SA artist’s underground success

Matthew Mole is, by his own admission, not much of a talker. But it turns out that if you get the shy singer-songwriter talking about his favourite subject – music – he has much of consequence to say.

His debut album, The Home We Built, went in at number one on the morning it was released on iTunes on July 29, a first for a South African artist.

“That was quite…strange,” Mole offers.

That’s a fair statement, actually, in terms of the expectations of many young musicians, for whom the physical product is the end of an exhausting, expensive process. When Mole woke up to his album being on top of an important chart, was that the digital equivalent of popping the box and lifting out the first, fresh CD case?

“I was in a situation where I’d never released the plastic and paper version, so I can’t even compare it to that,” says Mole.

“Being online is where it is these days, and it does feel good to have it officially released and out there. And the hard copies will come in a few weeks, so I’ll get to have that feeling of having it in my hands as well.”

Mole, in terms of his songwriting and performance style, is a folk artist. That genre’s well-developed traditions of story-telling and community don’t necessarily tie in with the ultra-modern, cutting-edge technology that’s delivering the music. But that same technology means the awareness of the music and its availability is almost instantaneous.

“I felt like it was my birthday,” grins Mole.

“Everyone was getting hold of me and wishing me well, even though many of them had heard the music via streaming before the release. I was overwhelmed by the response and the generosity involved.”

iTunes still having a measure of novelty value in South Africa might also help releases such as The Home We Built, as newcomers keen to try out the technology might consider an album from such a promising artist just the incentive they need to navigate the hassles of getting registered and signed up.

“I think that being able to preview the songs and then decide what you want is a great idea,” says Mole, “and it’s amazing that you can buy a track at a time as well, if you like one more than another or have a budget issue.”

Does that capability mean that Mole as a songwriter feels that he has to make every song a potential single, so that listeners who don’t buy the whole collection in one go will be encourage to eventually collect every composition because there are no weak tracks?

“When I wrote theartworks-00005356492_557582324 album, I wanted to make the whole thing a storytelling experience, so I didn’t really think about making individual tracks standout hits for that reason.”

Does The Home We Built, then, tell one continuous story, or is it broken up into chapters?

“It’s a continuous thing,” explains Mole.

“The album title is a way of explaining how we live our lives.”

That much is clear in song titles such as The Wedding Song or Same Part Same Heart¸but what about Whale – giant undersea mammals don’t immediately link in with tales of love and intimacy.

“True,” laughs Mole.

“That one’s about the story in the Bible about Jonah and the way he ran away from what he was supposed to do.

“I like weird relationship metaphors.”




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