Livestreaming the heroic struggle of eating an 80-piece KFC chicken bucket isn’t the typical way of promoting your debut single, but for Dublin’s self-proclaimed “global teen-pop” star CMAT, it’s ironically just another day in the push with ‘Another Day (KFC)’. “I’m the jackass of the Dublin music scene,” Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson proudly declares while holding the six-week-old chicken bucket keepsake up to her webcam with pride.
This need to inject humour into everything she does goes well past her uncommon marketing practices. From refusing to release her most recent track ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby!’ until she could ride a horse, to leaving in footage of her nan calling her an “eejit and gobshite” for being in the way of the toilet in the homemade video for ‘Rodney’, the theatrics are far from an act. It’s all part of the CMAT formula; comical, camp songwriting with a very emotional core. “It’s the musical equivalent of telling jokes to mask the tears,” Thompson laughs via Zoom, emphasising that being a “hot mess doesn’t make me weak”. Instead, it’s something she revels in.
Having left Ireland and electro-pop duo Bad Sea to pursue co-writing in Manchester, which left her “flat on [her] face”, it was bona fide pop sensation Charli XCX who guided her on her way. “In 2018, I went to a songwriters workshop to listen to her unreleased music,” she explains that being the only person over 16, she was also the only one to critique what was being played, having attended similar writing sessions. “She accosted me at the end and could’ve said, ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’, but instead told me to blow up my entire life and I did. I broke up with my boyfriend, quit my job and moved back to Dublin. Charli XCX said, ‘Jump’, and I was like, ‘Yeah sure.’”
After taking the plunge and moving back in with her grandparents, the road to CMAT wasn’t a simple one. “The wanting to reclassify myself as a solo artist came about as a result of me trying to reclassify myself as a solo person,” Thompson retorts. “When in a relationship and band, the therapy behind writing got muddled. I was writing to impress people with a good song, but now I’m doing it for myself. I’m writing to find comfort.”
Writing from personal experience has been the key, and a funny one at that. Her debut track ‘Another Day (KFC)’ documents late-night walks home from work, soberly watching the end-of-the-night chicken shop screaming matches, while ‘Rodney’ draws together a seemingly sad tale of rejection and her love of American self-deprecating comedian Rodney Dangerfield. “His catchphrase is, ‘I don’t get no respect’, and I just thought ‘Oh my god, me neither,” she imitates in an exaggerated New York accent.
“My style? Dolly Parton meets Weird Al Yankovic, mixed with Katy Perry”
As well as skilfully crafted lyrics, CMAT also excels in putting together a great pop song. She’s quite frank in the fact that she “has an identity crisis” when it comes to her music taste, with influences spanning country, 60s folk, dad rock, teen-pop and indie-rock. Within this though, she’s found a niche that works. Following the lead of Lil Nas X’s country-trap-pop hit ‘Old Town Road’, she puts simply: “The only way to make country music in 2020 is to completely bastardise it,” before confessing: “I think of [my style] as Dolly Parton meets Weird Al Yankovic, mixed with Katy Perry.” Her velvety vocals and earworming beats compliment Katy J Pearson’s 70s-style Americana bops, while her multifaceted lyricism mirrors that of country greats such as Patsy Cline and Skeeter Davis.
Her most recent release ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby’ is the epitome of bastardising country. The video, directed by Pillow Queens’ Sarah Corcoran, aims to reimagine George Stevens’ Western classic ‘Shane’ as a Dublin barbecue, featuring a glittery horse (she assures NME that it’s horse-friendly glitter), twerking and cans of Stella. Openly a lot darker than her previous releases, the track explores the lack of freedom associated with being a woman but in typical CMAT fashion, she softens the blow with a reference to her favourite Vine; a guy spinning in a park saying about how much he wants to be a cowboy. It’s got all the quintessential country characteristics – harmonies, strings and the Western swing – but it’s just a whole lot camper.
What’s next for CMAT? Well apart from reeling off the upcoming food challenges she’s planning (expect a patriotic 32-piece onion ring feast dedicated to each of the Irish counties), she’s taking it one step at a time. The plan is to release singles instead of a fully-fledged album just so she can honour her love of music television and make a video for each track, but also, to keep up her I-don’t-give-a-shit-I’m-having-fun attitude. “I’m making music for the girls and the gays, and that’s it,” she confidently declares. “I’m trying to heal myself and am making music for their comfort because they need it. I need it.” Here’s to the next time we “double-down on chicken for some moral support” – we’re in this together.
CMAT’s latest single ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby!’