Welcome to Spotlight Series, a monthly feature shining a light on emerging local music makers in the stellar music community in Manitoba. Come back every month for a new interview!
By Graeme Houssin
For Garden Hill First Nation-based recording artist and producer Mattmac, 2020 was a year of incredible momentum – and he has no plans to slow down.
Mattmac has been blind from birth, and combined with growing up in a small northern community, this meant the 20-year-old grew up feeling “stuck in his own head”.
“At age eight is when I was really starting to discover that I was blind, and that kind of fed into my struggles”, Mattmac said. “It was also around that time, growing up in Garden Hill, I realized isolation because I would always go back and forth between Garden Hill and Winnipeg and that allowed me to understand that I’m isolated from the rest of the world.”
Now, Mattmac harnesses those same feelings of isolation to inspire his music, combining thoughtful and heartfelt lyrics over self-made tracks.
On top of playing guitar and piano, he uses voiceover apps to record, make beats, produce, and mix his own music. He was exposed a variety of music growing up, including gospel, rap, and rock, all of which inspire his current self-described “melodic pop trap beat” sound.
“Nowadays I’m influenced by a lot of rappers, but I feel my gospel start allowed me to develop my voice in such a unique way,” Mattmac says. “The style and where I come from – you hear that in my music.”
His music career kick-started in 2016 when arts and education organization N’we Jinan visited Garden Hill and invited Mattmac to collaborate.
“That was my first time writing with somebody, recording with other people and that was my first time seeing another person’s recording process and writing process,” Mattmac says.
Together they wrote, produced, and released the single “Help You See”, launching Mattmac’s profile to new heights. The accompanying music video, also shot in partnership with N’we Jinan, has been viewed over 51,000 times on YouTube to date.
The video drew the attention of renowned Canadian artist Nelly Furtado, with whom he performed at both the 2017 Indigenous Day Live celebration at The Forks in Winnipeg, and WE Day Canada 2017 on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
“I remember being nervous, at first, but as soon as I got in front of the crowd on Indigenous Day, the crowd and the energy were just amazing,” Mattmac says.
In November 2020, Mattmac released his debut, eight-track album: 20/20.
“20/20 really describes where I’m at with my life – my struggles with my relations, my struggles with myself, my mind,” he says.
Production began in late 2019 and continued through 2020, even during province-wide lockdowns due to COVID-19. The majority of production – including recording, producing, and mixing – took place in Mattmac’s bedroom in Garden Hill.
“Producing the album and making it come together, it was quite an interesting experience,” Mattmac says. “It allowed me to learn and develop myself as an artist and producer. It allowed me to express myself in a way that I’ve been wanting to for a while.”
The album rocketed to success. 20/20’s lead single “Paradise” earned over 50,000 streams on Spotify and earned the number one spot on the Indigenous Music Countdown weeks after its release. The accompanying music video now boasts over 74,000 views.
He also earned media attention, including nods from the CBC Indigenous, Winnipeg Free Press, CBC, CTV, Global, and a spot on Ace Burpee's 100 Most Fascinating Manitobans list, and was one of the winners of our own Canadian Songwriter Challenge.
Currently, in between producing and making beats for other artists, Mattmac is working on his second full-length album: Blurred Visions, set for a summer 2021 release. This project involves “a lot more collaborations”, Mattmac says, including continuing to work with Blind and Famous, an online collective of blind musicians and producers of which Mattmac is a member.
“Blurred Visions is really going to be something else,” says Mattmac. “I’m going to try and experiment with where I can take my sound. I’m excited.”
Listen to Mattmac’s debut album 20/20 now on Bandcamp and all major streaming services.
Graeme Houssin is a freelance music journalist, beadwork artist, and dabbler in many creative arenas, as well as a proud citizen of the Métis Nation. They are the founder of Drag in the Peg, a podcast series celebrating Winnipeg's drag community.