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Interview: getting to know Matoma

DJ and producer Matoma has only been big on the scene for a few years, but already he has left his mark. His remixes of hip-hop artists like The Notorious B.I.G. helped bring recognition to himself while breathing new life into classic songs, and his own tracks offer a refreshing tropical-influenced experience in the electronic world. Matoma recently played a late-night show at Firefly Festival, and before his show, AXS sat down with him to discuss his career so far.

AXS: Being from Norway, can you tell us a little bit about the music scene there?
Tom Lagergren (T.L.): The music community in Norway is huge, but we like to stick to ourselves. A lot of people in Norway sing in Norwegian, and that makes it hard for them to reach out internationally. We have a few acts right now that are blowing up. Sigrid, with “Don’t Kill My Vibe.” We have, of course, Röyksopp that have been huge in the electronic scene for many many years. Kygo is doing great, Alan Walker was here today playing, he’s from Norway. I think the music scene in Norway is growing, and getting bigger. But we still like to be inspired by our roots. I don’t know if it’s the music that inspires us, or the culture, or the place where we are from, but there’s something that makes our music stand out.

AXS: I find it very interesting that you go by a stage name, yet you’re very open and honest about who you are on social media. What made you decide to do that?
T.L.: Of course there’s some things that I keep private, but I feel that I’m not that guy trying to have that image, or trying to be something that I’m not. I’m an open guy, I love nature, and I love traveling. I love interacting with people, so when I feel a picture I want to share with the people that inspire and support me, I release it. I’m very open with showing people that I make music, but we are equally the same. As long as I treat people with respect and with good energy, then I treat people as they should be treated.

AXS: Your music has often been labeled “tropical house,” which is one of many terms in the genre. As an artist, how do you choose which of these countless sounds to focus on?
T.L.: I don’t. The only thing that I care about is the music. I feel that my music is so diverse. Of course I have songs that are very tropical-inspired. But for me, I think people need to put it under something to recognize it, so they term it “tropical house.” But I feel that music today blends into different genres. As long as people listen to it and like it, I’m happy. If they want to call it trap, or if they want to call it black metal, or tropical, as long as they use the music in the way that they feel is right to use it, then I’m happy.

AXS: From what I understand, you learned piano at a young age. Do you think that background has made its way into your music?
T.L.: I think it makes it easier for me to produce music, especially when I’m doing songwriting or when I’m at camps. For example, the last few days I’ve been in Miami writing music with songwriters. Then I can work fast because I can sit on the keyboard and I can play it and record it at the same time. I don’t need to sit in the software and try stuff out. I have melodies in my head and I can immediately play it, because I know the notes and the chords, and I know the structure of doing that. So, it makes it easier, having that background.

AXS: I’ve heard you have quite a large collection of samples. What makes you decide what to record?
T.L.: When I went to school, I took a bachelor’s in music technology and production at University of Trondheim. I love music, I always loved music, and I’ve been a huge fan of just sampling stuff. I even made my own plug-in with the saxophone and sampled it. I’ve been sampling music for six seven years. Sampling sounds even, just recording sounds. Even if it’s a door knob, or the water from a spring. I always say to myself, that sound I can use in the future. So I have maybe a terabyte of samples now, that I’ve recorded myself.

AXS: How do you feel that you’ve brought classic artists to a new generation of people who would have never heard that music otherwise?
T.L.: I’m proud! I’m happy that they wanted to do it, as well. And that they were so open minded, going outside their comfort zone and doing that. Even artists who have considered retiring, just finding inspiration again, and going in the studio and recording again. And I’m the guy who’s so lucky to end up in the studio with them. It’s very honorable and I’m super happy. For example Sean Paul, I did the track called “Paradise” with him. I had the studio session in LA, and we were just hanging out having fun. That song came together in one day, and then he ended up coming with me for Coachella and performing that song together with me. It was such a huge moment. It was like half a year later he blew up with that "Rockabye" song. It’s amazing to see that I maybe inspired him to recreate himself, in a way where he maybe were a little tired. Not tired, but didn’t have as much inspiration.Then that song came out, and he saw the reaction from the fans, and he wanted to do more collaborations in the pop world.

AXS: Having done both DJing and producing, how do they differ for you, and do you prefer one over the other?
T.L.: No, they’re so different. When I produce I’m in my zone, and it’s only me that I have to think about. When I’m playing shows, it’s everybody. I try to really connect with the people, and I feel that I do it. I read the crowd, and I always have fun. It’s not about being egoistic. When I started out as a DJ in the student community in Trondheim, I got so much hate in the beginning from people. So I just tried to take that criticism and make something positive of it. I started reading the crowd more, I started feeling the room. My mission, I remember, was not to get a single request. The last half year when I was playing, I didn’t get any requests. I love DJing, and I love just spreading good energy and spreading danceable music so people can have a fun time.

AXS: Is there anything on the horizon that you’re excited to share with the world?
T.L.: I’m super excited about the summer, all of the festivals of course. And I have a lot of music that I’m working on. My next single will probably come around soon. I really want to finish the Hakuna Matoma story, wrapping up that album, releasing like a proper traditional album, and then start on a new campaign.
AXS: What about a break?
T.L.: Never! The day I start to think about a break, or think now I’m getting tired of this, then I will quit. It’s better to do it as long as you have inspiration and when you feel it’s right, and to give everything, than to do it halfway. When I lose that, then I will retire and find something else to do. Maybe become a music teacher, I thought about it before, that’s why I went to school. I also applied for one year to become a teacher, to take that degree, but then my music just started blowing up and I thought, I have nothing to lose to try to pursue it. So I did, and now I’m here.

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