It was a dire day in London, one of those where the rain fires down like bullets from the sky, the perfect pathetic fallacy for the storm that was 2020. But when singer-songwriter Matthew Maltese walked into the room, his calm and comforting presence shone through and the world seemed a little brighter.
Cuppa tea in hand, F Word magazine chatted to Matt about his raw talent for simplistic storytelling, the creation of his most recent EP Madhouse, writing music for other people and much more.
Maisie Daniels: Thanks for coming out on a rainy Saturday! How are you doing?
Matt Maltese: Good, I think! I’ve been busy doing some writing for other people which has changed my perspective a bit…
M.D: Nice, how did that come about?
M.M: It happened because I wrote this ballad with someone that I decided not to use and the singer decided she wanted to record it, so I had a writing day with her, which then lead on to another song. And then a couple of others I wrote last year - I had a day once with Birdy, and a day with Matilda Mann - and those songs came out this year and it all just started to happen. I didn’t realise that this was something I’d like this much!
M.D: So when you write these new songs with other people do you always have it in mind that you will give them away, or do you ever want to keep them?
M.M: When you’re writing with people, the intention is always that it’s their thing. So it’s totally out of my own head and having written the third record, and having it finished it writing wise, I was a little bit and an ends of what to do. As I want to write songs everyday but I also didn’t want to start a fourth album, so it’s filled that time amazingly.
M.D: Yes, it’s good to keep busy, especially at the moment. Let’s talk about your new EP Madhouse - I love it and I’ve not stopped listening to it! M.M: Awh, thank you.
M.D: So it was written and produced in your bedroom?
M.M: Yeah, a lot of it. Some of it was produced by other people but about half of it was done by me.
M.D: I see this body of work as a series of 6 short stories, where you explore the complex nature of human beings through simplistic story telling. And there’s such a knack to retaining that simplicity, don’t you think? Does writing like this come naturally to you?
M.M: I think it does. I think more than ever in lockdown… I was listening to an interview that Daisy Smith did and she wrote essays during lockdown about her attachment to writing and creating, and she described it exactly as I felt it. Where you realise it’s not something that you’re having to do because you’ve started a life where that is happening but it’s something that I feel that I need to do to stay level.
It’s gone past being something that I do because it’s for work. I need to write everyday to feel okay, it’s as simple as that.
M.D: You can externalise internal feelings so well. I am absolutely rubbish at that…
M.M: [Laughs] Well there’s a lot of shit to start with, I’m lucky that I started at 14 years old when I thought just because I’d written a song I was God’s gift but it was trash! Your taste doesn’t match your ability but now, after 10 years… like if I started now it would be awful because my taste would be so much higher than my ability.
M.D: What made you realise at the young age of 14 that you wanted to make music?
M.M: I don’t think there was really a realisation but I guess it was just as soon as I realised I could use music to express myself, and realising that I could do it.
M.D: I guess that’s all it takes at 14?
M.M: Yeah! Because you are trying to figure out what your “thing” is at that age and I think as soon as I got a sense that music could be a thing, I latched onto it.
M.D: Do you remember the first song that moved you in a certain way?
M.M: Oooh, that’s a good question. I remember there was this film called Rocky and Bullwinkle - have you seen it?
M.D: I haven’t!
M.M: It’s… I can’t really remember too much… but it’s these cartoon characters that come into real life… it’s kind of awful [laughs] but it’s got that Supertramp song Dreamer in it and I remember hearing that as a kid and wanting to hear it over and over again and wanting to play it really loud in the car as a 7 year old and being like ‘Wow!’.
M.D: Yeah, I live for those moments. That strong nostalgia that sticks with you…
M.D: And tell me about any parental influences on your musically? I know you are half English, half Canadian…
M.D: Yeah so my parents are Canadian and my Dad’s Italian-Canadian. So I guess a lot of America-Canadian music really. Like I didn’t find out about David Bowie till I was 17 years old because I was listening to what my parents grew up with. My Mum was an opera singer so she was always keen for me to be musical. So I was lucky I had piano lessons forced on me when I was young and those things changed my life.
M.D: Have you ever dabbled in opera?
M.M: No! Never. [Smiles]
It’s one of those things where you need to have the voice for it. You either have it or you don’t, and I don’t! My mum’s dad was a semi-pro Jazz trumpeter and he played me lots of Jazz music as kid. So yeah, I had a lot from my mum's side and my dad was always a fan. No musical ability, but yeah.
M.D: And do your parents love your music?
M.M: Yeah. My mum is a really great supporter and also she is critical sometimes.
M.D: I think you need that! Is she constructive?
M.M: She can be quite savage…
M.M: Coming from a vocal point of view… but yeah it’s really good to have!
M.D: Let’s go back to the EP. The single Madhouse, I really enjoyed the video for it. I was stalking your Instagram the other day of you showing the behind the scenes footage of the reality of you coming through what was a cardboard TV [Laughs]. I bet you had a lots of fun creating the video?
M.M: I did but it was really fucking stressful, the classic “oh, it won’t be that hard to come out of a TV in a video” and it was a nightmare but I got the coming out the TV shot I signed up for!
