Bassist Mathew Fantini is jazzing up one of Toronto’s grooviest young pop bands

Music can take you in all sorts of directions.

Throughout his years at York University, Mathew Fantini was influenced by jazz icons: Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, John Coltrane and the like. But nowadays, he’s playing in a band that’s focused on pop songs grounded in R&B sounds.

And things are moving fast. His band The Free Label formed in 2017, and already the band has had the chance to perform at the Mariposa Folk Festival, the Beaches Jazz Festival and Light Up the Square; they were among the top 100 of this year’s CBC’s Searchlight talent search and they were semi-finalists at the Indie Week music festival; and they’ve released two EPs and two singles, with the debut single racking up more than 250,000 streams. This summer, they’ve performed at Soul in the City and made another appearance at Mariposa.

Fantini plays bass in The Free Label, providing the heavy, groovy rhythms that form the foundation of their tunes. And while his career has deviated from his jazz origins, Fantini says he wouldn’t be doing everything he does today without the technique he developed as a jazz bassist.

The 24-year-old participated in our Jazzology program in 2017.

“It was a great way to learn how to get a lot of professional material together quickly,” he says. “This is something I find is actually really important in the industry. A lot of opportunities come at you really fast and usually all at once.”

We asked Fantini to tell us more about his budding band, what else influences his music, and what to expect in the future.

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The Free Label definitely has a heavy R&B and soul influence, with bits of funk and jazz as well. How does your background in jazz shape the way you write pop tunes?

I think The Free Label’s music and sound are not too similar to the music that I was so influenced by while I was studying jazz, (but) the one thing that is consistent between jazz and The Free Label’s music is the importance of the rhythm. We put so much focus into the way we phrase, and play all of the grooves on our songs. That’s something that I only would have developed through my jazz studies.

What are some of your main influences with this project?

Stevie Wonder, Prince and, more recently, Bruno Mars. I also believe that The Free Label is just as much a live experience, and for our stage show James Brown and Morris Day and The Time have been an inspiration for the way we carry ourselves. Not only do you have to listen to us, but you have to watch us.

Credit: Jacob Jonathan Imagery

Tell us more about some of your favourite gigs you’ve played recently. What stood out the most?

Last July, we had the chance to play the Mariposa Folk Festival for the first time, and it has topped any performance I’ve ever had. The raw energy from the crowd was explosive. It allowed me to perform at a level that’s only possible at these once-in-a-lifetime kinds of shows.

How’s it feel to be on the trajectory that you’re on after just a couple years?

Being with this band has been an incredible experience. The professionalism and hard work that it took to create the trajectory we are on has been exhilarating. Every day it seems we have new opportunities, new shows and new avenues to explore in our careers. It’s only possible because of how professional everyone in this group is, not only in a musical way, but how focused we all are on this as a business. The speed that we are moving at feels very deserved, and we think we’ve created a very strong foundation to keep growing on.

How was your experience with the Jazzology program? What did you like about it?

I really liked doing Jazzology. It was a great motivator to finish up some arrangements I had at the time. Gathering up all my family and friends to listen to my interview was also a crazy experience. I had no idea how I was going to come across over the air, but I think I did a pretty good job.

Would you recommend it to other young musicians?

The program is developed to give young students the chance to have a guided experience in a professionally aired recording. There is a lot of help to get you ready for the interview and through the recording process this is something that is invaluable. A lot of opportunities can come fast, and to have this previous knowledge helps you get it right when you have no guidance or support around you.

If you could thank our donors that support the Jazzology program, what would you say?

I want to thank everyone who donates to Jazzology. The experience for us young musicians to have a shot at being on the air and the newfound knowledge it provides is invaluable to anyone who has the chance to do it. It’s everyone who donates that makes this happen for us.

Credit: Jacob Jonathan Imagery

Why is music education important to you?

Music education gives you such a solid foundation in all aspects of the industry. It’s not only about performance; performance is only one aspect of selling such a complex product. Education provides a well-rounded look into doing this work professionally — recording, marketing and performance. These aspects are invaluable for someone looking to pursue music as a career.

What about your plans for the future? Where would you like to be years down the road?

My plan for the future is to keep developing with The Free Label. Every year it seems we are growing even faster than we could imagine. It’s hard to know what our plans for the future are. Definitely more recordings, bigger shows, and more travelling. Other than that, who knows where we’ll end up?

You can find The Free Label on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or visit their website at