F Word caught up with Matilda Mann, a fiercely independent West London girl, in a local coffee shop. We chatted through her upbringing, musical influences, inspirations and what she has to look forward to in the next year. Although only 21, she has an impressive catalogue of music, with more new material in the pipeline. She says she is a little shy of the spotlight, but we think she will need to get used to it…
Amy MacKenzie: I like to do these interviews by going back to the start and then bringing it up to present day. So can you talk to me about where you grew up and what was it like?
Matilda Mann: West London. I used to live right next to Shepherd’s Bush and we moved when I was about 3 but Shepherd’s Bush is fun. It’s got a lot of random people here! Because it’s in between Hammersmith, Chiswick and Shepherd’s Bush of course, there’s kinda a combination of all three! I really liked growing up here. Ravenscourt Park is really nice, and I really love Hammersmith Riverside, there’s loads of pubs along it and you’ll always bump into someone which I quite like!
AM: Yeah, that’s lovely! And what’s your family like?
MM: I’m an only child, I don’t really shout about it…
AM: Do you feel like an only child?! [laughs] I don’t really know what that even means
MM: I really like being independent, I really like being by myself. The friends I have are friends I’ve known since I was really young; my godbrother lives really close and I’m close with him. I have friends I would consider sibling-like, we bicker like siblings! And my Mum is pretty nuts, so she keeps me pretty entertained! And I also have a dog that is nuts as well! He eats anything that touches the floor so it’s quite stressful when he comes over! My parents are polar opposites! My Dad is really organised, really organised. He is a producer for TV adverts and films, so he does structuring of budgets and stuff – which means we leave the house in a structured timely manner! And then my Mum has just gone to uni to do Fine Art. She’s similar to me, wouldn’t have had the attention span for education at that point but she really likes it now. That would be me at uni, I definitely don’t think it would work!
AM: So when did you first start to write music?
MM: It’s kinda something I have always done. Of course they were terrible when I was younger. I really vividly remember writing a song about…I was at my neighbours house and I had a really twirly light green straw and I sang about it and I just ripped off the melody of the Gorillaz!
AM: That sounds sick, I think you should release it!
MM: Intro to the debut album – Green Straw [laughs]. Make it something to do with te planet, I don’t know! I just always did that, I always had a songbook where I would write things down and they would always be so bad but then I did it more and more when I went to secondary school. My school, though it was very academic, it had a really good music programme.
AM: Was writing something that your parents encouraged or not really?
MM: I was very private about it. I was such a dick, I wouldn’t let them come to school performances, which I know is really mean, but I did not want them to come.
AM: Was that just nerves?
MM: I still have it now, I don’t like when people I know come to my gigs. Which is hard because that’s most of my audience! My first headline gig was really small and of course it was just all my parents’ friends and all my friends. But I don’t like it because I know I have to put on a persona and it’s a bit of a joke because they’re watching me and they know I’m putting it on! So I prefer if I can’t see them, it’s so much easier to pretend to be someone else, I like to pretend I have confidence! [laughs] Everyone has always been really encouraging. I kinda fell into it, I never really planned to go into music, everyone just knew I couldn’t do anything else! I really didn’t think I was going to be an artist, that was the last thing on my mind, I always thought I would write for other people. My parents were definitely very encouraging though.
AM: What kind of artists did you listen to growing up?
MM: My Dad loves music documentaries, neither of my parents are really musical at all…nothing! He’s really obsessed with The Beatles, of course, knows every fact under the sun! Lots of Joni Mitchell, Earth Wind and Fire, David Bowie; I didn’t really listen to it all that much, it was on in the background. I listened to, my big influences growing up were Avril Lavigne, Corinne Bailey Rae and Lianne Le Havas, kinda early teen years for her. Adele as well! I guess it’s just those. I listened quite separately to my parents, I had my little iPod Nano! Lady Gaga was on that a lot, a lot of classic female go-to bops! I probably had some Taylor Swift on there too. I did also really like James Blake. I can’t think of music else. I’ve really loved soundtracks on films, ever since I was really little.
AM: Oh interesting, which ones?
MM: I love the Juno soundtrack! My Mum showed me that maybe when I was 12 which is quite young to watch that movie I think, but I became very obsessed with that style. My Dad would give me the advert without the sound and I would write a shit song to it! [laughs]
AM: Wow, that’s so cool!
MM: Yeah and my parents would just always have the radio on, super obsessed with Radio 6!
AM: And what kind of stuff are you listening to now?
