Already being championed as Britain’s answer to Father John Misty, Matt Maltese is the ‘Brexit Pop’ crooner writing ballads for the 21st Century. Speaking to him before his sold-out gig at Thekla, he revealed much about his formative influences, working with his idols, and shunning the rock star lifestyle.
Before meeting an artist for an interview, the most helpful source of information is usually a Twitter feed. It’s almost like an unfiltered summary of their views on the world, giving you answers to questions before you’ve even had the chance to ask them.
Yet for Matt Maltese, his throws up more questions than answers. Adorning his Twitter bio prominently are the words ‘Brexit Pop’, a self-imposed genre that makes a bold statement as a 22-year-old artist taking his first steps in the world of music,
“It’s kind of become a bit of a definer," he says, "even though it was just a harmless pun on Brit Pop...but it’s got undertones because I don’t like Brexit. That’s kind of it really.”
It’s telling, because it is precisely this casual humour that makes Maltese the engaging artist that he is today. ‘As The World Caves In,’ a doomed love song about watching TV with his beloved as the world descends into a nuclear apocalypse, is filled with playful lyricism – ‘You put your final suit on/I paint my fingernails/Oh we're going out in style babe/And everything’s on sale’ – that mark him out from the rest. Even if his views on Brexit are not unusual for an artist of his age, he delivers them in a uniquely charming way.
But if half the pun is this opinion on Brexit, the other half seemingly implies that he plays a renewed form of Brit Pop.
“Yeah [I was into Brit Pop], hugely so. Pulp were one of my favourite bands, even though I wasn’t around much to see them.”
Listening through the singles from his soon-to-be released debut album ‘Bad Contestant,’ there is little evidence of it in his music. Most of his songs are smoother and slower than anything Oasis or Blur put out, and really, he’s far closer to someone like Leonard Cohen or Father John Misty, though with the occasional flurry of a Mac Demarco (on ‘Greatest Comedian’) or a Courtney Barnett (on ‘Nightclub Love’).
Perhaps this disconnect between taste and product can be credited to his work with Maccabees guitarist and producer, Hugo White, with whom he’s recorded a wealth of music.
“He heard one of my songs, got in touch and we went for coffee. It was really bizarre meeting someone like that, but he was one of the nicest, most genuine people. He had no rock star ego, which you could forgive him for having.”
Putting aside Maltese’s admiration for him, the influence on his music is significant. ‘Vacant In The 21st Century,’ one of the songs produced with White, channels their mutual love for Leonard Cohen and puts this style of songwriting into a more modern context. Working with Jonathan Rado (producer for Foxygen and The Lemon Twigs) on ‘Bad Contestant’ has a similar impact.
“[Working with] these modern musicians has opened up a whole new world of music.”
And true to word, the music on this latest album is a welcome step-up from his previous work. His musical horizons have undoubtedly expanded through the insertion of experienced musical figures into his life.
But none of this star factor has affected Maltese. He admitted that he doesn’t like going out after his shows, instead preferring, “a bottle of beer, maybe two,” as a self-confessed lightweight, before getting an early night.
His favourite place to gig is still London so that he can be with his family and friends – “I like the homecoming”– and the greatest impact of his fame is simply “meeting the people you admire and becoming friends with them.”
For all the research you can do on him, the easiest way to grasp the cool success story of Matt Maltese is simply by having a chat with him. He’s grounded, humble, and possesses all the raw talent needed to succeed. With bigger and bigger producers getting their hands on him, the only direction is up.
Matt Maltese played at Thekla on Monday 23 April 2018 supported by Isaac Gracie. His debut album ‘Bad Contestant’ comes out on 1st June 2018 via Atlantic Records.
Asher Breuer-Weil and Daniel Le