"Songs, in and of themselves, are gifts," observes Moses Mayfield frontman Matthew Mayfield, "and watching them bloom and watching them change faces...That's huge for us."
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What's immediately apparent on The Inside, Moses Mayfield's major label debut album, is how vital and well-crafted these songs are and how powerful the music that drives these songs can be.
"Music is storytelling," says Moses Mayfield keyboardist Matt Taylor, "and, to me, being a musician is being a part of that group that gets to tell the story." That spirit of each member playing a part in something larger illuminates the music of Moses Mayfield, a sense of musical connection and interplay that animates the sound and reaches a special place in the people who hear it. The communication between the members of Moses Mayfield -- Matthew, Matt, guitarist Will Mason, bassist Hans Ford and drummer Wil Drake -- gives the songs their potency: everyone in the band is working together to get the song, the idea, the story across.
Matthew -- who'd started playing guitar at age 10 after his father taught him the chords to the Guns & Roses songs that triggered his early musical obsessions -- was writing his own songs by the time he was 12. His main influences came from a variety of progressive rock sounds ranging from U2 and Peter Gabriel to Pearl Jam and Stone Temple Pilots.
While young Mayfield honed his craft in Birmingham, Alabama, his future bandmates were developing their own musical interests absorbing the influences of jazz, metal, and southern rock.
By 2002, the guys had become friends on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College, forming a band that was initially called The Stewart-Mayfield Project. As the group grew from three to five, and the sound evolved from exuberant noise to a refined and substantial repertoire of emotionally rich and musically complex songs, the group gigged more and more frequently, developing a dedicated following around Birmingham and the Southeast.
It wasn't long before piling into a van, driving to a neighboring city, delivering a mind-blowing show, packing up the gear, getting back to Birmingham-Southern at 5am, and packing in 45 minutes of sleep before sprinting off to class became an impossibility. Something had to give and, heeding the call of the muses and the magic in the music, Moses Mayfield became a full-time gig.
With a grassroots buzz building around two indie releases -- the 2003 EP, Unified, and 2004's full-length Enough To Let Go -- Moses Mayfield filmed a jaw-dropping live show at Birmingham's Workplay Theater and burned the sold out gig to DVD to send to promoters to book more shows. By luck of the draw, a rep from SonyBMG came across the footage and signed the band to a recording contract.
Hooking up with producer Ben Grosse (Marilyn Manson, Fuel, Vertical Horizon), the group went to work on The Inside, the Moses Mayfield debut album on Columbia Records. "He helped us shape things and focus our energy more," says Matthew, "and I think we're a better band for it."
The Inside's dynamic, a balance of bare-knuckled rock combined with lush ambient textures, is a result of the album being recorded over two sessions, interrupted by a break, during which Matthew penned a second batch of songs, including "Control," "Ceasefire," and "Fall Behind," the last of which he calls "a reflection on death creeping around. When we play it, it's one of those songs that connects us to our audience -- I can see it in the eyes of the people we've played it for. It's a really genuine, beautiful thing for us."
If The Inside is about anything, says Matthew, it's about forging connections -- reaching out to people and connecting on a personal, emotional level. "That's what a record is all about on any level, an opportunity to communicate," he points out. "In a lot of ways, these songs are my way of dealing with my own demons, and other peoples' demons as well, vicariously."
In songs like "Element" and the hard-charging "Control" -- a guitar-squalling hybrid with echoes of Coldplay coupled with early-'90s bands like Pearl Jam and pre-mainstream-Soundgarden -- Moses Mayfield delves into the emotional paradoxes of a strained relationship. "A lot of the songs have that theme about them," Matthew says, "the strain between any two entities, whether it's from man to woman, father to daughter, or god to mankind."
In addition to playing packed clubs as the headliner, Moses Mayfield has opened for Switchfoot, The Fray and My Morning Jacket, and hopes to turn gigs like the group's Birmingham benefit concert for the International Justice Mission (a Washington D.C.-based human rights group) into annual events.
"For me, performing live is all about the release," says Matthew. "It's a way for us to exorcise the energy that's in the songs. Our live show is something that we are constantly trying to make an experience for people. If we, as artists, can make people feel something...then we've done our job."
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