MM: I would say pretty similar. The radio is always on, my dog is scared of silence, he howls!! My biggest inspiration is Laura Marling, I listened to her for the whole of 2018, didn’t listen to anything else. The Staves harmony-wise I really like. I also really like Billie Eilish, I loved her documentary. She’s absolutely killing it! I don’t understand how young she is [laughs] I can’t wait for her new album to come out. Who else do I listen to? I love Still Woozy. Still Woozy is probably my go-to collaborator, I would love to work with him. I really fucking love Stevie Wonder! My Dad was playing his album in the car and I was like you know what, this is insane [laughs] like how on earth, how dare you write this, this is so good! I’m also recently getting into Dodie, her new stuff is really good. I really like her production and we both sing really quietly so there’s some similarities there. She has really good lyrics, they’re quite relatable in a non-obvious way and I really like that. I also really like Billie Marten!
AM: So how would you say that listening to these artists influences you?
MM: I guess subject-wise I get a lot of ideas from what people write about. I mean everything is about love! How to phrase things specifically. Also a lot is production. I work with lots of different producers but I mainly work with this one guy Jonah [Summerfield] and we collaborate on a lot of ideas together which is nice. I don’t know how much it inspires me, it’s more I would like to write a song like this, and then I go from there.
AM: And how would you describe your sound?
MM: I don’t know, I get that question so much and never know how to answer it! It’s very particular to myself. I have a fear of being too pop, but I’m not, but I have the fear that I don’t ever want to be too pop!
AM: Who are you signed to?
MM: I just signed to an American label Arista who are based in New York. They’re really nice and let me have creative freedom.
AM: Was that the most important thing to you going into those conversations?
MM: Yeah, they said they wanted artists who know what they want – and that’s me! I guess I am quite particular and quite minimal. I like simple things that have sprinkles of stuff! It’s interesting to hear how other people would describe my music because I find it so difficult to. I really don’t like obvious things, which is very Laura Marling. I think she writes about really deep things but doesn’t really want people to know exactly what it is, she covers it and I like that. It’s very British! [laughs]
AM: Would you say that your style has evolved much or has it kept quite consistent?
MM: I think it is actually quite consistent. The songs I wrote when I was 18 which was when I properly started writing, I would still release those songs now. I still like them! I don’t think it has changed that much, maybe because I don’t have a specific genre. What I like about Billie is she has so many songs from so many different genres. Her album has everything and I’m kinda like that. If you give me a guitar sitting in a room, I’ll write you a folk song, like an acoustic little Juno song. That’s why I really like working with producers because they come up with things I would just never think of. I consistently have thought out lyrics, harmonies and quite up front vocals and then everything else just goes how it goes.
AM: What inspires you to write? Do you get inspiration from other art forms, like literature, film, TV?
MM: I should read, but I don’t! It takes me so long. I’m one of those people who gets quite bored reading. My mind just thinks too much. Even when I’m listening to stuff, I’m still thinking of other things. But with reading I can’t stick to it and I end up taking so long to read a page! Movies are definitely my go-to for inspiration. I often write about characters. I half write about myself - every song I have sort of written about myself but as someone else. All of my friends broke up and got out of their relationships in September and I just wrote them all so many songs about if I were them and also if I were the other person too! I really like playing Devil’s Advocate, it’s such a dick thing but my Mum would always be like that, I don’t think she has ever agreed with me in an argument against a friend or something which is so fucking annoying but it is good!! Honestly it has probably made me who I am because I can usually see every side, you can be the worst person to me but I can understand it! I just write about different people because if I relate to it, they relate to it, then there’s a chance lots of other people will too, it covers more ground because everyone does things differently in certain circumstances. I would say I’m really unemotional. All of my friends are not! I have not cried in months! I cry very few times a year [laughs]
AM: I cry all the time!
MM: All of my friends are a lot more like you! I can be a dramatic person though. I stepped on a slug the other day and absolutely freaked out for about half an hour! Just no tears! I fucking hate slugs. So yeah, I try to get emotion through songs.
Matilda wears shirt VINTAGE; earrings BEA BONGIASCA
AM: So at the moment you have two EP’s out at the moment and the first song I heard of yours was ‘The Fucking Best’. Could you talk to me a bit about that song, the story behind it etc.?
MM: It’s a compliment song. Though it sounds sassy and maybe sarcastic, I really mean it. You’re the fucking best and I wish I was more like you. Basically about those people that just seem to have their life together and do it so effortlessly.
AM: Your second EP was called ‘Because I Wanted You To Know’. How did this EP come together?
MM: What I do with EPs is I just write a lot of songs and we pick the ones that work. I probably mainly do music for other people. I write it for myself, but I put it out for other people with the intention that it has something that will make them feel something they haven’t before, having a revelation or just the feeling that you’re not alone in something. It’s called ‘Because I Wanted You To Know’ - because I want you to know that someone else feels this way about that and maybe you do too. All of them cover something quite particular. ‘Happy Anniversary, Stranger’ covers people having crushes on random strangers; ‘As It Is’ is about knowing the relationship isn’t right and you need to get out of it; ‘Robbed’ is about being really vulnerable and being taken advantage of. It’s kinda a broad overview of things that happen. Then the first EP is called ‘If That Makes Sense’ which is also if you listen to it, if the song makes sense to you, take it as yours.
