Ivan Matias is, for anyone schooled in their music chronology, a 90s R&B music legend. During his explosive decade-long partnership with fellow writer Andrea Martin, Matias amassed a nothing short of epic amount of not only hit singles [both on the mainstream & R&B charts] but also what would become infamous staples of late 90s and even early 2000s R&B music. Managing to separate themselves creatively from the endless talented writers of this exciting & continuously developing time for the genre was a task hard enough to pass, but to achieve such chart success while maintaining their own unique brand of writing and arrangements is the main reason this duo will go down in music history.
Managing to write masses of romance as the genre demanded without being overly saccharine was their biggest skill. Their ingenious use of Andrea’s uniquely styled additional vocals & arrangements, sometimes even including ragga-style chant and raps, also allowed them to put their peerless touch on every track they worked on.
Through his non-stop work ethic during his time with Martin, Matias is a veteran of the industry. Both even managed to carve out mildly successful careers as solo singer-songwriters at their height of writing fame but unfortunately the politics Matias has become so accustomed to prevented them from achieving the deserved success, quality of material and artistic direction they craved and displayed on their placements with other artists.
In this extremely in-depth interview Matias reveals some unknown gems of information such as his & Martin’s unreleased work with legends Aaliyah, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Tamia & Toni Braxton, his mantras on issues in music past & present, some candid stories of deception and drama in the music industry within his decade+ success, his songwriting process, current and hopeful future projects, his media frenzy with his infamous parody artist ‘The Gay Rapper’ and his revelations on the stunted success of his & Andrea’s careers as artists….
//PART I: ‘THE ARTIST THING’//
Is the artist thing more lucrative in a financial sense or writing? Which did you find harder work?
The writer thing is potentially far more lucrative. If you are successful as an artist, the opportunity is there to make a lot of money quickly through endorsements, tours & merchandising however, initially; as an artist, you’re limited to focusing on yourself. As a writer, you can create for anyone your ability will allow. Being an artist is harder because everything you do is under a microscope. The artists creative process is manipulated & scrutinized until it becomes a bit unnatural & manufactured. As a writer for someone else, when you deliver a song, there may be minor creative changes but for the most part; either they like it or they don’t. There are no major staff meetings for micro dissection, corporate intervention & reconstruction.
Did you and Andrea consider or suffer any of the implications of being a big artist? [EG] no personal privacy, damage to personal relationships [fake lovers/friends], overt control from record labels, changing your visual image
Absolutely. We came up in the beginning of the “cyber privacy invasion” era so that aspect wasn’t so bad for us although nosey people clearly existed then also. Labels ALWAYS try to control their product. It’s the nature of the beast. Andrea had it bad. The labels couldn’t agree on an image for her & ran through dozens of photo shoots & artwork trying to agree.I think it was a big part of the lack of success of her album. I remember a few shoots where I suggested stylist friends of mine like celebrity stylist Eric Archibald who made her look INCREDIBLE but that wasn’t what they wanted.I still have some of those pics & in hindsight, I think everyone including label execs would agree that I was right. I knew what worked for her best. The execs had difficulty knowing what to do with a “dark skinned” (as she was often described) girl who didn’t possess “traditional” beauty. She was also over A&R’d. Her rep used her as a lab rat to experiment because he didn’t know how to best utilize a singer/songwriter. I believe the mistakes they made with Andrea helped them with the Alicia Keys project as they gave Alicia the creative freedom they promised Andrea but never delivered on. Many fake friends & people trying to separate our partnership. When you’re having success it’s difficult to know who is real because even your enemies smile in your face. The guy who manages Andrea now used to call me regularly trying to get our songs for projects he was working on. I passed on a few of his projects with good foresight as they never came to pass. He was one of the many salivating on the sidelines, waiting for an opportunity to jump in the space between Andrea & I.Andrea & I were dangerous. We were exceptionally lucky & blessed in that we created a business within a business. Most people manipulate writers & producers by the promise of success & fortune. The balance that Andrea & I had was one where she would jump at the promise of fame & I would pull her back. I would spazz at the lack of fortune & she would pull me back. The balance made it difficult for others to get the best of us. We also had songs that we could dangle back which is a luxury in a sea of writers. A big part of the reason I ended the partnership with Andrea was based on artistry. She wanted to be a recording artist more then anything. As much as I wanted her to realize that dream, the reality was that after the lack of success of her Arista debut, the probability of her having success as an artist was slim. My inability to insincerely support her dream became an issue for her, which in tern created issues within our relationship. Andrea believes in blind loyalty.I believe in reality based loyalty. A dreamer & a realist often bump heads. All successful partnerships require sacrificing individuality for the collective good. Andrea & I are two very passionate, opinionated & stubborn people. Our partnership was a divine unity as we don’t like to collaborate with others. Somehow, our creative souls connected in a way that we both knew was an exceptional experience. I got to a point where I realized that life is short and I wan’t living. Andrea lives for & feeds off the fame, success & work. I realized that neither of us had the benefit of a regular life. I purchased a house that was unfurnished because I was living out of a suitcase. Everyone around me was music related or aspiring. It all became too much for me. I craved regular people with regular lives & non-musical conversation. I felt we both needed to get back to some of the things that inspired us in the first place & were missing. Andrea is good at making the best of a bad situation. I’m more inclined to walk away from them. One of the many conditions of “celebrity” & success is evolution. It was inevitable.
