London based singer-songwriter Matt Maltese has been heralded by many as being a voice for Britain’s disjointed generation. Aged just 21, he has spent the last two years crafting a brand which he has named “Brexit Pop,” – a carefully aligned mix of romanticism and cynicism amidst a backdrop of chaotic world affairs and complicated love scenarios. Ahead of the release of his debut record, Bad Contestant, Maltese has been supporting rising troubadour Isaac Gracie on his UK tour. I joined Maltese at the Nottingham leg of the tour, at Rescue Rooms, for a chat about his music, touring and what to expect in the future alongside other noticeable moments.
Hi Matt, you’re halfway through the UK tour with Isaac Gracie, how has it been so far? Really good! Isaac’s such a nice guy to tour with. You can have artists who are quite standoffish with support acts, and Isaac’s not that guy. The shows have been good, I’ve got a new band for this tour and every show’s gotten tighter and just better.
Has there been a standout show so far? I really liked Sheffield last night. I feel that maybe it’s because I love Pulp of whatever but the humour was there and there was an extra sense of the crowd just understanding.
What have you gained from the crowds in the past week and how’s the next week looking for you? I’ve gained a sense of what songs people connect with more, and obviously after a show when someone comes up to you and says they loved this track, I think that’s the realest it gets as there’s so much online praise but actually having personal praise is really nice to get.
With a week to go on this support tour, how are you looking towards that? Playing near where I live in London will be amazing, and with the hot weather we’ve got at the moment it helps everything so I’m really looking forward to it.
With the release of your debut album, Bad Contestant, almost month away [June 1], how are you feeling ahead of its release? Pretty fucking apprehensive but excited!. I think there’s a massive sense of pride to finally get where I wanted to get with it. I’m really happy with the music and just now working how I go forward and get it out there in the best possible ways because I want to play lots of shows around it and I’d like people to listen to it, so I guess it’s the apprehension coming from that but also a sense of the unknown in a good way.
With Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado plus Alex Burey producing the album, they bring a lot of knowledge to the table, what was it like working with them and what have you taken away from the recording experience? It was amazing. Alex and me go back a while, we’ve kind of worked to gather for the last few years and working with him has really been great. I wouldn’t have stated the same way if it wasn’t for Alex. We’re on the same wavelength and our tastes are similar and our sense of what sounds good and what’s the wrong side of bad and good. Rado was a whole new thing as well. I‘m a huge fan of everything he’s touched, whether that was with Foxygen or as a producer and so it was a massive privilege to put my music in the hands of someone like that. I’m really happy with the mix of both, Alex adds a certain sense of familiarity whilst Rado is just incredibly experienced.
You’ve also worked with Hugo White [The Maccabees]. What was it like working with someone who’s been an integral member of British and especially London music for the past decade? It was amazing, for one he was the most genuine, kind person to work with and again it was a privilege to play with them and to be a part of some kind of scene that they’ve created, which is making good music for so long and not a lot of people get to do that. It was a massive part of starting to feel a sense of validation and I’m really proud of what we made.
How do you approach the songwriting process? Is there a standard pattern you follow or is it more of a spontaneous act? I kind of just take it as it comes. I act on it when I have the feeling, and sometimes I really try and squeeze every last drop of something out, but a lot of the time the best music comes in an odd twenty minutes. I’m always writing words for poems or lyrics anyway when I’m not writing songs.
Like A Fish is the latest track to be released from the album, what inspired the single? It’s a song about a love triangle and I’m really pleased with the way we added this disney-esque, Broadway style onto it. I love the theatre in it and I thought it was really perfect against the slightly self-pitying heartbreak because it was such a stupid situation, and so there’s always a side where you are really sad about it but you realise that it’s so stupid. I think the music and the lyrics work together well, and we had an amazing string arranger called Rob Moose come and play on it, and I’m just really proud of that song.
For me personally, especially with Pure Comic and As The World Caves In, I can see elements of Father John Misty and John Grant in your work, for you are there defining artists you can say that really push you forward when writing new tracks? I guess people like John Grant have been a massive influence on me. I think any kind of lyricist that are able to pinpoint sadness and the mundane of the depressing normality of life but also add a sense of lightheartedness to it and in turn make it more meaningful, people like Courtney Barnett, who are amazing at reflecting on the very real things and get it across in a way that it can relate to the most cynical amongst us. I think that’s what interests me, true emotion cutting across the ego and reaching everyone.
