The Matrix were a little known production team two years ago when they got a call about meeting with a teenage newcomer.
“[Arista Records] had an artist who had been signed for a year and nothing was working. She was on the verge of getting dropped,” Scott Spock, one of the team’s three producers, recalled recently from the Matrix’s Los Angeles studio. “She came over and we played her some stuff in the Faith Hill vein and she said, ’I don’t wanna do that, I wanna rock!’ She played us a CD of this screaming punk rock, ’I hate you’-type stuff. We said, ’Come back tomorrow and we’ll go over some stuff.’ She left and the three of us knew exactly what she wanted, a pop song with a rock edge. We wrote ’Complicated’ that day.”
When Avril Lavigne and her manager heard the song, they responded, “This is it!”
“Her and Lauren changed some lyrics,” Spock said of Lavigne and the Matrix’s Lauren Christy. “She sang it in like two takes and we had the version you heard on the radio the next day.”
Of course, “Complicated” went on to become one of the biggest hits of 2002 and propelled Lavigne to superstar status. And the Matrix, who also co-wrote and produced Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” and “I’m With You” singles, are not doing too bad either.
In a matter of months, they have become the go-to producers for singers looking to stretch their musical boundaries. Along with working on the next Britney Spears LP (see “Who’s Been Hooking Up With Britney? We Got ’Em To Talk” ), the Matrix are logging studio time with Ricky Martin, Robbie Williams, Mariah Carey, Liz Phair and up-and-coming singer/songwriter Jason Mraz, among others.
The production team’s success is even more impressive considering that Spock, Christy and her husband, Graham Edwards, formed the Matrix by accident.
Christy was a solo pop-rock artist signed with Mercury Records (making music similar to Lavigne’s) in the early ’90s when she met Spock, who produced one of her singles. Years later, Edwards met the producer while putting together a band called DollsHead.
The trio first collaborated in 1999, much to the apprehension of Christy and Edwards, who had vowed never to work together when they wed 15 years earlier. DollsHead’s manager asked if the three could write a song for an Australian band called Jackson Mendoza.
It was supposed to be a one-time thing, but the results were well received and the group enjoyed the process. The following week, their manager asked for a holiday song for Christina Aguilera. “This Year” made her Christmas album and the Lavigne phone call came soon after.
“We thought, ’Wow, this is fun!'” Christy said. “We preferred it to slogging away doing the artist thing.”
Spock, Christy and Edwards sing and play the instruments on most of the tracks they produce, including Lavigne’s, however, unlike, say, the Neptunes, they have no interest in being in the spotlight.
“We don’t want to take the glory, which is why we took the name the Matrix, to be in the background, to make the artist’s name stand out more,” Spock explained.
“We’re not into that,” Edwards added. “I did the whole rock and roll thing in my early days.”
The Matrix say that while they have only written or only produced for artists, they prefer to be more of a one-stop shop.
“A song is a work of art,” Spock said. “You just don’t say, ’I sketched this with a pencil and I’ll color it in later,’ [it’s] ’here’s my piece of art.’ I think that’s the old-school way of thinking — a guy on a piano who is the lyricist and then we get a producer and he hires the musicians and then we get an arranger. Today, it’s evolved into one thing. You sit down and all the pieces start evolving together and that’s kind of how we work. When we get done, it’s usually a finished master.”
The production team often comes to artists with songs already written, but also enjoys co-writing, especially with older singers, like Phair. “From a writing point of view, there were things we could say with Liz that we couldn’t on the Avril record,” Christy said. “That’s why it was fun, you could just let rip.”
The Matrix are influenced by Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin) and Mutt Lange (Def Leppard, Shania Twain), producers with a wide range of achievements.
“We don’t want to be put in the box of people who do only Avril-type stuff,” Edwards said. “We’ve done rap, punk. All three of us are so different.”
“We have done everyone from Darius, who won ’Pop Idol’ [the U.K. version of ’American Idol’], to Busted, who are just like Blink-182,” added Christy, a native of England.
Ironically, Edwards’ ultimate goal is to work with an artist so far removed from Lavigne that the Canadian singer once famously mispronounced his name.
“My dream would be working with David Bowie, sitting down and making a concept album,” he said.