Never Go Halfway: A Conversation with Matthew Mayfield

By Carey Hereford

Photo courtesy of the artist

For more than 15 years – first as the frontman of Moses Mayfield and since as a solo artist – Matthew Mayfield has been a fixture on Birmingham’s music scene. Moreover, Mayfield has played a prominent role in elevating our city’s musical stature on a national scale. Earlier this year, the singer/songwriter released Gun Shy [Sweet Exchange], an 11-track collection of raw and honest material. To allow listeners further access into the album’s creation, Mayfield created the podcast Inside the Song with Matthew Mayfield. On Friday, November 1, Mayfield will perform at Saturn. Recently, he spoke with us by phone.

Birmingham Stages: Matthew, thanks for your time. Tell us about the writing process for Gun Shy?

Matthew Mayfield: It was kinda scattered. I had some rock songs and I had some really raw and organic songs, and the record was a combination of those kind of songs. I was writing from three different perspectives in time – I just got of out the box a little bit and took some risks.

Birmingham Stages: Are there any songs on Gun Shy that seem unfinished or incomplete or are you happy with all of them?

Mayfield: I’m pleased with all of them – I never go halfway. That’s for records, writing and for the stage as well. I just feel like if you don’t deliver a passionate, convicted performance, no one is going to buy or be interested it in. One of the most valuable things I’ve learned over the years is if you don’t get chill bumps when you’re across the glass [in the recording studio] cutting a vocal, stay in there and record it until you do. I like to work really hard – it’s been a long ride and it will continue to be.

Birmingham Stages: How did you go about choosing the singles for the album?

Mayfield: Well, I wanted to showcase a little bit of everything. Obviously, “Gun Shy” was the lead off with more of a rock and roll song. I am musically bipolar, so one minute it’s a table for one and a live recording of three of us and then like “Gun Shy” it’s a full-on rock and roll and we just hammer it out, so I chose “Gun Shy” for that exact reason – to show that side of me. “S.H.A.M.E” was the front runner for me, that was the monster of the record that really took me a while to understand that concept. I have learned about how much from a period of my life about how much that song means to me.

Birmingham Stages: What is the most recent artist, album or song you’ve picked up recently?

Mayfield: I have always been a fan of Jason Isbell, even back in the Trucker days. He’s come so far – I am so proud of him. His lyrical ability and ability to tell a story in a four-minute song is unbelievable. “If We Were Vampires” is the song I have picked up most recently, and the one that sticks out to me of his record with the 400 unit, The Nashville Sound. The Highwomen is the band that I have picked recently. I like how Jason Isbell backs up his wife in the band, Amanda Shires. Me and Brandi Carlisle shared a manager for a long time, but when the album The Story came out she went from playing small clubs to filling up big theaters so the manager didn’t have time for any other clients. Also, I’ve written songs with Maren Morris before. She was pretty shy, and I knew that there was so much untapped potential as a songwriter because of that. When she was given the boost she needed, she became a superstar. So yeah, I’ll go with those two.

Birmingham Stages: How have online streaming services such as Spotify Apple Music changed music nowadays?

Mayfield: I buy all of my music and it is absolutely intentional so I can support those people as opposed to them getting almost nothing from Spotify. I need people to buy my records so that I can keep the lights on. Let’s put it this way – if I sell one song one million times for ninety-nine cents I would end up making about $675,000, but if I stream a song one million times I maybe would get a check for a thousand dollars. People who are spending five dollars on lattes at starbucks, but can’t even spend one dollar on one song. Most people don’t spend the money because it’s free to get the music and it’s not the consumers fault. Most people use what’s called “freemium” which is free music just with ads. That ad money goes straight to the CEO – it’s a very political climate. For independent artists, it’s a good way to get discovered and they hope that people will hear the music and buy a ticket. Streaming is the new wave – I am not going to be the old guy and shade it. Either evolve, adapt or die. Everyone says that touring is the answer and it’s not. People don’t have the money to go see five of their favorite bands in a two-week or two-month period. Normal working class people don’t have that kind of money.

Birmingham Stages: What exactly is the S.H.A.M.E. campaign that you have started?

Mayfield: Well, it started out with the music video. It’s the most powerful piece of art that I have ever seen from myself. The visual components of the video are done with actual film – you get this grit without losing any of the warmth in the picture. It blew my mind by how powerful it was and it shocked me. The prison scenes were in the actual cell that Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote the actual “Letter From the Birmingham Jail”. I get chill bumps talking about it. The whole point of the campaign though is that you’re not alone. We’ve created a website where you can anonymously post what you are ashamed of – it can be whatever. Everybody has something that they are ashamed of – if they say they don’t, then they are lying. So I figured why not write a song about it; why not let that drive me and drive others to share what they are ashamed of. So when they share, it makes other people who read it and have the same issues feel like they are not alone.

Matthew Mayfield will perform at Saturn on Friday, November 1. Showtime is 9 p.m. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $16 and can be purchased at