What Can I Do? is out now!
Image: Michelle Grace Hunder
Singer-songwriter Matilda Pearl has just dropped her new single, What Can I Do?. We caught up with the singer to chat about the release, her upcoming run of shows, singing to dolphins and so much more!
Tell us a bit about how you began your musical journey, and your background in music…
Neither of my parents are musical themselves, but they absolutely adore music. One of my earliest memories is going on a trip to Tassie with my dad. I don’t remember everything about the holiday, because I was three, but I remember continually asking dad to play ``Down to The River to Pray'' from the ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ soundtrack in the car. My mum is an artist and we live in her art studio, so I’ve basically been surrounded by creativity my whole life. When I was 7, I begged my mum to put me into music lessons. There weren’t many music teachers down in Sorrento so mum put me on a waiting list for my primary school band. I wanted to play the violin, but as I was the only kid big enough to play the saxophone in year 1, I was handed a sax. Then in year 5, I started singing lessons. At the time I was obsessed with musical theatre. My grandma has taken me to see shows in Melbourne for my birthday and Christmas presents since I was very little. I LOVED it. I was determined to be on broadway. My teacher actually got me into classical singing and at 14, I did a bunch of shows with the Victorian Opera . Singing opera is like nothing else. It’s this amazing release. Up until the age of like 13/14, I pretty much only listened to show tunes and the music my parents played (which was a big mix of anything from the 70s to the 90s).
It was actually after watching the Katy Perry movie that I started to become interested in the idea of writing my own songs and establishing myself as a unique artist. I love how she creates her own world and puts on such an amazing show. That’s one thing I couldn’t really find in musical theatre or opera, the ability to tell my own stories. I was lucky enough to go to a school with a really great music department. The school had just appointed Dr Richard Vaudrey as head of Music and he had the genius idea to offer ‘music production’ lessons to give young musicians a head start and it’s how I learnt to write and produce. It was such a unique and amazing opportunity because I had a space to develop my sound and make a lot of terrible music early on with constant feedback and zero judgement. Lionel Towers (Gypsy and The Cat) and Stephen Docker (Strange Talk), my mentors at school, have played such a huge role in helping develop and shape me as a writer and artist.
You grew up working on a dolphin tour boat, and have said dolphins were your first ever audience. What was your favourite songs to sing to the dolphins?
Hahaha yes that is true! Strangely, we never sing actual songs to the dolphins, it’s more like the crew and I sing our conversations in various high pitched happy sounding melodies to them. My dad occasionally sings “tip toe thru the tulips” though!
Like imagine how ABC’s Spicks and Specks contestants sing words from a book to tunes, it’s kind of like that. It’s all part of the mad fun. We do encourage our guests to join in, but never recommend any heavy metal or trap rap as the dolphins would disappear pretty fast.
Congratulations on the release of your new single What Can I Do?
Tell us a bit about the conceptual nature of the track and what prompted you to document it on this single?
Thanks so much! A lot of the time when I’m writing, I make these song maps or do train of thought writing to develop and form ideas, but this one kind of just clicked suddenly. In the session, Lewis started mucking around with the chorus guitar riff and “boy you make a lot of noise, but you’re not making any moves” kind of just came to me. It’s always awesome when that happens, it definitely doesn’t with every song. I’d been doing a lot of dating sites at the time, and realised that living in a world which is increasingly online, we’ve become scared of the risks of initiating relationships. Like I’m terrified of just walking up to someone in a bar and saying, “hey you’re really cute.” You can say stuff online, but it’s not a reflection of how you actually act around someone in person. It can be a lot of pressure to live up to an expectation someone has of you from just messages because everyone seems cool and confident online. I also just wanted to make fun of the expectation that boys have to make the first move, because I think that’s honestly so ridiculous.
How did you arrive and the genre and sonics present on the track?
I was actually originally headed down a more Florence and the Machine path when I was younger, but I just kept coming back to how much I love that bubbly retro sound of artists like Madonna and Deee-lite. I want to write those songs that come on at a party and have everyone running in to dance. Working with Lewis this last year as well has really developed my sound further. I absolutely love the quirky, eccentric touch Lewis has with his production. What can I do? was one of the first songs we did together. I previously hadn’t used a lot of guitar in my songs but as soon as he started mucking around with the post chorus riff in What can I Do?, I was like, “oh yes this is what I was missing”. A lot of my writing is quite sarcastic and playful and I really think the cheeky and bubbly sonic Lewis and I have used in this track, as well as ones to come, really matches that.
What’s one line from the song you find at times could be stuck in your head? Or a line that you come back to?
I must say I had one of those celebration moments when I wrote “boy you make a lot of noise, but you’re not making any moves.” I really feel like it sums up my whole experience of dating. So many times I’ve had someone make huge statements about how much they like me and what they want to do, but then when we’re actually together, it’s just awkward.
If What Can I Do? was a piece of pre-existing visual art, which artwork would it be and why?
That’s such a good question. Honestly any of Roy Lichtenstein’s work. They’re super tongue in cheek and have such a colourful nostalgic flare. Ohhh… Alright… (1964) in particular I think would be perfect for What Can I do?
I love how it’s bold yet simplistic, it gets straight to the point. I hope What Can I Do? captures that.
What do you hope listeners take away from What Can I Do?
I love when you’re dancing around to a song, and then when you listen again, you actually hear the lyrics and go ‘oh my gosh yes! That’s exactly how I felt when….’ That’s what I’m always aiming for when I write, to get people up and grooving, but to also pinpoint a universal emotion and experience. I think the more we write, sing and make art, the more we realise how similar we are as humans. Despite our differences, we can all agree on certain moments and feelings that are part of growing up and being human.
