Like Irish music, Australian music is going through somewhat of a purple patch in terms of international success with more and more artists making a mark outside their home nation.
With well in excess of 130 million streams on Spotify, New South Wales’ Matt Corby is the classic overnight success story a decade in the making.
He shot to fame in his homeland as a contestant on Australian Idol in 2007 an experience he would later describe “a big fucking mistake” on the track We Could be Friends from his debut album ‘Telluric’.
Corby knew that if he was truly to escape the shadow of the talent contestant tag, he would need to leave Australia and test himself in an unforgiving musical setting to prove himself to be an artist of note in his home country.
Corby moved to London in search of an unforgiving atmosphere and set about forging a new image of himself as an artist from the ground up.
“I think for my mental health it really helped, just for a bit of separation from those preconceptions was what I needed.” He tells us over the phone while travelling from London to Cork. “I also needed to slog it out for a little while, try out the music, performing to a completely unassuming crowd just to test how my musical stylings were going to go.”
It didn’t take long until London-based label Communion - founded by Kevin Jones (Bears Den), Ben Lovett (Mumford and Sons) and acclaimed producer Ian Grimble - cottoned on to Corby’s talents.
“They were the first crew of people that had any form of belief in what I was doing,” says Corby, acknowledging the huge impact Communion had in not only his career but also his personal life. “They are a friends-for-life company (laughs), cause they are just full of good humour. I still see those guys every time I'm in the UK. They've played a massive role in getting my musical point across to other people.”
The evolution of Matt Corby unfurled slowly over the course of several EPs with Corby winning best song in 2012 and 2013 in Australia’s version of the Choice Music Prize, before his debut album ‘Telluric’ arrived in 2016 – an appearance on Kygo’s debut album 'Cloud Nine' would also introduce Matt Corby’s voice to an unsuspecting audience.
However, Corby had a larger goal in mind with each achievement simply a step towards acquiring musical independence, a sense of which Corby finally feels he’s achieved on his unexpectedly soulful second album ‘Rainbow Valley’, named after his New South Wales property which houses his home studio.
“It changed the whole game for me,” says Corby extolling the joys of having a home studio. “Once I had my own space to work in, I wasn't on anybody else's time. It was super helpful. You get to practise as a recording engineer, an artist and a producer all in one because you can flesh out an idea, go right down the rabbit hole.”
The freedom to go down the rabbit hole, for better or worse, allowed Corby to hone all of his musical skills “into a superorganism” and that process allowed him to realise a life-long goal.
“I played every instrument on 'Rainbow Valley' myself” explains Corby. “I've been really focused on being as well-rounded as a songwriter, instrumentalist, composer and producer. I always had a vision of making records like that. 'Rainbow Valley' was the first time I got to prove that point, even to the people around me, that had seen me working behind closed doors at my own rate.”
With only producer Dann Hume as a sounding board, Corby created his finest work to date. However, while it was a fun process it certainly wasn’t an instantaneous one.
“I'd been working quite hard for the last four years at playing all these instruments and trying to make them all fit together on a song. I've slowly been perfecting the way that I would record drums, that I would write basslines and create a harmony around the melody.”
Corby has put in the hard yards on the road and the studio, but unlike many artists, Corby doesn’t feel like he’s arrived, he feels like he is only getting started and is determined to work even harder than he has previously.
“I'm excited for the next ten years, now that I feel like I've cracked a way to arrange, compose and produce music,” he says excitedly. “I can be a whole session band without requiring other creative input.”
Corby clearly loves being in the studio and testing his own abilities as a one-man-band.
“It kind of snowballs into creating your own style, you're playing off yourself playing other instruments, it's really fun. I'm at the point now where I'm making more creative decisions when I'm in the moment.”
And Corby would certainly recommend other musicians follow suit noting that technology can be liberating for musicians.
“The ability that people have now to buy an Apollo 16 and a couple of preamps, compressors and mics and make a fucking world class record is unprecedented,” he says. “You never (previously) had musicians being able to take control of every part of the process, honing their skills and not having to rely on people bankrolling it and getting in the way.”
While Corby is quite excited about where he is creatively, he certainly doesn’t dismiss the band dynamic. For him, his personal journey is always in service of the song and not his ego.
This is evidenced by the fact that he doesn’t believe that he could only have created ‘Rainbow Valley’ on his own, rather it just streamlined the process.
“I think it would be more complicated with the band dynamic, depending who did what on what song and people's emotional attachment to things. I don't really have to deal with any of that. I can be as ruthless as I like because I'm only criticising myself. I think for workflow and for being able to experiment it's easier to be on your own and to be quite real about the whether or not the song is good.”
Much of ‘Rainbow Valley’ hinges on Corby utilising Mellotron keyboard samples to build sweeping expressive and cinematic orchestrations.
“Having those real samples, from real players, gives you the ability to start arranging horns and strings and being more orchestral with songs and I just loved that. I've always wanted to find a flavour that would work without having to hire a whole orchestra or horn section. It has an interesting character to it. Once we started putting (mellotron parts) on (the songs) we didn't see the point in hiring other musicians.”
Although Corby feels unhindered creatively, he was cautious not to overload his album with too many ideas.
“There were a couple of songs that I left off Rainbow Valley, that I think pushed it a little bit too far in a certain direction. I did have to be careful about the way I structured the tracklisting, it's almost split into two groups, there's that Marvyn (Gaye) thing and then there's the slow ballads - almost into that folk music thing again, but just far enough away not to be recognised as a collection of folk songs.”
“It's a difficult balance to strike, I'm happy with records jumping around in an omni-general fashion. I think that people are so quickly bored these days that I don't think it really matters if you're not adhering to parameters.”
Corby has been receiving rave views for his live one-take video for Miracle Love, a James Vincent McMorrow-esque slow jam that resides in the almost-folk category. Despite the song’s success, Corby had misgivings about releasing it as a single.
“The record company saw it as a single, which I didn't agree with, but that was the general drift I was getting from the people that work with me.
"I really struggle with that song because it reminds me of all the music I was making many, many years ago and I think maybe some people around me think that I should still be that sort of artist, instead of the groovy artist I was meant to be."
However, Corby is very happy with the video, recorded live in Manchester Cathedral and directed by Raja Virdi, which is now heading towards a million views on YouTube.
“He had the idea and got in contact with us. He's a really awesome cinematographer...he knew that we were playing at the cathedral and said it'd be great if we could shoot it live with one shot. We did four takes and used the fourth take. For a live video, I'm really happy with it”
Following Corby’s Irish dates he’s hitting Glastonbury this weekend, headlining the William’s Green Stage
“Something of that magnitude is always exciting, it’s great to be in good company with lot of great bands and artists” he says, clearly grateful of the opportunity to return to Worthy Farm as a headliner, and he hopes the weather will be good on his return.
“I remember the first time as being very surreal, rocking up to the campsite and just seeing thousands and thousands of cooked English people having the best time ever. It's funny seeing a whole bunch of English people smiling. I've not experienced that anywhere other than Glastonbury. It's a good buzz.”
When we point out the good weather forecast Corby replies “Oh delish” at the prospect of cooked English people.
But first, there’s the small matter of slightly less cooked Irish people to contend with. Matt Corby plays his biggest ever Irish headline show in Vicar street tonight.
Tickets for Matt Corby at Vicar Street priced €28.00 are available here.