A South African multi-instrumentalist blending Mumford-honouring nu-folk and layered production, who’s gone from winning songwriting contests to making chart history
Name: Matthew Mole
Location: Cape Town, South Africa
Style: A one-man Mumford & Sons meets Passion Pit
Born in Cape Town, this 21-year-old singer-songwriter never thought he’d become a full-time musician, but his father taught him how to play the guitar and started him off playing covers, and now Matthew Mole is well on the way to being just that. As we learn from Matthew, it all comes from a genuine love of songwriting, rather than any serious career choice: “I started writing my own songs at the end of high school — I had no idea what I was doing, I was just writing the worst songs in the world! I just loved the idea, so I wrote as much as I could.”
He went on to study music production after school, which informs his approach to writing music – starting with a lyrical idea, a rhythm or a melody, he records different instruments, switching back and forth, until the layers gradually build into a finished song. This technique was used to great effect in the genesis of stomping folk-pop single Take Yours, I’ll Take Mine. As Matthew recalls, “I had a tempo on the computer and started banging shoes against the wall, getting this cool sound, and from there I picked up a banjo and went for that folky upbeat thing.” This would be the first time he’d record with a banjo, rather than guitar, but the piano and other instruments also find their way into the songwriting process. “If I feel I’m doing the same thing then I’ll sit down with a different instrument,” he says. “Even if I sit down with a different acoustic guitar, it’ll inspire a slightly different idea.”
Modern folk bands such as Mumford & Sons are a clear influence, but Matthew’s production-led style is also informed by electronic music like Passion Pit. This contrast of the acoustic and electronic is a subtle backdrop to the debut LP The Home We Built, which became an iTunes No.1 album in July – the first time a native South African had ever reached the top spot.
The Matthew Mole live show sees the singer-songwriter juggling guitar, synth, kick drum and triggered beats on stage. A potentially complicated set-up, but Matthew confesses, “It’s a lot simpler than it sounds!” Although mainly performing on home soil, winning a Converse songwriting competition meant he won the prize of a gig at London’s 100 Club, and a recording session at the clothing brand’s studio in New York. This brief visit to foreign shores has whet Matthew’s appetite and he hopes to tour in the UK, US and beyond in 2014.