It's impossible to say exactly when, but there's a point during my conversation with Matt Corby when I switch from friendly sceptic to fully-fledged believer. A quick chat with the Australian songwriter quickly turns into a lengthy exposition on everything from indigenous Australian culture to assassination theories, from a clear distrust of commerce to the nature of music itself. A conversation with Matt Corby is like being swept away by a flood-tide of ideas, of thoughts, of feeling, spilling out in almost every direction.
But first: the exposition. We're sat in a (pleasing, to his eyes) traditional East London boozer, and he's sipping a (pleasing, to his tastes) traditional English pint. Matt Corby is a long way from home, but then the music, the message, never changes.
“I reckon it went pretty good,” he says, reflecting on a recent burst of UK dates. “It was only five shows. We got off the plane, got on the bus, drove straight to Birmingham, did four shows in a row, had one little day off – which was pretty cool, actually.”
“The journey is, like, 24 hours in transit,” he continues. “Little stopover in Abu Dhabi. It's pretty brutal. But I made it. We got through it, which was pretty good – a pretty good effort from everyone.”
Matt is used to being on the road. Musical from an absurdly young age, he was plucked out of the schooling system in New South Wales to experience life as a touring musician. “I think me and my sister had this weird competitive vibe when we were younger – she's only 16 months older than me. And she's good at everything. At that point in my life, I'm like: I can sing, I can do it better than her. The one thing that I can do better than her! And I guess, after a while, I realised that I actually from birth had relative pitch. I could pitch anything, I could harmonise with anything, had an ability to hit rhythm.”
“I think it just evolved from that point on,” he muses. “I was asked to sing everywhere I went, and it got to a point where I hit about 13 years old and I was being asked to join a touring band of singers. I left home, and I was touring with those guys for about two years. Which was fucking awesome because I hated school.”
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Only briefly touching upon his experiences in standard education, you get the feeling of a spirit unleashed, of stagnant water suddenly breaching, and touching the pure currents of the ocean. “I tutored myself,” he grins. “I had a scholarship at quite a fancy school, and obviously my family doesn't have a lot of money, so it was like the most viable option for me to go to that, instead of some public school where I would have gotten beaten up everyday. I think the curriculum is a bit advanced anyway, and I was teaching myself what was New South Wales regulation curriculum. So I knew it all, anyway. It was more like filling in the gaps. I didn't really have to do much schooling.”
“I think that maybe I've been lucky, because as a teenager I was given a way out to express myself,” he argues. “That's all that we really need to do, to create something new for people to enjoy. And I mean, that's actually not all we need to do – the world is a very complex thing. The infrastructure and economy and all that shit – it's way more in depth than that. But when you think about people as intellectual, emotional creatures that have to complete a task... music is something that fits in there so perfectly, and is so fucking inspiring. It actually really does help a lot of things. If you can do it right. And not exploit people or yourself in the process.”
Matt Corby first struck out on his own while still in his teens, but it took 2012's 'Brother' to really place him on the map. Ferociously original, it lead to extensive writing and recording sessions in Los Angeles – sessions that he immediately dumped upon hearing the results. “I wasn't really ready to release a full body of work,” he says, simply. “I think I was playing catch up, because... even still, to this day, I don't really see myself as a songwriter, someone that's prolific, that will write some little ditty on a guitar, or some instrument everyday. It's more focussed bursts of energy. The whole picture of what I want to try and accomplish. It always took me way more time to make music than most other people.”
“I made that record,” he continues, “and it was just a complete mess. Too many cooks in the kitchen, labels getting involved, managers getting involved, everyone had their fucking say. Everyone wanted to play their role, because I think everyone had their sort of feeling that was bubbling underneath that this could be successful. It's really dangerous – a super dangerous position to be in, especially when you're the one that's being manipulated by all these people. You don't know who to listen to, and I just hated what was there at the end. I thought it had nothing to do with me.”
“I listened to all these songs, and I thought: I just wrote these out of necessity, I don't have a strong emotional connection to it. I don't feel like it's very honest, and I think at that point I was like: maybe everyone should just completely fuck off and just leave me be. And I think everyone kind of respected that, because when they all heard it, too, they felt the same as me. This is OK, but it's not really what anyone was expecting.”
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Leaving Los Angeles behind, Matt Corby went right back home. Now basing himself in Berry, a tiny settlement just outside Sydney, he began breaking down his music into elemental forces – and then building it back up again. Roaring back with new cut 'Monday', it's a solo track in the most complete way imaginable: from the vocals to the guitar to the percussion, every sound is created by himself. He's turned his own body into an orchestra.
