Re Mattei: From Uptown Girl to Downtown Nashville

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As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 5

Re Mattei is a Berklee College of Music graduate, songwriter, international performing artist, and an all-around guitar girl. A transplant to Nashville, Re (derived from “Marie”) has applied her own signature to the contemporary country music scene. As a talented composer and instrumentalist, Re has been called a “must-see” performer, who proves herself night after night in Music City.

Reopens up to GGM about her love of music from an early age, her latest album, surviving in the industry, and what really inspires her.

You launched your successful music career by earning a music degree from Berklee and performing lead guitar for an all-female, Top 40 band called the Uptown Girls. How did this play out?

At the time, I didn’t know what I was going to do after college. Just two weeks before graduation, I found a note in my mailbox from a girl who was looking for a guitar player requesting that I call her. Of course, I called, and she said her all-female band was going to be touring and needed a female lead guitarist. So, I went to Austin to audition, and they hired me right on the spot. A few weeks later, after I graduated, we rehearsed for about a month or so, and then went out on the road. We had a really good agent who booked us shows up and down the East Coast. We even went overseas and performed for the troops, playing in Japan, the Philippines, and lots of
other different places. I was with the Uptown Girls for a little over three years, and it was a great experience.

After that, did you go out on your own as a solo artist?

After my time with the Uptown Girls, I came to Nashville to play lead guitar with a singer and fiddle player who landed a record deal. But his wife had a nervous breakdown a week before we were supposed to go out on the road, so I ended up stuck in Nashville. After a while, I went back on the road again, but eventually came back and started writing and singing around town. I had different people try to help me with my music career around town, but I stopped for a while because I needed health insurance and didn’t want to be broke. So, I quit music altogether and went to work to make ends meet. But I wasn’t happy working outside of the music industry. I was sinking and felt like part of my soul had died. In 2013, I decided to get back into music and came out with my first single, “Country Love.” That launched me back on the charts and got me performing again.

When did you start playing guitar? When did you get your first guitar?

I started playing music when I was nine years old and was about 12 when I got my first guitar. I copyrighted my first song when I was nine. At that time, I’d decided I was going to be a writer. I’d wake up early in the morning and write down all these song ideas. I then realized that I really needed a way to perform my songs, so I started taking guitar lessons. I’ll never forget my teacher, Tony Tesch, because he started me in the Berklee books before I even went to Berklee. He introduced me to Wes Montgomery, and because of him, I fell in love with the jazz.

What is your songwriting process?

The process depends on who I’m writing with. In recent years, I really don’t like to pull out my guitar right away. I went to a Nashville Songwriters Association song camp one year, and I learned that it’s good to put down your instrument and try to write something without it. When you write with an instrument, you tend to use the same chords or the same tempo and give it the same kind of feel. When I write with others, they’ll all pull out their guitars, and I’ll just say, “I’m not going to pull mine out yet.” Sometimes it leads me to a whole different place in writing than I would have ended up if I had picked up the guitar right away and began with a certain chord or rhythm.

I have a book full of song ideas. For example, if I’m driving in my car, I’ll use a voice recorder to record whatever song idea that pops into my mind. Sometimes I’ll already have a melody in my head, which may be just a verse idea, and I’ll take those ideas and write them down on paper. It’s funny how in a writing session, I’ll start with an idea. Then we’ll all start talking about the idea, and soon it’ll turn into something totally unique and different. I think that when we write with other people, it always takes the song to a new level because you have all these other perspectives and melodies based on their past experiences that they bring and contribute to the song.

How would you describe the music you create? Would you label it strictly country, or do you have any other genres you mix with it?

I love ’80s music. Some of my work will have a bit of an ’80s feel to it at times, some of the beats and some of the stuff. In my live shows, I do some things that rock out a little bit more. I’ve actually even written some country gospel songs. I went to jazz school, so I really learned to respect all different genres. With me, it all depends on the song. You will hear a combination of music, and I think that kind of shows in my writing, in my playing, and in my performing.

Tell us about your guitar collection.

When I was performing in Singapore, I bought a customized ‘78 Stratocaster from this awesome guitarist. I like a versatile guitar. For me, that pickup really gives me a thick, mellow, and dark sound, but also a brighter sound that works for country music.

For an acoustic, I really wanted a Martin, since it’s well known for that great, typical country sound that you hear in the studio. I went into a Guitar Center, and I played every Martin. But my hands are smaller, and since a Martin neck is very thick, it’s just not a comfortable guitar for me. An employee suggested I try a Taylor. So, I played a Taylor Auditorium and fell in love with it.

My Ovation has a special place in my heart because when I first started learning guitar at age 12, my parents bought me an Ovation, which I consider to be my first serious guitar. When I play my Ovation, it reminds me of my parents, who have always been so supportive of my career. That guitar was also on the road with me when I toured with the Uptown Girls.

Now, what about your wish list?

I could probably have hundreds of guitars, but I really want an old Telecaster so badly. I love that old Tele sound. One of these days I’m going to have one. It’s true what they say: You can just pick up a guitar and know it’s supposed to be yours. Someday, I’ll pick up one of those older Teles and I’ll know.

