It’s A Feeling is out now!
Image: Rose Hope.
New Zealand alt-pop multi-talented songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, Matthew Young recently unveiled his superb debut album, It’s A Feeling. We caught up with the musician to chat about the release, opening up within his music, working on the album solo and so much more!
Could you tell me a bit about your musical background and what led you to pursuing music...
I've kind of only ever done this, to be honest. I don't really have any other skills. I always wanted to do music and when I was really young, I was obsessive. I've always been obsessive and I used to put on records that I really loved and songs that I really loved and I just danced around the living room floor. So it's always been the thing I wanted and through high school and all of school. I started on the drums when I was about 11 or 12, and then about a year later started on the guitar and then kind of picked up enough of every instrument that, you know, is required to make a band so that I could record music and everything like that. Honestly, like, I mean, you know, I could work on other things that I have maybe a knack for other than music, but nothing holds my attention like music does. I have a very short attention span and I go through a lot of phases in life. I'm into one thing obsessively and then move on quickly to the next. But music's the only thing that's held my interest for the course of my entire life, which is nice. So I think by virtue of it's simply not boring me, that's why I'm still here.
Your debut album It’s A Feeling has arrived! It’s such a great personal body of work, exploring mental health and a life lived with bipolar disorder. How important was it for you to use this album as a vehicle to share your story and highlight the themes explored on the album?
In retrospect looking at the process, it was important that I got it done because that was obviously what was on my mind at the time, you know, and having a desire to write more personally. But to be honest, upfront going into it, that wasn't like an important thing that I kind of wanted to address. It wasn't really an aspect of myself that I wanted to focus on. But I think just simply because I was going through therapy a lot and I was kind of coming through, like it was still pretty early on in the diagnosis of having bipolar disorder. So yeah, basically I didn't really intend to write about any of it, to be honest. The first song that I wrote for the album, which was Headcase, that's what came out and then a few more songs and I realised that there were other aspects of the experience and of I guess of my life over these last few years that I wanted to dive into. [Laughs] I know that's kind of like popping the balloon. Like it's not very precise or considered, but that's I think the way that a lot of songwriting goes and I didn't really mean for this to be a whole concept album. I don't know if I would explicitly describe it as that, but it kind of is because the whole album bar one song kind of centres around all of these kind of recent lived experiences and all tied into the whole mental health journey. But no, it wasn't important for me. I didn't consider myself to have any like perspective on the issue that was hugely enlightening. I think that it was more of like a cathartic process, which was good. Yeah, good to do in the end.
Yeah, I totally get that. It just poured out as you were writing and then you could see a distinct thematic exploration arise when piecing the album together. And so I know you wrote and worked on the album on the road, not really taking on the traditional studio environment. How do you think that way of working created the best creative environment for you?
I don't know if it was the best creative environment. It was a creative environment [laughs]. There's a lot of things that unless you do it and you work kind of intensively on your own, kind of reclusively, there's a lot of things going into it that, if you're like me and you kind of just dive head first into things when you're starting and you creative endeavours, it's like you don't really think about the negative aspects of doing things like that, you know? Which is like isolation isn't fun, no matter who you are. I mean, some people are better with isolation, some people are worse and I'm kind of, it depends on the mood of the day, which I think is fairly obvious given the bipolar thing I suppose. But yeah, like the process was good in a lot of ways in that it forced me to kind of untangle the knots, like it forced me to think about what it was that I was really feeling in the moments when I was putting, I guess, pen to paper or fingers to keyboard in my case because I can't stand how boring it is to write with a pen. It takes too long. It's like little things like that were really good and you know, there are some other positives. Like you do get a lot of time to reflect and you do get a lot of time where you don't have external pressure, and that was really, really, really nice. But it's also lonely and frustrating at times because you only have yourself as the kind of set ears in the room dictating what is good and what is bad about whatever you're working on. So you don't really have anything but your own subjective opinion at your disposal, which is I think mostly a bit bad [laughs], like it's nice to have other people in the room and I think moving forward I definitely wanna work more collaboratively. But you know, looking back again, it's nice to know that I can do it. At least to the extent of how this album came out and all the kind of skills that I learned along the way. It forced me to have to be a better engineer, a better producer, and I definitely was learning on the job a lot with this album.
