August 8, 2012 - Posted by El Guero Unico
I find myself fortunate to be able to spread my wings a lot here on Generation Bass. I have a strong background in jazz and have wished to be able to write more about it online. Among post-punk and new wave, jazz is a genre I can talk your head off about with a vast and rather ridiculous memory bank of stories about its rich history.
A while back I fortunately stumbled upon the miraculously beautiful tune Beautiful Dreamer sung by Carolyn Malachai. I found myself to be immediately captivated and intrigued by all whom were involved in the production. This is when I found the name Matthew Shell a producer at Working Notion Entertainment in the D.C. area. Then I saw this brilliant video of the song.
For me to really get into lyrics especially of an uplifting nature, they must really be good. I am just as tired as the rest of you of cheesy song attempts that lack in showing that any real thought went into them. You know what I mean those cookie-cutter silly tunes sung by some child star with no world experience. Well I’m pleased to say Beautiful Dreamer is not one of those. Instead it’s honest and real. Not only are the vocals provided by Carolyn intoxicating but also the rhythm just hits the spot where one finds their self not being able to sit still while listening. The bass kicks in with this funky soulful groove and all the pieces come together forming a perfect song that hits right there one’s soul.
I went on to listen to more and more productions from Matthew Shell and never ceased to find joy in all that I heard.
Fortunately Matthew granted an interview with me so I could figure more out about what’s behind all this beauty and powerful music. I implore you to listen to this next instrumental as you read the interview. It makes for a perfect soundtrack.
El Guero: Now I find your music to be heavily influenced by Jazz and R&B. Have these genres always been an interest to you?
Matthew Shell: Yes. Jazz and R&B have been two of my favorites. Since an early age, my song writing mentor Andre Law instilled in me a love for Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye and R&B bands and artists with soul and extraordinary musicianship. I also played guitar at church, where our music leader Dr. Henry Lee Joyner had us playing a lot of jazz. Dr. Joyner gave me many opportunities for guitar solos. I got a lot of my guitar chops and experience in soulful improvisation from church and our unique expression of worship to God. Every song had key changes so that made all of us on the team strong at playing by ear. Also, these experiences heavily influenced my song writing and focus on expressing soulfulness.
El Guero: Who are some of your inspirations with regards to producing?
Matthew Shell: Quincy Jones has always been my favorite since I heard his Bossa Nova orchestrations and of course his work with Michael Jackson. “Rock With You” is one of my favorite songs of all time. It always inspired me that Mr. Jones worked extremely well with the best musicians and vocal artists in the world. He has a way of bringing the best out of people. Arif Mardin is another favorite producer of mine for this reason. An amazing orchestrator, as heard in his work on “A Song For You” performed by Donny Hathaway, but more importantly Mr. Mardin inspired the artists he worked with. From the Bee Gees to Norah Jones, he inspired and was loved by everyone he worked with. My favorite Arif Mardin quote highlighting his humorous side is, “The key to a successful recording session is ordering food.”
El Guero: How long have you been producing music and how long have you been playing?
Matthew Shell: I’ve been playing piano and other instruments since I was three years old. Producing and writing have been a part of my life since my high school years when I started writing music and recording on my tape player and boom box. I soon bought Pro Tools software, but I only got substantially better at music production when I swallowed my pride of saying “I learned it on my own” and I got formal production and engineering training in 2006 at Omega Studios. For a while, I was performing guitar at Christ Church of Rockville every Sunday morning and helping with live sound for two night services at McLean Bible Church where I was recruited after finishing my studies at Omega. My first professional production, engineering, and mixing gig was for Marcus Johnson on the album “FLO Chill”. During a dinner break at the MBC live sound gig, sound director Kevin Gutierrez happened to see me looking at an email from Marcus Johnson where he was congratulating us on making it to #7 on Billboard’s Jazz Charts. Kevin said, “Why didn’t you open your mouth and tell me you were a producer and sound engineer?” This led to Kevin hiring me at Assembly Line Studios where he taught me about music production and gave me extensive hands on experience in engineering audio. Kevin was very generous to let me sit in on sessions and eventually direct recording sessions on my own.
El Guero: I noticed one major quality about your engineering skills, all the instruments from rhythm to vocals to leads are extremely mastered well where one can hear each instrument clearly. Where did you study to obtain this skill?
