Before finding her footing with the project known as Mattiel, Atlanta’s Mattiel Brown took some time figuring out what to do with her life. Eventually, she concluded that, while playing it safe would pay the bills, there was no reason she couldn’t roll the dice on music.
“I was in school studying visual communications, creative writing, poetry analysis, and things like that at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta,” Brown says, on her cell from a New Orleans tour stop. “Then I did a study abroad in Brussels for six months, where I lived in Brussels by myself at a young age. That was a pretty formative time for me. I think when I was abroad, and could be in a city for myself and fend for myself, that I had a moment of realization: that I shouldn’t try and pursue anything other than art in some form. Before that, I was always considering journalism or something like that—all the things your parents want you to do because art is too risky.”
Determined to do something creative, Brown dropped out of school after returning to Atlanta and landed a job as a designer and illustrator with email-marketing giant Mailchimp. Satisfying as that job was, she spent her spare time working towards Mattiel, which released a critically lauded, eponymous debut in 2017 and promptly made some high-profile fans.
Most notable among them was Jack White, who evidently fell hard for Brown’s blend of bourbon-hazed country, film-noir blues, and hazy psychedelia. Mattiel was invited to play White’s Third Man Records complex in Nashville, and the former White Stripe and sometime Raconteur then enlisted her as a support act for dates on his 2018 Boarding House Reach Tour.
Both Mattiel and the upcoming Satis Factory (due out later this month) have cast Brown as someone who has mastered the art of bridging the retro-cool past with the forward-thinking future. To play spot-the-influences, real or imagined, is to cite the likes of Wanda Jackson, the Velvet Underground, Jane Birkin, and the White Stripes. Or, if one prefers, every soundtrack ever lovingly put together by Quentin Tarantino.
Brown seems every bit as comfortable sitting at the lonely, neon-lit end of a roadhouse bar (“Blisters”) as she does stomping through Motown Detroit (“Berlin Weekend”) or ’60s-pop Paris (“Keep the Change”).
The singer’s initial goal was to make sure she didn’t become just another rock act from Atlanta. She notes that the city’s guitar-band scene, in the past, often seemed dominated by those with little interest in standing out.
“I was never really blown away by the bands in Atlanta when I started out thinking about doing music,” Brown says. “I was looking for an outlet to experiment, and it was hard to find because most people in the city were more following trends. I’m talking the people that I would run into—I can’t really make a blanket statement. They weren’t necessarily interested in coming up with something original, but more pandering to whatever was trendy and cool.”
Instead, she positioned herself as one of the coolest artists waiting to break out of the American underground. On that front, Brown is acutely aware that the pop-music landscape has shifted dramatically to rap and hip-hop in recent years, making what she does very much niche-oriented. Still, she has no regrets about taking a while to get to where she is today.
“I’ve just tried to be confident in my own talents and abilities,” she offers. “If people catch on, then fine. If they don’t, I’m not going to spend all my time being bitter about how great it would have been if this had come out in 2005.”
Mattiel plays the WISE Hall on Sunday (June 9).