Did your labels encourage you to write or take others songs for success?
Both. They encouraged me to write but we couldn’t agree on which of my songs to include on my album. The songs I liked were more structured for the American market. My European Arista rep & management had a vision for me as more of a global pop/soul artist. Kind of Michael Bolton/ John Secada-ish. I felt I was too young for that so we butted heads a lot. I’m the one who actually found “I’ve had Enough” to record even though I didn’t write it. When I met with Clive Davis in NY, he agreed that the records direction wasn’t a proper representation of me & wanted me to sing more of other people’s songs. I was frustrated because the songs which I wrote on my project that he’d heard weren’t what I considered a proper representation of my artistic or writing choices for myself. Most were songs I’d written but not necessarily with myself in mind. At the time, the label didn’t really encourage me to write for anyone other then myself which is part of the reason I left the UK. I wanted some of my songs to be recorded by other artists and wasn’t getting that opportunity because my time was tied up writing & recording in a style that I couldn’t identify with as I was encouraged to do by label & management.
How did you recieve the Diane Warren track? Arista relations?
I was signed to Arista while managed by Dennis Ingoldsby & Oliver Smallman of FIrst Avenue Management who managed several major acts throughout Europe at that time like Eternal, Michelle Gayle, Louise Redknapp Nurding, MN8, & Dina Carroll. During the recording of my album, label reps thought it would be a good idea to include a song that Clive Davis loved to have something on the album that might work for the American market. Despite being a HUGE Diane Warren fan, I didn’t think that song was the right Diane song for me. I felt it didn’t compliment my artistic direction or voice well. The label & management made me record it & then put it out as “the single” following my #1 dance hit “I’ve had Enough”. I felt like my artistic direction was all over the place & not representing me. I had a meeting with Clive where he agreed with my assessment. He wanted me to record an entirely new album for the US but, after 4 years of working on an album whose direction I wan’t happy with, I asked Mr. Davis & Arista to release me from my contract.
Does she reference her own tracks?
No, Diane hires demo singers. The version of the song I ‘d heard was recorded by a group called Atlantic Starr. They recorded it on their last album for Arista. That song might be hexed! lol
//PART II: ‘THE SONGWRITING PROCESS’//
How do you write from a female perspective being a straight man? Write a male song then flip it or get in the artists’ head?
Gender,sexuality,race age….are unimportant if you are a good songwriter. In order to survive as a writer, one must be able to create outside of their circumstance. One need not be in love to write a love song. I rarely write from experience. Songwriters create musical roles for the vocalists to play. It’s all make believe. I believe it’s dangerous for a writer to become comfortable writing only from experience because then you become limited by & to your own experience. You live one experience but there are millions out there in the world. I understand that my personal experience & perspective are unique & complicated. As a writer, I want to appeal to as many people as possible.That requires my to get OUT of my feelings & explore the perspective of others as opposed to getting caught up in the auto fallacious concept that everyone can identify with the details of my life.
Did you write any tracks specifically for artists or were they all originally references to pitch to several?
Much of my earlier song placements were specifically created for the artists. It wasn’t until later that i was afforded the luxury of creating a song & having it swept up by a random artist. As one becomes more successful, label execs are more willing to hear what you have available & place it on their artists. I think it’s partially because once you’re successful, the execs feel like they have a sense of you. They want to infuse their projects with as many tried & tested successful connections as possible to build the artists story & to ensure a more successful bet.
