Mattie Safer has a rich history in New York’s music scene, beginning more than a decade ago as a member of acclaimed indie rock band The Rapture. In 2002, he and his band had the first single released by the now-iconic DFA record label, which originated on the Lower East Side and went on to release music by Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and many other influential artists.
After releasing “House of Jealous Lovers” with The Rapture, Safer went on to release two more albums with the band before leaving in 2009 to start a solo R&B career. He released his first single, “Illusion of Love” in 2010 on Ed Banger Records, and currently has a new album coming out on music producer Paul Epworth’s label, Wolf Tone.
I caught up with Safer to chat about his upcoming show at Rockwood Music Hall, the Lower East Side, and the future of his music career.
Have you ever played Rockwood Music Hall?
Yes, once before and I had the time of my life. It was my first show back after taking a two-year break to work on some things in the studio. A room full of friendly faces and music lovers. I always love seeing artists in that room because of the intimacy and I’m happy that I’ve had and will have again the privilege of experiencing it from the artist side.
What’s your favorite venue to play in NYC and why?
I love playing at Bowery Ballroom because everyone there is so nice and professional and really works hard to make sure it’s a great experience for artists and fans alike. But anywhere there’s a crowd that wants to hear something new and good, I’m happy to be there playing for them.
How would you describe your sound?
Live R&B. Three piece band with a vocal. Organic sounds. Old type of songwriting with a new type of feel. “Life changing” [laughs]
How has living in Brooklyn influenced your sound? Do you find that it’s hard to distinguish yourself in a place where there are so many other musicians?
Wherever you live you are gonna eat up the world around you. What’s nice about Brooklyn (and New York in general) is that there are so many different worlds you can get lost in. You could live like 5,000 different lives here if you wanted. I would much rather be in a place with lots of musicians than very few because there are always new and inspirational artists to meet!
Do you feel that the Lower East Side music scene is still strong? How do you think it’s changing?
A lot of the old hangouts have changed. The crowd has changed. But I’m not one to hang on to neighborhood nostalgia. I think there are good times to be had everywhere and that includes the “new” Lower East Side, too. New York is a city in constant flux – if you cried for every bar/venue/business that closed you would fill an ocean with tears.
Can you tell me a little bit about the beginning of your solo career?
Six years ago I was in a bad place. Uninspired by what was around me, unchallenged and unhappy with my musical life in the band, I was just floating through life. I no longer liked the music I was making in the band and hadn’t for a while but I had always been too scared to do anything about it. But then an amazing thing happened. Out of the blue, Luke [Luke Jenner] quit the band [The Rapture] for about six months and everything changed. With him out of the picture I felt free. It was the most creatively inspired I had been for almost a decade, free again to make exactly what I wanted to make without compromise. New musical ideas floated in, new songs, new inspirations, I found myself drawing from creative wells that I thought had dried up long ago.
There were plenty of things I had kept from the band because there wasn’t a place for them, but with the weight of that legacy off my shoulders I just went for it. A musical world that had felt very stifling was now a world of wide open creative possibility and I was happy again. Eventually, Luke came back to the band, but the door had been opened and I could see that I had to leave. I quit the band and just kept writing and expanding my creativity. As my creative aspirations grew my life changed around it, and all for the better. I was pushing myself further and further and loving every minute of it. Getting all this music together has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me and the most joyful thing I have ever done. I’m happy to be in a place now where I can really begin to share it with people and share my world with people.
Who are some of your favorite artists and biggest influences?
The Impressions — for their harmonies and arrangements, Mary J Blige for her songwriting, the way she uses her music to both paint a picture of her inner torment and to transform that pain into salvation, D’Angelo for the way he brings that vibe to every piece of music that he touches. Stevie Wonder’s musicality and the forward thinking harmonic progressions he brought into the music. Quincy Jones for just being an absolute genius of production and arrangement and always knowing how to get the best out of everyone that he worked with. Dilla and Q-Tip for the way they pushed the sonics into some weirder, psychedelic territory.
Which song are you most looking forward to playing and why?
I love performing my song “Sea Change” because it sums up so much about my life over the last five years. The journey from low to high and the battle between hope and despair that got me there. Singing that song is a catharsis, a very soul-cleansing thing.
Can you tell me a little about the writing process for your songs? Is it collaborative or do you write on your own?
I write the songs on my own for the most part. There’s a song or two where friends have made some helpful suggestions regarding lyrics or chord progressions. But 99% of it has been me on my own. I usually write when I’m deep in thought about something or someone. When I’ve got something in my head that I need to work out. A phrase with a certain rhythm or melody pops in my head and I sit and figure out what it means, what other words or ideas will communicate something, what kind of chords and rhythm match the feeling. Usually by the time I’ve figured out the song I’ve figured out something about my life or lifted myself up and forgotten my troubles.
What’s been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Finding the courage to be myself and do exactly what I want to do, without worrying about what anyone else might think.
What do you see next for your music?
I have a ton of new music recorded and coming out very soon. I’m looking forward to getting it up and out for the world to hear and the opportunities that will afford me to travel and perform for people.
Friday, July 25 // $5 Suggested Donation // 1:00am // 196 Allen Street