Mattson 2 (Credit: Andrew Paynter)

The Jazz of Surf

Triton twin brothers capture the SoCal sound.

If you wanted to capture the sense of cool breezes, a warm sun and the seafoam frenzy of a vast ocean, just drop the needle onto any album by The Mattson 2. This guitar-and-drums duo, made up of identical twins Jared ’11 and Jonathan Mattson ’11, have developed a distinct style of “surf jazz” over the many years they’ve played together, and the sound and feeling, as well as the brains behind it, have the unmistakable mark of UC San Diego.

The two-piece group features Jonathan on drums and Jared on electric guitar and bass guitar, which he loops on top of each other for a rich and often complex sound. Together, the music is rife with a colorful sense of rhythm, improvisation and story. As they expand the limits of jazz and infuse it with their eclectic taste and varied influences, they are also inspiring younger generations of listeners to appreciate the beauty and depth of the genre.

The Mattson 2 has earned a devoted international following not even a decade since graduating, topping the Billboard contemporary jazz charts twice and producing a prodigious catalog of albums, including collaborations with other artists and homages that span from Japanese jazz to legends like John Coltrane.

2 for 2 - The Mattsons riff on their two favorite albums from their UC San Diego days. JARED'S PICKS Beach Boys, "Pet Sounds" "It inspired me to explore arrangement and production, especially with our record, "Feeling Hands." And the harmonies!" Cocteau Twins, "Heaven or Las Vegas" "I was (and am) a sucker for saturated sound. After three years of instrumental music, this album got me back into the human voice.The tall, blond-haired twins grew up just north of UC San Diego, in the beach town of Encinitas. Children of two artists, the Mattsons were introduced by their father to jazz greats like Lee Morgan and Art Blakey. As teens, the twins spent their free time together surfing, skateboarding and experimenting with the sounds of rock and punk, but kept jazz alive in their rotation, and a constant guide as they learned their instruments.

Reflecting on how their California upbringing shaped their sound, Jonathan muses, “it’s more like a side effect of living here. We never actually listened to surf music,” he says, “but people think we make surf music, which is cool. I think it’s just because this is where we are from.”

The two were “discovered” in high school by artist, filmmaker and photographer Thomas Campbell, who included early Mattson 2 tracks in his surf films. “He had us play sets in theaters before his movie premieres,” recalls Jonathan. “Those shows were the first time that we appeared in public as The Mattson 2.”

With an already growing following, the twins came to UC San Diego as transfer students in 2009 and were roommates throughout their college career. The school was an ideal fit for the duo, blending the proximity to the surf with their passions for music. They studied with renowned musicians like bassist Mark Dresser, saxophonist David Borgo, pianists and composers Anthony Davis and Kamau Kenyatta and percussionist Steven Schick.

“The foundational elements we developed at UCSD helped build our vocabulary to become more creative and expressive artists,” says Jared. Jonathan echoes: “We were encouraged to follow our own path and utilize the resources available to find and tailor our own voice.”

Schick remembers the brothers as well. “They combined a progressive and forward-looking approach to music with such innate and fluid musicianship,” he says. “Every time they played, especially together, it was magic.”

The Mattson 2 continued that magic after graduation, earning their Master of Fine Arts degrees from the University of California, Irvine, and consistently touring thereafter, all throughout the U.S., Japan, Brazil and points all over Europe. They are also relentless collaborators, playing with some of the very people who inspired them to go into music in the first place—indie pop musicians like Chaz Bundick, members of the band Tortoise, Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark and skateboarding legends-turned-musicians Ray Barbee and Tommy Guerrero.

Mattson brothers as children
The Mattson brothers started out on guitars as kids, yet while it clicked for Jared, Jonathan only found his rhythm later after sitting behind a drum set.

Always pushing artistic boundaries, the brothers are continuously incorporating new experiences and, as they call it, “the beautiful weirdness” that inspires them. The Mattson 2’s vibe attracts fans of all ages, but their sounds particularly strike a chord among younger audiences who might not have otherwise explored the world of jazz. Taking a leading role in the renaissance of jazz music is a point of pride for the two.

“I think there are many reasons why jazz is seeing a comeback. For Jonathan and me, it’s always been one of our favorite styles of music,” says Jared in an interview. “It’s an incredible balance between technique, sophistication, creativity, style and feeling. There’s a level of familiarity and uncertainty, which, when you think about it, is why people enjoy Jimi Hendrix. Fans loved the melodies and the grooves, but what they also came for was an unpredictable experience. At any moment he could burn his guitar.”

The duo are currently touring for their latest release, Paradise, a conceptually new sound for the ever-experimenting brothers. Written and recorded at home in the hills of San Diego, the album captures the distinctive Southern California feel, or as they say, “It’s a record to throw a frisbee to, a bit of summer to savor all year long.”