While sitting on a sofa at Panther City Coffee House, junior religion major Jeff Mathena sips a Mocha Milkshake and discusses music, the great passion in his life. The guitarist, singer and songwriter transferred from Belmont University in Nashville to TCU his sophomore year.
“Belmont wasn’t a good fit for me, and I felt I was being led to leave,” he explained.
When asked to describe the appeal of Texas over Nashville, Mathena replied, “It’s hard to make a name for yourself in Nashville. Everyone’s just waiting to get on stage and is not impressed with much. Texas has a great underground music scene, which makes it much easier to find a following and develop a fan base.”
Although Mathena has performed at numerous venues, including Panther City Coffee House, The Sapphire Lounge and The Aardvark, he did not truly find his love for music until he attended a John Mayer concert during his junior year of high school.
“Seeing the freedom of the musicians on stage and how they fed off of the energy of the crowd made me realize that it was the kind of performing I wanted to do,” he said.
It was at this point that Jeff began pursuing song writing as well as discovering the difficulties that come along with it.
“Here’s what it is,” said Mathena at the edge of his seat, “There’s not just one way to write a pop song. Nobody’s created a school for writing popular music. It’s its own animal; it isn’t about complexity of melodies like classical music, it’s more about a way of expressing yourself.”
If there is one thing that Mathena knows about music, however, it is that it is better to listen to the artists of the past in order to develop a unique sound.
“The last thing an artist wants to do is idolize someone who is popular now,” he explained.
He also makes it clear that although it was John Mayer who provided the spark that ignited his love of singing and songwriting, it is artists of the past, such as Bob Dylan, who keeps his passion ablaze.
“My music is very personal yet not always very specific to my life.” Mathena said.
Mathena explained that the time it takes to create one song can range from 30 minutes to two years.
“Typically, what I do when I write a song is, I’ll take a catch phrase from a movie, book or billboard or something that someone said, and I’d hear a melody in my head with that one line. Then the song just expands from there,” Mathena said.
For Mathena, one of the greatest joys of performing comes from the audience.
“Writing music is like having a conversation with the audience, and performing is a heightened version of that conversation. I’m amazed by the reactions I get from people who come to the show,” he said. “It’s the best feeling in the world to have someone, whether you know them or not, say that they enjoyed and connected with the music. It’s gratifying.”
Along with earning his degree and performing his music, Mathena is currently working for Paul Steele, who runs an artist management and booking agency called Iam Agency. Jeff met Steele through his fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi.
“He helped me start playing local venues and get going in the right direction,” Mathena said.
You can find out more information regarding performances and the release of his CD on his Web site at www.jeffmathena.com.