Matthew Shell: I learned all the basics of audio engineering from Omega Studios but at Assembly Line Studios, Kevin Gutierrez gave me intensive hands on training in the form of drum engineering for O.A.R., Rome In A Day, and many other rock bands. Also, he let me run all of the R&B vocal recording sessions that came through to the studio. There was one year where I did over 140 songs of audio engineering for different artists and bands. A lot of practice and hands on training is how I developed my skills as an engineer.
El Guero: Where is your studio located?
Matthew Shell: Assembly Line Studios is located in Vienna, VA.
El Guero: Not only are the Jazz and R&B genres incorporated into your productions but also there is a fusion and rock element. Which way musically do you personally prefer to lean? As producer? As Musician?
Matthew Shell: Great observation. I love rock music, jazz, etc. but I enjoy working on anything with live instrumentation, quality musicianship and soulful vocals. I try not to be confined to any specific genre. Flute, classical piano, electric guitar, and djembe combined together in the same song does not feel at all odd to me. Good music is good music.
El Guero: What are your goals as a producer/musician? Where do you wish to go with it and what do you wish to obtain?
Matthew Shell: Having a legacy of great music is the goal. I want everything that I work on to exude excellence and originality.
El Guero: How do you see the present and future of jazz? (Where do you see it now and where do you see it going)?
Matthew Shell: True musicianship, creativity, and soulfulness will keep jazz relevant and evolving. Prince, Chris Botti, Sting and the musicians from Hidden Beach are a few of my favorites on the scene right now because of their incredible live shows. Even if jazz is not number one on the radio, true jazz artists with amazing live shows will continue to thrive.
El Guero: Personally I have a theory about what is happening in the R&B scene. It looks like it’s no longer mainstream which is a good thing because it weeds out the poor (pop artist product) talent and leaves the best standing. The people that are really talented in the genre and work in it more for love. I see the R&B singers that were mainstream a few years back moving (or already entirely moved) into the dance/club music scene which has become the mainstream due to record companies adjusting to the modern changes in the music industry. Do you agree at all with this theory? If so great and please feel free to add your thoughts. If not then please share your opinion
Matthew Shell: This is an interesting observation. I don’t know if I fully agree, but I do agree that R&B is changing for the better. Maybe our culture’s perception of what is R&B is broadening. For example, Gotye and Kimbra are two of the most popular artists of the year, and they are strongly rooted in R&B. Search for “music video” on YouTube and their song “Somebody I Used To Know” is one of the first videos to come up. They are even getting rotation on the R&B stations. All this to say that R&B is alive but it is changing. If the success of Adele, Gotye, and Kimbra are indicators of the changing times, then soulful vocals, musicianship and live instrumentation is becoming more and more appreciated by average listeners.
El Guero: What can we see coming from you in the near future? Any new record releases?
Matthew Shell: “Trey Eley & Matthew Shell Present: Freedom” is my next collaborative jazz album project due out on August 30th. Following that, new collaborative remix releases will be coming from DJ Flexx, Kenny Wesley, D2D, and a new jazz album by the Marcus Mitchell Project. This project was especially cool because instead of layering part by part, Marcus Mitchell’s musicians played together all at once in the studio to best replicate their incredible live performances. Also coming soon are music videos for my collaborative songs “The Moment” and “Believe” with Danielle Withers from Afro Blue on NBC’s “The Sing Off”, Javier Starks and other great artists.
Here is the original track to download with an awesome spoken word intro.
This is a newer one featuring vocalist Danielle Withers. It’s another beautiful soulful song with excellent musicianship.
Another one showing off the great talent of Matthew and those he works with. It has truly beautiful vocals by Taurus Soul.
This next one shows a different side. More electronic and dance oriented with use of live instrumentation. The guitar in it is really crazy. It reminds me of Muse a bit.
This one has some nice Latin soul vibes going on.
Here is a special and beautiful tune featuring Danielle Withers, Matthew Shell and the now retired musician Marcus Mitchell on sax.
Last up is the video and track from his newest production cover of the Michael Jackson classic Rock With You. It features Trey Eley again playing his beautiful flute and Kenny Wesley on vocals.
Follow Matthew Shell on Twitter www.Twitter.com/MTS_music