally! You know this album took I reckon maybe four or five years in total to like finally get it out…It wasn’t like I sat down and said I’m gonna write a song today, they all came out through some weird experience of mine.
The Dood: Some of the best albums are written that way are they not? Marvin Gaye comes to mind?
Matti Roots: Totally man. ‘I Want You’ for example or even ‘Here, My Dear’ by Marvin (Gaye). I know that paid for the alimony…when he was breaking up with his wife. The songs on that for me are like some of his best man. You can just hear the range of emotions he’s going through.
The Dood: Let’s back track a little. How old were you when you first felt music flow through you?
Matti Roots: Apparently, according to my mother, pretty much from birth. Whenever music was on I’d be like bouncing around. Then aged three and a half, it was my Mum again who decided that it might be an idea just to see how I took to the piano. So there was a teacher at school and she said, ‘yeah, we’ll try him.’ And from there I just never looked back really. I always loved it. That was the highlight of my week, my piano lessons.
The Dood: Where you encouraged by your folks and siblings?
Matti Roots: They were really very encouraging. My Dad is a much more traditionally minded guy and probably from a career point of he wasn’t discouraging, he was just pragmatic – he was like look you’ve got to realise that it’s gonna be tough…You’re better off being a Lawyer etc.
The Dood: I was going to ask you, what would you have done if not music?
Matti Roots: God knows man! I really don’t know…I’ve got two arms, two legs and I love music. It’s like an essential part of me…obviously I’d survive without it, but it wouldn’t be as happy a life do you know what I mean! (Laughs)
The Dood: What kind of music was played around the home?
Matti Roots: Well my Dad had quite traditional tastes. So it would be like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Elton John, and Leo Sayer. Random stuff like John Denver, Neil Diamond and all this stuff is like melodic, strong music…So I was brought up around really great solid music. My Mum was a keep fit teacher and she used to make mix-tapes for her classes.
The Dood: That sounds strange! My mum used to make mix-tapes! (Matti & The Dood belly laugh)
Matti Roots: Yeah! She used to make these mix-tapes and she had SO much vinyl. She’ll be buying vinyl all the time. I kinda learned more about Soul, Funk, Dance, R&B all that type of music through hearing her music. When I got to thirteen/fourteen I started to become a little more independently minded and started to seek out my own music. What I liked.
The Dood: Your own identity?
Matti Roots: Yeah…Also, because I was doing GCE music, A-level music at school, I was exposed to a lot of Classical music and I loved that. I loved the fact that I was in an orchestra. I played clarinet in my school orchestra.
The Dood: Which led to your love of the saxophone right?
Matti Roots: Yeah, the saxophone is a melodic instrument. It’s like the lead singer in a band basically. And piano, it’s everything really, it’s rhythm, its chords, its baseline, it’s the whole thing really, so that’s why I love both instruments.
The Dood: Your one of these rising crop of artists that is stepping out from the shadows or from behind the mixing desk and into the light to centre stage. What was the catalyst for your transition?
Matti Roots: I always used to sing…I love rapping, I love singing, and I just like messing around vocally with music and having fun with it. And I’ve worked with a hell of a lot of writers and singers. Then I kinda got to a point where…I had got really frustrated with some of the people/vocalist I was working with.
The Dood: Time issues?
Matti Roots: Time issues, but also just trying to project my ideas…You hear something inside your head and you try to bring it out. That other person is doing their best but it’s not always exactly what you want.
The Dood: Not what you see in your mind’s eye?
Matti Roots: Exactly! So one day I just thought I’m just gonna try and record myself singing. I had some little ideas. And from that point it was a new era for me to take on this role of an actual singer. And it was only through encouragement from friends and family all just being really positive and saying, ‘You know this is really really good. It’s fresh, it’s you…’ I just thought I’m gonna keep doing it and it’s taken a long time to really get it out there but it’s done now.
The Dood: In the days of vinyl only albums, DJ’s would describe ‘Beetroot’ as the kind of album where you can drop the needle on anywhere and let it play. I’m hearing a diversity of influences on this project, both in your vocal style and in the instrumentation. I can hear everyone from Stevie (Wonder), Parliament Funk, James Brown, Prince and Morris Day and TheTime. The track ‘Lust’ is pure Morris Day and The Time. Discuss?