M.D: Well you’d never know the struggle looking at it - seamless! M.M: [Laughs] Thank you.
M.D: Do you come up with the concepts, or is there a team involved?
M.M: Yeah, most of the time I have initial ideas and then I collaborate with whoever the Director is. This one was Scarlett Carlos Clarke - she’s amazing - and we always wanted to do a video together so we brainstormed the idea and it became that.
M.D: And I have to say I really like your dancing in it!
M.D: In the video is there music playing as you dance, or are you having to groove away in silence?
M.M: I was dancing to music as I was singing it as well. The weird thing about that video, and why I look manic, is because we were doing it double time, so we could slow it down. Dancing to the music in double time is the most ridiculous thing.
M.D: What’s the story behind Madhouse?
M.M: It’s about finding the mad in the normal. Sometimes the most normal houses can feel really mad and how unaware they feel of reality.
M.D: And everyones individual space…
M.M: Yeah, right!
M.D: Listening to Sad Dream made me want to cry. It’s a song for the brokenhearted...
M.M: Awh yeah, a breezy brokenhearted song.
M.D: I love how you layer cynical lyricism over upbeat melodies…
M.M: Yeah, I think that’s my favourite thing to do. [Laughs]
M.D: And then there’s the track High, which just makes me want to fall in love. The lyric “you can be the French to my fry” is just so bloody cute. Is this EP you exploring all your emotions? I’m guessing it’s very personal? M.M: Yeah, absolutely. It’s all very personal and yeah, there’s a range from the brokenhearted to wanting to fall in love.
M.D: Is there a track you are most proud of?
M.M: I think I do love Sad Dream a lot and that was one that was written around my second album but I didn’t feel like I was really happy to give it a place.
M.D: Do you ever sit and listen to your own music?
M.M: In the process of making it I do, but not hugely after. I just don’t feel that it’s too healthy for my writing to be inspired by my own music [laughs]. I feel like I could get lost in this vortex but definitely in the process of making it, I listen to it too much really and I really want to fix things.
I believe in making music that you want to listen to yourself. Making music that doesn’t move you… I don’t think that’s the way.
M.D: Let’s talk about the pandemic and lockdown… how have you found this whole time?
M.M: I did a similar thing last year in a way by being in my room for 4 months and writing. And this time around it was obviously so different because it wasn’t a choice and because of everything that was going on it was suddenly a real crisis. But I also feel like I can’t complain because I was so lucky to be in a job that I could continue to do. Yes it was awful in a lot of ways and I suffered because of it personally but yeah, I feel so lucky.
M.D: What was the last live performance you did?
M.M: It was a show in East London and I remember talking with my tour manager because we had a US tour planned for May and he was all worried about it shutting down. And I was all ‘Mateee, it’s not going to shut down… the airline industry is massive, they’re not going to cancel a flight!” [Laughs]
M.D: And look as us now! M.M: Totally, I’d love to see a video of me saying that.
M.D: Do you enjoy performing live?
M.M: I do… but [pause] I’m also making my peace with the fact that it doesn’t exist, so I’m not missing it as much as when it was immediate. It feels like a lifetime ago - playing live - now. I definitely miss the way it does celebrate the relationship between you and the listener better than anything else does. Putting music out and getting an online response is great but it’s not the same. But I also feel fortunate that I can do the recording side and still go to the studio. Live will come back when it comes back.
M.D: I went to a socially distanced live gig at Halloween. It was a punk band and everyone was sat down…
M.M: The Windmill?
M.D: No, Moth Club! M.M: Moth Club is wicked.
M.D: Yeah! they do a great Sixties night there as well.. it made me proper miss nights out.
M.M: Yeah I haven’t dabbled enough to start missing it enough. I did one show in the summer which was an outdoors and that made me really miss it and really sad. It’s bitter sweet…
M.D: Yeah, out of sight, out of mind?
M.M: Yeah! That’s how I’ve been approaching it and it is just completely tragic how its decimated half of the industry and people connected to that side of things that can’t access the recording side.
M.D: When you aren’t doing music, what do you enjoy doing?
M.M: I don’t really know! I think so much of my life is music, especially at the moment. I don’t really want to be doing anything else…
M.D: It’s good to be able to channel all of your your energy into one thing.
M.M: And at a time like this seeing friends is hard, dating is useless… [Laughs] it’s so fine to focus right now on music.
M.D: Yes, I feel the same! I don’t think I’ve ever had a time when I’ve just focused on one thing so much.
M.M: Right, because there is always the choice that you can do other things. And this time where you can’t, I find it easier to be completely into it.
M.D: What are you working on at the moment?
M.M: Song writing and also I’m going to go and record my album soon - hopefully in December. So I’ve written it over the 3-4 month period in the first lockdown, kind of finished it in the summer and just getting ready for that, it’s creeping up!
M.D: Exciting! Let’s finish the interview with your favourite F - Word?
M.M:! Mmm… that’s hard! I do think Fuck is a great word but yeah…
M.D: That's the go-to word! I feel like you want to change it though? M.M: French is quite good, isn’t it!?!
M.D: Oh-la-la. We’ve never had that before.