Australia has a diverse and vibrant music scene, who are some of your favourite Aussie acts and why?
Some of my favourites at the moment would have to be PRICIE, MAY-A, Confidence Man, Sycco, Cosmos Midnight, Teenage Joans and Baker Boy. PRICIE is literally the epitome of why the Aussie music scene is so good. We were on a writing camp together in Sydney. It was my first time doing lots of co-writing and being interstate without my family, so I was a little overwhelmed, but she took me under her wing. I admire her confidence, talent and humility so much. That’s what I love about the Australian music scene, everyone is so insanely good at what they do, but in my experience they’re also so willing to welcome and nurture new artists and creatives. I also said MAY-A, Cosmos Midnight and Sycco because they are some of my favourite writers and then Confidence Man, Teenage Joans and Baker Boy are probably the most insanely talented live performers I’ve ever seen. Also, I admire Tones and I so much. She’s really paving the way for heaps of Australian artists at the moment. Ah there’s so many amazing people in the Aussie music scene!
You’re set to hit the road next month for some shows across Victoria next month, as well as appearing at NYE on the HILL 2021 later this year. What can audiences expect from your live show?
I’m beyond excited to perform again, it’s been way too long! I’m definitely not a good dancer, but that’s never stopped me. You can expect lots of high energy awkward dance moves and definitely an over the top, sparkly outfit. I once had someone walk up to me before I performed and ask if I was a member of high five, so that kind of sums it up. I just want to bring heaps of good vibes. It’s been such a tough time for artists and music lovers, so to be able to dance again together soon will be so special. I honestly cannot wait for NYE on the Hill, it’s one of my dream festivals. The audience is just so good there every year! You can also expect some more people up on stage with me. Up until now I’ve done a lot of my gigs solo, but I’m super keen to expand that!
Which acts are you most excited to see at NYE on the HILL 2021?
I think it would have to be Baker Boy. I’ve seen him perform so many times, but will literally never get sick of his energy. It’s the kind of show where your voice hurts from screaming the lyrics, you’re sweating from dancing a bit too hard and your cheeks are sore from smiling. One of my favourite gig memories is watching my mum in a mosh amongst heaps of teenagers screaming “you’re the man baker boy” back as he was shouting “who’s the man?” in Mr La Di Da Di. Also, who doesn’t love backup dancers?
What do you have in store for the rest of 2021? Will we be seeing an album or EP, and if so what can listeners expect from it?
Well, you can definitely expect more music! It’s been such an exciting year for me despite lockdowns. Having finished high school last year, I’ve had the opportunity to really focus on my skills as a writer and been lucky enough to meet and collaborate with heaps of incredible Australian artists and musicians that I look up to. I can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on! You can expect some more funky dance tunes, but also some slightly different flavours.
Madonna, Lily Allen, Benee, Confidence Man, Jamiroquai, Kylie Minogue, Rina Sawayama and Dua Lipa.
Ah this is hard to narrow down - Confidence Man, Lily Allen, Benee, Cosmos Midnight, Rina Sawayama, Dua Lipa, Hilltop Hoods and Ruel (obviously not all at once, but hey that could be cool too).
Album that has had the most impact on you?
Divide by Ed Sheeren or Sawayama by Rina Sawayama.
How do you define your musical style in 3 words?
Quirky nostalgic funk disco (sorry three words is hard ahah).
Best song of 2021 so far?
Feed the Fire (feat Lucky Daye) by SG LEWIS.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
10 Things I Hate About You or Clueless.
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
What was the first song you loved to sing?
Catch My Disease by Ben Lee.
A song you would love to cover on tour?
With or Without You by U2 or Barbie Girl by Aqua.
Album you would listen to on repeat on a road trip?
Awake Is The New Sleep by Ben Lee.
First concert you went to?
The Hooley Dooley’s and I got removed by security for trying to climb on stage, I was 3.
Best concert you have been to?
I saw Confidence Man, Jungle Giants and George Alice in Adelaide. Best combo ever!
First album you ever bought?
Teenage Dream Katy Perry after I watched the Part of Me movie.
Would you rather be a Spice Girl or a Backstreet Boy?
Definitely a Spice Girl! Their outfits!
If you were a Spice Girl, what would your spice nickname be?
Sparkle Spice or Aqua Spice
Most memorable show you’ve ever performed?
I supported The Approachable Members of Your Local Community in March literally a week before the lockdowns all started. It was one of my first proper shows with my own music. I had expected no one really to watch my set, but it was the most supportive and fun audience I’ve ever had. People I’d never met were chatting to me in between songs and literally hyping me up for anything I did. I think at one stage I tripped over a lead then we started chatting about being unco. It made me realise that from then on I wanted to create that kind of vibe where it’s just like hanging out with friends when I perform. It was also the first show my now manager Aidan ever saw me perform so it was a pretty big moment.
Guilty music pleasure?
Classic by MKTO and Barbie Girl by Aqua. Also just in general binge listening to one song until I can never listen again, it’s the worst habit!
If you could support any artist on tour, who would it be?
Rina Sawayama or Tones and I
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
I think Queen changed the game with style and sound. They challenged the idea that as an artist you have to pick a genre and image and stick to it.
What advice would your current self, give your future self, for a year from now?
Just keep focusing on making the best music you can. It can be a really tough industry to tackle when you feel at times you’re just getting a lot of knock backs, so just focus on the songs and work on improving those dance moves Matilda
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician?
When I watched the Katy Perry movie. Specifically that part when she comes up from below the stage at the start of the show and Teenage Dream is playing to a full arena of screaming fans. I was like, yep that’s what I want to do.