21 times. During a 21 minute interview, 21-year-old Matt Maltese says “I feel” on 21 occasions. It’s an insight into how the self-confessed “sincere but cynical, satirical crooner” approaches not only his music but life in general, with more-than-occasional self-deprecating honesty.
The first “I feel” comes in response to a question about fears of being pigeon holed by the somewhat inaccurate but nevertheless frequent comparisons to the world’s most satirical musician Father John Misty.
“No, I think it’s cool. I think maybe at the very start I didn’t like comparisons, but I’ve had quite a variety already so I feel like I’m more my own thing every year.”
One comparison that stuck out was provided by Noisey, the musical wing of Vice, which labelled Matt as a “new and improved Morrissey for millennials”.
“Oh God yeah,” he laughs. “It's obviously a compliment but I think I obviously don't see myself as that.
“It's nice when people make big comparisons but I'm yet to release my first album so let's wait and see whether I can live up to The Smiths. I'm definitely a nicer person than Morrissey, I'm not sure I'm improved. If improved means I'm not a bigot, then yeah, I'm an improved Morrissey.”
Maltese releases his debut album ‘Bad Contestant’ to the world on Friday 8th June, luckily avoiding a clash with his apparent musical doppelganger, Mr. Tillmann.
“You know what, the funny thing is, I had to redo a vocal on the chorus of one of the songs. I really wanted to change it and the label said the only way I could do it would be if I released it a week later so it was actually supposed to come out June 1st.
“So yeah no more head to head with Father John Misty. I think it turns out great actually because I think Kanye's releasing a record that week too (he did) so I'm clear of the daddies of pop music.”
Maltese has released a string of singles in the lead up to an album that he describes as a comical embrace of all the weird, weird things in his life and life in general.
“It's very honest. It's all the kind of bits that make me look pathetic but I feel like that's what I wanted to do, an egoless album as much as possible and to not worry about what I come across as, which is very much me. With some humour and self deprecation added in for good measure.”
There is humour galore throughout, that’s without doubt, but the extent of the satire and sarcasm is borderline unbelievable. Maltese, however, is adamant it’s all true and that he doesn’t play a character.
“No no, that's my thing. That's the one thing I've been saying to anyone asking is that it's not character based. I feel a lot of people's lives are as ridiculous as those songs seem but a lot of the time we don't get told those strange situations. People don't want to admit it so I hope they can relate to these things. Or, maybe I am just a solo, pathetic mess.”
Sex and death are two themes that crop up time and time again throughout ‘Bad Contestant’s 11 tracks, a trait that Maltese shares with the late Leonard Cohen.
“I guess probably it's a more rooted influence, I haven't listened to him in a few years but he was a big part of how I grew up in my teens. I guess the way he approached sex and death definitely influenced me. I felt a huge sense of meaning in those things in life from the way he would put them and probably in a way that made me feel pretty isolated from people my age at the time. I, maybe, was one of those annoyingly intense kids who wouldn't have sex because of the way it would make me feel.
“Yeah, I feel those things gradually shaped me but then I think I started to see a lot more of the humour in Leonard Cohen and also in a lot of the other maybe more-overtly comedic writers like Jonathan Richman, the lighthearted approach.”
Sex and death feature prominently on Maltese’s most-well known single to date As The World Caves In, one of only two “old” songs to make it on to the album alongside Strange Times. The former is regularly introduced on stage by Maltese explaining that it’s about Theresa May and Donald Trump knocking boots having just instigated a nuclear apocalypse. [You're welcome for that image]
“I think it has a real place for me still, I still feel something when I sing it, more so than any of the others,” he explains when asked why it made the cut when others didn’t.
“And, I guess, it's not like things have really changed since I've written it, have they? I think the hangup about being close to an apocalypse still exists, so yeah, I think it still felt suited for shows so it felt suited for the album. It hasn't dated. A bad thing for the world, but a good thing for me,” he says sardonically.
Another trait Maltese shares with Leonard Cohen is a penchant for writing poetry, which he admits allows him to be far more creative than when writing songs. Fans who pre-ordered the album on vinyl will also get a free copy of a book of poems Maltese has written, even though he stresses that not yet ready to release a poetry book officially.
“It's kind of one of those things I wasn't taking seriously when I started but then I'd a few friends whose opinion I respect be like 'dude you should put that shit out'. It's still uncharted territory and I'm still not sure if it's the most pretentious thing ever to call myself a poet so I'm not there yet.”
It’s no surprise to anyone who’s familar with the area of South London that Maltese currently lives. South London is currently abuzz with creativity, especially in musical terms, with bands such as Shame, HMLTD, Goat Girl and Sorry all making a name for themselves around London and further afield.
“I didn't go to school with any of them but I went to uni with some of Happy Meal [HMLTD’s former guise before Ronald McDonald’s lawyers got involved] but Shame and Sorry and Goat Girl all hung out together and went to the same school and lived in the same area. It's bizarre that they're all really good, I never think anyone is good.
“I guess South London is a place that I feel there's more variety of places for you to fit in and be yourself, as cheesy as that sounds, there's much less of a condescending eye on people dressing a certain way or playing certain sounds. There are pubs and places like The Windmill [in Brixton] where anybody can play and there's less formality. That gives birth to more freedom and bands are free to be bizarre but brilliant.
“It's also a competition when you get a couple of good bands, it pushes others to be just as good. There's a lot to be said for having peers that are better than you.”
Bad Contestant is out now and available from all the regular spots. Check out Andrea Cleary's review of it here.