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One of the gorgeous final days of Summer — Mateo & I walked into Washington Square Park on New York University’s campus in downtown Manhattan, New York City around 4pm. The park was flooded with people getting their last bit of nice weather. Birds chirping, dogs barking, leaves falling since Fall was approaching while kids played — all to the soundtrack of an amazing jazz band that was set up across from the fountain. What was supposed to be a nice stroll through the park while finding out what’s new with Mateo got extremely entertaining when two men in Speedos starting chasing each other with child size vacuum cleaners, bubbles, and swords. Only in New York City. We laughed hysterically while trying to find an empty park bench.
Since the park has been an eventful stage thus far, let’s start with your stage name. How did you come up with Mateo since it’s so different from your birth name?
It’s kinda funny. I was doing the singing thing and I moved out to L.A. and started working for a TV show and started doing TV music. Since I worked for the show I was also licensing my songs to the show and they had to seem like they were coming from somebody different. So the producer I was working with said “yo you need to make up with a name real quick so we can put the name on the songs.” I immediately came up with Donny Mateo. And he asked where I get it from and was I don’t know I just made it up. But I started putting more songs out like that and people started saying “oh I like that Donny Mateo record.” So I was like wow this is sticking like an alter ego type thing why not get a Myspace page and put it on Myspace. That’s literally how it started. I eventually chopped off the Donny and kept Mateo because Mateo is Spanish for Matthew which means gifts from God so I just felt like music was my gift that God gave me and it felt like the perfect fit and stuck.
You spoke about Myspace and you were signed to Myspace Records so what have you been up to since you parted ways?
While I was at Myspace I met Kerry Krucial Brothers who is the producing and songwriting partner of Alicia Keys and we met so we could so a remix on a single that I was releasing through Myspace Records. We just kinda built a relationship so that when I left and he started his label he was like “I would love for you to be one of my first artists.” And it just kinda worked because it was such a good mix. The stuff that he had done with Alicia [Keys] was so great. Especially he’s used to working with music that has an organic base to it like piano and guitar and stuff like that which is similar to my music. We were able to do something really authentic and really win with it. That’s how we kinda started the partnership. I signed with his label — we put out the single “Say It So” independently and he got Alicia Keys on it. Shocked the hell out of me. I almost fell out of my chair when he played it for me. Then he got Swizz [Beatz] to jump on it. And we were able to get some traction and started charting with that song and because of that we got Interscope’s attention and they said they wanted to sign me. That’s where I’m at right now. So we ended up signing to Interscope through Krucial Noise. It’s a really good team over there. They love what we’ve done. We pretty much have the album done and they love the sound that we’re doing. They gave us an autonomy about what we wanted to really do which is great. Then we dropped the Suite 823 mixtape.
You talked about your sound a little bit. Everyone wants to put people in a box right now so if you could make up your own genre that would define what your music is what would that be?
You know it’s funny, I’ve always been told don’t let people box you into a genre but also don’t make up a genre. This is what Krucial told me. Let me tell you why. Because as soon as that genre you make up, because it’s gonna follow you the rest of your life right? And as soon as that’s dead and it’s whack they are still going to call you that you want to make sure you aren’t any of that and not categorize yourself at all. But if I had to say what the music sounds like it’s a mixture of everything I like it’s R&B, it has soul in it, but it’s also a little bit of Cold Play. You know what I mean? I love that stuff. The really big big drums, big youtube drums, big guitars but with some heavy drums from urban music. That’s really the sound right there mixing all those types of genres.
You’ve been doing music for a long time but you still made the choice to go to college for music and business. Why was going to school important to you?
It was really important. Well people don’t know that being an artist is like being your own business. You have to be kinda entrepreneurial about your stuff. You have to be able to understand like yeah I can make great songs but if no one hears them then I’m not going to make any money off of this. So I gotta build a team together, I gotta run this team, I gotta figure out how to market myself, I gotta figure out how to get music to the fans you know. And build a career and that’s some of the skills that I definitely learned in school. It’s more like critical thinking about stuff. You know everyone is so confused about where this music industry is going right now but if you can really think critically about what’s happening then you can probably try to capitalize off of that.
Let’s talk about your style. What is one style piece that you have to have always?
I always like hats. I’m a big hats person. I don’t know why. Not sure if its because I don’t really have hair because it’s short. I feel like maybe I can compensate for short hair with a hat. But I always have a hat with me or a beanie of some sort.
Well since everyone is always sad when Summer is over especially when we were all on this Nas “Summer On Smash” kick & Swizz Beatz is your homie, what song for you has been your Summer jam that you’ve played non-stop?
Well if I don’t pick one of my songs I’d say a chill record and it’s Frank Ocean “Thinking ‘Bout You.” That’s been my jam. Every time I hear it it’s just like perfect. Perfectly done. It’s always one of those things when you hear someone else do something and you’re like “damn I wish I wrote that.” You know what I mean? That’s one of those records for me. And probably “N**ggas in Paris.”
Now everyone has their celebrity crushes. Who is yours?
Well I have a lot of them but if I tell you my #1 will you be able to hook me up?
Cool. So I definitely have a crush on Rita Ora. Rita, holla at yo boy!
Well now that you’re signed to Interscope what’s next for you?
Well I have a single out called “Doubt” and then hopefully we’ll be releasing the album in first quarter of 2013. Also I’m getting ready to go on a little east coast tour. DC, Philly, NY, and there may be an Atlanta stop in there this Fall. Stay tuned to MateoOnline.com for more details.
Who are some people you definitely want to work with on the project?
I would definitely like to do a duet with Alicia Keys for sure. I would love to do something with my idol Kanye West. Oh Dawn Richards. We’ve done a song together before but I think she’s great and I would love to do some more music with her. I know this is just the first album but Chris Martin from Coldplay would be amazing. But I think that’s later on. I think that’s Mateo 2.0. [Laughs] I don’t want to give you guys all of it I have to save some stuff for later. And in the Interscope building Kendrick Lamar. He’s dope. I really mess with him hard and like all the music he does.