Exclusive Interview: MATOMA in Canada

By Tiffany Lam. In less than a year, 23-year-old music producer and pianist Tom Stræte Lagergren, known as Matoma, has become an international name in electronic music. Sharing countless remixes of various styles over Soundcloud & HypeMachine, most recently hip-hop/rap mixes with tropical house tweaks, Matoma’s unique sound continues to gain popularity fast. In fact, two remixes have made HypeMachine’s Top 40 Tracks of 2014 list.

Last month, Matoma made his Canadian debut through an exclusive 8-date Canadian Fall Tour, with stops in Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, and more. ITC’s Tiffany sat down with Tom in Toronto just before his show with Thomas Jack at the Hoxton to chat about all things music and uncover the story of Matoma. Check it out after the jump!

MATOMA’s latest and most popular sound today can easily be described as tropical house music mixed with hip hop. Honestly, I have to admit that’s a pretty interesting pairing that surprisingly works out so well. Was there anything particular that gave you this creative direction? 

I was at a pre-party about a year ago in my hometown where I was studying, Trondheim, and we were going to a Calvin Harris show. We listened to a lot of deep house at the pre-party and suddenly there was a guy who put on some nu-disco stuff by Oliver Nelson, Oliver Heldens, etc. All the cool guys. And I kept thinking, if you mix those two together and put on some hip-hop, what do you end up with? It was also around that period where Thomas Jack was blowing up and I really liked the whole tropical sound, so I tried to implement that in my music and it worked.

So I was searching for information about you online, and I realized there really wasn’t that much about you: Who is Matoma? Can you tell us a bit about your musical background and how you got into making electronic music?

I started playing the piano when I was 9 years old, and right before that I played the guitar. I tried to play some drums because I was so inspired by my brother playing, but it didn’t suit me. That didn’t work out so I tried the keyboard and my music teacher said to me that I had really good keyboard harmony. He played Fur Elise and I just sat down on the piano and started playing, and he said “Tom, you have to start playing piano”. So I did classical piano for 8 years, but then I got really tired of it. Actually, I had a scholarship and I was playing a lot of concerts and stuff, but it didn’t suit me at the time when I was 15-16 years old so I bought my own computer and yeah, here I am today mixing music and doing what I like to do.

Any good childhood memories growing up involving music that kind of influenced who you are now? 

I started listening to hip hop maybe 8-9 years old, my brother introduced it to me. Icecube, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Warren G, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg… Old school hip-hop, they have so much soul and passion, and they rap in a different way than the hip-hop music made today. I didn’t start listening to electronic music until I was like 15-16 years old. I listened to a lot of blues and piano rock n roll before that. But when I was 16-17 years old, I started listening to a lot of deep house, house, Swede house like Axwell and Eric Prydz. Armin Van Burren has also been a big inspiration for me, he’s a really good producer and I have a lot of respect for him. On the DJ side, I have to say Carl Cox. I’ve been to a show with Carl Cox in Oslo and he played for 5-6 hours. Techno, you get really tired of it after 2-3 hours but his passion and how he develops the sound around his sets and builds them, is so cool.

How about any music guilty pleasures?

I really like Barry White and Tina Turner. When I was 18 years old and I got my first car, I listened to a track that Tina Turner and Barry White made called “In Your Wildest Dreams” and it’s crazy. The bass is just all over the place. And classical music. I don’t think people see or recognize Matoma to classical music, but I listen to a lot of it. Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart, etc.

That’s very nice because, you know, classical music and hip hop isn’t something that you normally see paired together in one person. So your real name is Tom Straete, but your artist name is MATOMA. Where did the name come from and how does it represent you?

The background is quite funny. I had a really shitty name before MATOMA, like so bad it was embarrassing. I was at a party with my brother and some friends, having a lot of fun drinking, and my brother said to me, “Tom, your name is shit. I’m just being honest with you, you’re my brother love, so we need to figure out a new name”. We just sat at the party, getting more and more drunk, trying different names. My good friend Hendrik said to me, “Tom, you’re a sweet guy, you take life chill – like Timon and Pumba, you take life like hakuna matata” […] and thirty seconds after, my brother said “What do you think about Matoma?!” We had a lot of fun with these words and suddenly Matoma came. And you have ‘Tom’ in it.

And you’re currently doing a whole cross-Canada tour. What’s your take on Canada in comparison to home, Norway?

Canadian people are so nice, like, they are humble, they say hello… One time I was on the street and I bumped into a guy… and he said sorry. So, yeah, the people are really nice and so sweet, and I really like the Canadian landscape. It reminds me a bit of Norway, but at the same time it’s a little different, and the country is so big so it’s a lot to see. The cities are so much bigger than in Norway and you have these skyscrapers. And people here have so much energy and are smiling all the time. The funny part about being on the other side of the Atlantic is that in Norway you get treated like a normal person, but here I’m like, MATOMA. So that’s quite cool. I really enjoy seeing all the fans and I’m really privileged to have the opportunity to travel from one side of the world to another and just play and do what I like to do.

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What did you want to do before you discovered your talent for music? Or have you always had this vision? 

I wanted to be a classical pianist really early in my childhood, like when I was 10 years old I really looked up to [some] Norwegian pianists. But I got tired of practicing and just playing classical music so when I bought myself a computer, downloaded a program and started making some beats and doing some samples, I really enjoyed it. It was around 20-21 years old that I really wanted to live for music, so I applied to the music technology school in Trondheim. Now I have a bachelor’s degree and traveling the world.

Nice. So how would you say, if you weren’t MATOMA today, what do you think you’d be doing?

I would probably take a master in music. When I just finished my bachelor, Matoma just blew up and I got so many offers to play everywhere that it gave me the opportunity to try and live my music, so I took the chance. But I’ve always wanted to work with music; if not traveling and doing my stuff, maybe teaching music or do something with music because it’s a big passion for me. It’s everything.

With so many producers and DJs today, how do you manage to stand out and keep your content fresh? 

I always try to be original and doing new stuff, that’s why I’m doing a lot of nu-disco/ tropical house… soon I’ll be coming out with an official remix for a big English band… It’s cold now like we’re moving into the snowboard and ski season and I felt like it was cool to make something different, so in the future there will be a lot more stuff. I really like the tropical sound and nu-disco feeling so I’m just trying to do what I like to do.

Name 6 things you could never live without.

Family, friends, fans, my music, a piano… yeah, just 5 things. Family, friends and the music is very important for me.

So you don’t even need six things, just five.

And just to spread the love.

Last question: Where do you see yourself one year from now? Tough one, I know.

These last six months have just been mind-blowing and incredible; I can’t imagine just to travel to Canada and have a Canadian tour when you’re 23 years old and seeing people on the other side of the globe like your music. At the show in Vancouver, 3 guys said they came from Japan just to see me play, so it’s just mind-blowing. I don’t know where I’ll be in one year from now because everything is perfect as it is right now, but I hope to maybe have influenced more people with my music and that I can be an inspiration for others to start making music.

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