If you’re already familiar with Matt Corby, you’re probably wondering how many words it’s going to take me to make mention of Australian Idol. In this case, it’s twenty-three, but his appearance on the reality show at the tender age of seventeen is worth highlighting, if only for the inescapable irony that such a soulless institution proved to be the birthing ground for an artist who’s produced a handful of EPs as heartfelt and lyrically sincere as the artists that have inspired him; Jeff Buckley, Bon Iver and Feist are all points of reference for the young Australian.
Having moved to London at only eighteen and subsequently taken under the wing of Ben Lovett and his Communion label, he’s finally ready to release a full-length record after ‘Brother’ met with considerable acclaim, both critical and commercial, in his homeland. We caught up with him ahead of his first proper tour of these isles – largely sold out – to discuss lives on both sides of the world, lyrical honesty and plans for the future.
You first came to public attention on Australian Idol; here in the UK, there’s often a stigma attached to those kind of shows. How did that experience shape you as a musician? Do you think it’s had an effect on people’s initial perceptions of you?
It has definitely had an effect. In Australia in particular, it has had an effect from the word go and made the first few years after the show a real struggle. It made it hard for people to listen to my music objectively and without a pre-conceived idea of what they were hearing. I spent my teenage years working out what I didn’t want to do in music and this was a huge learning curve. But it’s been a very important part of getting me to where I am now as an artist and a person.
Moving from Australia to London at such a young age must’ve been pretty daunting – what was that experience like? Has it informed the music you make in any way?
It was pretty daunting as I left Australia by myself aged 18 and arrived in London without knowing anyone. In terms of my music, it has had a huge influence. I have met amazing people along the way who have inspired me as a musician.
It seems like it’s taken you quite a while to get to the stage where you’re putting a full-length record out – is there a reason you released a string of EPs rather than waiting until you had enough material for a full album?
I wasn’t ready to make a definitive statement as an artist. You only make one first record. Releasing small bodies of work has enabled me to build towards the first album. It has worked well.
Your EP Into the Flame has met with a pretty impressive reception, critically and commercially, over in Australia – vocally and lyrically, it sounds very emotionally raw. Is that a fair reflection of your mental state when writing the songs?
Definitely. Without honesty it doesn’t really mean anything. All the songs on that EP are close to my heart and I’m very attached to them. I just try to cut any bullshit when I’m writing.
You played your first UK dates earlier in the year, and you’ve sold out a number of nights already for the return leg in November. Is it overwhelming to get that kind of reception so far away from home?
Yes it is overwhelming. I’m just happy people are hearing about the music. If people are responding to the music, then that is a great thing.
How has the writing process differed, if at all, now that you’re trying to put together a full-length rather than an EP? You talked about how Into the Flame came together really quickly – has the process of putting the record together been more deliberate?
Yes much more so. I guess I have put a lot of pressure on myself for this album, so it feels like a huge thing. I’m thinking every minute of every day about making this album.
The songs on your earlier EPs seemed to all be thematically linked – is that something that’s going to carry over to the record?
I’m not really sure yet. But I think there will be a lyrical tone or theme that binds it all together.
Were any artists in particular influencing you as you were writing the record?
Absolutely. Joan As Policewoman, Alexander Ebert, J Tillman. Then the greats; JJ Cale, Nina Simone.
What do you think has been the biggest factor in opening your music up to a bigger audience? The influence of the internet, the support of Communion, or something else?
Probably a combination of all these things. I guess you hope the stars align to make things work! Communion played a huge part in supporting me. I think people seem to be sharing the music amongst friends, which is great and really seems to be making a difference.
What are your plans for 2013 once the record’s out?
Play the album to as many people as possible in one year!
Into The Flame is available now.