“When I was performing at the Paul Rusch Festival in Kiyosato in Japan recently, a group of over 40 line dancers turned up at the show. Afterwards they told me they had been dancing to ‘Arizona On My Mind’ for nearly a year and when they saw that I was going to be in their home town they immediately bought tickets. In fact I’ve received emails from line dancers from all over the world about my music. And then to see the YouTube dance (My Heart Won’t Let Go) is getting close to 39,000 visits; that’s pretty awesome.” (Note: Over 45,000 visits now.) Canadian country singer Jake Mathews indeed sounded extremely impressed at the power of our line dance community to promote his music.
But let me take you back …. it all started on a weekend trip outside of Toronto. As my husband Michael and I slowly toured the pretty countryside our background music was the local country station. All of a sudden my attention was drawn to a song that I had never heard before. I turned up the volume, grabbed a piece of paper and pen but, frustratingly, the announcer didn’t give the name or the singer. I wrote down some of the lyrics hoping I might be able to track it down. But my luck was in, the very next day when we headed off again, on came the same song and this time the announcer told us that it was ‘Arizona On My Mind’ by “up and coming young singer Jake Mathews from Sudbury, Ontario”. As soon as I reached home I got hold of the album and found not just this particular song which is still one of my favourites but also a CD full of wonderfully danceable country music.
Straight away, Fred Buckley and I got to work on a dance which we called ‘On My Mind’ and a few weeks later we presented it at our workshop in Toronto in October 2007. Since then that dance has traveled all over the world and many more lucky people have had the opportunity to hear Jake Mathew’s powerful vocals. Meanwhile, however, I emailed Jake and asked if he would send his CD to Tim Ruzgar. Jake was intrigued to hear from this line dancer and happy to accede to my request. The end result was that Tim loved the CD and made it his album of the month in March. More dances were written to Jake’s songs and the singer was on his way in our line dance world.
So it was with interest and keen anticipation that I picked up the phone to conduct an interview with Jake phoning from Calgary. A friendly, warm voice greeted me. My list of formal questions melted away as we immediately chatted like old friends. Jake’s enthusiasm for our line dancing warmed my heart as you can imagine and his easy manner put me completely at my ease. From his photo you get an image of the good lookin’ ‘boy next door’. You can imagine him with a baseball glove or ice hockey stick in his hand. Yet at the same time there’s the sense of the gentleman about Jake and certainly that was my impression as we talked. The music business involves a lot of travel but Jake told me he has a very patient and supportive wife and he is the proud father of a 2 ½ year old little boy. I learnt that Jake’s father was one of a family of 20 children. They used to have large family reunions and someone would invariably pick up a guitar or fiddle so there always music around as Jake grew up. Interestingly enough though, only Jake and brother Gil Grand went on to have careers in music. Gil’s CD ‘Someone’s Somebody’ was made album of the month for November by Tim Ruzgar so we’re talking about talented siblings here.
The brothers have always been close and although Gil is 31/2 years older and started his musical career earlier they would sit in on each others’ bands when they were younger and would perform together at family reunions and around the house. Gil moved down to Nashville around 10 years ago about the same time as Jake moved to Calgary but they’ve always been supportive of each others’ careers and in the last couple of years they have started to work together and the tour of Japan was with both of them on the bill. Jake didn’t preclude more brotherly duos in the future although he did note that they have different styles and approaches to their own music and distinctive styles and he couldn’t foresee them as a future ‘Bellamy Brothers’!
It was around the young age of 14 that Jake started playing the guitar, singing and writing songs and subsequently he played with a number of different bands. Meanwhile though he studied and went through university earning a B.Sc. (Bachelor of Science). He worked with a number of governmental agencies and also environmental companies. But music hovered around the edges of his life all the time and eventually he decided he could ignore the pull no longer. “The music business is tough”, Jake told me “it is not for the faint hearted. You have to really believe in your talent and ability and you have to love what you do.”
Jake’s self titled debut album came out in 2002. He reached the top 20 of the country music charts with every one of his five single releases from the album. Jake was nominated for CCMA Rising Star; the Canadian Radio Music Awards; Outstanding New Country Artist; Prairie Music Week – Outstanding Country Album, and Western Canadian Music Awards – Outstanding Country Album.
But Jake was just getting started and the year 2004 heralded his second album “Time After Time” to glowing accolades and tributes from country music critics and the public alike. Quoting Tim Ruzgar “Whilst many of Nashville’s finest are losing their way with fans, and the record companies there don’t seem to know what to get their artists to release, Jake Mathews shows them all how to do it.” Jake is an excellent musician and a singer with a voice that can tug on our heart strings and at the same time pull us from our seats onto the dance floor. He is also a talented song writer who co-wrote 4 tracks on the album including dance hits including the smooth ‘Arizona On My Mind’. I asked him about the significance of the hot desert state of Arizona for a boy from the chilly surrounds of Sudbury in northern Ontario. Jake told me that “The song came about when my co-writer started talking about a woman he had met named Arizona. We thought it would be cool to write a song about a guy longing to return to Arizona which could be interpreted either way.....state or woman.”
Jake also wrote the toe tapping honky-tonk shuffle ‘My Heart Won’t Let You Leave My Mind’ and I asked him if he had dancing in mind at the time. He told me that even though he has seen many line dancers at clubs across Canada he doesn’t know much about the dances or steps as he’s always busy playing music. That said, Jake added “I've always loved shuffles and didn't have one while I was putting the album together so I decided to write one. I was very happy with the way it turned and I get a lot of feedback from people saying they enjoy dancing to it so it just kind of happened that way.”
I asked about Jake’s favourite song from the album and he noted that although he felt it was a touch choice as he likes them all for different reasons “I've always liked story songs and the last song on the album ‘He Never Learned How’ I think tells a great story. It's about a rodeo cowboy but the message is universal”.
George Strait and Merle Haggard are Jake’s country music heroes and, with a twinkle in his voice, Jake told me he sees himself as “new old country”. Certainly the lyrics in his songs tend to tell a real slice-of-life story but one set in contemporary times. As such he appeals to traditional country music lovers and also reaches out to converts who started listening when ‘New Country’ became the “in thing”.
So what does the future hold for Jake Mathews? “I’d like to break into the US market now and then ultimately I want to be able to produce and write music on my terms, to be in control of my own destiny”. He’d like to travel more and would love to perform in the UK and meet his line dancer fans there. However, in the immediate future Jake will be back in the studio in January 2008 and recording in Nashville. The first single from the new album should be released around April and then the album itself will hit the record stores in the summer. “Will there be songs for line dancers on it do you think”? I asked him. “Most definitely” was his response.