There’s been a resurgence in both solo artists and bands using politics and global news to help shape their sound, how do you view our global situation in the world, does it influence what you do or do you prefer to shut the news out from your music? It’s a mix I think. There’s a lot of times in which it’s so overwhelming, that you have to switch offsometimes and use music as an escape and sing about something else, but there’s a lot of times in which you can’t not talk about something. The bigger questions behind it are to question what you do to help or what kind of person you are in the face of world affairs, and some of the album does address that whilst other parts are very escapist and self-involved about my own sort of love endeavours or whatever. I think it’s a very mixed bag with politics, it’s something which I will always be affected by and want to talk about but I always want to talk about it in the right way of course. There are times in which I realise that I don’t know how this world works whilst there are other times I feel that I need to say something.
As The World Caves In contains moments of hilarity despite the track detailing the fall of civilisation, what was the idea behind the single? The idea of the song was about addressing the real life disturbing situation that we are in, of having the power to end humanity, but doing it in the realm of a romantic setting. I was hoping to bring humanity into this coldness. This issue is thrown about by world leaders on social media and I wanted the song to have love brought into it, and do it in a way that was believably funny but also real.
You have a huge gig in your home city of London at Scala on June 6th, where does that headline show fit into your live accomplishments so far? I think it will be really special. It’s mad, I’ve seen so many artists I love there, like Alex Cameron. Playing live really is the moment when you feel the most connected. You can be making music in the studio and releasing it on Spotify, and it can be rewarding, but playing live will be great. I’d like to think it will be my standout moment, and I want to make it special with lots of love heart balloons, and make it an event similar to going the theatre.
You’ve been tipped for over a year now as one of the UK’s most promising new artists, how’s the journey been for you personally? Have you found it hard to emerge or has the support always been there for you? I guess it works in both ways. There’s a great sense of achievement when people around you that you like, or just people you haven’t met, reach out to you and say the music’s good. However, there’s a sense of pressure that’s created by that machine, being called an emerging artist or whatever as it’s like, when do I emerge? The tagline of emerging artist is complementing but I understand the perils of creating these categories of artists. It’s probably ruined the careers of many great artists, having a certain sense of expectation and I’ve been lucky to reach the moment that I can release this album and really make the best of it. It’s been great in the sense that I’ve gotten the chance to release this album and go for it, so I’m not bitter about it at all.
Who at the moment for you stands out as an artist to keep an eye on? My friends are in this band called Sorry, and for me they are my favourite band in London. I’m always excited when they release a new song and I think they are absolutely superb songwriters so would definitely keep an eye on them.
What are your plans for the summer and beyond? Are we going to see a headline tour soon and are there plans for a second album in the future? I’ve got a few festivals in the summer, like Barn on the Farm, Citadel, Deer Shed and a couple in Europe I think, and then hopefully gearing up for an Autumn tour. I want to do lots of live stuff and a headline tour. I’d like to think that I could write a second album really quickly but I don’t know when that will be, I think it will be quite random.
A few hours later, Maltese took to the stage at Rescue Rooms and delivered a set full of charm. The hushed, irrevocably polite artist I met a few hours before had transformed into a smooth yet witty man crooning his own brand of ageless, romantic love songs with a subtle touch of sarcasm. Behind a keyboard, Maltese seems in his element, effortlessly showcasing his latest release Like A Fish, whilst asking the crowd if they’ve had the pleasure of being involved in a love triangle.Guilty is a highlight, with its soaring chorus allowing all to hear the capabilities of Maltese’s vocals whilst As The World Caves In, a track introduced as an ode to Teresa May and Donald Trump “getting it off with each other in the throes of nuclear war,” is met with rapturous applause.
Matt Maltese’s music has always been timelessly beautiful, balancing emotion and wit perfectly, but there’s an effortless charm to his live show which isn’t predictable when listening to his music elsewhere. It’s laughable as to how Maltese isn’t playing bigger shows already, given the almost obvious similarities between his US artistic twin, Father John Misty, an artist who has crafted the field of satirical ballad to perfection and thus has been rewarded accordingly. Maltese’s live show is a slick reminder that artistic originality is still alive in London, and if his upcoming debut record is anything like his live show, then we are in for a treat this year.
Photo Credits: Dan Kendall (top) and Keith Ainsworth (bottom)