Mattiel: How the rising Atlanta star recovered from illness to make inventive and intelligent rock’n’roll

The Atlantan singer talks to NME about recovery, getting endorsed by Jack White and going on tour with him, keeping up her fierce independent spirit and giving up the day job to focus on music.

Sometimes dreams become reality, but for Atlanta’s rising star Mattiel Brown, realising them were harder than most. Last week, she released second album, ‘Satis Factory’ and is now the full-time musician that she hoped to be as a teenager.

Before she could even realise such ambitions, she had to tackle a traumatic, life-changing event. Five years ago, she had an allergic reaction to a prescription drug almost destroyed her. “My skin became addicted to steroid creams,” she explains. “I had to withdraw from it, which caused major rebound effects. Face swelling, skin cracking. Super-glamorous”, she says.

Her recovery came through a mixture of work and music. Until March this year, she was a graphic designer and was able to use that working environment to rebuild her confidence. Music played a more important part though – it was a form of escapism from the physical aspects of the condition. “I was exhausted, I spent hours in oatmeal baths and didn’t go out much,” she says. “The music helped me stay sane until I withdrew from the steroids.”

Having survived the illness, she maintains that she is glad to have gone through it. “It was horrific, I spent weeks suffering, but that horrible experience led to something great, I needed a creative outlet. I had felt useless for a long time.”

She recovered from the condition in 2016 and keen to create. Mattiel hooked up with high school friends Jonah Swilley and Randy Michael, and they started making music, with key influences being The White Stripes, Black Lips, The Ramones and The Rolling Stones.

Now, Mattiel’s creative, imaginative take on ‘60s rock and roll is a breath of fresh air. ‘Satis Factory’ embodies this and is a blistering, raucous, record which is more assured than last year’s debut. From the rockabilly strut on ‘Rescue You’, the shuddering growl of opening track ‘Til the Moment of Death’, to the bluesy vibe of ‘Millionaire’ and the upbeat country sound on ‘Blisters’ – this record has range, and it covers a lot of ground with remarkable ambition.  

The word split in the title represents a dichotomy for Mattiel: “We continue on to something else, always searching”, explains Mattiel. “We are satisfied, we go to sleep and wake up hungry for more. It’s a positive thing to always want more. Most artists I speak to are smart enough to know that the end result of their work isn’t going to give them the satisfaction that they get from making it. It’s a broad, but pretty important idea. I had to learn that.”

Her raw, husky riot of a voice makes it hard to fathom why she didn’t sing in public until she was 20, but she attributes nervousness and shyness as the show stopper, “I was too vulnerable, it was scary. It was this very vulnerable feeling that you get when you let that kind of emotion out.”

But once she made her voice heard, she received praise and encouragement. “The response from people has been great,” she admits. “I didn’t know what to expect when I started, I was hard on myself. I don’t have a traditional singing voice. Someone who’s a great singer can be really boring. But it worked out.”

One key endorsement came from Jack White, who asked the band to do an in-store show in 2017. “Jack was watching me the entire time with his arms crossed,” she recalls. “That moment convinced me that this wasn’t just a side project anymore. This wasn’t just something fun to do, it was a very influential thing and he was a good witness for that.”

White then asked them to join him on his 2018 tour, and being a huge White Stripes fan, this was the stuff of dreams. “It’s the only music from high school that I hung onto that I can listen to a million times over. I love all the songs.”

Mattiel and the former White Stripe share a passion for the same types of music and a fundamentally DIY approach, but any common ground doesn’t end there – they also have relatives in the same part of the country. “I don’t know him like a close friend, I’ve been to his house, been to parties where we talk”, she reveals. “He’s a wonderful person. We have a lot of similar interests. We both have Midwestern family, my mum’s side of the family is from Detroit. So we have a lot to talk about when it comes to family.”

They have also talked about working together and while it will be glorious if they do, Mattiel is currently excited about her forthcoming tour of the UK and Europe, to the extent that she is even contemplating a move to London. “The response in Europe and England has been fantastic and that’s very exciting, I’d love to spend time over there and I’ve always wanted to. I’m ready to start a life somewhere else.” Mattiel’s journey grows longer and more worthwhile by the day.

Mattiel’s new album ‘Satis Factory’ is out now