Welcome back to Local Spotlight, where we profile great local talent from across Alberta. If you’re reading this, it means one of two things: 1) you tolerate my writing, and 2) you appreciate good music by good people. This week I spoke with Mitch Holtby, otherwise known as Mitchmatic, about SXSW, the Edmonton music scene, and his latest project.
This is Local Spotlight.
Local Spotlight: An Interview With… Mitchmatic
When I went into this interview, I was under the impression that I would be interviewing Mitchmatic; Edmonton based jazz-funk rapper trying to make a name for himself in the industry. By the end of the interview, it was clear that Mitchmatic was more than just, well, Mitchmatic. He was Mitch Holtby, talented musician, local scene connoisseur, and serious music fanatic. He was also Mitch Holtby, the drummer of Faith Healer. And Mitch Holtby of Bud Frasier & the Electric Razors. And Mitch Holtby, stand in drummer for Diamond Mind. And Mitch Holtby, featured saxophone player for Motorbike James. Do you see where I’m going with this yet? The guy is undoubtedly talented, and has a wealth of music knowledge that only comes from years of throwing yourself into the game head first.
Originally from Clearwater, BC, it wasn’t until Mitch moved to Edmonton in 2006 that he began to find his stride in the music scene. Growing up, Mitch played saxophone in band class in Grade 6, which over the years developed into the instrument army of the piano, hand percussion, drums, bass, guitar, and really “whatever’s necessary” for the artist to make the sounds he needed. Saxophone was the only instrument that Mitch had previous instruction in, with all other’s being self-taught “When you’re just using your fingers I feel like it’s all the same, it’s just muscle memory.” Mitch notes. And the artillery has no finish line in sight quite yet, “The one that I’ve thought about buying is just another percussion one, the Brazilian instrument called the Cuica. Other than that I would like to do more horns, I’ve never tried the trumpet or trombone.”
Mitch’s rise to power was swift, and by 2010 he was opening up shows in Edmonton for the likes of Big Boi [from Outkast] and Chali 2na [from Jurassic 5]. “The Big Boi show was in a tent downtown (which housed about 2000 people), and I didn’t even meet him actually, I met his DJ. [Big Boi] didn’t sound check. It happens though. Chali 2na was fun, just at the Pawnshop. I got to meet him and hang out with his brother who played in the band. It was inspiring how nice they were and how good people they were, and still are.”
Then in 2012, Mitchmatic was named Sonic 102.9 [Radio’s] Band of the Month for April, which continued to elevate his career, especially locally. Mitch saw a huge influx in his social media following, as well as more and more of his songs on other local stations. “I think I was the first hip-hop act [on Sonic].” For a month, Why Don’t You Know graced the airwaves, with it’s catchy hook and clever lyrics, making a name for itself among Blink-182 and Metric. The music video was also a hit, weaving the story of a boy trying to win over the girl…a little too adamantly. You can watch the humorous antics unfold below.
Earlier this March, Mitch was at South By South West Music and Art’s festival in Austin, as the drummer for Edmonton band Faith Healer, as well as with Tangina Stone from New York. In total, Mitch played 3 shows with the bands, “you don’t really have time to go [see] shows that you want to go to […] you would get to your show and see someone before you played, or if you had time you would walk into a random show”. With 2200 bands playing this year, it would be almost impossible to decide what bands to see, even if you had the time, and the musician stuck to supporting his local Canadian troops like the Wet Secrets and Michael Rault.
SXSW is the apex of getting discovered; artists from across the globe apply to play at this festival to get picked up by major labels and gain a bigger fan base. “[Jim Cumming from Jom Comyn and I] pretty much learned the Tangina songs the day before, but I think her show went well, and so did the Faith Healer show […] I know Jessica (Faith Healer) had a few people reach out to her who wanted to come check out the show, but I’m not sure if they ended up coming. But there was someone from Australia who Purity Ring recommended to come who brought them to Australia to tour, so if that turns out that would be really cool.” Mitch is hoping to apply next year to play as Mitchmatic, fighting the battle to be heard in the sea of notes and sounds.
