"Thought Journal" by Brady Matteson

Premiere: Brady Matteson explores the ambient with solo debut, NIVA benefit

Brady Matteson is looking to take some big strides in the world of ambient/electronic music. While keeping busy with his studies at National Louis University, the Chicago musician has also been trying his hand at experimental and ambient electro-pop. Fresh off work on a YouTube series soundtrack project as part of the duo Vanity Contest, today he’s dropping his solo debut, “Thought Journal,” a seven-song collection he created to help raise money for NIVA (National Independent Venue Association). Here are excerpts from a chat we had about the new release:

Your debut solo album, “Thought Journal,” is selling to support NIVA. Tell us why that was such an important part of the release for you.

Well, that was something I had in mind and had done with Vanity Contest a few times earlier this year. Our first few Bandcamp Fridays had made decent money and it was towards NIVA, too. So it seemed like a logical step. Seeing as the current people in charge have been at a standstill on any decent stimulus for months now, giving to NIVA felt like an appropriate choice since the cause can’t keep waiting forever. It’s been heartbreaking seeing other venues around the country shutting down, and I think Chicago is particularly lucky with how passionate our community is with supporting the arts. The same can’t be said for everywhere else though, and giving to a cause that’s going to help everywhere felt especially important.

So with Vanity Contest, you play around with conventions as far as ambient and electronica go. And in your press notes you mention the new album is “not conventional enough” for VC. How so? What were you doing differently?

I think with this project, I went into the headspace of keeping away from being perfect. With those Vanity Contest songs, I put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything to a T. Vanity Contest as a whole has a more intricate sound that has… dare I say “pop” element to it that really isn’t present on this album. Those songs feel far more traditionally structured. The material from these sessions didn’t feel like it fit under Vanity Contest (especially with the follow up material I’ve had cooked up for a while now). Had this been put out under Vanity Contest, I think this would’ve been received as more of a weird detour than “oh, of course this is the next step for this band!” It felt natural to put it out under my own name instead, I haven’t given myself a roadmap if I were to do solo music. With VC, we have a roadmap for our next few releases and I would rather this project stay as its own entity.

I completely understand that. Listening back to VC songs from your last release “Reviewer Beware, Vol. 3,” there are definitely more poppy electro beats in the forefront of most of the songs. (With the notable exception of “Surrounded By Fog,” which to me sounds like a spiritual precursor to this solo work.) Clearly you heavily influence the VC sound, as we can see from this new solo work. So how did you get into ambient in the first place? What appealed to you about it as a genre?

Thanks! That was a really awesome project to work on. I think a big influence on going in a more ambient direction was just feeling like I was in a bit of a creative rut with VC. I took a break from listening to our current works-in-progress and tried to utilize a lot of actual gear I was neglecting in favor of toying around with digital sounds. With “Reviewer Beware,” we used entirely digital instruments and MIDI controllers, and I wanted to go in a different direction for this project (minus a few exceptions towards the second half of the album). The appeal mostly came from trying to go in a direction that maybe wasn’t expected of me.

I guess I could best describe it as feeling a bit like I had too many options when it came to working with digital sounds. Limiting the amount of things I could potentially distract myself with helps.

Man, do I get that. Sometimes I get paralyzed looking at a blank screen — whether it’s writing or graphic design — because there are SO MANY THINGS to try and I’m not sure which direction to head first. Speaking of directions, what’s up next for you? Are you working on more solo pieces? Going back to the studio for more VC work? New projects on the horizon?

Totally. I definitely try my best to avoid getting all “forest for the trees” with music because that’s how I fall into writer’s block. I think for now I’m gonna keep up with my bandmates and try to get another VC EP pulled together. We’ve got a lot of material floating around for that and our second album is slowly but surely happening (but we want to wait until shows are back to really kick that one into gear). It’s already a doozy and it’s not even finished yet. That’s been on the horizon since we started. As for new projects, I recently started @theselightsarekillingme but I have yet to get anything ready to release under that. All I can really say about that one is it’s purely chaotic but kinda awesome! I’m also on the hunt for a label for VC!

Wow! So you have a lot cooking musically as well as scholastically right now. Did you have time during this pandemic to tackle any other interests? Find time for a hobby you’ve been neglecting, catch up on a favorite TV series or learn any new skills?

Ohhh mostly binging American Horror Story while waiting on them to do season 10! School was keeping me busy too and I’m always collecting and checking out new music. I just bought the latest Trent Reznor soundtracks, actually so it’s also been a lot of listening to records and keeping on the job hunt. I also do lots of art on the side (actually in relation to the songs I write) and have been thinking about making that public.

Oh yeah, I know a lot of people who love that show. But you’re working on visual art to go along with your music?

Yeah! I have a hand in a lot of the photography but I do actual art for a lot of our tracks. I usually give the pieces away with merch orders, but I’ve kept a few for myself because they were too nice. 

• Brady Matteson’s “Thought Journal” is out for streaming and purchase at most major services. All proceeds from digital or physical purchases will benefit NIVA. 

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