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Atlanta’s Mattiel Finds Chemistry With the InCrowd

It’s remarkable how Mattiel Brown’s self-titled debut album has so quickly struck a chord with a growing audience. Released in September via Fullerton, CA power-pop and garage-punk outpost Burger Records, the Mattiel LP finds the frontwoman channeling elements of classic folk, ’60s pop and ’70s countrypolitan inflections into a bold and confident musical stride.

Brown throws her whole voice into every note she sings, placing her performances a league apart from the breathy, exhausted vocal deliveries that define so much of her contemporaries’ fare. In conversation, she doesn’t miss a beat when proclaiming, “Freddie Mercury is my all-time performance idol.”

Brown discovered her muse at a young age, after watching video footage from Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance at London’s Wembley Stadium. “I will never forget watching him onstage in front of, like, a million people. He just slaughtered with his performance,” she says. “Sometimes people will say that I remind them of Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane, too. I understand that,” she adds, “but Freddie is my guy, 100 percent. He was so great.”

Brown’s songs billow with atmosphere and immediacy. Mattiel’s opening salvo, “Whites of Their Eyes,” takes shapes as a bluesy rock number propelled by the steady rhythm of marshal drumming and sharp guitar hooks steeped in powerful imagery lifted from tales about the Revolutionary War. Later, her voice reaches new highs on “Count Your Blessings,” a song that recalls the heart-swelling chemistry of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s late-’60s pairings. “Baby Brother” and “Cass Tech” evoke Motown and Stax Records’ underwater grooves.

Throughout, Brown balances full-bodied vocal performances with instrumental arrangements that walk a fine line between hazy mystique and studio polish. But the 25-year-old Brown and the Atlanta-based InCrowd songwriting team that backs her on the record and onstage possess a keen awareness that it takes more than talent and production to leave an impression on the hearts and minds of a crowd.

<a href=”” mce_href=””>MATTIEL LP by Mattiel</a>

InCrowd is a consortium of musicians led by songwriters Jonah Swilley—brother to Black Lips singer and bassist Jared Swilley—and Randy Michael, who’s spent time playing with everyone from Public Enemy to Bruno Mars, and even makes a cameo appearance in the video for “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” from David Bowie’s 2013 album, The Next Day.

Much like Los Angeles’ Wrecking Crew, Michael and Swilley formed InCrowd to function as a team of studio musicians to write songs for others. “She writes the lyrics and melodies, and we do it all live at my house,” Michael told Atlanta’s Creative Loafing in 2014.

The initial idea behind their dynamic was to keep InCrowd in the studio and assemble a different team of players to take Brown’s show on the road. But the chemistry they’ve developed together would be muddled in the hands of anyone else. “There is no way I would want to play these songs with anyone else,” Brown says. “We came up with them together, and to play them with anyone else would change everything quite a lot.”

This week, with guitarists Swilley and Michael, bassist Sean Clive Thompson and drummer Jordan Manley in tow, Brown makes her Athens debut with a two-night stand at the Georgia Theatre opening for psych-pop outfit Portugal. The Man. With both nights already sold out, she’s making a grand entrance for her first shows in the Classic City, but that’s the way she likes it: More pressure equals a greater performance. Last September, the same month her LP arrived, Brown traveled to Nashville for an in-store performance at Third Man Records. When she took the stage, she realized that Jack White was in the crowd, watching the show.

“I still think of it as my favorite show I’ve ever played,” Brown says. “In situations like that, you start to wonder if having this really important person watching you is going to affect the show, but it only made everything better,” she adds. “You get into this mode where you say to yourself, ‘This is it, it’s time to one-up yourself and put on a show that counts.’”