You said that way of working allowed you a lot more time for reflection. What are your thoughts like listening to the album now that it's completely done and ready to be taken in by the world?
It definitely feels like a blip in time. This encapsulates this moment in my life, this collection of years. The way that I felt the kind of aftermath of my whole life kind of eating itself, like going inside out and then kind of having to reconcile all of the issues that I was faced with in the fallout of all of that, you know? There's positives and negatives, like anything. Like sometimes it's difficult to listen to it because it really does conjure a really vivid memory and a really, I don't know if you feel this way but I feel nostalgic is like more painful than soothing. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, I definitely get what you mean. It can be a happy feeling, but also sad and painful.
It's a real purple feeling. It's not neither warm nor cold, it's kind of in between. But for me I've always felt kind of pained by it mostly and I think you can't really say the last five years of my life or whatever it's been has been terribly nostalgic. But you know, when you're going through all of this stuff, like if you told me that I went through this 20 years ago, I'd feel like an old man, you know? It takes a lot out of you and because I'm a terrible sleeper as well, it feels like my days just go forever. Right up until recently where the dogs kind of exhausted me to the point where now I sleep really well. So silver lining with that. But yeah, looking back on certain songs for the album, it's been a journey and I really appreciate some of them. It's funny, you know, I started this album like at the end of 2018, right off the back of the Fruit EP tour that I did after I released that EP. And then, you know, over the year and a half that it took to build the majority of what became this album, I was kind of in the thick of it. Kind of just recently post getting familiar with all of these issues and all of the things that I had been facing and kind of the worst of it, but still kind of in that, I guess, like after shock moment. I mean COVID came along and that was just an annoying, massive pause on everything. So yeah, it's kind of hard to describe, but mostly good memories. [Laughs] I think. [Laughs] depends on the day.
You released your debut EP in 2015, what prompted you to take your time to work on a debut album and how do you think your artistry has evolved in this seven year period?
When I first started working on everything, I really wanted to focus on singles. I was really obsessed with like music being an economy of singles. Which I still am, to be honest. There's something about singles, which I find really appealing in that you get to kind of make each of these songs its own project and EP's are more of like a tapestry of all of the experiments you've kinda done over the course of whatever time it took to build enough of a catalogue of music to release it as a body of work. So I think the thing is that during that time I was more focused on just honing my chops, if you will. Getting better at what it is I do. And also like not thinking too much. As I said, I'm quite an obsessive person, but during that time I was trying my best to kind of release the stranglehold I have over everything. And that's why the music is a bit more raw. The lyrics are a bit less thought out [laughs]. A lot of them are just kind of, yeah, whatever. Also I worked with a producer, Djeisan Suskov, who's of a band Leisure, and he worked kind of exclusively with me on that. It was both a project of ours that was kind of half about getting good at writing pop music, and then the other half was about getting signed and getting enough kind of momentum behind the project and behind me as an artist to kind of push me into the next kind of phase of everything. So yeah, it was a good and a bad time because that EP came out like a week after I had a nervous breakdown, which is kind of the first domino being flicked for all of the subsequent kind of turmoil. I didn't get out of bed for like two months or something, whatever it was. So yeah, good and bad memories associated to that. And then moving on to like the Fruit EP was where I kind of wanted to take more of the reins from a production point of view and all of those songs were kind of initially started by me production wise and then, finished with either Djeisan or Josh Fountain, who is also of the band Leisure. It was quite a chaotic approach to it. It wasn't until this album that I really felt like creating a somewhat cohesive body of work was the main priority. I think that now that I've done this album, I'm grateful that I had that opportunity to do so and to prove to myself that creating a body of work, like this is possible for me, despite all of the other things that I have to deal with or had to deal with, you know?
Yeah, I totally understand. If you had to pick three songs off the album to play to someone who had never heard your music to make them like an instant diehard fan, which three would you pick?
