We spoke to multi-instrumentalist Matt Corby about his love-hate relationship with music, finding success at a young age and how the weather effects his song writing…
What it means to be a multi-instrumentalist in today’s music industry is not typically perceived to be playing Jazz flute on stage as well as guitar, keys, and drums. But, that is the heart of what Matt Corby’s music is. Behind his humbling presence, Corby’s music has constantly evolved with his #1 debut album Telluric sounding a far cry from the artist who collected an ARIA Song of the Year award in 2013, with ‘Brother’.
Rainbow Valley is only his second LP release, following Telluric- which both feel like a different state of mind in their own respect. But despite this, what unites Corby’s music is deeper than what sets it apart. Corby’s immaculate harmonies and impassioned croons weave throughout his catalogue, in what could be the enlightened optimism of ‘New Day Coming’ or the melancholia of Telluric’s ‘Empires Attraction’. As an artist Corby’s music can be seen as an extension of the personal and musical development in the space between records, and Rainbow Valley’s organic, and at times, spiritual clarity reveals an album whose voice is akin to that of a dear old friend.
Was there a specific moment when you knew that you wanted to become a musician?
I always knew from 5 years old, everyone was always asking me to sing when I was growing up. I remember when I was in year 2 and my music teacher asked everyone to clap in rhythm, and I was seeing some kids and they just couldn’t grasp basic rhythm, so I go up to my music teacher and say that I could sing and stuff, and she takes me straight away to the Principals office, and I sang for the principal. This is a day that I’ll always remember because the principal stitched me up hardcore, so we have assembly that day and I just remember the Principal saying we have someone who is going to sing for us today, and I was thinking surely this isn’t me. But it was at that point, where I really had no fear, I got up and sang in front of the whole school- and from then I was known as the ‘Singer Kid’ and I was just right there branded with it I was kind of doomed.
“I have a real love hate relationship with music, anyone who does it knows this. But at the moment I’m really loving what I’m doing.”
After that I just kind of kept developing it, and took singing lessons, and for a while that wasn’t cool and then I learnt how to play piano and later, the guitar. At 14 I left school and I was touring with the band and, I realised that I was gonna do this, I was gonna write songs and learnt more instruments and I never really looked back.
I have a real love hate relationship with music, anyone who does it knows this. But at the moment I’m really loving what I’m doing.
Do you remember what song it was that you sang in front of the Assembly?
It was a track from Sister Act 2- (breaks into song) if you wanna be somebody- you know that song…
Obviously apart from Sister Act, are there any artists from your childhood that had a profound impact on your music?
So my mum really loved Tina Arena, she’s like this classic 80’s incredible vocalist, she can seriously sing and there’s one track called ‘Chains’ that I really felt. My dad loved rock n roll and loved AC/DC. There was something about it when I first heard them, the beat was so simple, but if you tried to do what they did, it would just be shit, and there was something so simple about how they made the tracks, so tight. I wouldn’t say like these were my sole inspirations, but they were around during my childhood which was a pretty formative period for my music.
As a listener, Matt Corby’s music can’t really be put in a box in terms of genre, but every track has it’s own distinct feeling- do you think about what you want the listener to feel when creating music?
I don’t really think the feeling of the tracks can be thought about- I think the more you think about the feeling of the track the less it’s gonna feel good. If I’m making something and I get a feeling, the voice is so attached to the being that you can find ways to emote to it without having to truly thing about it. For example, I’m a highly trained singer and if I’m looking for a key, through instinct I can just flick and go there, and I’ve always been an emotionally and melody driven artist, but recently a lot of people have been telling me that my music has allowed them to understand feeling and that was really cool, like I never saw it like that, as an artist, I just wanna make good songs. But I do feel very deeply about music, even to a point where I’ll be sat in my room and if I’ve made a track that bangs I’ll be shouting “Fuck Yeah” almost tearing up because that feels so good. Yeah, its an emotional thing for me.