Matti Roots: It’s no coincidence you picked up on that because I was actually listening to the ‘1999’ album that morning when I wrote that track. I listened to it about six times all the way through…And then I just started messing around, I was just in that world. I put the beat down and then I put some bass thing on it and it wasn’t working and then I just flipped it and that was the baseline that I came up with for ‘Lust’ and I just developed it from there really.
The Dood: Staying with the vocals, the sublime and distinctive voice of Soul/Jazz diva Susaye Greene graces your album on the track ‘Dope.’ Is it true that Myspace played a big part in her acquisition and how did you record the track?
Matti Roots: Myspace was critical in this because I would never have met her without it. I can’t remember exactly how we ended up friends…but she ended up listening to my music and left a comment. And it was like, ‘Whoa! You like me!’ ‘Ok cool. Thank you.’
The Dood: You thought this is a wind-up right?
Matti Roots: Exactly! And then four or five months later, I had finished my album and she was one of the people in my mind that I thought it would be lovely to get her feed-back…Maybe I’d get a sound-bite or something saying she liked it. Anyway she did, she absolutely loved it. She sent me this flowing email with all these compliments and I was so honoured… She actually said that on one of the tracks ‘Dope’ she was jealous of the singer. So I thought this was a great opportunity to ask her if she wants to sing on the track, and I did, and she said yeah! So I sent her the instrumental without the vocals on it and she just laid it down in L.A, she lives in San Fernando… and sent it across. So we never actually met, but I intend to meet her when I go over there.
The Dood: After this collaboration is there anyone else that you aspire to work with?
Matti Roots: I’m really open to working with all kinds of people from Dub Step artists to like Femi Kuti or Ali FarkaToure and other African musicians. I’d work with the Black-Eyed Peas, I’d work with Amy Whitehouse, I’d work with Prince, I’d work with Stevie…Anyone that’s got something about them that’s exciting, I down with it.
The Dood: What genres of music do you draw your inspiration from?
Matti Roots: It’s a long question for me to answer. I was brought up on all this strong Pop music with strong melodies. But when I was fourteen I started listening to Giles Peterson and he definitely opened my mind to a whole range of music that was going on at the time…I really like West African and North African music, the whole of that area.
From South America I like Samba and Salsa and all that Cuban and Brazilian stuff. Hip Hop obviously, can’t forget that. And Reggae as well! Reggae was actually a big part of my life – the reason for making that kind of music and the sound. I love Dennis Brown and Beres Hammond, just melodies for days. And Dance music too, I was making Garage and Drum’n’Bass.
The Dood: Do you do a lot of session work?
Matti Roots: I do a fair amount. I teach as well. I teach privately – piano and saxophone to kids really. So that’s part of my stable income. I do adverts as well. It’s hard work and hard to get the work, but I take it when I can it. I’m hoping to do more of that…and the productions for artists that are trying to get record deals. Session work wise, I do functions, I go and play weddings and Barmitzvah’s. I like to keep it varied.
The Dood: So are you going to disappear back into the shadows now you’ve got this album out of your system?
Matti Roots: It depends how this is received. If there is a really positive reaction as there seems to be so far, then I can see myself doing another album. I’ve already written the material for another album actually. I have got a whole heap of songs. Even some of my favourite ones are not on this album. So I’m looking forward to getting those ones out.
But this current album has been a real labour of love – emotionally it has taken a lot out of me…I really hope and pray that this is gonna be received and heard and loved for what it is, and there’ll be an opening for me to continue, because it is really hard being an independent artist. Maybe a label will come on board and they’ll wanna take over the day to day running of things.
The Dood: You’re echoing exactly what the Godfather of UK Soul, Noel McKoy said to me earlier in the year. He’s the MD, Promoter, writer and performer etc all in one. So what next for Matti Roots?
Matti Roots: I’m gonna be doing some gigs in association with Jazz FM. Hopefully there’s gonna be some more spin off’s from this album. I’m working with a girl, Jess Greenfield at the moment who is hopefully gonna be signed.
The Dood: Do you the same buzz writing for other people as you do for yourself?
Matti Roots: I do, it’s a different buzz but I do get a buzz. I’d like to work with more artists – MC’s and singers. Getting this album out is like a homing signal. The bat sign is in the sky – Here I am!! I’d work with Martians, I don’t care.
The Dood: Pluto and Mars pick up the signal and like what they hear and reply, ‘We like your music, send more!’
Matti Roots: I’d work with some Martians and a Plutonian or two!
Michael J Edwards
BeetRoot – Released early 2011
OCD: Out Now