The other guitar on my wish list is a Collings Pete Huttlinger Signature acoustic. Pete went to Berklee with me, and he was an awesome guitar player. Not many people at Berklee played country music at that time because it was known more as a jazz school. But Pete did, and I was in all the same classes as him. I was writing and singing at the time, and asked Pete if he wanted to play guitar with me. He said, “Of course!” So, we performed together. Eventually, I went on the road, and Pete left Berklee. We all moved on and unfortunately lost touch.

In 2013, I was getting ready to record in the studio again when I called Pete and asked him to play with me. He agreed and played on my three-song EP that I only sell at shows. One of the songs on it is “Country Love,” which went out as a single. Pete never charged me for his work. I tried to pay him, but he wouldn’t let me. Pete was on the road with a lot of famous people like John Denver. Vince Gill commented that Pete was one of the best guitar players he’d heard. Unfortunately, he developed a congenital heart defect and passed away. He was an incredible player, and his passing was very hard for me.

You’ve posted some “Pete Licks” videos on your social media accounts. What are you hoping for people to take away from viewing these?

When Pete died, it was really very heartbreaking for me. I wanted to show the world the true Pete Huttlinger and how I knew him. In the first couple of videos, I actually went into detail about Pete; he had a lot of educational CDs and DVDs you can learn from, and one of them is about the 50 Greatest Guitar Pickin’ Licks. I’m currently posting one of these videos per week as a tribute to Pete Huttlinger.

You have a new album titled Believin’ Is Seein’ due out this fall, which I believe features mainly originals. Is that correct?

The songs are all originals except for one, and that’s my latest release called “Feels Like It’s Gonna Rain.” A while back, someone gave me “Feels Like It’s Gonna Rain” to listen to and asked if I could find someone who might want to record it. I listened to that song for six months, and every time I did, I just felt like it was meant for me. It was written by three people, one of which is Carrie Underwood.

Tell us about some of the musicians who worked with you on Believin’ Is Seein’.

Jason Roller plays fiddle, electric guitar and acoustic guitar. Marshall Richardson plays the drums for me in a lot of stuff. Dow Tomlin is the bass player I use on almost everything I’ve done. Scott Neubert plays guitar and mandolin, and he’s on a lot of my stuff, too. In fact, when I played during CMA Fest, I was at the George Jones, and Scott was the guitar player that played. I use Steve Peffer a lot on keyboards. He plays a Hammond organ, and you’ll hear it in almost all my songs, which I think gives it a little bit of unique flavor. What I love about these guys is they also play on the road, so they’re not just studio musicians. They take my songs and make them unique, rather than sounding like every other country song. I feel like these guys do a great job hearing what’s in my head and helping it to become a Re Mattei kind of sound. They’re easy to work with and are a great bunch of guys.

Who produced Believin’ Is Seein’?

Bart Pursley and I produced it. Being able to co-produce the album was one of the things that was really important to me when it came to picking a producer. Bart is great because, for example, if I feel we should add to the melody or vocals, he lets me do it. It’s a very relaxed relationship in the studio, and we work well together. Aside from me, he’s recorded acts such as Big & Rich and has such a long list of people that he’s engineered and produced, it’s amazing. He’s been in Nashville for a lot of years and understands the music business and the artists. He’s really good at bringing out the best in me. I’m grateful to have a good team behind me.

Being in Music City, you must be exposed to a lot of big-name talent. Who are some of your musical influences in the industry today?

I would have to say Carrie Underwood, and not just because she co-wrote one of my songs, but because she represents country music in a very good way. She’s very talented at what she does and does a variety of different styles of country. Some of her stuff is more traditional, and other things she does are more contemporary. Overall, she’s been a great addition for women in country music.

I really like Miranda Lambert, too. She writes a lot of music that I think people can relate to. Vince Gill is a great country guitar player, and he has a beautiful voice. He’s such a great musician, singer, and guitarist. I love Maren Morris. She’s a little newer to the business – and she’s young – but I really feel like she has an old soul. Her writing is so mature, but it reaches so many people. Maren has really brought a unique sound to the music scene, and I really like that.

As far as other guitar players, of course, Brad Paisley. He’s just a phenomenal guitar player. There’s so many good people like Brad who are out now that I really enjoy. There’s a lot of new talent, and what I love is that they’re starting to collaborate with each other. I love when artists lift each other up, share each other’s talent and writing abilities, and perform songs together. I just love to see that.

Do you feel a shift in a positive direction for women in country music?

Yes, I think we’re seeing more female talent that will stay around. For example, Carrie Underwood has been out now for quite a while, but people still love her. Her songs still do well. I really think she’s going stay around. At one time you had Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette, and I see Carrie Underwood as being the new generation of that, which says a lot about women’s role in country music. It seems that country music on a whole is getting back to its traditional sounds. Jon Pardi had a song out recently that was a little more traditional sounding. Chris Stapleton’s work is a little more traditional sounding. So, I think we’re seeing a little shift in the overall sound of country, too.

Any advice you would like to offer to a young woman wanting to pursue a career in music?

Just follow your dream. Do it your way, because there is no one right way. Make sure it’s true to your heart and authentic to you. Whatever you enjoy doing, however you enjoy playing, make it authentic. Don’t go after what people think is how you should do it. If you stay authentic and do the things you love, then that’s going to shine through. People will see that. If you’re jamming with a bunch of guys and they don’t realize you can take a solo, just say, “Hey guys, I’d like to take the solo.” Sometimes you just have to remind people of what you can do.

Photos provided by artist

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