Saturday, October 17, 2009


Contemporary folk-soul singer-songwriter Matthew Santos plays a solo show at the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood this Wednesday, October 21, in support of a new, soon-to-be-released album.

Santos arrives fresh off a 2008 Grammy nomination with hip-hop star Lupe Fiasco for the smash single "Superstar." Santos continues his successful collaboration with Fiasco in the widely viewed Youtube video, "Shining Down" from Lupe Fiasco's third album LASER.

I had a chance to speak with Matthew Santos last week. He's no stranger to L.A., having performed several times last year at Club Nokia and the Staples Center with Kanye West's "Glow in the Dark" tour, on Jimmy Kimmel, and of course the 2008 Grammy Awards.

As a music buff more inclined to old school out-of-print vinyl and idiosyncratic small-label acts, I wasn't sure what to expect from a Grammy nominee with a smash hit under his belt.

"Where are you now?" I asked Santos.
"Chilling at home, eating some potato chips."
"Is this a bad time?"
"Not at all," he replied, "just let me wipe the grease off my fingers."

I knew right away I was talking to someone who hadn't let the bling or bright lights of his recent successes go to his head. A young, but seasoned performer in mid-stride looking to expand his audience, while sticking firmly to his folk-soul roots.

Santos found a sizeable new following in the hip-hop world, but his true musical voice comes from rock and roll. He cites Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, Bjork and The Frames as major influences, as well as jazz icons Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald (catch his scat singing on "Shadows in a Shoebox").

When asked if his dual interests in rap and rock creates any professional schizophrenia, Santos responds, "I view it as a test of versatility. I love to be challenged by different approaches." For Santos, music, whatever the genre, is all about three things: soul, heart and passion. "It's the sweat you put into it that really shines through."

I asked him if hip-hop fans were surprised by his mellow soul-infused folk-rock solo material. "The sound catches people off guard," he replied without hesitation. But Santos has built up a dedicated following of acoustic fans from his work on Candy-Rat records and his Youtube live performances.

With his upcoming album, Santos starts over from scratch. He acknowledges the opportunity to share the big stage with Lupe Fiasco, Kanye and others has enhanced and expanded his musical vision. "Lupe knows what makes a pop song hit, in general. He understands the energy of live performance."

It is this energy that Santos looks to bring on his newest tracks, while maintaining his signature sound. The formula is a balance between tempo and speed. "It's a question of song dynamics and the element of surprise," he notes, citing Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky as examples of fellow artists with similar approaches: starting songs slow and simple, gradually building up the tempo until they become "apocalyptic anthems."

"It's about adding weight, not speed," Santos asserts. With a philosophy like that, it's no surprise Santos prefers whiskey to wine. He's a big fan of the smoky Islay Scotches, Aardbeg and Laphroaig, but calls Jameson his poison "because it goes down so smooth."

We can't disagree, but if you want to go vino at the show, VINE-YL recommends a red like a Joven Tempranillo from Spain: young, but lacking nothing in spice and character.

Here's a sample track from the upcoming album. And another, just for good measure. Check out his myspace page for more info and videos.

Matthew Santos plays the Hotel Cafe in Hollywood, Wednesday, October 21. Show starts at 8pm. Here's links for ticket info and directions. We'll see you at the show!

--posted by Derek, 10/17/09

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