Interviews, Music, Radio
Interview: Matt Maltese
“They say I’m too old for my age”, Matt Maltese croons on Strange Time, one of the first tracks released from his upcoming debut album. It’s a line that stands out with the 22 year old songwriter, who’s rarely seen without a suit, having more in common with Leonard Cohen or Jarvis Cocker, than any of his contemporaries.
Strange Time is perhaps the middle ground between the first music he released at the age of 19, to his more recent, more sardonic, material. Those early tracks were bare, earnest ballads, rather than the more grand pop songs he’s released recently. His first track, Even If It’s A Lie is a desperately plea to a partner who’s already moving on, while the first EP, In A New Bed, closed with a cover of Cohen’s Paper Thin Hotel.
In an interview with Clash he said that he’d avoided Catcher in the Rye because he didn’t want to read something everyone else had, and that naturally overlapped into his music taste too. “I guess I always took some kind of slightly delusional pride in liking something and having it as just mine,” he laughs. “So I’d like bands who were pretty out of fashion, and I found even the piano was quite out of fashion, so it all became part of me.”
So why did he want to change his style to these more cynical, light-hearted tracks? “I guess growing up is a grand way of putting it, but maybe just becoming more comfortable with myself,” helped him get past the heartbreak of those tracks but also it was a result of embracing that he was always, “a bit of a theatre kid.”
This more eccentric style was enhanced by bringing in Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado to produce much of the album. It was a chance arrangement, after Rado had seen the video to As the World Caves In and in the studio “he was able to bring out those eccentricities that I have and maybe I’m kind of reserved about. He got that side that maybe only normally comes out after a few pints.”
Despite having years of material to fall back on, Maltese was keen to make sure this felt like an almost entirely new project. “I just had a writing spell at the end of last summer and that gave way to not putting lot of the old songs on, which I was happy with,” he says; “I really like the idea of a record being mainly new songs, especially in today’s world where people have heard everything already.”
His lavish love songs have prompted comparisons to Father John Misty, who also worked with Rado for his upcoming album, and Maltese acknowledges, “When somebody’s seen as the figurehead of sarcasm and pop music, if you do a little bit of that you’re going to be compared.” But where those comparisons end is that while Father John Misty is a character for Josh Tillman, the Matt Maltese on stage is very much the same I speak to.
That night, supporting Isaac Gracie, Maltese is just as self-deprecating as he was throughout our conversation and, while they may be tinged with cynicism and humour, at their core the new songs are just as honest as anything else he’s released. And for all the talk about growing up, the set’s standout, Guilty, is a strangely jaunty song about “kissing someone’s girlfriend, taking a bad drug and going ice skating with your mum the next day.”
On the almost sultry Nightclub Love, Maltese admits, “I’ve got to stop being ironic” but ahead of the release of Bad Contestant, being unlucky in love has perhaps never sounded so stylish.
Matt Maltese releases Bad Contestant on June 1st through Atlanic Records, and he plays at London’s Scala on June 6th.