When household names like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Rihanna duke it out for the top spot on the Billboard charts, it’s just business as usual.
But when a group of five unknown Asian singers come out of the blue to knock out those heavy hitters, the entire industry takes notice.
Specifically, they’re taking notice of a singing group called Blush — and Scott Mathews, a Mill Valley music producer who has helped to make history with the group and its blockbuster song. For the second week in a row, “Dance On” is No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Chart, the first time an Asian group has even approached the Top 40.
“I aim to finally establish Asian artists as trend setters.” Mathews said. “I get around and work on projects all over the globe, but for me there has never been any international group remotely as appealing and ready to take on the industry as Blush.”
Mathews’ résumé reads like a who’s who of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees and other luminaries.
As a producer, songwriter or performer, Mathews has worked with Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Barbra Streisand, Roy Orbison, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Mick Jagger, John Lee Hooker, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr … the list goes on.
But overseeing five young women from five Asian nations on a quest to top the dance charts — that’s new.
“It has worked to my advantage to be musically schizophrenic and work in most all genres. If the music speaks to me and I have ideas on how to improve it, I’m in. Over the years, my antenna has gotten so high for cutting through the crap,” Mathews said. “If an experience is going to be painful, even if the talent is unbelievable, I’m likely to pass on the project. Life is too short and the outcome will likely fall short as well.”
With Blush, however, Mathews found no prima donnas. “They’re always ready, so unbelievably professional,” Mathews said. “They have the coolest studio demeanor and work ethic.”
Language is rarely a barrier because they all speak and sing in English, but Mathews said he incorporates body language if words don’t do the trick. “I needed an aggressive vocal approach that I didn’t feel I was getting, so I went out in front of the singer and screamed while acting like a gorilla. I’m telling you, we got a great take.”
It started with a TV show, not unlike “American Idol,” that was produced in Asia by Far West Entertainment. The idea was to find singers from various countries who all wanted to be part of a singing group. Contestants were gradually eliminated until five winners, ages 17-23, formed Blush. They hail from India, Japan, China, the Philippines and South Korea.
Initially Blush worked with myriad producers and found some initial success with a track that reached No. 3 which also featured Snoop Dogg. But when Far West’s CEO asked Mathews to step in as executive producer, “Dance On” was released.
The song has propelled Blush into the spotlight by knocking out Rihanna for the top spot. Since the development of the group has all been handled “in house,” Blush now has the luxury to enter into future negotiations with labels, agents, TV, etc., with unprecedented proven success.
Mathews said he has five or six pop songs teed up for Blush. No. 1 on the dance charts paves a good path for the pop charts. In the meantime the singers are going through a form of boot camp, learning choreography and getting schooled in all areas of live performance.
“In the old model of the industry, one would sign a contract and the label would take upwards of 90 percent,” Mathews said. “And of course they never allowed the artist a glimpse of the books. I’ve always maintained the only creative area of the major labels was the accounting department. Blush won’t experience those problems — having hits on our own changes everything. Leverage rocks!”
Mathews’ main passion is discovering, nurturing and developing young, independent artists. He’s seen firsthand the sad waste of talented musicians and singers chewed up by the industry, and he’s having success bucking that trend.
Even though he didn’t come from a particularly musical family, when he had a break from school, Mathews left his home in Sacramento, went to Los Angeles and got work as a session musician when he was 16 years old. He quickly realized that being onstage wasn’t his calling, but the recording studio was.
“By the time I was of legal age to step foot in a club, I was done with them,” he said. “It was never about the smell of the crowd or the roar of the greasepaint.”
Mathews met, worked with and was mentored by a series of industry heavyweights who inspired him to excel in all aspects of the recording industry. He produced, engineered, wrote songs, arranged, played practically every instrument and sang on most of his projects.
After L.A., Mathews found the Bay Area and envisioned a studio that encouraged creativity in a more welcoming environment. Eventually that led to his TikiTown studio near downtown Mill Valley, with a sweeping view of the bay and all the creature comforts of home.
“When I first moved here, Robin Williams told me: “Welcome to the Bay Area. You’re now a part of our wild game preserve,” Mathews said. “That’s not far from the truth. There is so much creativity in every area of the arts here, and no rules apply.”
Mathews settled into the local music scene and became a sought-out producer; a title he has always felt is somewhat misleading.
“In the film biz, the producer is the one who secures the money and hires the talent,” Mathews said. “But music producers are really more like film directors. We work directly with the talent, find the right songs, sometimes co-write a song to suit the artist, see to arranging, basic tracks, layering, vocals and mixing. My job as producer makes me responsible from A-Z. I’m wearing a lot of hats and making hundreds of decisions every day. Somehow it keeps getting more fun after all these years and I think it shows in the work. I can’t imagine anything else more exciting to get me out of bed early in the morning.”
Some decisions came hard to Mathews. He admitted he entered the digital age “kicking and screaming,” resisting the latest technology until it finally provided the familiar, lush sound of analog recordings.
Blush’s only live performance in the Bay Area will be on May 2, at the Gladstone Gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. It’s a benefit for a nonprofit agency called Gladstone Institutes, which supports bio-medical research. Profits all go toward preventing, treating and curing some of the world’s most devastating diseases.
“It will be an incredible night full of amazing food, drinks and two very different types of sets from Blush,” Mathews said.
More information about Scott Mathews is available on his website, scottmathews.com, or by e-mailing him at HitOrMyth@gmail.com. For tickets to the May 2 show, go to gladstone.ucsf.edu/gladstone gala2012/index.html.
Contact Chris Rooney at firstname.lastname@example.org.