In Conversation: CMAT

"I’ve always been fascinated by vintage and pop culture..."

There’s a lot to say about CMAT.

Armed with decadent adornings, and soft-sway ballads, the songwriter is a treat for the senses, giving everyone who comes across her a full serving of aesthetic, sonic bliss. But she chats to me through Zoom from a small bedroom in London, what’s most striking is the artist’s quick, unmatched wit. Her magnetism becomes palpable from the moment she appears on screen, lighting up her surroundings, and almost distracting from the peculiar two-necked instrument she proudly displays to the laptop camera.

“This is a pedal steel guitar, I’m obsessed with it,” she grins. “It’s got two necks so two people can play it at once. The way it’s tuned means whatever notes you play, it will be in harmony with the other person playing, it’s so lovely. I was having a bad day a few months ago, and afterwards I needed to buy something stupid and expensive’, which is how I got that.”

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As we speak, she speeds through a rolodex of topics, all the while referencing all kinds of pop-culture cornerstones, from Susan Sontags ‘Notes On Camp’, to an emotion filled run-down of Cate Le Bon’s career. Her ability to reference the most nichqe sub-genres of culture is impressive, though not surprising given the artist’s word-heavy lyricism. Backed by mellow country-musings, the artist’s writing style is one that tells a story, throwing references, jokes, and ad-libs into her tracks. “When I was growing up, my mum would tell me I was a fountain of useless knowledge,” she confesses. “I can tell you about the making of the film, The Last Picture Show or all of the drama that happened on set in 1971. But like, forget my friends’ birthdays,” she laughs.

“But I’ve always been fascinated by vintage and pop culture,” she continues. “The reason I particularly love stuff from like 50 years ago, 40 years ago, is because anything retrospective that has fallen out of relevancy is inherently camp. You’re seeing something that used to be successful, which if presented nowadays wouldn’t even be considered good. It’s fascinating,” there’s a brief pause. “I use that type of vintage aesthetic throughout my work. My album art is all done by Rachel O’Regan. The process is that I’ll send her a really long list of references or things I like, and then she’ll create my covers.

She adds: “My references were always like Bunty annuals or 1978 and like Jackie magazine, that comic-book style. So if you align all my release artwork up, that’s literally the reference to that’s why if you were to line them up, it would be like reading a comic.”

In all it’s fabulous glory, comes the next addition to the strip; CMAT’s debut album ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’. A elevation of the artist’s already stellar sound, the album relies on soft Southerns sounds, jam-packed with acoustic string melodies, layered vocal backings and swaying drum beats. All the while, CMAT’s distinctive voice is the running highlight, reverberating lullabye-like melodies on tracks like ‘Groundhog Day’, and perhaps the artist’s current magnum opus ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy Baby!’

“A debut album is a statement,” she tells me. “I need to tell you who I am. So I was really, really keen to create the album with as few people as possible, so I could have control. So the album is pretty much self-funded,” she confesses. “It’s all from me, completely, aside from my producer Oli Deakin and a girl called Morgan from New York who does drums. I just knew that it would make a much stronger statement that I had authority over every single aspect of recorded.”

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However, what stands out most about the album, is the emotional weight that works alongside CMAT’s whimsical musings. Emerging between jokes and jabs, is heartfelt pensiveness that grounds the album, and provides a sense of resonance that cannot be shaken off. A standout of the release ‘Lonely’ is perhaps the best example of this. A track that wears its heart on it’s sleeve, the artist ponders her isolation and the soberness it can bring, while backed by barber-style harmonies, and Western adornment.

“I don’t want people to think I’m just a funny songstress,” she confesses. “But also, authenticity is not something I think fondly of, just because the way we perceive being authentic in music is skewed,” she pauses. “I feel like a lot of mediocre tracks get a pass because they’ll market themselves. It has a veneer of authenticity in the sense. Those kinds of stripped-back, raw, piano led tracks- they’ll be coined as real music, when it’s not a masterpiece by any means”.

She pauses, then clarifies: “I would never say that that is bad, I don’t really believe in good music and bad music, there’s a purpose to all of it. But it shouldn’t be, given the badge of authenticity over someone who maybe has a more feminine presentation. Just because I have a fun, or feminine presentation, doesn’t mean my work’s not deep.”

With so much on the horizon, it’s hard to say what the future holds. But CMAT’s self-assurance shines through as she discusses her next steps. “I’ve been saying that for years. I specifically really want to win an Ivor Novello Award. It’s the songwriting award, and I don’t really care about any of the other awards. Just that one. I want to win the songwriting award because I love songwriting. It’s my, it’s my favourite thing in the world,” she declares, confident in her talents, and her ability to rise to the top.

As our conversation ends, she throws in one last wish for good measure. “Oh and back-dancers. They’ll be my next addition!”

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Words: Lily Blakeney-Edwards

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