As COVID-19 wrecked the globe, producer Tom Lagergren, aka Matoma
, used quarantine as a chance to reconnect with himself.
Years had passed since Lagergren, who will perform at the Westword Music Showcase
on Saturday, September 18, remained in his home country of Norway for an extended period of time. During the peak of his touring career, he would spend 300 days a year traveling the world, collaborating with other artists and playing massive gigs.
Going from such a hectic, thrilling schedule to isolation shocked him at first. As he realized he might be stuck at home for over a year, Lagergren worried about his career. But a reality check from his girlfriend gave him some perspective on the situation. She reminded him that people everywhere were losing their homes, jobs and even lives while he remained in his house making music.
“She said it with tough love and brutality, but she meant it in the nicest way,” Lagergren says. Her words helped him realize, “Now I have the time to really reconnect with myself, with the spirit within me.”
He spent time in nature and hung out with his girlfriend and with friends and family, giving himself new energy — and as he did so, his music began to evolve.
“It really gave me an inspirational path that was reflected in my music. Over the last year, I’ve been working nonstop on the music,” he says. “COVID
gave me the perspective of what inspiration feels like again. It’s been a breath of fresh air in my case. I’m very motivated, excited. I’m discovering new sounds.”
For Lagergren, the music has always been the most engaging aspect of his career. Even as we talk, he takes breaks from the conversation to jam on the piano.
With touring off the table over the past eighteen months, he started finding new ways to express his love for creating, and he found the world ready to receive what he was making.
Lagergren partners with the well-known music creation and collaboration platform Splice, for which he produces samples and sounds. He was a mentor on the Norwegian version of The Voice
, which one of his artists recently won. He even made fresh music for a 4,000-year-old hot-cold ritual at Farris Bad, a historic Scandinavian spa resort.
“Even though I haven’t been able to tour, I’ve done all these other things with music,” he says. “There have been a lot of really positive inputs.”
Those have affected far more than Lagergren’s individual creativity. They've shifted his entire career trajectory during quarantine, as he decided to leave Atlantic Records
, his label of six years, to become an independent artist.
Matoma left Atlantic Records to go 100 percent independent.
Many artists strive throughout their careers to land a deal with a label like Atlantic that offers support, connections, infrastructure and a decades-old reputation. Lagergren had been with Atlantic since Matoma took off after he posted his now infamous remix of the Notorious B.I.G.'s “Old Thing Back.”
Yet he knew it was time for a change.
“There was something happening within me,” he recalls. “Sometimes things happen for a reason. I was at a crossroads, and it felt natural to take the left instead of the right. I was nervous, of course, but I felt it was time. ”
So he dropped his recent single, “Summer Feeling,” an acoustic-guitar-driven house jam with vocals from nascent singer-songwriter Jonah Kagen. It was his first official release in this phase of his career as an independent. While Lagergren is grateful for his collaboration with Atlantic, being in full control of his music is something he values to the highest degree.
“I’m super proud of the music I released over the last few years, but I just felt like I needed something new in my career. There were too many chefs at the table. There were too many decisions,” he explains. “With a big major label, you invest within the label. When you’re independent, you solely invest in yourself. I remember when I started making music and I put up music on SoundCloud: It was me making the music and taking the step of releasing it.”
SoundCloud played a vital role in his ascent through the ranks of dance music. At the time, it was an independent platform for independent artists. It was free of advertisements, and there was no music that required payment to unlock. Lagergren started posting remixes all the way back in 2014, and many of his remixes from that era remain on his profile to this day. Atlantic reached out about signing him to its roster simply because he had amassed a huge following on SoundCloud from posting his own music.
What was most beneficial for users of the site was that remixes, edits and samples could live on profiles without being exiled by record labels, publishers or other large entities in the industry. Experimentation was welcomed and even celebrated.
That level of freedom fostered an entire community of creators, and that community is what Lagergren appreciated most about SoundCloud.
“SoundCloud was such a great tool for me to show my skills as a producer,” he says. “Growing up and being a bedroom producer, your network isn’t that big. [SoundCloud] was a community for young producers, old producers, well-established producers, unestablished producers. It was a very nice community to be in, [and] helped me a lot to gain the confidence to release music.”
Lagergren fondly remembers the feeling of reading comments from fellow producers on his music, seeing them like it, share it and follow him. He found the experience of making music for his own enjoyment uplifting.
His first love was old-school rap. He would find a cappella rappers on YouTube, then rip them and remix them to beats he would jam out to on the piano. That music is the truest reflection of himself, and quarantine reignited that connection to it.
“For me, [quarantine] showed me that life is short,” Lagergren says. “I saw the light at the end of the tunnel that showed me the important things in life, the things you can’t take for granted. Health. Family. These are things I wouldn’t say I’ve taken for granted, but I have in a way, because it’s always been about me and my time when it comes to touring. Right now shows that you can do both. You can have a balanced life, be with your loved ones and also tour.”
Lagergren is about to head out on his first tour since quarantine began, and the Westword Music Showcase will be one of his first stops. Looking back on his years of touring, he has many great memories of playing in Denver.
“Denver has always been a place for music. Whenever I go to Denver, it’s been great," he says, adding that Mile High audiences "don’t judge. They're open to learning about new cultures. People connect with the music in such a spiritual and lovely way.”
The Westword Music Showcase takes place September 17 and 18 in the RiNo Art District. For tickets and more information, visit the Westword Music Showcase online.