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POP EYE

Making a production of itself

February 15, 2004|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Three music veterans with a noted ensemble brand name recruit two touted rookies for a new group lineup. The quintet -- two women and three men, a trio of British natives with two Americans -- settles in off of Laurel Canyon and makes new music that rocks the pop world.

Fleetwood Mac in the '70s? Sure. But it's also happening right now with the Matrix, at least up to the "rocks the pop world" part -- though that's certainly the hope for those concerned.

Lauren Christy, Scott Spock and Graham Edwards, under the name the Matrix, are the writing and production team behind Avril Lavigne's breakthrough success as well as hits by Britney Spears, Hilary Duff, Ricky Martin and the Backstreet Boys. But they've been pretty much in the shadows.

Now they've teamed with two young singer-songwriters, 19-year-old Santa Barbara native Katy Perry and a 24-year-old Englishman who uses the name A.K.A. (though he answers to Adam), to transform the Matrix into a recording and performing act in its own right. And with this, Christy, Spock and Edwards intend to ... stay in the shadows.

"The three of us don't want to be in the limelight at all," says Edwards, sitting outside the Matrix's studio with the singers.

"That's the reason we got Katy and Adam," Christy adds.

Then why even turn the Matrix into a proper group?

"You need an outlet to do your own music," says Christy, simply.

The idea actually came from Columbia Records executive Tim Devine, who approached the production team at a lunch. Knowing that each of the three had backgrounds as performers (Christy released two albums in the mid-'90s, and her husband, Edwards, has played bass with acts ranging from Adam & the Ants to Mick Jagger), Devine floated the notion of the Matrix as a real group.

"It was right at that luncheon that we decided we should put a fresh face on the group," says Devine, Columbia's West Coast general manager and senior vice president of A&R. "And we set about finding a singer or singers that would provide that dynamic."

The Matrix was already working on some tracks with A.K.A., who had put out an independent album in England and had been signed to a U.S. deal by Clive Davis' J Records, and asked him to join the new project.

"I heard about what was happening and thought, 'It's time to do this now,' " says the young singer.

Not long afterward, Devine was introduced to Perry via producer Glenn Ballard, who was working on her solo project. Struck by both her voice and upfront charisma, he brought her to the Matrix.

"We still have our own projects," Perry says of her and A.K.A.'s solo careers, with expectations that the Matrix will contribute to their albums as well. "But I look at the Matrix as the biggest opportunity of my life."

All parties involved stress that the singers are not just hired hands, saying that this is a truly collaborative project in both writing and performance.

Based on four songs-in-progress heard in the studio, it is coming together as an integrated sound. "Love Is a Train" and "Damn" both feature Perry singing the kind of soaring pop melodies associated with such Matrix hits as Lavigne's "Complicated" and Duff's "So Yesterday" against hard-edged mixes of rock and electronics, the latter song with almost a Prince-like funk-rock strain. A Prince element reappears in the electro-funk of "Another Year to Come," featuring A.K.A., who also sings lead on "Do You Miss Me," which carries an '80s new wave bounce.

Plans call for a single in spring and the album to be released in early summer, with the group to perform live in support -- though there was some circumspection about what the actual on-stage roles of the non-singers will be.

"The reason we picked Katy and A.K.A. is they're amazing performers," Christy says. "The three of us like our role in the background and it shall continue to be there."

A single goes cruising the Net

A lot of people have talked about how Internet music distribution will free artists from the constraints of making recordings strictly for their new albums and allow for more spontaneous releases of new tracks. But few have done anything about it.

The band O.A.R. and steel guitar whiz Robert Randolph (who stole the show in the Grammy Awards' funk tribute last week) and his Family Band, though, have teamed for a version of Led Zeppelin's "Fool in the Rain" that will be released only through Apple's iTunes, without any plans for it to appear on an album.

"People forget it's your job to do this, and when you're not making an album, it doesn't mean you shouldn't get in the studio and make some music," says O.A.R. singer Marc Roberge. "We cannot sit back and just follow the regular schedule of every other band out there. ITunes enabled us to do it and get it out."

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