Do you prefer writing to other people’s beats or did you & Andrea always write to your beats first & then get a producer to re-produce? [EG] Andrea’s debut album with various producers.
Both. For andrea’s album we did almost ALL the production ourselves & then other people re-produced our demo’s. Unfortunately, her A&R didn’t have the confidence,ear, foresight or power to allow us creative freedom. Our demos were SOOO much better then the watered down, re-produced versions. We were devastated by the lack of personality & homogenized, lifeless production value of the reproductions. Label reps went for name value over substance. Andrea suffered as a result of her reps lack of exposure to the organic, raw vibe we were going for. We were ahead of our time. Everything we attempted on Andrea’s album but not allowed to do was what they successfully employed on Alicia Keys & Angie Stone’s debut’s on J Records. Those LP’s were under the direction of different label reps though.
Speaking of which, you’ve had many placements connected with your former label boss Clive Davis, one of the most recent and successful being the Arista album by Blu Cantrell ‘Bittersweet’ and its debut single release ‘Breathe’ which was massive across 2003 & 2004. I noticed in the very early stages of the single promo, a far superior [in my humble opinion] alternate version without Sean Paul, where Blu channels Andrea and performs her own ragga section was played on radio briefly and performed by Blu at live events, did you and Andrea write that original section too?
Yeah, that was the original version of the track. It was originally intended for/accepted by another Arista associate Toni Braxton but politics got in the way.. I actually like the Blu Cantrell chat/rap better than Sean Paul’s section, she killed that performance all by herself!
//PART III: ‘THE INDUSTRY’//
How was your experience on the few co-write placements you’ve done (SWV, En Vogue, Mary) do you enjoy it or do you shy away? Is this just from a business perspective or creative?
I generally don’t like to collaborate with artists because most of come to the creative process with the wrong motivation. It’s all about control & royalties for most of them. They are encouraged by management to develop their writing at the expense of their co-writers.They come in with a bad poem & expect everyone else to turn it into a hit song. The ones that really annoy me are those who call themselves “hit” songwriters but haven’t written for anyone other then themselves. Often, they only pen their album filler & didn’t even have a hand in their own “hit”. The catch 22 is that “collaborating” with the artist is the quickest way to secure a placement. I’ve tried to collaborate with artists & it has been a disaster. I end up just writing the entire song just giving them a piece. It’s usually easier that way. Some artists have pride or want to use the artist for a quick songwriting lesson & would prefer to try. Once they see how difficult it really is & how good they’re NOT, they put that pride down & proudly take credit for a writers work as if they’d really written it.
Have you ever given in to sharing publishing when you felt it wasn’t deserved? [EG] writers/artists contributing little/nothing to a track
YES. Sometimes an artist will interpret a song as artists should & call it a writing contribution. They do a run or riff that wasn’t in the demo & call it a melody change. They change an “if” to a “but” & call it a rewrite. Let’s just say 99% of the songs I’ve placed were already written or specifically written FOR (not by) the artists. Andrea & I rarely collaborate so if you see the artists name or ANY other names listed as writers, it was more then likely a “political” or extortion situation. Andrea & I separately & individually DON’T need anyone’s help to complete a lyric or melody.
How do you feel about established singer/songwriters like Mary & Mariah taking credit on other writers’ references for monetary reasons in the past few years? Do you think it gets to a stage where a singer/songwriter can no longer be ‘fresh’ or successful with their own writing?
Mariah was one of my favorite songwriters of all time. She is the reason I started writing. When I heard her first album & read the credits I was floored. Sometimes artist/writers dry up. They become famous & removed from the things that inspired them. They become unable to access the thing that ignites the magic. It sucks to be robbed by someone you admire. Unfortunately, it had become “standard” in the business. I think it’s disgusting. Karma is a bitch. I used to feel bad for artists when they fall from grace & we are forced to witness their downward spiral as they attempt to clutch on to the highest point in their career. Now, I realize that the law gravity does not exclude celebrity. Most are put in a position where they make choices that solidify Karma’s arrival.
On that note, Beyonce Knowles, who you name as one of the best modern vocal talents is also one of the most notorious for her false credit on many of her released songs over the years. Has this always been the case with artists to some extent at least as long as you’ve been in the industry?
Yes, credit stealing in publishing has always been a problem. Only difference is it used to be those such as the record companies/managers/etc and now its moreso the artists! SMH
Which artists did you submit to who you wish placed your material?
