"For eight years I thought 'High and Dry' was a Jamie Cullum song"
Matt Maltese is leading the charge of sensitive singer-songwriters that are smooth as butter. Like Tom Misch, Rex Orange County and half-Egyptian, half-Belgian torch singer Tamino, he embraces the mellow side of life, though often the subject matter of his lounge-pop is darker than it first seems – take ‘As The World Caves In’, which imagines a love affair between Donald Trump and Theresa May in the midst of apocalypse. His debut album, ‘Bad Contestant’, released on Friday, combines his arch croon with louche piano and witty lyrics (“I tried horse tranquilliser just to impress her / I kiss her and leave, how the hell did I get here?”) and is bloody brilliant from start to finish.
Here’s what the Berkshire lad has to say for himself.
Two of the tracks on the record – ‘As The World Caves In’ and ‘Strange Time’ – have been around for a bit. The newer songs sound more arch, knowing and comic than the older stuff. Does that resonate with you?
Yeah, I guess so; it becomes a little more knowing. Every year I’ve gone on, I’ve just been a little more knowing. I have become a little more aware of my own patterns – healthy and unhealthy ones – and more cynical about things. We all get more cynical, but I think it came out in the writing. you can only write so many love songs before you recognise that you’re doing so all the fucking time. You kind of have to point a finger at that, I think. I mean, I have to.
When was ‘As The World Caves In’ written?
It was written after Theresa May announced the Trident programme, around the summer of 2016.
How do you feel that song has aged?
People are often surprised when I explain the meaning of that song, because they often just hear it as an apocalyptic love song. It feels like one of those songs I can keep playing; until the world becomes completely denuclearised, I don’t think it will become irrelevant. Even if Kim Jong Un has decided to denuclearise, it still feels like [a nuclear attack] could happen in our future. Unfortunately, it’s not a no-go.
Do you feel that Donald Trump is more difficult to laugh off than he was in 2016?
Definitely. I’m more baffled by American politics every time I read the newspaper. What’s weird is this idea now that he’s getting things done. H’s claiming credit for things – like, “Kim Jong Un is denuclearising because of me – and that’s very dangerous. But I can just picture your classic redneck being like, “He’s doing more than any of the others presidents.” You kinda just get to a point where you just don’t even ant to give him the time of day. Not even mentioning him.
There’s a moment in ‘Nightclub Love’ where you say, “I love you, and that’s the way it is / I’m gonna stop beig ironic”. Was that another pose, or was a genuine moment of revelation?
That’s me straight-up telling myself to cut the crap, which I do often. Being sarcastic is a part of me, but it is a dangerous game. Sometimes you’re undermining lots of real emotions. It’s like protecting things; like a bit of a shield. I needed to have a ceiling with comedy and not just treat my own emotions as a joke the whole time. I needed to be aware that I am predictable, and a cliché of the troubadour male, and acknowledge real feelings. How else can you expect anyone else to believe what your saying?
Onstage, when you slip on the pink suit, is that the real Matt Maltese, or an assumed persona?
The stage persona is an elevated version of the real me. It’s like in everyday life – people exaggerate versions of themselves with different people. Onstage, with me, it’s the same thing. My music is kind of the extrovert in me, pulling out the introvert and being like, “Look at him”.
How was your recent UK tour with [lovely haired acoustic guitar-toting troubadour] Isaac Gracie?
It was really good. On support tours, you don’t have the pressure of knowing that everyone’s there for you and being like, ‘Oh shit, I have to put on a really good show. You’re able to have a bit more fun and relax. And you can be in bed by 11. It’s amazing!”
We lumped your music in with the millennial easy listening likes of Rex Orange County and Tom Misch and called it Schmaltzcore, a sound we reckon is influenced by Jamie Cullum. Err, is that okay?
Yeah, it’s emotional, sensitive music. I know that that’s what I am, so I think I feel totally cool. I don’t know if I’ve listened to much Jamie Cullum, if I’m honest. I don’t have a defining judgement on him. I remember listening to ‘High and Dry’ once and thinking it was such a good song. I realised embarrassingly late in my life that it’s a Radiohead song. I probably thought it was Jamie Cullum’s song for about eight years. If you’d asked what my favourite Jamie Cullum song is, I’d have said ‘High and Dry. I was one interview question away from embarrassment.
Matt Maltese’s debut album ‘Bad Contestant’ is out June 8