Londoner Matt Maltese holds a mirror up to everyday life that makes you feel like just maybe, everything will be okay.
If you turn to track four on Matt Maltese’s debut album ‘Bad Contestant’, you’ll find a song called ‘Like A Fish’.
In just over three and a bit minutes, it captures exactly what makes Mr Maltese something undeniably exciting, wistful wide-eyed joy, crippling honesty and a way with words that flick off one another like a modern-day storytelling prince - but even then, you don’t have to look far to find why.
As the swelling number croons into view, all baroque strings and effortless charm - Matt begins. “You said you use chocolate, when you and him take off all your clothes. Why the fuck you tell me that? Can’t drink that image out of my head.”
Pulling no punches, let’s say it delves into more than just a Kinder Surprise when it comes to unexpected twists and turns, a mantra that perfectly captures why at only 21 years of age, he has the sound of an unflinchingly raw generation first and foremost pouring out of his mind.
As Matt puts it, “I like the truth, and I like songs that put the truth out there regardless of how ridiculous or messy it sounds.”
“We all have these experiences or whatever that are too strange to speak out loud about,” he continues. “I like the idea of just writing songs where you aren’t thinking about what someone might think of you because unfortunately, a lot of us do have feelings that are quite pathetic and do things that are quite pathetic.”
We’ve all been there, and the awkward realities of growing up in 2018 have never sounded so gorgeous. Dodgy sweet sixteens, crippling jealousy and heartbreak, hopeless romance heading nowhere fast - Mr Maltese is sitting prime and proper with tales to gather around.
“What brings out the most emotion in me is when things aren’t sugar-coated” he confesses. “You can still make things sound nice with a great melody and nice lyrics but also, it being a representation of the truth is important to me”.
It may sound strikingly serious, but Matt Maltese is embracing the show of it all. Born to Canadian parents but raised in a distinctive flavour of British life, music was always the avenue that spoke to him most - growing up and going to school in Reading enraptured in what music could do and the ability it gave him to convey his true feelings. A self-confessed introvert, it meant Matt spent countless hours writing, playing and learning in his bedroom, a “bit of an anti-social guy, sometimes to my detriment” he accepts.
“It was a way for me to connect those things that were going on in my mind. If you’re a 13-year-old boy, you often can’t even talk to your mates about your feelings for whatever reason.
“I found that songs, and it sounds silly, but they’re my friends.”
A diet and circle of sounds made up of his favourite lyricists acted as an inspiration. John Grant. Joni Mitchell. Courtney Barnett. That ability to strip down the metaphors and layers associated with the everyday emotions and feelings felt by all, it’s that which caught Matt’s eye and something he’s refused to let go off ever since. “[They] were definitely lyricists that inspired me to write those revealing lyrics - lyrics that aren’t trying to round up an emotion in a grand metaphor but rather just address the details of life that are maybe a little bit gross and maybe a bit bleak, but overall have this beautiful sentiment”.
That sentiment rings throughout ‘Bad Contestant’, an album that perfectly snaps a picture of an artist taking something undeniably classic but voicing it into this very moment in time. Charismatically direct, it can go from sweeping Bond scores to lush orchestral drives, Scott Walker to Father John Misty, all to the sound of Matt setting up shop down the local boozer - Martini in hand and a scrapbook full of stories to tell. Poet Laureate of 2018? He’s on it.
“I guess it all came from being in love with a form of expression,” lays out Matt, harking back to early days spent plugging into the lyricists and voices that would fill his mind with potentials of his own. “Seeing and listening to artists that you love and then wanting to emulate that.”
There’s something about those early years that has remained strong for Matt, something most artists usually are sharpish to get away from - but there’s a spirit around it all.
“What’s nice when you’re younger is that nothing comes with it,” points out Matt, mulling around the thought of being an artist and how that very idea when first starting out seems so surreal and distant.
“I think it’s important that you start with a child-like attitude, because as soon as you have an agenda, it changes what you create.”
Stripped of ego, Matt trades in pointing out... well, the things that may seem bizarre but ultimately, are things everyone will of gone through. Whether it’s the sound of a crumpled crisp packet from another tiresome date, he’s a lo-fi lover in the elk of Jarvis Cocker if he had to contend with Tinder and rising rent in his day-to-day. It involves a certain disregard of opinions and thoughts from those looking in and an acceptance of larger than life normality, something strewn and sprinkled across everything he touches.
“I think a lot of us have feelings that are actually quite pathetic” continues Matt, “and we do quite a lot of pathetic things too. Most of my songs are autobiographical, with of course some made up bits too, but come from my own experiences face to face with people. If I had just stayed in my room then this album wouldn’t exist, I had to do some living too.”
While the heart-laden tales he created were forming into their own insatiable manner, ‘Bad Contestant’ is a grand album, warm and vulnerable in equal measure. That sense of collaboration - whether with Hugo White of Maccabees fame in the early stages, or Foxygen’s Jonathan Rado and Alex Burey for the album itself - lit a fire in Matt to where he could take his vision and a reassurance that it was okay to do exactly what he wanted to.
Seeing the baroque stylings of Foxygen or the ability Alex had to create a track in his parents’ back garden, it showed just how easy and possible everything was.
“It gave me that confidence to bring out this new side of myself, and without doubt discovering those strands of existence and discovering those communities who say ‘this is okay’ is really great and reassuring”.
After 12 days spent in Mr Rado’s LA studio (a long way from his bedroom to say the least) and time spent “extroverting the introvert” - the results are an album concise and packaged as a scrapbook of everything glorious about Matt Maltese.
From first listen it’s undeniable - theatrical, beguiling, mesmerising, you name it - it’s a record that lives for huge cinematic moments yet ultimately pulls you close to Matt at his piano pouring his heart and soul out.
“When recording and working with others there was a certain sense of protectiveness at the start when people were suggesting what or who I should work with,” he remembers, “but with Rado and Alex, they do these things that I just don’t understand where they could have got those from. I love to work with people like that.
“It’s good to work with people who are better than you. Being able to write these songs, and then when recording take a step back and think shit, some of these sound like Disney songs which is kinda what I was looking for. You want it to shock and surprise you, and that time making the album certainly did.”
Strong in its identity and purpose, similar to the countless nights where Matt would roll up with his keyboard to play with punk bands and thriving creatives in the new wave of London bands, it’s ultimately an optimistic one - full of audacious tongue-in-cheek fun.
“As much as I can be incredibly sad, I can also be a bit fucking excited,” he laughs. “We all have these different sides of ourselves and its okay to show them.”
With diary one rolled into place and the grand opening set, Matt Maltese is at a big landmark indeed. A modern-day viewfinder into love and life, ambition looms large. He wants to be prolific, releasing album after album and playing them to crowds lured in by evenings spent pondering nuclear annihilation, odd nights on horse tranquillisers and generally just navigating a world that, y’know, can be a bit fucked.
“I know life is full of strange fucking crapshoots, but who knows. I’d love to keep creating.”
Whether in the corner of a working man’s club or on the grandest stages possible - Matt Maltese is painting the world in his own shimmering palette. Classic but new, now that’s a sizzling cocktail if we ever did taste one.
Taken from the July issue of Dork. Order a copy here. Matt Maltese’s debut album ‘Bad Contestant’ is out now.