Mat Zo’s ‘Damage Control’: an inspiring and timeless artistic debut [Interview + Album Review]
After unveiling his stunning, 70-track Essential Mix back in February, it became clear that Mat Zo was no ordinary artist, but rather, a visionary of sorts — someone who not only saw hope in the nooks and crannies of dance music, but inspired promise through his own creativity and belief. Today marks a special day for Matan Zohar: his debut LP, Damage Control, has finally been released. It’s an album that’s been brewing, shifting, and materializing for four years now. Having journeyed through Damage Control at least ten times, it’s safe to say that all the hope, the hype, the rampant enthusiasm surrounding Mat Zo’s debut album… all of it has been justified. This is one for the ages.
We caught up with Mat for some insight into his astonishing new LP, released today on Astralwerks. Through an extensive interview, Mat elucidated the inspirations behind the album as well as the personal significance of the release.
“When I listen to an album, it’s not to dance to. I listen to listen. I wanted to make something that you can just enjoy without having to react in some way.”
At the outset of our interview, Mat informed me that Damage Control is a concept he’s been working on for nearly four years. “At first it wasn’t a serious project,” Mat says. “I just wanted to write loads of music. Over time I got more serious about it. Set in stone what was already there.” The album, which was produced in Zohar’s London studio, afforded Mat a chance to experiment: “This gave me the opportunity to do something different.. A lot of people are just focusing on dance music and not trying out different moods and different musical textures.”
With this creative mantra in mind, Zo proceeded to produce an album unlike anything else in today’s modern dance landscape. Damage Control maneuvers through vastly compelling worlds, each as different as the next. From its deeply atmospheric sound design to irregular tempos and beat programming, the album is truly one of a kind.
“It’s not really looking forward as much as it is looking back. I’m trying to capture the 90’s albums like Chemical Brothers. Give them an updated feel.”
In a time when dance music seems overly concerned with its future development, Mat Zo has taken the opposite approach. In a similar vein to Random Access Memories, Damage Control looks to the past for inspiration. “I was listening to a lot of 60’s and 70’s soul, punk, and pop — a lot of old music,” Zo explains. Aside from these historic influences, Mat also notes the Chemical Brothers as a chief inspiration: “Surrender by the Chemical Brothers. That’s one of the albums that formed me as an electronic musician.”
The diverse influences don’t stop there. Zo explains, “When I started the album, I was just getting into hip hop. Nowadays, I listen to loads of different stuff.” In response to the impact his alter ego MRSA has played, Zo explained, “MRSA was my experiment with breakbeat. And that definitely helped with making more breakbeat on the album. A lot of the sound design is influenced by my drum ‘n’ bass.”
“There have been so many tracks for this album that didn’t make it. More than that are in the album by far.”
Considering that Mat Zo can make a halfway decent festival track in three hours, imagine the caliber and quantity of tracks he’s produced over the last four years. When asked about his criteria for tracks on the album, Zo responded: “The tracks have to represent my musical taste, and they have to be good… but I’m a pretty harsh critic of my music. That’s why most of them didn’t make the cut.”
“Superman Lost” is the album’s opener, and a beautiful one at that. Mat says of the track, “‘Superman Lost’ is one of the oldest tracks on the album. That was my starting point. I made ‘Only For You’ pretty specifically to go into it.” Also note, the gorgeous guitar work throughout the track is Mat’s own live instrumentation.
In regards to “The Sky,” one of Mat’s more famous productions, Mat says: “‘The Sky’ was made specifically for the album. I got vocals for Linnea and thought this would make a great album track.”
There are two versions of “Easy” on the album. Mat clarified the two: “The garage version [‘EZ’] is the original version. Then I asked Porter if he wanted to work on another track [‘Easy’] based on that.”
In regards to the numerous shorter tracks on the album, Zo responded: “A lot of old hip hop albums have little interludes and skits. I wanted my album to have the same structure… “Like It Used To Be’ is a shorter version of a longer track. They serve their purpose to make you want more.” Considering the irresistible sequences of tracks like “Little Damage,” “Moderate Stimulation,” and “Like It Used Bo Be,” they carry out their purpose well (painfully well).
Finally, Mat revealed a tasty bit of insight: “There are some club mixes which I will release as well. As soon as I finished the album, all I’ve done is do remixes of the album and work them into club situations and club settings.” I know I’d love to see a club mix of “Little Damage.” Realistically, tracks like “Only For You” and “Hurricane” seem far more likely candidates.
“I’m a bit anxious. It was never meant to be a commercially viable album. Now that it’s being released, every artist hopes it will be. Obviously because I didn’t have that intention in mind, I’m anxious that it won’t do as well as people expect it to be. I’m keeping low expectations.”
I was a bit surprised to hear Mat express apprehension towards the release. With the beauty of Damage Control fresh in mind, such a sentiment seemed absurd. But then I thought about it from Mat’s perspective. This is his debut artist album: something he’s lived with for nearly four years now — his magnum opus, born in a controlled, isolated studio, seeing the light of day for the first time via a worldwide release.
Perhaps even more than that, it’s a project Mat has poured his soul into. As he explains, “The album is called Damage Control for many reasons, but one of them is for personal reasons — dealing with times that were hard, and times where I’ve been down. Making the album has helped me with that.” The emotional complexity of the album is evident throughout. At times uplifting, at others lamenting, the album moves through varying sequences of lighthearted joviality and entrancing intensity.
“My favorite tracks are the little interludes,” Mat says. “‘Like It Used To Be’ reminds me of a time in my life when I was content and didn’t have anything to worry about.”
Despite the colossal embedded significance of the album, Mat doesn’t have any rigorous demands of his listeners: “I don’t really want people to take away anything in particular. I just want people to enjoy it, and to find some meaning of their own in it.”
The Bottom Line
Mat Zo may have very well just released the album of the year. While it’s too early to make any definitive declarations, one thing is certain: Damage Control is unlike anything else we’ve heard in 2013. It’s an album that transcends genres, eras, and electronic conventions; an album that redefines Zo as one of the most innovative producers of our time; an album that we’ll have on repeat for many months to come.
The bottom line? It’s much bigger than dance music: it’s artistic brilliance.