In The Middle with Matt Maltese
Based in South London, 20 year old singer Matt Maltese has been rising slowly through the ranks since 2015 with his distinctive rich vocals and melancholy piano melodies. With an album and several EPs under his belt, this year has proved to be his most successful; opening for the Maccabees on their farewell tour, performing at Glastonbury, and supporting Billy Bragg. Before his gig at Oporto on 7th November, I called him up to discuss his move away from lovesongs to astute satire.
How would you describe your music to someone else?
I’d like to say a sort of big attempt at trying to be a crooner. Yep. I never have the right answer to that sort of question. Don’t pay too much attention to that.
ve read that you feel quite distanced from your old music in terms of who you are – does that make it difficult to perform those tracks?
Not particularly, I think it just makes it a different thing, sort of makes you feel like you’re covering a song.(I know, so meta.) But yeah, I definitely still enjoy singing those songs, but I guess like anyone who sings songs that are 5 years old it feels less present than a song from the past 2 years.
I like the move to your more satirical stuff. Was that a natural occurrence or a decision?
I think I just became a lot more of a cynical arsehole. I couldn’t not have that in my music, I couldn’t be the same thing I was.
Why do you think you’ve become a cynical arsehole?
That’s quite a big question. Who knows? I think you just get older and you realise that life’s no walk in the park, and I think I responded to it by being more cynical and satirical just in general. Maybe a bit self-deprecating of the kind of sweet, naïve 17 year old that I maybe was, and so it came into my songs. I’m happy it’s in my songs. I’d feel weird if I was writing the same stuff as when I was 17.
You’ve been called a young British version of Father John Misty and NME said you were like Father John Misty performing cartwheels.
That’s pretty amazing – God knows what that would actually be like. Maybe [I’ll] dress up like Father John Misty and do it.
How do you feel about that comparison and is he an influence of yours?
I really like his music. I guess by liking his music he’s an influence but I think people just like – I mean everyone is sort of responsible for clickbait aren’t they? It’s a really nice thing to say and he is the biggest figurehead at the moment for ironic pop so I can totally understand that people would just say that if anyone is a bit satirical in their music. In a way I feel grateful that he exists in that he brought it back to the forefront of pop. That sort of self-deprecating ironic thing has existed for a long time but wasn’t in the mainstream for a while… but there’s a lot of people who do it just as well as him, like I love John Grant, I’d say he’s probably more of an influence than Father John Misty is, and even older classic songwriters like Scott Walker. They do that ironic thing really well. So yeah, Father John Misty doing cartwheels is probably as good as it gets.
Well you say that, but aren’t you playing with Billy Bragg soon?
Yeah, it feels really weird. I feel kind of scared because he’s so fucking clever and I feel like I don’t… I mean I was listening to a podcast of his the other day and I was thinking I need to shape up on my reading. It’s a huge huge honour to be playing with him, I think he’s such a legend in making politics in music a thing. So yeah, I’m really excited for those shows, just got to make sure I don’t sound like douche.
How do you feel about his protest songs and protest songs generally? Do you think they still have a place?
I think anything that can inspire people to give a shit about making things better has got to be a good thing. There’s obviously a cynicism attached to protest songs because songs themselves never really produce change, it’s more about what they inspire, and it’s the people who have the power to protest on the streets. But songs that could make a difference to an audience member and make them want to go to a rally that makes a change – that’s got to be a good thing. I haven’t really attempted writing a protest song and I’m not sure I ever will – who knows? I’m not gonna slag them off in case I have to back track, but I he [Bragg] is obviously amazing at it.
So you’re playing with Billy Bragg, and you opened for the Maccabees on their farewell tour – does more success bring more pressure?
Hmmm. It doesn’t feel like that, it kind of makes you feel a bit more comfortable because you feel there’s people you really respect, sort of validating you.There are things that can lead to more pressure in the broad term of success, but I haven’t completely experienced that yet – I don’t feel super successful and I think that’s a good thing. I feel like I’m still relatively a nobody, which is good, I don’t necessarily want to be a somebody – way too much responsibility.
Did you always want to be a musician or did you have other career aspirations/dreams?
Yeah pretty much. I was always a little bit too cynical to think it would happen, and when it did I think the cynicism of it happening has been replaced with a cynicism that it will continue. I’m pretty aware that the world of music is very volatile and this is the one thing I could do if I could do anything, so I feel grateful. If I wasn’t doing music I think I would probably … be something stupid like a record store owner, I mean there’s no money in it so I don’t even know if I’d be able to do that. Maybe buy and sell stuff on eBay?
But still music related?
Yeah still music related. In the summer when I was 16/17, I’d sell and buy record collections and that was a pretty fun way of making money, so I’d reckon I’d probably try and go back to that. I had a catering job before and it was just the worst… anything where I could avoid doing that I would be into. I had a job at this agency and we’d go to these public school galas and you’d be serving champagne to people all night. One time I was serving food I cut my finger on one of the chef’s plates and it was like the worst moment of my life, he was the scariest chef. I think old chefs are usually scary but he was one of the scariest people I’ve ever met, so I had to secretly wipe my blood off the side of the plate and bring it out to the poor person. I felt guilty for ages. So grim.
Matt’s new and newly discovered music recommendations:
Miami – Baxter Dury
Total Control – Motels
Check out Matt’s music online or live at Oporto on 7th November. Tickets available here.
[Feature Image by Emma Swann for DIY Magazine, June 2017 issue]