Matthew Mayfield - Irons in the Fire EP
Producer: Paul Moak
Release Date: June 11th, 2013
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
It's only been 13 months since Matthew Mayfield released his second full-length, A Banquet For Ghosts. It was a stripped down, live performance driven effort resulting in his most honest release yet. This time around, he's got four fresh songs that draw from the strengths of both of his previous records. He's tacked on a few extra treats as well, so whether you're new to the show, or already a fan, there's something here for you.
The EP busts open with the rousing "In or Out." It carries a similar character to "Track You Down" off of Ghosts. The twang of the guitar leads into Mayfield singing: "Wake up my heart dear / and shake back the beat / she bends off all my faults / but she won't let me see / she ain't right / but she's always on my mind..." The song takes a turn at the two minute mark with a spectacular bridge section ending in a shattering solo. "In or Out" was a wise choice for a single.
"Look Me In The Eye" blew the rest of the songs away on first listen. It's that feel-good, radio friendly song, yet the lyric set seemed to contain something a bit more complex. The imagery in the second verse reminded me of the work in Now You're Free, his first full length, so I asked Matthew to elaborate: "There's so much great imagery out there -- and I feel like very few things resonate more than the ocean. It's a powerful, undeniable force that we all know about. I spent a couple weeks every summer down in the panhandle and like everyone else, found myself inspired by everything it represents. 'Look Me In The Eye' is a song about options. It's about a desire to feel truly unique in someone else's eyes. It's easy to be the right fit for few months or even a few years. But what about a lifetime? That push and pull drives me insane. But it makes for good songs... I hope." The chorus here is one of the strongest I've heard from him, so I was shocked when he sacrificed a third go around. To my amazement, however, he replaced it with something much more fitting.
The remaining two new songs might be two of Mayfield's strongest tracks on the slow end of the spectrum. Some artists might view it as risky to include so many slow songs but, as I've seen in his previous releases, he nails it every time. "Miles and Miles" delivers a slightly detached, unexpected middle section that helps the song finish strong. There's a stripped down version included as well, with strings added but I would have preferred a stripped version of one of the first two tracks instead.
The one thing you'll notice about Mayfield's discography, is that it's very EP heavy. He's now cranked out 8 EPs and 2 LPs. I don't think I've ever seen that in an artist, so I asked him about it. He replied with a very well written response: "These days, whether we like it or not, the album is dying. Sure, Radiohead can put out a triple album with 18 B sides and everyone at the show will sing the words to every single track. But they made it in a different era. A time where the art form was valued by folks who had no choice but to buy albums at stores the same way they bought paintings at art galleries. But they got so much more. They got liner notes, quality deep cuts, thoughtful artwork. Nowadays it's a thumbnail image and some mp3s. I (like many music fans) still love the old model. However, it's important to realize I HAVE to adapt or else I can't pay my bills. I can't afford the old way of doing things. So I'm doing it my own way and trying new things. It's a grind, but it's working out well so far." Releasing EPs results in an almost constant stream of tracks. It also allows the artist to experiment, knowing that if a certain EP doesn't resonate with the fans, you don't have to wait long to try something else.
"Follow You Down" ended up being my favorite from the EP. It just sounded so different than anything he's done in the past. His voice during the chorus is just too raw and honest to pass up. Similar to "Miles and Miles" there's a break towards the middle that divides the song up beautifully.
"Tonight" and "Fire Escape," favorites from Now You're Free, make a remastered appearance here. They're perfect complements to the new material, and great starting points for those looking to discover Mayfield's past work.
Irons In the Fire is a fantastic showcase of Mayfield's talents and a great step forward. Each song seems to have a little bit of experimentation in it. The delicate balance between both of his styles makes the EP incredibly robust. In talking about this balance, Matthew mentioned: "I'm super two-faced when it comes to music. I have to be. Both of those worlds are equally represented inside my heart."
I asked Matthew about his recording process, and how he and producer Moak have evolved over the years. His answer is the perfect conclusion: "It changes all the time, song to song. I never want to be locked into a routine because it's too safe. The magical moments on any record happen when you find yourself outside of that comfort zone. I like going out of the box when it comes to getting sounds and figuring out a unique way to capture them. It's so important for me to work with a musical producer (like Moak) who brings in ideas that are far from typical. I try to avoid click tracks and metronomes and I pray that myself or the drummer are a little off the grid. No robots allowed. <smiles> I bring plenty of imperfection to the table, and at the end of the day, I think that's what people like the most. I want to sound like a guy in a room with a guitar. Because that's exactly what I am."