He’s a polite chap that Matt Corby.
On our way to a couple of seats on the balcony overlooking the Eastern suburbs of Sydney Corby drops down to pick up a couple of cigarette butts. They were his, he reveals, his face a little guilty. Sure, but no one would have made him pick them up; that’s what A&R is for isn’t it?
As we sit down he pulls out his tobacco pouch, just enough breeze around to suggest it won’t be blowing my way, but even so he makes a point of checking with me if it’s ok to light up before rolling another. I wouldn’t put it past him to offer me his beer. His mother would be proud of him.
Or is it something else?
Lifting a line from a song on his new album, Rainbow Valley, I tell Corby – who is incidentally, rather distractingly good looking – that I don’t know if it was him but someone has been “on the good drugs” with this record. Not only does the album have a perfect sun-mood altering drugs-hanging-with friends-night time groove feel, there is an appealing looseness to it.
Not in the playing or sound, but in that sense of being unencumbered, a record made by someone not so bothered looking over his shoulder.
“One thing Dann [Hume, producer] and I discussed when we were starting [was] we wrote more on instinct than trying to over intellectualise everything,” says Corby. “I think on the first record [2016’s Telluric] I had a lot in my head that I wanted to prove to myself, and I wanted to make it really interesting and have everything happening. With this, 95% of the time the very first take after listening, being in the mood where I knew I would be singing now, something would come out that was spacious and nice in the correct instinct.
“We would mainly work off that. It was very much about ‘them feels’ the whole time, which was really liberating. It was actually fun.”
That first album for a number of reasons beyond being his debut – such as still feeling the need to show he was more than that kid who had been on TV at 16 – wore its need to be impressive and to be liked a bit more than ideal. It was in fact very good first record, but Corby seemed like he knew he was being set up for a fall if the slightest weakness was shown and he was working hard to forestall any.
“That is exactly right,” he confesses. “I have friends who to me are geniuses, one in particular has been working on a record for about four years. And it’s fucking amazing. He showed it to me in various forms and I was like, just put that out, that’s good. But I think because of his inability to stop and say, ‘cool, that’s it I’m going to move on’, until he gets that stuff out that’s forever going to be his mindset and it will be oppressive. I was definitely feeling like that when I was younger. It’s not a good place to be.
“But it’s really hard to put yourself out there and just release the music when what you think is potentially your genius is just being slammed by other people.”
It used to be that Corby wouldn’t even have that much material to put out even if you want to do it quickly, given he said of himself that he was anything but prolific. But that too has changed.
“I think having my own space at home [in northern NSW] I treat it like a job. I’ll go down and all the mics are live, the kit is miked up, there’s a little keys section, and even if I’m not writing songs are still make instrumentals, exercise that part, and get to know production and engineering better every time,” he says.
“I think I probably will become more prolific. There are so many songs that have been written that are sitting on my hard drive: half-finished jams with weird vocals that don’t repeat. One day I might literally have the balls to say ‘drop all that on SoundCloud, who gives a shit?’.”
Corby just casual on social media? Hmm, really? He deliberately took several extra years to release his first album to try to distance himself from his first burst of fame. He has barely been sighted between album tours, his Twitter is all business and almost certainly never touched by him. And if you knew his views on any social, political, musical or sporting issue, I’d accuse you of making it up.
“We are all connected through phones and various two-dimensional platforms, which I don’t do that much. That’s just the way I want to play it,” he says. “I’d rather not be in the public conversation every day and have to contribute. I contribute with playing music, that’s gonna be my thing.”
It’s true enough that you can tell someone’s personality by the kind of things they don’t say as much as the things they do say. This soft-speaking, stubbled and wild-haired man with the light green/blue eyes, has the look of a surfer who might not care about what’s going on beyond the next wave or the next joint (hello Angus Stone!) but on closer inspection it also has a touch of a careful plan to distance himself from the day to day wrangling of a public persona.
Two years ago Matt Corby wasn’t quite as relaxed as he appeared.
“Big time,” Corby says. “My personal opinion on social media is it is quite toxic for the human mind. I think it’s bad to take yourself out of where you are too much, especially just because you are bored. Boredom is a tool and it’s a tool that artists use all the time. Me and my friend Alex, who I write a lot with, we are the champions of boredom because from that you find a thing to do and ideas are born.”
When he at least has a record coming out, does he feel he has something to say? Does he have a story?
“Oh man, if I do, it’s a complex one,” Corby says. “And is it that different to anyone else’s?”
Well let’s look at what his music says about him. On this new album the line between soul, psych pop, west coast rock and funk is blurred, all of it locked into a cruisy groove. Was he a little too stitched up before and this new freedom has allowed the influences to blend? Or is this just where Matt Corby is at now in his life?
“I think this is how I was feeling; it doesn’t run that much deeper for me,” he says, smiling as if to apologise for not having sufficient “story” to flesh those theories out.
“I spend all my time working out how to be a better musician and how to write songs better, how to make something interesting for someone else. I don’t get too conceptual with things, and I never intended to make a record that sounds like anything. I just wanted to write songs. And I see it as my job to do that.”
Want to see him come out of his polite reticence though? Mention someone like Jonathan Wilson, the production genius, occasional guitarist for Roger Waters and psych rock/’70s pop maven whose solo albums work a similar vein of classic sounds, stoned grooves and flashes of funk to Corby.
“Oh I love Jonathan Wilson,” says Corby animatedly. “He is decorated in my circle of friends. We have always seen him as a bit of a master. I’ve been so close to working with a couple of times too. I don’t know if it would be any good because it would be scary working with him, but yeah, he just doesn’t give a fuck [about being on-trend] but at the same time cares so much about the music that he makes.”
He’s also a fan of Canadian soul/funk/jazz dude Mocky, with whom he’s worked and who has encouraged Corby to work “in a really pure way “, which translated initially as “go and do it yourself, you can do it” and eventually into Corby playing every instrument on the album.
One key difference with Wilson though is that Corby is making music that his major labels - Warner internationally; Island Records Australia in Australia - can sell. He is not afraid of making popular music.
“I’m in a circle of friends are musicians and writers who maybe scoff about what I do behind my back – maybe I’m being paranoid; maybe I just think that what they are doing is cooler - one thing I think I have been quite good at, and where my mind sits, is on the line with something that is popular to a degree,” says Corby.
“It sits in the realm where someone who maybe doesn’t have a lot of musical understanding can still be like [he hums a bouncy little hook], and someone who is musical could say, ‘that’s a really cool progression’. I want to please as many people as possible, but not in a vanilla way; still taking risks.”
Rainbow Valley is out tomorrow, November 2.
Matt Corby will play:
GREAT WESTERN HOTEL, ROCKHAMPTON MARCH 21
ENTERTAINMENT & CONVENTION CENTRE, TOWNSVILLE MARCH 22
MUNRO MARTIN PARKLANDS, CAIRNS MARCH 23
HORDERN PAVILION, SYDNEY MARCH 29
UC REFECTORY, CANBERRA MARCH 30
CONVENTION & EXHIBITION CENTRE, BRISBANE APRIL 5
NIGHTQUARTER, GOLD COAST APRIL 6
FLINDERS UNIVERSITY PLAZA, ADELAIDE APRIL 9
MARGARET COURT ARENA, MELBOURNE APRIL 12
GPAC - COSTA HALL, GEELONG APRIL 13
ODEON THEATRE, HOBART APRIL 23
KINGS PARK, PERTH APRIL 27