Oh, that's hard. I think Headcase would be probably the first pick just because I think it kind of sums up the point of what I'm trying to make with the whole album. I think sonically it's one of the more adventurous ones. It's the song that took the least amount of time to make. It was like a two day turnaround on that song, which every other song is very jealous of. I'm very jealous of that moment in my life where it all seemed to come together quickly [laughs], because I take a lot of time to do everything well.I've decided that I'm no longer gonna be that guy. So Headcase definitely. Second would probably be Like Falling, mostly because that for me is like my guilty pleasure, like rock song. I wanted to make a song that was kind of like those late nineties, early two thousands, like feel good summary rock songs. Like Third Eye Blind, or like even like Smashmouth or something. Like that real nostalgic movie soundtrack type of rock music that you would hear in like a romcom or something. And I think that song's probably one of the more catchy ones as well. I think the third song would probably be kind of a tie between Fool Around and another song called Belong. Fool Around is the kind of lead single that's being promoted with the album release. But I like that song because it's the most stripped back and it kind of came later in the album writing process where I was ready to kind of peel all the layers off, and that's something that was like a really great experiment for me because you know, there's a lot of kind of tricks to the trade that I didn't really learn because I didn't have too much guidance as a kind of budding producer. Learning things like compression is a great way to fill out a song. So you don't have to stack it full of a million layers and things like that. So for the most part until the end, Fool Around was that. I really like the lyrics, it's kind of stupid but also sincere at the same time. In Belong, the song that would be tied with that, it's just the song that I think most fondly of. I think over the entire experience, probably because I worked on it, it was one of three songs that was worked on collaboratively. I worked on that in LA with a duo called Trackside and another writer and brought it home, finished it, put it all together and everything like that. I miss LA when I think when I hear that song and I loved being there. So yeah, those would be the four.
Is there like a particular line, lyric or musical motif from the album that you find will get stuck in your head more often than not? Or maybe one that you're most proud of?
That's a hard question to answer. Through the course of this album I had to keep a lot of things in balance. How much I wanted to divulge, how I wanted to be in certain topics that were a little bit more personal or what details I wanted to give away. As a result, when you write really intensively about lived experiences, you wanna be true to yourself and true to those experiences. It creates a difficulty in the writing process that you might not otherwise have, which is like how to get your true to life lived experience into a three and a half minute or three minute song and maintain some sort of structure. Especially for me, like rhyme structure and things like that. So it's so hard to define any single lyric because each of them was so painfully written a lot of the time because they had to be so specific. I felt that that was necessary. I feel a lot freer nowadays now that I've gone through this experience and come out the other side and gone like, 'I don't want to do it that way ever again', because it took a lot out of me. But I think there are some lines like this one line in Good Things where it says, "I got a genie in a bottle man, labeled citalopram, take 40 milligrams. Definition of a best laid plan", all of those kind of things. That song particularly, there's a few lines that I really like or the kind of pre chorus of Fool Around, which is just kind of tongue-in-cheek and kind of stupid, you know, like real bad synonyms or whatever. That was really fun to write, especially because that's probably the most sincere moment of the album. It's this confessional of all the promises that I'm gonna make to repair a broken relationship. And then yeah, stupid things like references to Bad Boys 2, you know, whether it's like, "You want a bad boy, baby I'm a bruiser yeah. Oh, you know that ain't true, huh? Nah, but let me hit you with the woosah". Woosah is like a little thing from Bad Boys 2. Just dumb little moveie references. Yeah. Those two would be it and then
Do you think you'll be hitting the road anytime soon? And what do you think the album like looks and sounds like in a live environment?
Hard to say. I do want to hit the road, I do want to tour. It's like a strange era for the music industry I think, and a difficult one for me because I've had such a long hiatus partially due to COVID, but you know, a lot due to a lot of other factors which are somewhat detailed in this album. I do wanna get out there and I do want to kind of tackle it head-on as much as I can. But I also hate winter, so I kind of wanna wait until summer. In my ideal world, I would tour summer in the Northern hemisphere and then do a summer tour in the Southern hemisphere and then never have to do winter ever again for the rest of my days because I hate it so much. I definitely experience that seasonal effective disorder. So not a huge fan, but yeah I basically just want to do as many shows as I can. So hopefully I'll be over in Australia soon and doing some more shows and things like that'd be really fun. But there's no firm dates so far.
GET TO KNOW MATTHEW YOUNG
Biggest musical influences?
