Five Questions with Marybeth Mattson

The lovely and exuberant woman I greeted last weekend after the "Words On Fire" Coffeehouse Concert at Door Community Auditorium has come a long way as an artist and musician in the 6 years I have known her.  Marybeth Mattson is beautiful as ever on the outside, but there's a certain maturity and ease within herself which reveals her growth as a woman and an artist. Marybeth Mattson.  Photo by Suzi Hass. Marybeth Mattson. Photo by Suzi Hass. We sat down to talk about music, family, and the uniqueness of performing in Door County.
1). Tell me about your ties to Door County. I went to middle school at Southern Door and high school at Luxemberg-Casco, but we used to come up here to Door County every summer for a few weeks when my grandparents rented a place near Cana Island. They eventually moved up here permanently and my mom (Door County musician, Jeanne Kuhns) moved up here when I went off to college.  My siblings (Eli and Jacob) and I have all returned to Door County at different points in our lives.  An early photo of Marybeth with her family.  From left, brothers Eli and  Jacob Mattson, mother Jeanne Kuhns, and Marybeth Mattson. An early photo of Marybeth with her family. From left, brothers Eli and Jacob Mattson, mother Jeanne Kuhns, and Marybeth Mattson.  2). You grew up in a musical family, tell us what that was like for you. Did you always want to be a part of that? I desperately did!  But, it was brought to my attention that I might have been tone deaf as a child.  Laughs.  No, seriously, I would sing along with the radio terribly out of tune.  Then once when my mom was in the studio making a CD, I came in and sang along and finally got it.  Oh, to sing in tune, you have to listen!  So I learned to listen.  Marybeth Mattson with her mother and musical collaborator, Jeanne Kuhns. Marybeth Mattson with her mother and musical collaborator, Jeanne Kuhns. 3). How did your musical career start?  For me, it started with writing.  I always wanted to be a writer. I think I was 5 when I decided I was going to be an English Major in college!  It was just so natural for me, it was easy, and I was very good at it.  Early on, I started  writing poems and songs that were awful.  Laughs.  But it was really a poetry professor in college (at UWGB), Denise Sweet (a Wisconsin Poet Laureate) who inspired me to write differently.  She encouraged me to break out of my stanzas and form.  And she taught me to read my work differently in performance.  She's Native American, and when she read her poems, they had a rhythm to them, a beat, and I liked that and it influenced me a great deal. Then, when I came up here to Door County after college, my mom gave me a guitar, my only guitar, and taught me the open chords and how to tune it.  And I wrote some truly awful songs that didn't survive, but 2 of the first songs I wrote are on my CD, and I am really proud of that ("Love Song" and "Glory" off Marybeth's 2012 debut CD, Relative Hunger). Relative Hunger 4). Let's talk about songwriting.  What is your process?  It's kind of momentary.  Sometimes I have a great idea and I will hold up and write for like 3 hours and go..."well, that's awful, what was I thinking?"  But sometimes, when it clicks, it really clicks.  I write the words and music together.  I can't do one without the other, they have to happen at the same time for me.  The melody influences the syntax, the structure of the words for me. 
5).  We know Door County supports and mentors its art community and its artists. Tell us if you've found that to be true in your career. Absolutely, it's a mecca for musicians.  It really is.  The ability to perform here at open mics, to audiences who listen and pay attention, and care that you are there, that's the best.   Without an audience for me to perform to, there's just not as much joy.  I mean, it's a collaboration.  Without that response to your art, your creation, you lose the magic of expression. No matter what the words meant to me when I wrote them, when I perform them, it's up to the listener to decide what it means to them.  When they see or hear my work and it affects them, that's what's important to me. If I make someone feel something, then I have done my job, and that's why I am here.  Marybeth on-stage performing spoken word.  Photo by Jeanne Kuhns. Marybeth on-stage performing spoken word. Photo by Jeanne Kuhns. And we are so lucky she is!  To keep up with Marybeth Mattson's career, you can check out her website www.marybethmattson.com You will find her performing all over Door County, whether solo, with her mother, with her band Small Forest, with Seth Raddatz, or in collaboration with other musician and songwriters.   Come on out and support music in Door County by supporting our local, lovable, working musicians.