Matthew Koma talks upcoming artist album, working with Tiësto and co-writing ‘Clarity’
Born in Brooklyn, New York, singer-songwriter Matthew Koma has quickly become one of the most sought after songwriter/producers in electronic dance music. Working alongside Zedd on the chart-topping “Spectrum,” and the Grammy-winning “Clarity,” Koma has established a presence in the industry beyond that of a simple vocalist.
He has worked collaboratively with some of the biggest names in the business, lending his talents to productions alongside Hardwell, Alesso, Headhunterz, Afrojack, and now Tiësto, co-producing for the dance music kingpin as he preps his next album. Koma’s time spent as a collaborator has also informed his approach to his own solo work, transforming the young talent from a punk rock poster boy to an electronic crossover artist who actively and effortlessly marries the two different worlds he calls home.
Growing up on Long Island, Koma spent his adolescence in the hardcore and punk rock scene of New York’s other counter-culture. It was this early interest that defined Koma’s career as a singer/songwriter and led him to embrace the authenticity of the underground. Although the late 90s punk scene played an integral role in his development as an artist, it wasn’t until he was signed to Interscope Records by Jimmy Iovine that Koma found his true passion for electronic music. “When I was a kid, I had a friend who was really into dance music in New York City and we traded records so I was familiar with it but it wasn’t until I moved out West that it all started to click.” After moving out to California, Koma found that the New York scene had a growing presence on the West Coast. “It became a really organic graduation from punk rock and hardcore when I moved out to California. I was working with all these artists who I had already been introduced to in New York’s scene at the time.”
Just like the hardcore music he was raised on, Koma found refuge in electronic music’s counter-culture community; “The punk rock and emo scene blew up in the same way that electronic music did. It was this community that never used commercial avenues to get its message out there. The people who were making it and discovering it were passionate about the music, nothing else. It’s the self-reliance that really drew me in.”
His first taste of dance music came at the hands of DJ Shadow, whose work drew the young artist in with its sonic diversity that was unlike anything he had ever heard before. “It was just so out there. I grew up loving Springsteen because I love the spirituality of his music. It’s powerful and DJ Shadow evoked that same feeling for me. It was the first time I really felt something from electronic music. Now the guys that interest me are the one’s who I relate to, guys like Sonny (Skrillex) who came from a similar cultural place as I did. He’s just pushing the music forward for the sake of keeping it interesting. I admire that.”
While he may be most known for his work alongside Zedd on the chart-topping “Spectrum,” it was his work as a songwriter on “Clarity” that earned him his first Grammy – an accolade that no one on the project could have predicted. “I honestly had no idea that ‘Clarity’ was even going to be a single. It was such a different kind of collaboration for everyone involved. I wrote that song on tour. Anton had sent me a track that wasn’t even the original and I wrote the top line and we just took the a cappella and ran with it. We went through a lot of different singers before we settled on Foxes, I even sang on it originally. The whole process was just so hectic that none of us knew what we had created — we were just happy it was done. I still don’t even know how the thing even came together.”
An award-winning collaborator, it’s Koma’s solo endeavors that present the most exciting future for the 26-year old talent — although to him they are one in the same. “What’s beautiful about the collaborations I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part; be it with Alesso, Anton, Tiesto, Afrojack or Hardwell, we all have a respect for the music and each other. Our backgrounds are so different but I’ve never found it to be a challenge to find a voice that is cohesive throughout.”
“I produced a lot of Tiesto’s album with him and wrote some songs and I just wrapped up two songs with Afrojack for his new album. I’m absolutely over the moon for “Illuminate,” it just so different than anything else out there. We’re marrying the two worlds [dance music and indie rock] in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
His upcoming album Arkadia has been a work in progress for some time now, an endeavor that has gone through several metamorphoses as Koma finds his footing in the EDM industry; “I’m really excited about the music I’m releasing because I am confident that this music is going to be a fair representation of me as both a solo artist and a collaborator. It’s going to bridge the gap.”
For fans who only know his work alongside some of the biggest names in the industry, Koma is confident they will find his solo work to be just as accessible, establishing a universal truth and vision for all genres of music, regardless of their origin;
“As long as songs come from a place of sincerity and passion and emotion then it still speaks. And at the end of the day that is all that’s important.”