Prince, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel, although that was mostly for the album. These days I don't really listen to him that much. There's a lot. Kate Bush is a big one. They're all seemingly of that era, like older artists, not really super contemporary. Although I do still love Young Thug a lot. He's probably one of the more contemporary favourites. I love Holly Humberstone's music. It's really, really good. I'm a huge fan of Julia Michaels. She's an incredible songwriter, probably best in the world right now in my opinion.
Julia Michaels, that one's easy. Joni Mitchell from like circa 1991.
An album that has had the most impact on you?
Ride Home by Joni Mitchell, that's from 1991. That's my favourite Joni Mitchell album. I like old mature Joni more than I like young Joni. Like late eighties, early nineties Joni when she's kind of like got a smoothed out voice from smoking so many cigarettes.
If you could create the soundtrack for any film, which one would it be?
That is actually such a hard question. Probably like a horror movie, because a lot of the time they can be done really poorly where it looks like the jump scares and everything like that feels really phoned in on a soundtrack level. Like you don't really get like, you know, John Carpenter's Halloween soundtrack where he did all the music himself, you know? So it would be something in that era. Maybe some kind of seventies horror movie, but they're all so good. It's honestly so hard to choose maybe Nightmare On Elm Street, just because I feel like that's one of the OGs that could have done a better of job.
Hannah Montana or Miley Cyrus?
Miley all the way.
What was the first song you loved to sing?
I honestly have no idea. Maybe something from like Michael Jackson. I used to raid my parents CD collection when I was young. When I was a kid, whenever they would go out I would go through all of their CDs and find like country songs or like RnB artists. My mum really loved Mariah Carey and stuff like that. So she was a huge Mariah fan and like Norah Jones and stuff like that. So maybe something from one of them. But probably my parents had that History album by Michael Jackson. I think it's like a best of or something. That was probably the album that I would put on a lot.
First concert you went to?
I have no idea [laughs]. Maybe it was like Bob Dylan when I was in high school or something like that for a major show, you know, pre-18. He just rambled the whole time [laughs]. It was like I couldn't understand, like you were like, 'I think this is the song I'm listening to'. I was familiar with a few of his songs from listening to albums that I think my parents had or maybe friends of mine shared with me when I might have been like 14 or something. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and Girl From The North Country and stuff like that. I really love those songs. I think I heard that first in a movie or something like that and got really obsessed with it. But yeah, seeing him live [laughs], that was so bad. Like no disrespect to Bob Dylan, obviously he's amazing, but he needs to try a bit harder on the vocals [laughs]. If he can still sing, I don't even know. So yeah, we'll go with that.
Best concert you have been to?
That would've been Prince, Microphone and a Piano tour in 2016 just before he died. That was massive. Because he's like such a hero for me and it was amazing to see him just before he passed away. So yeah, that'll always be, I think till the day I'm in the ground myself, that'll be my favourite show I've ever been to.
Would you rather be a Spice Girl or a Backstreet Boy?
If you were a Spice Girl, what would your spice nickname be?
I don't know [laughs]. Wacky Spice.
An artist you think has had the most influence on the music industry.
The Beatles probably. I know that's so boring, but they kind of invented pop music as we know it today. You know, two and a half minute songs, they kind of broke away from, I mean it was like influenced heavily by like blues music from the U.S. and kind of other kind of folk music and things that were massively popular in the sixties, as we all know. But like two and a half minute songs, pop songs, no one probably ever. For me, I think the greatest impact on songwriting is Joni Mitchell. That's just my opinion, because I'm a huge fan.
What advice would your current self, give your future self, for a year from now?
Don't hold things too tightly. Learn how to relax. I hope future me has learned how to relax and stop being such a perfectionist. Because perfection, isn't real. It's a subjective opinion. That's the advice that I wanna give myself and hopefully in the near future I'll be living that way.
The moment you knew you wanted to be a musician
I don't even remember. Like forever. Maybe three years old, you know, as soon as I knew what music was, it's all I've wanted to do. Which I have no other skills, I'm rubbish at literally everything. I can't even do life that well. Music Is the only thing that I have some skills at. Still wanna get better, still wanna learn, still wanna do as much as I can.
It’s A Feeling is out now!