A Poet by Nature

Marybeth Mattson performs. Photo by Len Villano.

Marybeth Mattson will release her first album of original songs at Woodwalk Gallery on May 27. Her music blends a certain folk sensibility with the energy of pop, and a little country-rock flavor. She will be joined on stage by guitarist Seth Raddatz, bassist Patrick Palmer, and percussionist Dan Smrz. Guest musicians include Jeanne Kuhns, Mark Raddatz, Jacob Mattson, Roger Kuhns, and Robin & Jenny Bienemann.

Sally Slattery caught up with the busy, budding musician to discuss the release of her first album, Relative Hunger.

Sally Slattery (SS): You’ve recently recorded your first album, how are you feeling about that?

Marybeth Mattson (MM): Honestly, I never really thought I would be at this point in my life. I was never very musically inclined as a child – I didn’t sing particularly well, and I was never willing to put in the time to really learn an instrument. Besides, with all the musicians in my family, I always felt that I should find something to do that would set me apart from everyone else. I delved into poetry first, and by the time I got to about 7th grade, I knew I would major in English in college – which I did. While at University of Wisconsin – Green Bay I was introduced to performance poetry which both intrigued and intimidated me, but I loved it, and found myself enjoying the part that was performance most of all. The way words weave an image, an idea, and the power those words have especially when performed with attitude and rhythm. I love the cadence a good phrase demands.

When my mom gave me a guitar my last year of college, I thought yeah, right! She gave me a few lessons in open chords and tuning, but it wasn’t until I had finished college and moved back to Door County that I got it. There must be something about Door County, something that begs you to create. After I’d met Seth Raddatz and started singing more with him, as well as with my mom and his dad, I wrote my first, complete song and played it at the open mic at Mojo Rosa’s in Egg Harbor on a Friday night. That was only about three years ago.

Now, here I am having spent the last year and then some writing and recording, and I have a CD coming out. How crazy is that?

SS: Were there any surprises or challenges you did not expect from recording?

MM: There wasn’t much that I didn’t expect, mostly because I’ve watched my mom record four albums, and now her fifth, but I guess I didn’t go into this project thinking it would be a full band album… I figured I’d record my songs, and Seth would make them sound awesome with his guitar leads, and maybe I’d throw some drums and bass on a few of them. What is most excellent, is that Pat Palmer, my mom’s bass player, and Dan Smrz, who played percussion for me, really liked my music and wanted to be a part of it too. I can honestly say that the song arrangements on Relative Hunger are the result of collaborating with all three of these guys, as well as with my recording engineer, Aaron Fischer of Studio Impossible, Sturgeon Bay.

SS: What do you hope to communicate through your music?

MM: My songs are not always easy to interpret, but I hope that people take what they need from them. There are a few songs with obvious lyrics, but I’m a poet by nature, and the truth is flexible for poets. The truth in my songs is in the emotion, the desires we all carry; and for me, the need to figure out this world and make more than just sense of it – to make something that reflects what I take from the world, and what I am willing and able to put back into it. The title of my CD, though perhaps not obvious, reiterates this concept. Relative Hunger is all about what we hunger for, what we desire, what we want, and how that is relative to each person’s life experiences, culture, time, place…We can’t understand each other if we aren’t willing to listen, right? I hope that people listen to my songs, and are able to find their own truth in them.

SS: Where do you find inspiration for your music?

MM: Oh, inspiration – such a fickle thing. As a relatively new musician, in general I’m inspired greatly by other songwriters. I am in awe of the ability of musicians to capture something so intangible as a feeling and share it with others in just around three and a half minutes; or the way a melody can change your mood; the way a harmony changes a melody forever.

Specifically, I find inspiration in words and experiences. I don’t write much about nature, or politics, though I hope that I’ll find a way to in my own words some day. But, take my song “Stranger Days,” which was born from something my grandfather said: “Which will it be, all soap? Or all water? Either way, you’ll never get clean.” I’m not sure where his mind was at that moment, but that phrase, it needed a song.

SS: Describe your music in one sentence?

MM: Folk-pop, a little rock, idling in the passing lane.

The Relative Hunger release concert will be held at 7 pm, following Woodwalk Gallery’s opening reception for their first exhibit of the season from 4 – 6 pm. The $15 cover includes a do-it-yourself picnic dinner from 6 – 6:30 pm. Concert only tickets cost $10. Woodwalk Gallery is located at 6746 County Road G, south of Egg Harbor, just off Highway 42.

Relative Hunger will be available for purchase at Lost Moth Gallery of Egg Harbor, Untitled Used & Rare Books of Sturgeon Bay, Novel Ideas of Baileys Harbor, and Woodwalk Gallery. For more information visit or