Published Nov 14, 2017Years before Toronto producer and musician Matthew Burnett started playing music, he was already vibing out in the womb. "My very first interaction with music happened before I was born," he says with conviction. "My mom, when she was pregnant with me, was taking piano lessons. She had an upcoming exam, and she said that every time she was practicing, I would kick. That was an early indication for her that, 'This one is going to be musical.'"
A mother's intuition is always right; the 26-year old artist has worked with Drake and Eminem (with whom he won a Grammy for his co-production on "Not Afraid") and is currently on tour with Daniel Caesar.
"I started producing when I was in grade nine. I started because Fruity Loops was the new and cool thing. For me it was intriguing, because I was really based in live performance, so I was gigging a lot, playing in a band. [For] all those things, the lifespan of that musical experience is limited. So when Fruity Loops came into my life, it was like, 'Wait a minute, I can make something and export it as an MP3… forever?"
Growing up in a Christian household playing piano and drums, Matthew's musical experience, including the way he produces, is heavily rooted in gospel music. "It was a blessing and a curse," he says. "I'd like to say that it sped up the process in terms of my ear developing, and my appetite for music. It was a huge tool for me in terms of helping develop my craft, and translate what I was hearing and be able to manipulate it myself." Ironically, today Matthew calls Coalition Music — a church-turned-music complex in Scarborough, ON — his musical home.
With plaques hanging on the walls, several instruments lined up (including Fender bass and jazz bass guitars, a Roland Juno-60 and a Moog SUB 37), software like Spectrasonics and FabFilter and a Nintendo 64 proudly placed in the corner, the studio space feels like home.
"When I first started making music, making beats, it was under Boi-1da. Our formula was [that] he would do the drums, and we would produce the melody together," he says. "1da, to me, has one of the best senses of rhythm in the game, hands down. As a live player, for me, it's a different mindset for how I'd approach something playing live versus producing it — in my opinion, you can't approach them in the same way. 1da really showed me that you could be creative — he showed me that your drums don't have to sound like everyone else's. You can use elements of your live experience and just make it unique — find that happy medium and make it you," he continues.
"My best stuff comes to me in the shower," Burnett says laughing. "Sometimes I have a drum groove in my head, and I'll come out and record it, and then I'll add the melody afterwards. Sometimes it's a lead line or actual chords, and afterwards it's a matter of me saying, 'Okay, what's the drum line? What is this rhythm? What's the energy under these chords that I have?' There's no wrong or right way, I just feel like because I can do both, why not?"
As for the Nintendo 64? "It's absolutely necessary," he confirms. "When we were doing the Danny [Caesar] record, that was very instrumental. I always tell people that you need a break, you need an outlet, whether in the studio or outside. For me, it's good because we may be making something, and in a moment where we hit a bit of a roadblock or just need to take a second and step back from it, take a breath and re-analyze what we're doing, it's perfect for that."
Recently, Burnett's co-production on Caesar's "Get You" launched it to Gold status in North America. "We all knew was special from day one, and just to see it connect the way we had hoped, but didn't know that it would, and surpass our expectations, was so humbling," he says.
"Everybody wants to know what's Toronto's secret, like 'You guys have the sauce over there,'" Burnett says. But for him, it's simple. "If you come to Toronto, you have no other choice but to sit inside and make beats because it's cold as shit. That's just what it is. You can hear it in our music sonically, and even the way the drums hit, it's very rigid and just rude. We have nothing else to do but stay inside, work on music and do what we love."