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Mateo Says Alicia Keys ‘Ups My Standards’ in the Studio

Charley Gallay, Getty Images

You could say Iman “Mateo” Jordan is a hopeless romantic. “I know it sounds cliché,” the Ohio singer-songwriter-pianist tells The BoomBox with a hint of amusement in his voice. “But I have to describe my music as love. I think everyone can relate to that.”

Indeed, the crooner, who was signed by producer Kerry “Krucial” Brothers and Grammy-winning superstar Alicia Keys to the Krucial Noise imprint in 2010, wears his heart on his sleeve.

His 2011 mixtape ‘Love & Stadiums’ is huge on love, breakups and redemption. With his official EP debut, ‘Love & Stadiums II,’ led by the Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz-featured track ‘Say It’s So,’ Mateo sat down with The BoomBox to discuss his rising career, working with a modern day R&B icon and why today is the best time to be a musician.

What was the concept behind your mixtape ‘Love & Stadiums’?

We were basically just trying to describe the music. The hardest question to always answer is, “What does the music sound like?” I mostly do love songs. But the stadium part comes from the big drums and the instrumentation that we use, which has a big, arena sound. It’s that type of music where it really feels like you are in a stadium for a show. That’s how we came up with the title.

You were one of the first artists to sign with MySpace Records before signing to Krucial Noise. Why didn’t it work out for you?

I’m not sure it totally didn’t work out for me. But when I signed to MySpace Records, it was an incubation period for me. I was able to hone in on my style and sound of music that we were trying to create. When I signed to MySpace, I did so thinking that music was going towards new media and online and that being with MySpace would be a really good look. But that didn’t work out as well as I had planned, but on the flip side I became a better artist. We put out a live EP a couple of years back ['Get To Know Me: Live at Swing House']. We started forming online and blog relationships. But by the time I was ready, MySpace was on the decline and I was ready to get out. And it was all perfect timing. We had already gone on tour and made a lot of relationships in the business. We were really prepared for the next situation to come about.

Watch Mateo’s ‘Say It’s So’ Video

Let’s talk about that situation for a moment. You were able to sign with Kerry “Krucial” Brothers’ label Krucial Noise. What does it mean to be associated with someone that has been a huge part of the career of a superstar artist like Alicia Keys?

It’s amazing. I first got to meet Kerry through a VJ at MTV’s ‘TRL.’ We were trying to get Kerry to do a remix on one of my records that was coming out. Since then, we just kind of kept in contact and when I was leaving MySpace he was like, “Yo, I’m starting a new label. I want you to be my first artist.” And that was perfect for me because I knew the standard of music that he’s created with Alicia Keys. It’s been unparalleled. The music that they have created has helped to define the first 10 years of the century. What I loved about their sound is it was authentic and it was different. They were never trying to chase radio. Kerry and Alicia stuck to being themselves and yet they were able to go mainstream. And they won with that. That’s something that I wanted for my career and music.

What was the biggest change for you after signing to Krucial Noise?

I went from working out of a bedroom studio to working at a huge studio with all the equipment you could ever want. Kerry and Alicia are the type to get gear. If they need a vintage guitar they will go out and get it and that’s very rare today because all the sounds are made from computers. It’s a really great experience. It ups my standards in terms of the music making process.

You have several guests on the mixtape including Goapele — on the track ‘Don’t Shoot Me Down’ — who is viewed as one of the most underrated R&B vocalists of her era. What was it like recording with such a talent?

She has one of the most beautiful voices. It’s one of those things where there are people who have had training to sing. But with her, it’s all about God-given talent. The sound and texture of her voice is amazing. And she is one of the most underrated artists out there. It was a pleasure working with her. And we also have backing vocals from Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz on the song ‘Say It’s So,’ which is featured on my EP ‘Love & Stadiums II.’

‘Don’t Shoot Me Down’ samples and takes the name of Lil Wayne’s original track from ‘Tha Carter III’ album. What made you use that groove?

It’s funny. A while back ago I was playing around the idea of it. I loved that Wayne track because it sounded a little alternative… it had that gangsta bass in there as well. We just started kind of flipping it and it came out great. I played it for Kerry and he liked the record. And I was Lil Wayne fan. I just think that what he is able to do is so different. It’s the same way I feel about Kanye West. Urban music is going into the direction where you are incorporating a lot of different genres and influences. The sounds could even come from overseas. I think that’s really dope. This is a great time to make music.

Watch an Interview With Mateo

You come from a very diverse musical family. How did that impact you?

My grandfather was a pretty big jazz and blues guitarist in Ohio, which is where I’m from. He played for King Records, which was based in Cincinnati. He was playing for James Brown and Charles Brown and a lot of different artists. And my grandmother on my dad’s side of the family was a touring singer and musician. She’s the biggest diva in the world. She will wear a gown right now and kill it [laughs].

So music was in your blood, huh?

Yes! And my dad plays guitar. So when I came into this world they were like, “You are going to do something musically.” I started playing classical piano at five and I started performing at every Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday without will [laughs]. But I never wanted to do music professionally. I thought it was dead-end, so I went the regular path of going to college. But music was always around me.

What can fans expect from your first studio album?

The music is coming out amazing. It’s the best music that I have ever created. There are some defining songs. When we come out with it [in 2012] it will definitely stand out. It’s all about love and relationships. But it’s that feel you don’t get from urban music today. My sound is very euphoric. It feels like you want to scream it out. It’s like performing at a Coldplay concert. It’s really anthemic.

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