In discussing the Edmonton hip-hop scene, Mitch recognized it as his starting point, where he first emerged with friends and fellow rappers Mikey Maybe and The Joe. “Sometimes it’s a bit too separate from the rest of the band scene, but it is a healthy community.” he states. Playing in the bands that he has performed in has definitely helped open his eyes to the Edmonton music scene, and made him an encyclopedia of YEG music knowledge. “I’ve played in a lot of different genres of music, and I’ve played types of music that I wouldn’t have played otherwise unless I had to” Mitch notes, when asked if playing in multiple bands helps with the creative process for Mitchmatic beats. When he was under the label Old Ugly, it was hard not to collaborate with other artists when they all lived under the same roof. “I kind of liked coming home to that” Mitch laughs as he thought back to the days of Old Ugly, the label that 20 other local bands were signed under.
But now let’s get to the music. First off, the guy can spit fire. I saw him perform recently at the Needle Vinyl Tavern in Edmonton, and there were times where I thought Busta Rhymes was going to sneak out from behind the curtain, microphone in hand and say “…gotcha”. But it never happened. Lyrically, Mitch is a wizard. Speaking from truth and past experience, he is able to weave a perfect story in less than 3 minutes. Combine that with the multitude of instrumentals and home grown production values, you really can’t go wrong. When creating an album, Mitch creates every aspect of the song himself, jumping from instrument to instrument and mashing them all together until he gets exactly what he wants. “I feel like I’m still kind of forging; I don’t know if the next thing will sound much like [my old stuff]…I listened to a lot of old school rap at that time.” Mitch’s latest single, Take It As You Can, was his first attempt at branching away from rap and trying something new.
“Ideally, I want to do something that represents everything I do, but I’m not sure if that would be cohesive enough for an album. I think it will be a piece of everything, even if it doesn’t seem like a normal album.”
Another thing to note about the aforementioned show at the Needle was the full band in tow to play the music that Mitch painstakingly put together on his own for his albums. “I just started [playing with a full band] about a year ago, but I’ve done it ever since.” Mitch adds. And the transition from self-creating to relying on a band takes some time, “I was going to say [it’s] good and bad, but it’s not really bad. It’s different. I’m used to everything being so precise, and being able to control my cuts and audio, but it’s definitely easier to have energy [on stage] with the band.”
Near the end of the interview, Mitch and I discussed the future of Edmonton music venues, and the ones that had to close their doors, notebly the Pawn Shop, The ARTery, and Wunderbar. “It’s pretty sad I guess, especially Wunderbar, we all loved that place.” With rent being very high on streets like Whyte Avenue, it can be tough for small venues to stay open for very long. Which, in turn, can make it tough for local artists to find a space to make themselves heard. Mitch fondly remembered Wunderbar as a kind of second home, “There was a time when I was playing there twice a week, in any sort of band. It was kind of the first place that I ever went to that even if I was walking alone, I would walk in there and know that it was going to be a good time. I’ve never had that before in any other venue.”
On a lighter note, fans will be happy to hear that Mitch plans on putting out another Mitchmatic album later this year to go along with his latest release. “That last song took way too long, but I’ve been trying to find the right rules to set for myself” Mitch notes, when asked to discuss his creative process. Though this new album may not hold the same feel as ones past, you better believe it will still have that classic Mitchmatic creativity. “I want to play all the instruments, because I haven’t showcased that nearly as much as I should […] I feel like I haven’t represented my musical side as much in the recordings.” Mitch hopes one day to put out a strictly instrumental album, which he feels would be the best way for him to showcase everything he has to offer. But you can definitely expect some instrumental tracks on the new album as a little teaser.
Mitchmatic is on to something. With the fast rhymes, smooth jazz, and an untouchable ear for music, this artist is someone you don’t want to overlook. You can check out all of his music here, as well as his next live performance at the Mercury Room in Edmonton on May 13th.
“Watch out, and I’m sorry I take so long to make stuff. I’m working on a lot…just very slowly.”