“What you’ve been stimulated by recently really has an effect on your creative output, the notion of creative days gets more and more nuanced as you develop as an artist.”
There is a sense of organic optimism that runs through Rainbow Valley, and obviously Congratulations on Baby Hugh and moving into your new Ranch ‘Rainbow Valley’ where you recorded your LP, but what impact did both of these major life events have on your music?
When I was told the news that I was having a baby, it woke me up real quick and I was like “okay I should probably be doing what I should be doing rather than just fucking about”. Because, as a musician you could be kinda doing things but not really doing anything.
So when I got the news of Hugh, I realised that I should focus on all the good energy in making music and not the bullshit that hangs over you on the negative side of things, and try to disguise as much of it as I can. And that was the point that I realised that I love what I do and I do want to make another record.
So he really kicked me into gear and really woke within me a want to provide for him and have a legacy at least to have of a couple of records that he can look back on and say “Dad made that.
Having a studio at home was just the best thing in the world- because you can just waltz down there whenever you have an idea and you can just lay it down. It may be good or it may be shit, but I’m not wasting anyone’s time and I can just experiment. Previously, whenever I’ve had to record something I’m under time pressure and being told you have to record this- you’re paying $500 a day to be there and you do a panic version of the track you want to lay down.
So would you say that the physical space in which you record and write has a significant impact on the music you create?
Definitely, like the outdoors, where I live is just beautiful it’s in the middle of nowhere. Feeling like I can have the freedom to do what I want is important. If I was recording this in the city, It wouldn’t have sounded like this. It would have sounded moody and would have gone like (Mock Sings) “Everybody’s Unhappy”.
You would not want to record an album in this weather…
No definitely not [joking].
So what’s Hugh’s reaction to the music? Is he a fan?
Well he now knows it’s dad, my partner plays Rainbow Valley whilst I’m away- and he just starts bopping his head and chucking his body around singing “Dadda Dad Dad Dad” and start messing around with the speakers and hitting things.
And I love taking him into the studio, because he just knows what to do with the piano and the drums and just picks up the shakers and starts shaking them around. So I’ve been slowly grooming him [Laughter].
It’s more like you’ve got to not let him in, you know… like this is Dad’s work- and he’ll be like “What’s going on in there” and just say this is dad’s work, play the whole reverse psychology card on him.
You said in an interview following it’s initial release that you could have spent another 10 years tinkering with Telluric, was that the case for Rainbow Valley?
I think that everybody thinks, when they are creating something, ‘am I willing to let this out into the world?’ because it’s a scary thing that it’s not just yours anymore and it’s out to be judged. But, I felt me and Dan Humme worked real quick this time and we were just jamming and churning out like 2/3 songs a day- and the whole thing was done in a 2/3 week period, we did a bit of mixing afterwards to make sure the drums were all slick and that was it.
It was nice to work that quick and work more with instinct- and I didn’t do that enough with Telluric. In my head with Telluric I wanted to make a statement, whereas with this I just wanted to have fun. Normally, after a release I never want to hear that shit again, but with Rainbow Valley I listen to it before shows to get my keys and everything and jam out- and it’s all still pretty fun.
What you’ve been stimulated by recently really has an effect on your creative output, the notion of creative days gets more and more nuanced as you develop as an artist.
“When I met up with Dan I showed him some of the stuff I had been making and he dug half of what I was making but the other half he was just like what the fuck is that”
You said that Rainbow Valley was more instinctual, but following Telluric, did you have a vision of what you wanted the follow up to be?
[starts laughing] When I first started thinking about a follow up I thought it was gonna be something way left of field, and really out there- but when I actually started working with ideas, I realised this just sounds like Telluric. When I met up with Dan I showed him some of the stuff I had been making and he dug half of what I was making but the other half he was just like what the fuck is that, and then we had this sort of chat and we were like let’s have a rethink and let’s have a crack at this again and lets try like moving quick. Even just him saying ‘let’s move quick’, and even just him saying lets move fast allowed me to not have the option of rethinking things, and get moving with the program of trying to do the most simple and fun feeling thing each day and that was the instinct thing- and that was “this sounds really cool so we’ll do this, and bam that was the drums done.
