Birmingham based Matthew Mayfield traces his musical history like a line, from smoky concert halls and Columbia Records, college dorm rooms and garage band battles, all the way back to a bunk bed. He was a kid living in the suburbs, seven years old, sharing a room with his older brother Tommy. It was late at night, and down the hallway Matthew's father pulled out his 1976 Martin D-28 guitar. He played and sang, classics like "Blackbird" and "Fire and Rain" and early Neil Young, faintly but with enough voice for the silent and still Mayfield boys to hear. "Very few things are quite like a melody," Matthew says. "Even as a little kid, I felt something profound listening to dad sing and play."
Even though his dad was a businessman, those solitary evening sessions lit something inside Matthew. They pushed him to follow the path of a musician, a twisted and narrow journey where simple melodies acted like lanterns.
"I bought Pearl Jam's album Ten when I was 9 years old," Matthew says. A year later, "Mom took me to see Slash's Snakepit," a side project by the Guns' player. When a pretty horrific leg fracture around that time laid Matthew up for half a year, his dad's old Martin sealed the gently-perceptive Alabama songwriter's fate.
Matthew dropped out of college in 2002 and spent nearly two years preparing for a major label release with his band, Moses Mayfield. After multiple cross country recording sessions and nearly half-million dollars spent, the band felt the corporate crunch and was dropped only six weeks into their release. "Canned is the word," Matthew says. "Honestly though, I am more free now than I've ever been."
In 2008, Matthew self-released The Fire EP, an eight song songwriter-distinctive collection recorded in thirty hours for $1,000. The record quickly caught the attention of Birmingham's Live 100.5 radio station, and, in a sense, brought Matthew back to those lonesome bunk bed nights. A guitar and a room. Honest, underdone, a doubting-Thomas authenticity and, yes, palpably melodic. "Pain and secrets," he calls the record.
It's impossible to listen to songs like "Dead to You," "By Your Side," and crowd favorite "Element," and not hear both the influences and kindreds: Eddie Vedder's great no-namer tracks on Vitalogy; Peter Gabriel's atmospheric odes like "Solsbury Hill"; Kings of Leon's sometimes-Delta-bluesyness. "That's the way Muddy Waters would sing about pain," Matthew says about Kings' "Cold Desert" on Only by the Night.
At this point in the journey, Matthew is back in Birmingham. He's had stints on tour with Pete Yorn, Blue October, Switchfoot, and Needtobreathe. He's written enough songs to fill a whiskey barrel. And, he's enjoying newfound open space in the emerald greenery of his hometown. "Whether it's a golf course at midnight or a rooftop downtown," he says. "I hate being crammed. I'm obsessed with freedom." For proof of this admission, ask him about his tattoos. Or listen to the EP.