Last Wednesday, Matt Maltese played a sold out gig at Band on the Wall in Manchester. Vintage crooning on a piano in front of a huge neon pink heart, Maltese proved his intriguing ‘Leonard Cohen for millennials’ credentials and gripped the crowd with his ‘Brexit pop’ and tales of apocalyptic cynicism, in both love and and mortality. Backstage before the show, and in accidental matching leather, we discussed creative processes, jazz and drunk texting.
Band on the Wall helped pioneer Manchesters jazz scene; how has jazz influenced you?
‘Growing up my dad was a semi pro jazz trumpeter. He introduced me to Chet Baker, I remember listening to that a lot as a kid. I guess in a weird way, I spent the majority of my child hood aspiring to be Michael Buble…he’s very smooth. And Oscar Peterson. I had the small ambition of being a jazz pianist, but I didn’t have the ambition to rehearse every day. I liked writing songs too much, I’d always get distracted during practice…it sounds like such a cliché.’
What is your song writing process?
‘I don’t really know how it all happens, and I always get worried its going to go. It’s a strange thing to do; I feel like I am rational most of the time, but it’s a really irrational process. It still kind of scares me, that’s why I like doing it so much. You surprise yourself every time with something your sub conscious says…or some deep shit like that’
Would you say you’re quite anecdotal?
‘For sure…I think a lot of the first record was very story based. Experience is necessary for song writing, but sometimes it can be less specific. I feel like recently I am writing a lot less story based. Its funny listening back now…they’re all such snapshots. I don’t enjoy writing from a character. It’s always, inverted commas, my truth. It’s moments that happen in everybody’s lives. They probably make me seem like a weirdo.’
I think your sound has changed quite a bit from your first ep…
‘I’ve noticed that recently, after listening back. I heard I hear the day has come in a Spanish Netflix show. It was a scene where someone was being stabbed. That song was the most positive one on the ep and its still accompanied with a murder. I listened back to the EP and I can see the change in myself. I think so much of it was written from a real place of heartbreak; when ur heartbroken you don’t care about anything other than talking about that person, and getting that person back in a weird way. A lot of the time you’re writing to them, getting everything out that you would drunk text them, instead you write these really intense songs. Putting it in a song is worse, at least drunk texting you have an excuse. That was a really different EP…the album was a lot more cynical. I think you can find a middle ground between the two. You need a balance. Expect the worse so you’re not disappointed, but don’t be a negative arsehole all the time.’
Obviously Leonard Cohen has influenced you, why did you choose to cover Paper Thin Hotel in particular?
‘I chose that song when I was in a crap place, and it really moved me. I think its just a strange thing when you break up with someone and you imagine them with someone new; it’s a really gritty part of it. I think your mind goes everywhere, and that song was perfect. Its unashamedly crass about listening to two people have sex in the next room. And then realising that you can’t do anything about anything in love. It was just sad when I did it, and it had that emotion in it. I recorded it on my iPhone. I owe apple a lot; shoutout to apple. I just got heavily into Leonard Cohen that year. He’s putting it all on the plate. Death of a Ladies man; who ever dislikes Leonard Cohen should listen to that album…its just undeniably good.’
What does the new music sound like?
‘I’m making a second record. Which I’m hoping will come out next year. I just went to record it with the same person I did the first one. Foxygen, one of them produced the album. He asked me to coffee, and we had a day in London making a song together; it was just a really good connection. I went to LA and spent about 12 days with him recording, he was amazing, he’s just one of a kind I think. It was all on tape and it just worked really well. Most of the second record with him as well. I’m really excited about it, I think its just more me…more present. It’s broader with a lot of songs about the mind. Being sad, and being happy. Its about having feelings and talking about those feelings in a way that tries to put them all into fitting puzzle pieces. I think there’s only going to be about 2 love songs on there. I haven’t been affected by love in the past 9 months, and I feel good and pleased about the songs.’
Tell me about As The World Caves in; I think people mistake it as merely a love song
‘It’s about Donald trump and Theresa May spending a night together before they press the red button. Its kind of just a silly image. In a way through having the silly image, and because I’m always mocking my emotions, I was able to be really heartfelt, because the premise was so ridiculous. Its definitely the most outrageous premise. That’s the balance I’m always trying to get, things can be stupid but also deep. I just don’t like having to be one or another. People interpret playfulness as me being superficial.’
Is the apocalyptic nature of your songs reflective of personal or political fears?
‘I do feel like the world is doomed. But I feel strangely okay with my own relationship with that. We are the first generation to know that we have an impending doom; nuclear and climate change. We are told constantly we only have 12 years to live…and all the stuff about Korea. I think we are the first generation to feel those things. It can make your life quite strange in a weird way. You can’t just talk freely about the future anymore. I’m sure its been the case for a lot of generations, but we are definitely the first generation to be told that we have this impending doom, and that definitely pervades anything. How can we take anything seriously when we might die in 20 years? That’s scary. What can you do but laugh, if that’s all you have left; it’s the power of comedy and that you’re able to talk about all these things that people don’t want to talk about.’
Do you think music has any role to play in politics?
‘I think if you’re a massive name, it’s a really good thing. Like when someone such as Taylor Swift talks about voting, that’s good. I guess its changing the role of music, a lot of the time its people’s escapism; there’s no much uncertainty. Music should take a different form, and not just tell you what you already know. I don’t feel like I have much to offer on Brexit when I’m singing. Like what am I going to sing? Its bad and I wish it wasn’t happening? Compartmentalising sadness and happiness is important for musicians to talk about and definitely mental health. In this new album I’m definitely talking about mental health more. I have a song called Hello Black Dog…’
How does your image and music interact?
‘I think there was a staged faux classless look I was going for. Gaudy. I guess what I was trying to do with the cover and videos was a sheen that everything’s okay and good and colourful, then when you look closer and the food is vine wrapped frankfurters. My songs invoke people to call me a crooner, but I want to sing about uncomfortable things. People misinterpret because of the sweet voice and piano playing. What I was going for was if you don’t look that close and pass by, you think that’s a really beautiful thing then you look a bit closer and its gross and inedible. I was meant to have a picture of Princess Diana on the left of the album cover…I’m a fan and I believe she was killed by the royal family. Watch the Keith Allen documentary, I am certain about it.’
And with that closing, conspiring cliff-hanger, Maltese’s tour manager announced pizza had arrived.
Matt Maltese is touring until December 2nd.