Matthew Tomasi isn't afraid of a 20-minute cover song
talkin' riffs with the leader of 9Million
Matthew came highly recommended from the legendary Jacqueline Codiga — as a producer, he has worked with incredible artists like Ethel Cain and Nicole Dollanganger, and now as part of 9Million, he has released Gush, a mixtape of sleek shoegaze tunes. He’s got RIFFS, my friend, not to mention an affectionate cover of Sky Ferreira’s “Everything Is Embarrassing.” Yet another pinpoint in the chart that I am constantly adding to / connecting with red strings that says ROCK ISN’T DEAD, DUDE.
When I talked to Matthew, he was in the middle of wrapping up the mixtape and working out logistics for a North American tour (Matthew’s based in Toronto) supporting Glitterer. We talked about the weirdness of audio engineering school, his producing style, the album-vs-mixtape dichotomy, and the constant creative question of “Wait, am I doing this wrong?” Get in2 the conversation (edited for length/clarity) below…
I'd love to talk to you about 9Million and all the stuff that you're working on with that. But would you first tell me a little bit about your musical background?
I started playing drums in grade four. My family's not a super musical family, but I had a close family friend who played drums, and I thought he was really cool. He was playing in local metal bands. Then in high school, I started recording all my own bands. I bought some little mixer and a program for my computer. I did a co-op when I was in grade 11 at a post house that did commercial work, and then I did a one-year recording program.
It was weird, though. Recording school is such a trippy concept to me. I was just like, oh my god, let's hurry up and get to the fun stuff, and it never really got there.
Yeah, I feel like especially with the tools and the software that people have now, you can really self-teach, so why doesn’t audio school incorporate that?
The industry changes so quickly that this school was trying to learn how to teach people as they’re trying to keep up with the times. I was learning a bunch of stuff on consoles, but people are just mixing in the box now. You’re learning all of this analog console stuff, but you don't really need to know any of it.
Right, unless there's an apocalypse that removes all the current technology and goes back to the caveman times.
I know you have worked as a producer for other people. How did you get into that world?
I had friends who knew I was recording out of my basement, so that's how I started. I learned a lot through working alongside with a lot of talented people. I played drums in this band Iris after recording their demo. That was my first band that was not a hardcore band. But I feel like I was in the background in a lot of my early bands, because I didn’t really know how to play guitar yet. As I became more confident, I started new projects and trying new things, and leaning into thoughts and ideas I had.
Then working with Nicole [Dollanganger] was really what pushed me into becoming a producer. It was a lot more open, just the two of us working on things. It forced me into learning a lot.
Do you feel like you have a particular producing style, in terms of working with other people? I know it's cliché, but thinking of, like, Rick Rubin being like, "I’m just hangin’ out...”
That's fully my vibe too. A lot of stuff is just someone showing me a voice note on their phone, and me saying “that’s cool, let’s start with that.” I’m not trying to change things too much on people. With demos, we end up using layers and stems from within it, because that’s where the idea starts.
Sometimes I feel like I just do everything wrong. [laughing] Anybody that works on music has that feeling, where you get in your own groove of doing things and you're like, is this right? I don’t have a formula, I don’t even have templates in my ProTools. Every time I just open up a blank session.
I feel like that's such a creative thing in general, being like, wait a second — is there a right way to do something, and therefore am I doing this wrong? And are people going to point at me and be like, you don't even know what you're doing! But you just gotta go with the flow. It’s like they say, there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.
I never heard that one before.
Oh yeah, that was a candy commercial from the ‘90s in the U.S. I'm an ancient being. Okay, so tell me about 9Million. When did that get started?
I'm realizing this for the first time right now — I had this other band that I started with my friend Norm called Nylon Spirit, and that was just an alt rock kind of thing. We only had three songs and then the band fizzled. But that band was me starting to do this indie shoegaze kind of project.
I started having these ideas and riffs, and then the pandemic hit so I was on my own working on them. It felt very loose, a creative outlet to experiment with different ideas. The riff in “Why” was the first 9Million riff that I was like, this has to be a band. I was dropping singles slowly, and then I decided to release it all as a mixtape. I decided to call it a mixtape because it felt like an easier way to let the songs go and not feel like it had to be super cohesive. But in the end, it was more cohesive than I expected it to be.
So would you say with 9Million, is writing the riff always the first thing that happens?
Sometimes I have an idea for the song before the riff, but yeah, it’s honestly rare that I'm writing bars before I have something to write to. But I think that's because I'm not a singer first. I'm definitely a musician before I’m a vocalist. I was excited to do this because I was like, this will teach me how to sing.
And going back to before, I was going to ask you about the mixtape categorization, but your explanation makes total sense.
Yeah, I wanted to release something longer than an EP without having to call it an album because I don't want this to be my debut record. I have ideas and songs that I want to be on the debut LP — we have probably 20 demos right now. But the mixtape comes out in two weeks. I'm literally working on it right now.
Ha! Still recording new instruments for it, or just finishing mixing?
[spinning webcam to show recording software] I'm recording stuff on this song right now.
I love this and support this.
Everything's done but this cover. I'm doing this Sky Ferreira cover…I don’t know, I started doing it and was like, this is so fun to just do a straight up cover. I didn’t make too many changes to it. The instrumentation is very similar to the original. And I like it, but I had an idea literally half an hour ago to do a version of the cover without the drum tracks, so it’s just slowed-down synths, like a 20-minute song. I had the back of the CD already done with the tracklisting, so I’ll just add that song and not list it on the back.
I Enjoy Music roundup
If you’ve made it this far, you enjoy music, which means you will also, in theory, enjoy the daily-ish music blog I have started, called I Enjoy Music. Here are some recent posts from the blog to check out at your leisure. Click the image and it will take you to the blog post!