“I mean, the voice is the most natural instrument,” he says. “If you watch the way that indigenous Australians make music together, it's like a didgeridoo, clapping sticks, and everything else is sung. And it's like the most fucking insane electronic music you've ever heard in your life, but it was done 3000 years ago. Everyone can make loops, everyone can do that shit – that song was just a good morning. I was making a joke, when I first started recording the layers for 'Monday', that repeated harmony that keeps on going. And I sung all these lyrics over it – the song was written in about eight minutes.”
The spirit of the track spilled over into the album sessions, sessions that followed a lengthy, 18 month long learning process. “I was like, it's going to take me a year to figure out how to get my independence with the drums, how to play the beats that I want to play, how to grow on the bass, and then figure out how to play interesting guitar lines and all that stuff. It's kind of all there, but I had to develop the technical ability for it to be right. And if it's not, then you're fucked. And it's just going to sound like a fucking mess.”
“I got to a point at the start of this year where I thought, I feel confident,” he recalls. “I want to get a bunch of really good mics, and a bunch of good pre-amps in a room, and someone that I trust to tell me when I'm going too far off the rails, or where I'm on point. And that was exactly what happened. I spent two months writing and recording what is now the album.”
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That's what I dream for, anyway...
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The new album – Matt's debut – is called 'Telluric', and it's now. Hugely individual, it's a testament to both to approach and execution, to his musical quest, and his lyrical outlook. “I think the other thing that I spent doing in the last two years was really trying to get myself up to date on what is going on,” he says. “Because if I am not informed then I'm just an ignorant cunt, that's singing narcissistic bullshit. And that is mainly what you hear – that's music today. And I listen to the radio for the most part, and I'm depressed.”
“It's there to keep the market ticking over for no fucking reason at all other than just to make people money. And that's not what music is about. Well, not for me, anyway. I feel like the more people that are honest through what they create, and that can identify with the correct... the more fundamentally accurate parts of humanity, then things might get a little bit better. Maybe just a little bit. Enough for people to feel empowered to make their own decisions as individuals and realise that they're in a situation where they can actually change who they are or what's going on.”
It's not enough to simply listen to Matt Corby speak, you have to watch him – watch the eyes burrowing into yours, the hands sweeping through the air, hammering home each point. “I'm a stoner and I don't really have much sympathy for religion any more,” he says at one point. “I basically believe that human beings are pure entities when they're born, and they have the ability to do whatever they want in order to change the Earth in a positive way. And it's just... they get lied to, and in the process of becoming an adult that ends up fucking up the world.”
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Music has always been at the forefront of culture...
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“Music has always been at the forefront of culture,” he tells me. “Whenever there's a huge cultural shift – look at rock 'n' roll, back in the 60s. That shit fucked with people, man. It fucked with the government so hardcore that the CIA had to do shit about (John) Lennon. They were trying to get him out of America! He was one of their number one priorities. And of course he was fucking assassinated, not just by some crazy fan.”
“I don't know,” he sighs. “We're living in a time where maybe it's more important than ever for people to really speak their minds, so that everyone can understand where we're all at. I'm not saying that I have the capacity to do that – I'm just some fucking chump from Australia that is just giving it a go. There will be people that are more informed than me who come along and just blow all this shit out of the water. That's what I hope – that's what I dream for, anyway.”
But if he doesn't believe he can affect change, if he doesn't believe the record can make a difference... then why make it?
“The aim of the record is... just to make someone feel something other than hatred or oppression. I hope that doesn't sound egotistical or narcissistic, but I just think that music has the power to make someone feel good, and if I can be as honest as possible then maybe it's completely relate-able for someone else. They can be like: we're the same, it's cool. Then I can feel a little less isolated, and a little bit less like a fucking cunt. You know what I mean?”
“I couldn't give a shit if the thing got to number one – which will never happen. And that's great!” he cries out, his voice so loud I'm wondering if other people in the pub are listening in. “If anyone wanted to write number one songs that had any musical integrity at all they probably could. But that's not the goal now. There's no room for people in the world like that, any more.”
“I just want people to feel good,” he says, almost pleading. “I felt good in the process of making this. I hate that I see my name everywhere, I think it's really ostentatious. I think the whole fame thing is complete bullshit, and I am terrible at having to empathise with it, in any capacity. Even the smallest capacity. And that's the honest to God truth.”
Amen, Matt. Amen.
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'Telluric' is out now.