The Bad Contestant about to win over all of our hearts.
I’m going to make a bold claim that hearing the latest Love Island news is not the thing that’s going to make you the most happy this week. That’s right. I’m putting all my cards on Matt Maltese’s debut album Bad Contestant – which drops on Friday – being the thing that’ll make you smile the most this June weekend. Soz, Islanders.
The Reading-born 21-year-old has been building buzz for months with his intriguing crooning and razor-sharp lyricism manifesting in songs that make you instantly want to do some kind of waltz to. Full of dark humour delivered with Maltese’s beautiful vocals, the record is already being tipped for greatness and, as someone lucky enough to have heard it multiple times (read: I’m obsessed and have had it on repeat), I can tell you that it’s a frankly flawless debut.
On a slightly less biased note, the songs twinkle with sincerity and hopefulness as Maltese recounts stories of love and loss. In fact, there’s something about Maltese’s songwriting that pulls at the harshest of heartstrings and leaves you with this warm tingly feeling inside, like you’ve just listened to something that you know will impact you far past that final note has played.
Meeting Maltese one rainy London day, we sat down to chat all about it…
Hey Matt, how are you?
I’m good! Being on tour, I always find it quite unnerving because you get so used to waking up in a different city every day and then suddenly your life back home seems way more monotonous, you’re just like ‘oh I’m waking up in the same bed!”
How was tour? You were out with Isaac Gracie, right?
Yeah! I like a support tour because they’re less pressure and you can kind of have a little bit more fun with like trying to make bad jokes on stage and all those kinds of things, because no one’s there for you, do you know what I mean?
So did you drop some really bad jokes?
I think so… Not like inappropriate jokes but like badly received jokes, I’m sure! I kind of like that part, well I kind of hate it but when it goes well you feel so good!
Did you get a scope of how some of your new songs from Bad Contestant are being received?
Yeah, I think so. The crowd was a little bit more singer-songwriter than my past support tours I’ve done so I think they liked the slightly more earnest ones, which is totally cool. I played like three ones that I haven’t played on tour before and I feel like they all went down decent. I played “Greatest Comedian” standing up now as well, which is a new challenge for me, and I think it went really good!
Do you have any accompanying moves? In the video, you’ve got the dance moves locked down.
Thank you! I try and leave it open to interpretation, maybe that’s a bad thing. I definitely do some strange hip thrust thing, which I think looks… believable? I just have to convince myself that I’m good at dancing when I do it!
So going back to the beginning of your musical life, how did you first get into it?
I have quite musical parents. My dad’s not musical but has a massive love for listening and he was an engineer and would go to Pink Floyd gigs, so I grew up listening to loads of that stuff, then also my mum was a semi-professional opera singer so she was always encouraging me to sing.
I actually fell in love with the West End when I was really young. I think the first time I realised I wanted to do music – and it sounds like such a cliché – but I went to see Fame and I remember at the midway point being on the verge of tears because I wanted to be on the West End so much! I was like seven years old. I think that was what got me into it, and then as I got older… I mean, by 11 I realised that West End musicals were a bad representation of life and I started to hate the cheesiness of the over positivity of them all! I think I then fell in love with slightly darker songwriters like Nina Simone and Leonard Cohen and then fleeted through your Jonathan Richman’s and your Scott Walker’s and stuff like that which I think brought me to a slightly more balanced humour. Light and dark, a little bit of both is healthy!
And obviously your debut album is coming out! When did you start working on it?
A couple of the songs are a little bit older, like “Less And Less” is the earliest song on it which I wrote when I was 18 and then there were some songs that were already recorded like “Strange Time” and “As The World Caves In”, but the main body of it was done at the end of last summer. I just had a bit of a writing spree. I came to the end of lots of situations and it all just came together. I love when I have those times – I don’t have them often – when you’re able to just finally reflect on the past and also write decent songs and be in a good place about it, so that kind of happened at the end of the summer.
It was really weird, if you would have asked me last summer, I would’ve thought it would be way more of an amalgamation of the songs I used to play at gigs, but it ended up being a whole new body of work or it felt like that to me. It’s something I’m really happy with. I remember when Marika Hackman recorded a new album she ended up writing a whole new load of songs for it and I thought “oh, I wish I could do that” and I kind of did just by chance!
How are you feeling about finally releasing a debut album?
I’m feeling good! I’m trying to be really busy with promoting it and playing gigs and not thinking too much about the bigger picture of like “oh, this is such a moment!” I think it’s important to remember that it is a moment, but I could make it into such a stressful thing if I’m like “oh my god, this is my first footstep in the world of music” and shit like that. But obviously, I feel really lucky to have made it with people that I love and to be proud of it.
Story wise, what’s the record about? Is it a collection of different stories?
I’d say it’s a collection of different stories. A lot of it revolves around two breakups in my life and a lot of it is influenced by living in London and just being purposefully independent in London. I think, like, diving into London, which sounds cliché, but is really what I did. I didn’t hold back, I fell in love with so many musicians and went to loads of gigs and met loads of people.
When I first came to London, I lived in Camden. I lived in a shithole! It was horrible times, it was really bad, I barely had space to put my clothes in the room, and I hated it so much! But anyway, I remember I moved to London and for some reason that was the first time I used Soundcloud and I discovered all of these bands that were actually in London. I played a gig in Camden at The Monarch and Shame were headlining it, and I opened it! I was wearing a white turtleneck I remember.
In Reading, the scene’s quite indie rock, which is cool, but I never really felt like that was my calling. When I came to London it was the first time that I felt like there were people my age making music that I really felt moved by, which was such a moment. I just felt way more connected to people in London than I did in Reading, I always felt like an outsider a bit at school and amongst the music scene. In London, there are just so many different types of people and I felt way more like I could find “my” people. I basically had no friends pre-18! But I feel okay about it, I feel so lucky to have met people in London that I genuinely love and have been inspired by musician-wise. I think it’s such a great place, but it’s definitely a shock to the system. So much of the album is probably that, just living in a big urban city and seeing things that a mollycoddled little Reading boy had never seen before.
If people use this album as an introduction to Matt Maltese, what do you want them to take away from it?
I’d like the sincerity to be picked up and the comedy not to be confused for a lack of that. I’d like people to feel like it’s not character based, because it isn’t, it’s super open. Hopefully people will recognise things in themselves, that’s what I love about listening to lyricists that just maybe say the wrong things in their songs and then you actually feel less alone. Like “I’m not a weirdo for having that thought” and it’s so nice to fucking feel like that. That’s what I’d like the album to do, to help people and to make people feel like they’re not alone. That’s essentially what I want to take from music.
What’s are your hopes for the record?
I really just want to be able to play it to as many people as possible and continue making music with people I love. Hopefully people I like like it, but I try not to place too much importance on success and all of those things. It’s such a strange beast, stuff that gets successful sometimes makes no sense to me!
The important thing is that if I die tomorrow, I’m happy with the album.