Adele, Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston. Can’t believe I was never able to get a song released on Whitney. I’ll tell you a funny story. “Wish I didn’t miss you” almost didn’t make Angie Stone’s record. I called her the day I sent it to Arista to let her know I had a song for her.She left me a message saying her album was done & she wasn’t recording anymore songs. 2 days later I get a call from Clive’s office saying he loved the song and wanted Angie to record it. Other reps told me Angie Didn’t like it & didn’t want to record it but Clive insisted. Good thing because it turned out to be the most successful record of her career. Arista did EVERYTHING to ensure it was a hit including getting Swizz Beats to replay sample & calling me to help out with a publicity nightmare prior to release. Angie was alleged to have made an anti-gay comment during one of her concerts which offended GLBT activists & community. At the time I was managing a controversial & publicity magnet Caushun “They gay rapper” who was a parody rapper. He was featured internationally from MTV,ITV, BBC1 to the cover of the NY times. Angie’s publicist wanted to smooth over relations with the gay community & enlisted my help to get Angie & Caushun to appear together at an even for “Gay pride” in NY where Caushun was scheduled to appear. The appearance went well, the scandal blew over & the rest is history. Sometimes one must go above & beyond the call of duty to ensure their interest in an artists career.
Speaking of which, what was the story behind the random Swizz Beatz production credit on Angie Stone’s ‘Wish I Didn’t Miss You’? I always thought it was strange that you needed ‘help’ to produce what is basically a looped sample of The O’Jays ‘Backstabber’.
Swizz was the first producer signed to Clive Davis’ newly launched Arista imprint J Records just as Alicia Keys was the first artist, hence their current ‘connection’. Basically he has good friends in high places: the label/politics made me do it to secure the placement on Angie’s J Records-released project ‘Mahogany Soul’.
I always wanted you & Andrea to work with the following 90s R&B legends who I was surprised you never did at the time being that you were at your heights at a parallel: Aaliyah, Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Tamia, Toni Braxton [‘Secrets’ Era], Trey Lorenz and Ray J. Any reason why not?
We did! The tracks were never placed though. Aaliyah was in the ‘One In A Million’ era, and the rest of the tracks were: Brandy – ‘No Ordinary Girl’ [debut album era, prod Jorge Corante] Mary J. Blige – ‘Soulmate’ [2001 ‘No More Drama’ LP era] Tamia – ‘Night & Day’ [debut album era, prod Jorge Corante] Toni Braxton ‘You For Myself’ [1996 ‘Secrets’ era, written by just me, prod Jorge Corante] Trey Lorenz ‘I Won’t Stop’ [prod Wulff Levin, Camus Celli] and Ray J – ‘Same Mistake Twice’ [debut album era, prod Jorge Corante]
What producers or writers in the 90s do you wish you’d worked with?
I am fortunate. I got to work with pretty much everyone I wanted to. Some made me regret wanting to work with them. I would have liked to collaborate with Diane Warren as opposed to just recording one of her songs. Something tells me from knowing her that she’s much like me in that she works better alone. I’d like to have worked with The Neptunes & Raphael Saadiq. They’re probably the only producers from that era that I didn’t get to collaborate with. I was asked to collaborate with Sean “Puffy” Combs back in the day but the track was AWFUL & they paid him $200,000.00 for a bad sample of Kool & the Gang’s “Celebrate”. They refused to pay me to write & fix it. I turned it down & referred Kelly Price. That’s how she got to meet & collaborate with Puff. I knew her from singing with her on several gigs including Mariah Carey. She never knew I’m the one who referred her for that gig but she owe’s me big! You’re welcome Kelly.:)
Did you submit material to any rap artists in the 90s or were there any you would have liked to?
Yes many. unlike songs, rappers pay for silence. They are very upfront about buying the right to take credit & I respect that because they are very generous.LOL. Unlike songs, most raps are NOT “covered” or recut so it’s not as big a deal or loss.
//PART IV: ‘HIS MANTRAS’//
How do you feel about 90s producers making comebacks changing their sounds, working with a wider range of other producers & writers? [EG] Tricky Stewart, DarkChild, StarGate
I think it’s smart. Creative people evolve as does the business. In order to survive one must adapt. The ones you mentioned do well because they have a strong musical foundation. They don’t rely on technology,drum machines & programs to give them musical credibility. They have true musical foundations. Once you have that, adapting is not that difficult. It’s like how Ballet is the foundation for other forms of dance. They have structure, discipline & basic technique from which to build upon. Quality is still quality. If you take a great song from the past & put it in a modern context by adding new/current components; it’s still great. That’s the concept behind successful remakes.Classic style can be updated easily.
