Interview: Matt Maltese @ The Louisiana

I have a pitch for you. Young crooner with Simone-level piano chops writing ironic, druggy songs about sex and incoming apocalypse? So far, so Father John Misty. However, where Josh Tillman often hides behind so many layers of sarcasm and bitterness it’s hard to make out the sincerity from the spite, up-and-comer Matt Maltese knows how to toe the line without pissing off half his audience. Boasting an already impressive track record (he did a Burberry Acoustic set at age of 16), Maltese has seen his star steadily rising since the release of his powerful ‘Even If it’s a Lie’ back in 2015, with a tangible sense of growth with every next single. Tonight, the lovely Louisiana was busy for a Sunday, and most were lulled into his woozy spell.

With a well sequenced setlist, evenly spaced between absorbing slow burners and more uptempo numbers, he had a captivating and cheerful stage presence, even when microphone malfunctions threatened to interrupt the glacial calm. Highlights were apparent early on: recent single ‘Vacant in the 21st Century’ gracefully filled the room, and a new song, ‘Leather Wearing AA’, had the eerie pull of early Cat Power. His more polished skills gave his older material added nuance: ‘...a Lie’ was especially riveting with a full(er) band behind him. New song ‘Guilty’, about ‘doing a bad drug, kissing someone’s girlfriend, and having to go ice skating with your mum the next day’ had the swing of a jazz standard soaked in tragicomedy. Pre-encore ‘Strange Time’ was less thrilling without the presence of That guitar line, but it made up for it with its tortured final chorus.

The premise for closer ‘As the World Caves In’, Theresa May and Donald Trump sweet talking as nuclear holocaust rages around them, risked being too on the nose, but Maltese made it work with a huge sounding arrangement, pushing the audience out of their spell. The enthusiasm of the crowd and the small venue made it an especially intimate night. Not to deprive him of a well-earned fanbase, but I hope it stays this way - I cannot imagine Maltese’s music translating particularly well to larger venues, though as he gets more grand and confident with each new single, I may well be proved wrong on this front. A mere hour’s set was intoxicating enough that it felt like it could go on forever.

Matt was gracious enough to grant us a pre-show interview, and his responses were thankfully eloquent and intelligent.

M: I’ve noticed a lot of your music has an apocalyptic feel to it, especially ‘As the World Caves In’. Did you write it with the current global situation in mind or has that always been present in your lyrics?

MM: It was actually before all the stuff with North Korea happened, it was more kind of when Trident was happening. I’ve talked about it a lot but I wrote it with Donald Trump and Theresa May in mind, both pretty strong advocators of the nuclear program anyway. I guess since the end of World War II, we’ve all lived in a time where stuff feels like it’s pretty apocalyptic.

M: Yeah, ‘cause I’ve noticed from your earlier music to your newer music, there’s a bit more comedy.

MM: I think, like, since ‘Even If It’s a Lie’, I’ve wanted to bridge together a little bit more of what I felt was the person offstage more than onstage. I’d come onstage and be pretty intense and sentimental the whole time, and then come offstage and crack jokes about being intense and sentimental. So yeah, I’ve been trying to bridge those two sides together.

M: Do you feel that as the world gets more and more absurd, it matches your lyrical growth?

MM: Yeah, more dark humour, sad feelings mixed with a joke.

M: For your first single ‘Even If It’s a Lie’, you released the demo instead of a ‘finished article’, even though I guess it’s ‘finished’ if you release it. What was the thought process behind that?

MM: I don’t actually really know. When I did that, I recorded that in my room. I guess I thought it was a demo because there wasn’t any other instruments on it, and then in hindsight, I don’t think I’m ever gonna re-record that song.

M: Do you think you’ve seen your music move away from entirely autobiographical to something a bit more abstract?

MM: I think I’ve been having fun with that. They are still pretty autobiographical but I tend to dramatise even more- I put less emphasis on needing to tell the truth all the time. I guess that’s part of it.

M: What was the experience of opening for The Maccabees like earlier this year?

MM: It was pretty mad! They weren’t necessarily a band I hugely grew up with, they were kind of in my peripheral. But then obviously the relationship with Hugo [White, of The Maccabees and producer of Matt’s ‘Vacant in the 21st Century’] blossomed, I listened loads more to their records. It was mad to be a part of a farewell tour, probably even more so than a normal support tour because I felt like I was impinging on them...like who’s this guy? But no, they were amazing shows to play.

M: I read in an interview with Lorde that she used to write short fiction before she wrote her own lyrics. Where did you start in your creative process?

MM: I used to dream of being a novel writer but I don’t think it ever got further than me writing 4 pages of a book. Once I started writing songs, it’s a pretty fulfilling thing for someone with a shorter attention span because you can finish a song pretty quickly. Writing a novel seems like a whole other game to me that I don’t have the attention span for. I guess it started with writing to music and then in the last year I’ve been jotting down random, stupid little poems, with that being like an added lyric. But yeah, it started in songs, I wouldn’t be able to echo Lorde.

M: What’s your least favourite thing about touring?

MM: Meeting lots of really nice people, and then never seeing them again.

M: Do you feel any sense of camaraderie with the ‘band scene’? I know it’s a bit of a hackneyed term.

MM: I definitely feel camaraderie. It’s just nice to have friends making really good music and it plays quite a healthy part in everyone feeling like you’re all kind of together in this, but you’re all also slightly competing against each other to write songs. So I think that’s a really positive thing...I feel like I’ve met lots of people I admire.

M: So there’s no sense of ‘I’ve got more Spotify hits than anyone else’?

MM: [Laughs]...no, I think it’s more you’re moved by your friend’s bands and you’re like ‘I wanna move people. I think it’s a positive competition, it’s not like who’s playing the bigger tour.

M: Just onto the topic of your music videos, do you ever find the concept of making a video stressful because you’re giving quite a personal product away to someone who may misconstrue what you want?

MM: I haven’t had that experience mostly because I feel like I get involved. All of the storylines I hash out between me and the director...if there’s an idea that he really loves that I don’t love, it doesn’t get in there. I don’t want to act out something I don’t believe in. Also, I trust Sam [Hiscox], he’s a good director, it’s a pleasuresome [sic] experience.

M: I was really struck by the visual in your video for ‘Comic Life’ when you’re walking across the dinner party table. Can you explain what that was like to film?

MM: [Laughs]...It was a bit of a bitch to film, I’ve got pretty bad knees as well, every time I go running my knees give out. It was a really hard wood table. I sound like an 80 year old man, don’t I? But it was really fun, I had this suit on which I decided was allowed to get fucked by all this chocolate pudding.

M: Yeah, I was gonna say, did you actually eat the cake in that scene?

MM: I did eat it, yeah, it was just after the 5th take, I’d eaten too much cake and I felt so greasy and so ill. We had 2 cakes to do all the takes with.

M: All of your single covers have really distinct artworks, is it you who is the motivating force behind them?

MM: Yeah, I feel like everything I do is instigated by me. Some of the artworks have been done by this girl called Alice Bloomfield but I totally feel like I can trust her with understanding if I give her an idea or something. I can’t draw for shit, I don’t do any of those myself.

M: Sweet. Thank you for meeting with us.

MM: Thanks to you.

Matteo Pini

Photography: Emilie Barbier