Earlier this week Matthew “2 Mello” Hopkins released his latest album; Memories of Tokyo-To. It’s a love letter to Jet Set Radio and the musical impact it had on Mello. With his years of experience, he sought to make the best album he could. Which I can vouch for, given my previous editorial. Yes, it’s his most ambitious project to date. It’s also his most commercially successful as an artist. As of now, it’s one of the top selling albums on Bandcamp.
All of this success for Matt feels like it’s been a long time coming. He’s been a composer, sound engineer, and music wizard for 15 years now. So seeing him get this attention/recognition is certainly motivational. It’s something to admire in this world of self made artists.
So with all that said, I got an opportunity to interview Mello about the album. What’s to follow is good old music talk. We talk about his inspiration, creative process, and little known facts. Please enjoy the interview as I pick his brain.
Better Rhymes: I understand that Jet Set Radio inspired you to pursue a career in music. What exactly appealed to you that got those juices flowing? The grand variety of the soundtrack? The way it was constructed to be thematic with the gangs and storyline? Anything that most people would be surprised about?
Mello: I guess something people would be surprised about is that I don’t like a lot of game music. A lot of it is just okay to me, fits the thing it’s for enough, but I wouldn’t listen to it outside of the game.
However, I think the music of Jet Set Radio and some other games really does something exceptional, enhancing their games while creating a new type of sound. There is still no other music just like Jet Set Radio’s soundtrack. Or Katamari’s, or Chrono Trigger’s or Silent Hill’s. A lot of games just created new sounds.
[The games he listed are all noted for their different musical directions. They created their own particular stylings to fit the overall experience.]
BR: If possible can you tell us what event lead you to creating this album? A moment at work? Were you playing the game and just said “why the hell not”?
M: I had an album idea that was already similar–trying to figure out how to put my work on Cerebrawl that people loved into something I could sell now–and the presence of the Jet Set Radio community online made me bold enough to gauge interest with a tweet asking if people would want an album called “Jet Set Radio III”.
[I recall correctly he teased this near the end of July 2017]
BR: So you mentioned this album took 7-8 months to create. What song took the longest time to get made. Or to get to the level you wanted?
M: A toss-up between Getaway and Rock The Beat!, those both came together at essentially the last minute. I had a very good loop or sequence for both of them, for the longest time, but couldn’t take it anywhere that made a full song. At one point, Getaway was going to turn into a Zapp cover–“I Can Make You Dance“, because young kids need to know how ill that song is.
[I Can Make You Dance is pretty ill]
BR: Ok let’s talk about you and transitions in songs. You don’t follow I guess the “conventional” method. You offer a reprieve and then gradually get the song back on track. How did this 2 Mello signature develop?
M: Probably it’s from game composing–getting used to expressing a lot with a song in 90 seconds or less, but also making sure it never gets tiring. You kind of get really into this tension and release pattern of music that works itself into all of your stuff. The transitions in Big Beast were surprising even to me as I made them. I wanted that song to build into a fury and then relax, a few times, just like a good boss fight.
[At the 3:10 point Big Beast switches to a light tune before building back to the rock]
BR: Where did you impress yourself the most? When did you sat back and say: wow I did that on a track?
M: I like the amount of different sections 24 Hour Party People has, and how much the verses partner up with the beat. I think that’s the advantage of being a producer and a rapper–like, the one advantage, because otherwise it’s just an increased workload. At least you know exactly what you’re doing. I probably listened to this song the most for enjoyment outside of work on the album.
[24 Hour Party People is a track in which he sings and raps throughout the entire song]
BR: You have some serious vocal talent. I understand people expressed otherwise. What song do you feel best represents this on the album?
M: Thank you! I’ve gotten some hate mail and aggressive in-person criticism in the past about my voice, but I’ve grown a lot since those times. Probably my vocals on Poison Jam and Rock The Beat. It doesn’t really even sound like me, but it IS, and I’m surprised my voice had that much to get out, and that I was physically able to.
[He really does an impressive job vocally on both songs]
BR: On track 3, Say Somethin’. You end it with a funny anecdote. You mentioned you can create an entire instrumental from mouth sounds. We know you can. How long did it take to create that for the track? Also when/how did you get the idea?
M: It took about fifteen minutes to create the instrumental with my mouth at the end, and honestly, I did it because I ran out of ideas for that song completely! I spit 12 bars, sang and then joked around for the rest of it. I like how it turned out, but I felt hopeless at the time and was just very stressed out about the master copy being late.
[Sometimes the most random ideas are the best]
BR: Ok we’re going to get specific. For Midnight in Tokyo-to at 1:45 you introduce this amazing series of sounds. It sounds like synth keys/sounds that are creeping on the track? Can I ask how do you make that? Or if your more comfortable…how did that idea of those sounds come about?
M: If you’re talking about the little pitter-patter synth plucks in the right ear at 1:45, they were a simple synth sound to make.
The reason they are there is: synth sounds that are in the high and mid-high range and percussive like that can brighten up a moment of a track and enhance the beat and momentum of everything, while also not being that much of a sound and staying out of focus. Put them in a pattern that is not too overbearing and distracting, but also not too sparse, and they will help you out a lot.
BR: When creating an album do you ask for any feedback during the process? Or do you generally just create and revisit tracks until you’re satisfied personally?
M: Sometimes I do ask for feedback, if I think that something I’m doing is pushing the barriers of aural tolerance, or I become convinced that something might just be a bad idea.
But I was feeling so good about everything on this album that I didn’t want to know if someone thought it was bad or wrong and I wasn’t going to let anyone else influence it. It was rude, but smart.
[That confidence in his art was heard loud and clear]
BR: What is something particular to your style of production that fans would be surprised that you do? Something that most producers you know don’t do?
M: I arrange a lot of individual sound clips on the timeline in Ableton to do things as simple as making drumbeats, while most producers do that in a nice, organized Drum Rack instrument.
I also almost never play stuff live from the Mixer view, yet the program is called Ableton “Live”… I spend too much production time in headphones and not as much as I should using my studio monitors. It’s like a comfort blanket. I am generally much more into perfecting a sound with mouse clicks than playing a sound live on drum pads or keys and just seeing what happens.
There are so many things that separate me from other musicians and almost all of them are bad! Just kidding, it’s all a matter of personal taste and the only thing that matters is the end product.
Hopefully this interview has really helped you get a better idea of Mello’s style. More than anything, I hope it’s got you interested in the album. I believe all artist have their particular quirks that makes their music special. I think we all got a better sense of who he is. Memories of Tokyo-To can be purchased via Bandcamp.
You can follow 2 Mello’s musical musings and so forth via