You said that the whole recording process was quite swift as a whole, were there any tracks where you got bogged down at all, or was it all smooth running?
Pretty much all of it was quite swift, but with ‘Elements’, that was 3 separate songs stitched together, actually same with ‘New Day Coming’, and one day I just came into the studio and I said as they were all in similar keys why don’t we try stitching these together.
You won the ARIAS 2012 Best Song of the Year, with ‘Brother’, obviously you were quite young when this all happened. How was adjusting your private life to the new breakthrough fame?
It was actually really difficult, for a little while there it was really awkward to be seen in a public place. Australia is a funny place, like some people just don’t have a clue, like you’ll just be in an airport trying to stay real low key, and somebody will be just come up to you with a camera in your face and be like, “yeah my names Courtney, yeah let’s have a chat with ya”, and that would happen a lot and I think this even made me paranoid which was worse, I got to the point where I was afraid to be outside.
Even if nobody was saying anything and I was just at a dinner or something, I wouldn’t truly be able to be present. I have kind of gotten over that now, because the older you get you tend to care less, like you can hate me or love me that’s your deal- it’s a bit easier to not take it on board. I always wanted people to like me and always leave a good impression and I think that was a weakness. But, now I’m always polite and happy, and if somebody doesn’t like me that’s their deal, we don’t have to talk, it’s a funny world.
“The idea of fame is weird and how people subjectively understand it is strange and it is quite poisonous: psychologically, mentally and culturally.”
And It’s a very weird world with everybody having a phone, and everybody having their own two dimensional marketing website for themselves like Facebook and Instagram. The idea of fame is weird and how people subjectively understand it is strange and it is quite poisonous: psychologically, mentally and culturally. I try to steer myself away from it as much as possible. You can see when people can kind of tell when somebody is famous and it’s nice to just take yourself down a bunch of notches to their level as a human being and it just wigs them out even more, because they’ll just be like “all humans are the same pretty much.
Has the move to Rainbow Valley been a nice escape from this?
Definitely- It’s my little ranch, and to me it represents the last 10 years of hard slogs writing songs and making music- and everyday I’m there marks a little celebration, just because I feel I finally have an anchor and I’m really proud of it.
So, you previously spent a lot of time in London?
I used to spend a lot of time going back and forth, doing a few month stints here and I met a lot of the crew from Communion (Record Label), when they were first starting up and met Matt Haggardy the guy from Matthew and the Atlas, they asked us to be the first signing. It was nice to immerse myself in a new little scene and have no preconceived ideas following me around and playing to neutral scene…like jeez London fuck me, London crowds are tough. You really have to work for it, and you really have to earn your stripes here.
Do you find there a difference in aura between Australian and European shows?
Well I haven’t actually done an Australian show in a while, I’ve done festivals. But, even just the UK to Europe is just worlds apart. Like you go to Scandinavia, and they will be dead silent, and you’ll be thinking “did they actually enjoy this? Did I do something wrong?”, but then after the gig they will be saying that this is the best gig they have ever seen. In comparison to Amsterdam and these guys will be throwing themselves around.
But London, has good shows spilling out the door, you guys are spoilt for choice, there will be people who will be looking at their watches saying I’ve got to go to another gig in half an hour, and they’ll be saying “I’ll stay for another 3 songs.
What are you listening to at the moment?
A couple of records that I am absolutely fucking loving is this record called ‘Basement Seance’ by Dirty Art Club, who is this one guy who makes beats and samples and…it’s fucking sick, It’s like a Tarantino soundtrack. Another Australian band that I’ve been listening to is the Babe Rainbows, it’s like this psych-y, sort of psychic chill music, really good melodies in it. There’s an Australian rapper called Trapo, and the track is Oil Change and that stuff is real dope.