AM: That’s really lovely, that makes a lot of sense [laughs]. Do you come up with those titles easily?
MM: Actually yes! I always panic at the last minute, but it always comes together.
AM: So ‘Doomsday’ was your latest release which I absolutely love! Literally on first listen I was like this is fucking amazing! Can you talk to me a bit about it? Who was that song for?
MM: Sometimes I really just sit and write things, they come out of my head, I can’t really explain how I get there. I wrote the chorus in my room by myself, the whole thing came out. I thought it was a really nice chorus and I had no fucking clue what the verses should be like or what they should be about so I took it to Steph [Marziano] and she kinda got it out of me somehow and I would mumble something and we would write it down, kinda without me realising that’s what I said! I guess what came to mind was I really loved ‘Normal People’ and ‘The End of the Fucking World’ and it’s kinda about if the world was going to end, who would you want to spend those moments with. It’s a combination of ‘Normal People’, ‘The End of the Fucking World’ and ‘The Society’. So a lot of it was inspired by TV programmes. I like how they get married in ‘The End of the Fucking World’, so I kinda wanted it to be romantic like that. We had a whole music video planned but I don’t think we will get to do it now. Usually I like to come up with music videos myself.
AM: Do you prefer writing alone or collaborating with people? We’ve talked about it briefly already.
MM: Lyrically I like to do it alone but I like to work with a producer and see how they are thinking, come up with lots of references together and stuff.
AM: You said you have a new song coming out.
MM: Yeah, ‘My Point of You’ the next song is out next week.
AM: What’s that about then?
MM: That I wrote for my friend who dated someone who wanted to change a lot about her. One good thing about a break up is coming back into yourself and realising you are coming back and they’re not – and that’s ‘My Point of You’. It’s very Juno inspired, it’s very simple, just guitar and vocals. I think it’s my favourite song lyrically that I’ve written.
AM: So what is something you would like your audience to take away from your music?
MM: To think about other people. If everyone thought about other people and kept that in mind, they have reasons for everything, whether it is good or not, it’s not an excuse but there is a reason why people are they way they are and to keep that in mind is important. They have faults the same way as you do. Just be nice! It’s as simple as that!
AM: Your show is coming up in October at Lafayette. Are you excited to play?
MM: I am and I’m not! Gigs really freak me out. I especially don’t like my own, I love being a support act! No one comes to see me, I’m just a bonus on the night. My own gigs are so stressful and I’m playing with a band this time and I haven’t rehearsed yet so I’m just thinking the worst. The first 10 shows I ever did I had to sit down because my legs would just shake. Even if I felt confident I would still be shaking. I’m not a naturally confident speaker really, I can stand there and sing but the between song speech, especially because my songs are sad but I’m naturally quite happy, so I finish an emotional song and am like… “hey everyone!!!!!” It’s kinda funny to watch! It will be fine eventually, I just need to get back into it.
AM: It’s a while off
MM: Yeah, doing tours got me so used to it. I did two tours at the same time just before lockdown which was amazing but exhausting! I was Arlo Parks’ support act and also The Staves…
AM: Oh yeah, I was meant to go to Arlo’s London date but…lockdown…
MM: Yeah that was the main one, all my friends were going to come!
AM: What’s your favourite city that you’ve been to?
MM: Oh I haven’t been but Japan! I mean I wrote Japan because… that was on Gossip Girl, when they are heartbroken they go to Paris and I was thinking what the fuck that would make me so depressed. I would go to Japan!
AM: Are you looking forward to the Gossip Girl reboot?
MM: Yes, of course!! My favourite place on earth is New York. I’m going to America in August, I’m going to go meet the label I signed to. In 2020 I got my publishing deal and my record deal and both were signed in my room on my laptop on my bed! I’m really excited to go to New York, I love it there so much, it’s just like a much cooler London!! I went when I was 16. I wouldn’t want to be there in Winter. I’m also hopefully going to go to LA.
AM: What is something you have learnt about yourself in the last year of Covid?
MM: I sing so weirdly
AM: What do you mean?
MM: I sing out the side of my mouth. I’ve had to do so many livestreams and I’ve never sat and watched myself perform before now and I sing out the side of my mouth! How I perform is so fucking weird. I also talk really quietly, I’ve had to learn to speak louder on the livestreams.
AM: And what are your plans for the next year?
MM: Definitely the trip to America which I am so excited for. Quite a few of my friends have moved there now so I’ll get to see them. I’m just so excited to travel to be honest!
AM: Oh wow, amazing! And my last question is what is your favourite F Word?
MM: Flamingo! They’re kinda fancy but weird!