Do you feel producers/writers should stick to their one trademark sound or is having a wide variety of sounds/genres important to show versatility?
It’s not as important to show versatility as it is to BE versatile. I believe the best production writing is one where the common thread is quality. Force feeding your writing style/production style onto an artist makes it a trend & cheap advertisement. All trends must come to an end. The best producers/writers are the ones who take the best assets of the artist & showcase/highlight them in an effortless creative presentation.
How do you feel about producers/writers being a lot more accepted/involved in the business side of the music industry this decade and the last with a lot more positions at labels/A&R/on reality shows etc?
I think it’s great. I don’t agree with “current” artists straddling that fence because there is too much of a conflict of interest. I wouldn’t want an artist I’m competing with in the market place making career choices for me. I believe the best experience is realized in hindsight. Someone who has already been there & can view the situation from several perspectives in addition to having great creative & problem solving instinct; like LA Reid or Jimmy Iovine. That’s always best.
//PART V: ‘THE FUTURE’//
Are you working on any new artist placements as I haven’t seen your name in my CD booklets for a while?
You still buy CDs?? LOL I do more film, television and ghostwriting for rappers, which is much more about straight up cash than credit/liner notes 🙂
Are there any artists you would still submit material to today?
Adele, Jesse J, Rihanna, Beyonce, Chris Brown & Usher
Are there any modern rap artists you’d like to submit material to? [either chorus/bridge references or actual rap verses]
YES. Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Fabolous,Drake, Eminem & Rick Ross.
What modern producers’ beats would you like to write on?
With producers today. I don’t hear a lot of consistency. I’m a fan of individual tracks but can’t say there are many that have built a “sound” that is consistent enough for me to be a “fan” of. I think Drake’s production is one of the few right now that has developed a “sound” that is distinctive & I admire.I really like Calvin Harris’s production/writing style as well.
Would you consider working in the A&R/management side of the industry with your expertise?
I would love to. I’ve always preferred working behind the scene. I believe my years of experience as a writer, producer, artist & manager in conjunction with my ideas about the future of music would make me a great asset to the right team. It’s something I’ve thought about and might consider in the future.
Would you welcome the opportunity to ‘amend’ your publishing/management like Andrea moving under the RocNation umbrella or do you feel it gives up too much creative/financial freedom? [EG] specific artists, placements, producer/writer sessions
NOT necessarily. Being with RocNation sounds good on paper but, it hasn’t done much more for Andrea’s career then she’s already been doing. Like most subsidiaries, they acquire successful writers but don’t necessarily make them. It’s a name brand acquiring a name brand which ultimately means more hands in the pot. A company would have to make it worth my while for me to consider it. Secure me some major royalties on one of your major artists & them it might be a more sensible deal.
Would you ever consider launching an artist/protege like Andrea has [sort of] done with Melanie Fiona? Someone to channel your writing/arrangement style exactly without you having to deal with the implications of being an actual artist?
I believe less is more. I’d prefer to do 2 or 3 great tunes on an artist then be knee deep in a project & undo the significance of my contribution. Melanie isn’t Andrea’s “protege”. They have the same management & were put together by him. It’s a win, win for management. I LOVE a few of the songs Andrea did on Melanie. I am not however a fan of that process. I believe it is rare when one person can take an artist & give them a complete, well rounded artistic direction.When it does happen, it is magic that can not be premeditated by administrative, management or a non-creative force. I think it’s self indulgent to attempt that as most artist’s can benefit from a team as opposed to an individual. The other side is I feel like Andrea is a bit under appreciated. She gave Melanie the biggest song of her career & now it seems Melanie is almost in “All about Eve” mode. She is promoting herself as the prominent songwriter of her project and has kind of reduced Andrea’s contribution to a stepping stool in her career. Ironically Melanie’s second LP where Andrea did less of the writing got more critical acclaim. Those types of endings would get under my skin.
Will you and Andrea Martin ever rekindle your songwriting relationship?
I seldom use the word never & my crystal ball is in the shop so I’ll have to let the universe decide that 🙂
Ivan Matias currently resides in his homestate NY, please purchase his music at all relevant outlets and look out for Part VI in an even more in-depth follow up interview in August when I interview the legendary writer in New York City. Please also view an extensive/exhaustive dicsography of his works over @ his DiscogOnline Forum page: