Interview: Matt Corby

Fresh off the back of the UK and world release of his fourth and newest EP ‘Into the Flame’ on November 19th, Matt Corby continued the European leg of his tour with an intimate performance at Nottingham’s very own ‘The Bodega’ on November 24th. I was lucky enough to catch up with the gifted and incredibly charming singer-songwriter that same day be+ fore his performance, while I sipped a San Miguel and he deftly rolled cigarettes. I have to admit that at times my ‘inner goddess’ was indeed doing somersaults as we discussed a veritable smorgasbord of topics, from the social problems of Hackney to his defiance of the packaged nature of Australian Idol.  With me I had two special Australian assistants: Ryan and Jesse, two massive Matt Corby fans, who through sheer fortune happened to be travelling at that time through the industrialised midlands on their long way home. We were only scheduled a short time-period of time with Matt but as we were just so interesting he ended up talking to us for over forty minutes; so get your sticks out readers and shake them, because there are a lot of words on this page, and Matt Corby is a wonderful man.

Happy belated birthday Matthew! (I hand him the cheesiest birthday card I could find in Clintons)

That’s awesome thanks for that. (Eyes light up) Dan Hatton?


No way! That’s one of my really good friends from school his name’s Dan Hatton, that’s amazing, nice one.

Haha how weird, what are the chances (Trying to act cool but I’m technically Matt Corby’s best friend now). Right, we’ve got a few pretty broad based questions and then we’ve got some slightly kookier ones, is that cool?

Yea that sounds good!

So to start with, how’s the Euro tour going? What’s your favourite thing about the UK? I know you’ve been living here for a few months now.

Well, I like the UK and I like the way that you can drive like an hour down the road and the culture and the way people perceive how to act socially and what’s acceptable socially is completely different from town to town, it’s kind of crazy, it’s kind of the same of Australia. You can be in Manchester and have these amazing people having incredible, crazy conversations, and go somewhere else and have a completely different point of view, a completely different set of rules. I guess it’s a good trait of a free country; you meet a lot of different people with a lot of interesting insights.

So you’ve been living in London, whereabouts?

I’m not living anywhere at the moment, but when I was in London I was living in Hackney (a pretty edgy part of London, no?), aw it’s not really my deal, I never wanted to live anywhere cool, I just wanted to live somewhere where I wasn’t going to get stabbed (Hackney probably was the best choice then). Yea I had some close calls man, a lot of people have, it was kind of on the edge of where the cool kids were and right near the council estates so there was a bit of friction. I had a few occasions of people barking at me and wanting my headphones or my phone, and I would normally just introduce myself and they’d usually just freak out that I wasn’t scared of them. I’m lucky I never ran into like a fuckin’ gang, ‘cos that would’ve been bad. Hackney is cool though, there are some cool places to go, I was on my own though when I was living there.

Is that the way your artistic self comes out best do you think, when you’re living on your own?

Yea I think I prefer living on my own, I don’t know, I have some strange, weird rituals that I just do throughout the day. (A bit OCD?) Na not OCD, but I don’t know if I want to share them.

Do you have anything you could share that’s not that weird? You strut about your house naked is that it?

(Laughing) Nope, not really… Na I can’t do that, I always feel weird.

Haha, right so you got to third in the Australian Charts last year, do you feel that your success there has transferred successfully over here, do you feel you’re being adored on stage in the UK?

Hmm I don’t know, I don’t think so. I think it’s a little different here. I… think there’s a nice feeling when I get on stage; the people seem to be really respectful and actually want to listen, which is a massive deal for an artist. Sometimes, especially in places like Manchester, you get on stage, and they could be a rowdy bunch, and you wonder if people are going to listen, or if they’re just out because they heard there’s some Australian guy playing and apparently he’s a good guy or something.

So you get worried when you’re up on stage that people are not there for your music but are just there to have a good time?

I think that they’re only there to check it out and then when they get there they’re like ‘oh it’s not what I was expecting; I was expecting a bit more fun or whatever’.

Would you say you’re a little artistically insecure in that respect?

I’m not sure, I just think that some people respond to certain things, and some are expecting other things and won’t respond to what you’re putting out, which is fine, that’s why there’s so much  music in the world, so people have something that they want to listen to.

That said, you’ve been playing almost all sold out shows around here. Have you been targeting smaller venues on purpose, do you prefer the more intimate atmosphere?

We didn’t really know what to expect from this tour. You don’t really know how many people actually know who you are or want to see you play, so it was kind of a safe thing to just play small shows and see if anyone turns up. It’s been a really pleasant surprise to have all the UK shows sold out and all but three Euro shows too. This is show number 16 tonight.

I take it you’re not doing all of these shows in a row?

Nooo… not in a row, what’s the day today? Like the 24th?  We started on the 1st November, so in 24 days we’ve done 16 shows; we’ve had a few days break.

Did you play on your birthday then?

Yea I did, in Berlin, was awesome actually. We played a really cool venue and had a pretty funny night, we broke some poor girl’s bike and then we found some guy on the street who had a bike earring on, so he knew what he was doing. It was like his entire life, fixing bikes, he was wearing a full cowboy get up, chaps and he was just like ‘ya ya shure I fixsh tha bike!’ And we were laughing, and then I gave him 20 Euros and said thank you so much because I felt sorry for this girl who was tagging along with us and then he came to the bar with us and bought us all a crate of beers with the money that I gave him. Sat down, had a smoke with us… do you mind if we move this outside actually?

(When somebody as cool as Matt Corby asks if you mind, of course you don’t, even if it does mean braving the might of the British drizzle in the smoking area)

Do you find it a bit of a strain to perform so many nights in a row or are you just used to it now?

It’s really strenuous, I normally request with the booking agency not to do more than four nights in a row, just because of the way I sing, I use so much of my voice and some of the songs are so vocally demanding, that if I don’t have a rest day I could really damage my throat. This is show number 5 in a row of 6; my voice is feeling okay funnily enough, normally I do four shows in a row and I need a day just to not talk and chill.

Have you had professional voice coaching to help with your technique and recovery, or have you always sung like that?

When I was younger I was trained classically, and I did a lot of opera and musical theatre, and I think that’s where I got a lot of my power from. Then when I was thirteen I joined a band, and toured for almost two years, and that’s where I learnt how to sing well, and learnt how to sing using all these different voicings and all these different parts of my voice.

From watching your live videos and your studio performances, do you feel like sometimes you have that extra confidence when you’re on stage because you sometimes manage to hit those ridiculously high notes on stage in front of a crowd that maybe you don’t manage to inside the studio? Do you agree with that?

I think a lot of the time, and this is something that I do that’s really bad, I don’t warm up in the studio, but before a show I’ll be warming up for about half an hour before I go on. When I’m in the studio, I’m just like yea I’ll be fine when you put me in the room with the mic, and then I don’t have as much range because I haven’t been warming up, so a lot of the time the recordings are slightly more subdued. I think though, yea as well when there’s a good crowd and you’re kind of feeling it you’re like ‘yea I’m going to go for this’ and rip it up.

‘Into the Flame’ is the title of your fourth and newest EP, the first that doesn’t take its name from a song within the EP. Is there a reason for this, maybe a more metaphorical one?

Yea, well it’s a lyric in ‘Untitled’, and I thought it might be interesting to have that, because that song doesn’t have a name, but for me that is ‘the song’ of that EP. It’s the most well thought out, the most well executed, the song that I’m really, really proud of, and so I thought the EP should be named after it.

Is there any reason why you didn’t label the track itself?

Yea, I couldn’t find a name for it for so long, because I wrote it like a year and a half ago, and I played it for a year before I recorded it, which is really rare for me, because when I come to make a record I’ll write two weeks beforehand, for example ‘Brother’ was written four days before we recorded it. (Drops cigarette) Shit! 2 Second rule… I didn’t really know how to perform it, which was really hard for me, because performance is such a massive part of my music: I find it so hard to translate what I do on stage into the studio. It was just luck with that one, we just said we’d see what happened, and people really responded to it, which was crazy for me, I’ve never had that sort of response before.

There is a musical progression throughout your work, songs such as ‘winter’ make use of the loop pedal and are more melancholy than those such as ‘my false’ or ‘letters’, are you moving towards a ‘sound’, or are these just differing examples of a wide range of musical tastes?

I think it just always going to be different, I can’t really speak for my future self, but I feel that everything that is recorded and written today just fits, so I’m just going to do it, for example ‘Souls of Fire’ is very Blues driven, Brother was a little more well rounded as a song, and now I think I need to write a more sweet, acoustic song; I’m not really writing for any sort of solidarity.

Do you write almost for the moment, or do you write something that you think you will look back on proudly?

The way I write songs is pretty straightforward, I’ll literally pick up my guitar and I’ll have a bunch of thoughts going through my head, and most of the song gets written in the three minutes that I sing, and I’ll always listen to it back and listen to what I sing because a lot of what I’m trying to sing is interesting and I wonder why my brains going that way, and then I try to carve my song around that.

I’ve read before that poets experience an almost ‘wave’ of inspiration and they’ve got to write everything down before it passes, is it like that then?

Mm yea I’ve been known to be with my missus or someone and be like ‘sorry I gotta go’ and I go and write a song and be back twenty minutes later like ‘sorry’; she’d ask where I went and all I can say is ‘don’t worry’.

(We were interrupted at this point by a woman asking for photos on behalf of her nieces- not the first of the interview might I add)

 Carrying on… Can we expect a full length Matt Corby album at some point, and are you going to recycle any of your songs?

Well, I don’t really want to, I mean there’s been a lot of pressure on me to put ‘Brother’ on the album, which is something that I really don’t want to do, because the song is still relevant but it’s already been put out into the world and doesn’t need to be put out again. That’s what I keep saying to people, I feel as though in order to progress you need to put the past behind you and continue on doing what you’re doing. I think everyone is of a similar point of view and I’ve shown the label a lot of my songs, and the worry of not having a great song on the album is sort of diminishing as each song gets pushed forwards which means they’re into it, which is a good thing I guess because they market my music so I have to produce something that they’re going to be interested in… I hope

So do you think we will see something concrete soon?

We’re recording in February, the album will probably take two weeks, and then after that I don’t know, depends on how long it takes people to put it out.

In terms of musical influences, you’re often likened to Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake (thanks Wikipedia), are these artists people that you actually are influenced by?

I get that a lot, I am into Jeff Buckley, he’s amazing, and he’ll always go unrivalled. In terms of what I listen to though it’s not really… I was obsessed with Grace when I was younger, but I haven’t really revisited that album in a long time, and it hasn’t really come into play as far as inspiration for the record or any of the songs, but he was just a good, white male singer which is kind of rare, I mean usually guys that sing like that are old soul, musically rich black guys that can just rip, that are absolutely fucking crazy. I guess I’m obsessed with Jay Jay Cale and Joan As Police Woman and J Tillman (drummer from the Fleet Foxes) and his Father John Misty Record, have any of you heard of that? Fucking brilliant, it’s one of my favourite albums of the year easily, and Alexander Ebert is probably one of the greatest songwriters of the last ten years.

When you’re talking about you feel as if you’re under pressure to put ‘Brother’ on your album as the title track, do you feel as if you’re under a lot of artistic pressure to perform at the moment because you’re on the way up? I mean you posted on your site that you were even maybe going to give up music, was that due to this?

I didn’t even post that (probably the most unfunny frape ever)… but I was at the end of the road at the end of last year, I was in a bad way and just wasn’t in a good frame of mind, and just needed a bit of help. I lost a record deal and left London, went back home and started working in a coffee shop. I was in a crazy amount of debt for a twenty year old, and just worked that off, and then wanted to start playing music again, which is why we started this whole Secret Garden Show thing, to bring the music to people, instead of playing in fucking venues and dealing with all that bullshit. So after that I sort of was reinvigorated and I wanted to keep doing it.

Do you think you were starting to burn out and just needed to take a break?

I’m not sure if it was, I just think I was frustrated and I thought no one gave a shit, and I was a little bummed because I’d gotten to the point of realisation that I probably thought that I was better than I was, and it was such a rude awakening to kind of have that ‘oh you’re not good enough so go away’. It was a couple of things, and after that I just wanted to chill for a bit and figure what it was I wanted and wondered if I wanted to go through that crazy shit that musicians go through to get their music out, if I wanted that to be a reality, so yea.

I don’t want to dwell on this at all because… (he starts to smile) you know what’s coming haha, but it would be quite disingenuous not to ask. I mean, this maybe individual pressure that you’re under maybe would have been removed if you had gone with one of these big multinational record companies that were chasing you after Australian Idol, do you not think that shows like that are a good launching platform for artists?

Not at all, really. It’s terrible. I think it’s interesting- I think the people that go on that show that are older most of the time aren’t really writers they’re just great singers, and they’re people that have a pretty normal lifestyle, and when they go on it and start doing well and they’re subjected to so much criticism and all this crazy shit, it turns you one way or the other, you either become so incredibly self-aware and scared of the world and freaking out because you’re at the mercy of the public, or you become this kind of like- well I’m just going to make as much money as I can and release covers and see what happens. For a lot of people, this is a lifesaver for them, but for a younger kid, who just wants to play music for a living and who wants to have some sort of artistic merit rather than just like, you know this weird household name that’s kind of half-celebrity half-singer-showman, it’s pretty terrible.

Ryan’s seen a show where people from Australian Idol have gone to parties with other artists and have been looked down upon quite massively, was this the case with you?

Yea, I remember the first time I went to the ARIAs, it was fucking crazy, I just knew that every single band all knew who I was and were just looking at me thinking ‘what a little fuckwit’, and I’m like ‘cool’, I’d probably think the same thing, and after that I realised it was just something that I didn’t want to be a part of anymore, and so that’s why after the show I ran away and hid for about a year and got really depressed and freaked out, was kind of neurotic, and just had to play music somewhere else and see if people would accept it from a completely objective point of view, where there were no preconceived ideas.

I mean to your merit you’ve done a pretty good job of distancing yourself, I personally had no idea until looking into it that you’d been on the show.

That’s the cool thing, because people in other countries don’t know, I mean they’d probably find out somehow but be like ‘oh his music’s alright, whatever’.

What did you learn from it?

Oh man, I learnt everything that I didn’t want as far as a music career was concerned, I figured out the world that I didn’t want to be a part of, and every decision that I have made as a musician since then has been because of that.

Okay fair enough, so you ready for these slightly kookier questions now?

Of course, fire away.

Obviously you’re a good looking boy, what is the most bizarre female fan experience that you have had?

Actually it was only a couple of days ago, I was standing outside the show with David and my bass player, and this woman walks up with this massive fucking square thing, and we go to get out of the way, and she’s like ‘no, this is for you’, and I’m like ‘okay…’, and she turned around and it was- I’ll show you the picture (gets out his cracked iphone and shows us, I obviously inquired as to why a global megastar didn’t have insurance but he just shrugged and laughed), it was a cake that she made me, she was a professional cake maker, and she’d made an extravagant wedding cake with a 3D picture of me on top. I was just like ‘woa’, even the detail- you can’t really see in the picture but even the tattoo on my arm was pretty spot-on. Creepy. (From seeing the cake I can confirm it was fairly creepy).

Leading on from that, you seem like a pretty mellow singer-songwriter dude, what does Matt Corby do to get loose in life?

I do drink, but just not when I’m on tour. I guess, I don’t really go out that much. It’s kind of frustrating because the band are all really close friends and they all like to party. We had a night out in Dublin, and that was pretty funny, there was this DJ playing this 80s funk music- which is kind of my jam haha, and the band are all dancing around, and T who’s the only single one in the band was trying to pick up this girl. It was kind of nice you know, my crazy nights are never really that crazy, I never really go that crazy. I have a missus at the moment, she’s an Australian girl but she’s French, and she’s cool as shit, and she’s sweet with me doing whatever (starts blushing madly), it’s hard to say too much without saying anything incriminating haha, but she’s a good girl, she’s a good girl.

So to finish off with a bit of a game we’re going to play some word association, we’re just going to say some words and say the first thing that comes into your head. Just have fun with it.

Beard. T Bone

English Girls. Oh… Jesus… Jesus

Matt Corby. Dickhead

Brother. (Shaking head) Oh god… I don’t know, I have no words for that one. Are you proud of it? I am, it wears a little thin after a while , I’ve never had a song so popular, and it’s interesting in the way people take it and make it their own, you know I’ve been walking around the streets sometimes and I don’t know if I’m being mocked or if it’s an appreciation of the song when people do that. Have you heard the remixes of it, like the Lancelot one? Yea, I was cool with it, at first I was like ‘shit I don’t know if this is a good thing’, but in the end it’s not a part of my world and I just thought ‘what’s the worst that can happen’. I feel that as far as remixes go its more on the low key side, and that’s good.

Boobs. Haha, I think my brain ticks over too quickly and I’m just like nooo… no no no can’t answer that. I guess they’re a work of art though.

Belated birthday cards. Awesome. Anytime!

Awesome, thanks so much Matt it’s been a pleasure, good luck tonight.

As if Matt Corby was not nice enough for giving us this in-depth interview, he then offered us three free tickets to the show that night! It turned out to be one of the best live shows that I have ever seen, the passion in his performance is unparalleled; I urge anybody who has the chance to go and see him at once. He played classics such as ‘My False’ and ‘Brother’, but his two new tracks, ‘What the Devil has Made’ and ‘Runaway’ were arguably the best of the set. Look out for this boy. February next year, it’s going to be huge.

by Daniel Hatton