After spending a year and a half working on his first album, singer/songwriter/producer Matthew Koma decided to take a break from the writing process to play some shows- what happened next came as a total surprise. "As we were finishing up the album I went out on the road and ended up writing a few songs that felt like they cracked some sort of code for me," explains the 25-year-old Koma, who's also served as a songwriter for Swedish House Mafia's Sebastian Ingrosso, Alesso, Zedd, and other leading-edge electronic/dance artists. "The new songs felt much more in line with where I wanted to go, so I went back into record making mode and in somewhat of a burst of inspiration, made a whole new album in about three weeks." The result of that surge of creative energy, Koma's debut album Arcadia both honors his roots in high-passion rock music and reveals an indie-pop sensibility that's undeniably of the moment.
"I grew up on songwriters like Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello, and it was really important to me to put out an album that's true to my love for that music but also very much uniquely me," says Koma of Arcadia. For help in striking that balance, Koma teamed up with his longtime friend Tim Pagnotta (former member of alt-rock band Sugarcult and songwriter for artists like Neon Trees),Twice As Nice (the Australian producer/songwriter duo known for their work with 50 Cent and Pete Wentz) and Sam Watters (Kelly Clarkson, Keri Hilson), who was Koma's writing partner in the foundational part of the album's inception. Also featuring the musicians that make up Koma's live band, Arcadia finds Koma creating a truly genre-bending sound by merging organic production with the left-of-center lyrical and melodic finesse he's carefully honed through his work with EDM artists.
The lead single off Arcadia, an arena-sized powerhouse titled "One Night" was the catalyst for Koma's reimagining of his debut album. Koma wrote the track during his autumn 2012 tour, quickly added it to his setlist, and soon found the song-with its singalong, chants and biting lyrics about a one night stand gone wrong-to be a fan favorite. "I kind of took the old-school approach of writing something new and testing it out on the road in infant stages to see how the crowd reacted to it," says Koma. "'One Night" seemed to resonate with the audience, so that inspired me to keep going and write more songs with that same sort of honesty and energy."
All throughout Arcadia, Koma shows off his skills at lacing hook-filled pop with lyrics that offer both raw emotionalism and a refined sense of imagery. On "Girls in Their Shorts in the Summer," for instance, Koma wraps his sweetly soulful vocals around an instantly hummable update on the classic girl-watching anthem ("It was late in a July heat wave in the parking lot of 7-Eleven/She was sipping on cherry-pink lemonade in denim jean shorts, she said her name was Heaven"). "Turbulence" -- an ode to the sentiment "til death do us part" ("Meet me in the corners of your mind, we can build a new cloud nine, with higher fence. and baby I'll be your slow descent, through this turbulence") to an elegantly electro-infused soundscape. And on "Suitcase," Koma delivers a regret-soaked ballad that's brutally candid about the pain of being the bad guy in a breakup. "That's my favorite song on the record," says Koma of "Suitcase." "I came up with it at about five in the morning, when I'd been working around the clock like a lunatic. There was definitely a sense of magic happening and the song just being handed to me for whatever reason."
For Koma, a near-lifelong commitment to music has yielded plenty of magic moments. Growing up on Long Island as the son of a singer/songwriter, Koma began dreaming up his own songs at age nine and landed his first publishing deal by the time he was 16. Although he's a diehard rock-and-roll fan who caught his first Bruce Springsteen show at age three-and has seen The Boss some 30 times-Koma also possesses an uncommon versatility when it comes to crafting hooks. It's that versatility that led him to make a major splash in co-writing the hook on the 2012 smash single "Calling (Lose My Mind)" by Swedish DJ/producers Sebastian Ingrosso and Alesso featuring Ryan Tedder-and to again collaborate with Alesso on "Years" (a track he co-wrote and performed live during Alesso's set at the 2012 Coachella Festival). In addition, Koma co-wrote and is featured on "Sparks" by up-and-coming DJs Nicky Romero and Fedde Le Grand, as well as on EDM phenom Zedd's hit singles "Clarity" and "Spectrum" (the number-one dance single of 2012). With his latest achievements including remixing Springsteen's single 2012 "Rocky Ground" (after getting hand-picked by his hero for the track), Koma has also toured with Ellie Goulding in Europe, Owl City in North America and Europe, and LMFAO in North America and Europe.
When it came to creating his own album, Koma channeled the inventive spirit of his electro excursions into his longtime studying of the earnest yet sophisticated songwriting of artists like Springsteen, Costello, Tom Petty, and Joe Jackson. "Sometimes the Twice As Nice guys would come up with a track and I'd develop that with Tim and push it into a more organic direction, and other times I'd start a song on my acoustic guitar, build the track from there...whatever served the song, no real rules," Koma explains of Arcadia's creation. "But no matter which way we handled it, the most important thing was to keep it sincere and organic and not get too caught up in production being the forefront or more than the song was asking for-to just let the song speak for itself."
Describing his songwriting process as "manic and inconsistent," Koma says he thrives on constantly experimenting with new approaches to developing melodies, hooks, and lyrics. "My favorite songwriters are the ones who tell stories that are rooted in real emotion, but who find a way to get there that isn't obvious or direct," he says. "There are so many roadmaps to a great song, so many different ways to get to that destination," he continues. "And to me, the challenge of carving out my own path and speaking from my perspective as I'm looking for it and defining it myself, is always an inspiring and exciting thing."