Matt Corby: The Best of What's Next

Music Features Matt Corby
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Matt Corby: The Best of What's Next

Some voices — Jeff Buckley and Robert Plant, for example — come bounding at you with arresting force. Others — say, Ray LaMontagne, Martina Topley-Bird, Lucinda Williams, etc. — draw you in more discreetly, putting you at ease first before you realize there’s something unnaturally powerful about them. Singer-songwriter Matt Corby falls into the latter category. On Telluric, his recent full-length debut, as well as on the eight EPs he’s put out starting with 2009’s Song For…, Corby has a tendency to hold back before suddenly sending his songs into the stratosphere by changing his delivery. Interestingly enough, he often achieves this effect by singing quieter rather than louder.

Australia, Corby’s native country, caught on in a big way five years ago. His fourth EP, 2011’s Into the Flame, has been certified platinum there (for sales of 70,000 units) six times over, largely on the momentum of the smash hit “Brother,” Corby’s heartfelt look back on the ashes of a fractured friendship. He made a comparable homeland splash and nibbled at the UK charts with his follow-up EP, 2013’s Resolution. But much of Corby’s music up to that point has hewed towards a straightahead, if galvanizing, blend of folk, pop, blues and rock with heavy traces of vintage Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Byrds, Nick Drake, etc. At times, Corby’s delivery recalls the velvet-throated blues-rock croon of ‘70s-era Deep Purple bassist/singer Glenn Hughes. With Telluric, though, he stands poised to make a stateside impact with an inventive new twist on soul-rock.

As Corby explains on a phone call to Paste during a somewhat tense passport-check as his live band is about to leave Dover, England for mainland Europe, his new material takes a step forward lyrically as well, as evinced on incisive (but purposefully ambiguous) lines like “No one’s going to save us / Superman please save us / Hollywood creators, they’re the ones who take us / Someone’s trying to trade us / And we are all in danger / We’re made up in the paper,” everybody knows that from the downtempo, elegiac album closer “Empires Attraction.” Even with its playful nods to Prince and Wu Tang Clan, the song, like others on the album, shows that, as much as it may sound like Corby’s narrators look at life through bedroom eyes, his scope has expanded beyond confessional fare. And on several of the songs, his point of view comes across as world-weary.

“Sorry,” he answers when asked how his lyrics have developed over time. “That’s a really deep question compared to what’s happening at the moment. There’s someone very authoritative right here in front of me. Everyone’s getting their fuckin’ passport checked, and I’m finding it really hard to concentrate.”

After a short pause, he regains his train of thought: “As you get older, you wake up a bit and understand that you’re just a little ant kicking around on this planet. Sometimes psychedelics help with that; smoking weed helps with that; doing yoga helps with that — things that help you understand about the true parts of your being, which is your physiology, your intellect, your emotional psychology and the thing that goes beyond that. Which is what I think creativity comes from.”

As one sees in the video for the Into the Flame tune “Souls A’fire,” Corby favors a collaborative vibe in the studio, where he draws considerable creative spark from whichever producer and musicians he’s working with at the time. For Telluric, Corby worked with engineering assistant John “Alex” Henriksson for a month in isolation at a remote cottage in New South Wales, Australia before producer Daniel Hume picked up the reins, eventually moving the project to the Sing Sing recording studio in Melbourne. Unsurprisingly, almost all of the songs bear a co-writing credit from either Hume or Henriksson.

In a key departure from previous material, however, Corby recorded all of the instrumental parts on his own before bringing in the album’s supporting cast: drummer Michael Haydon on drums, guitarist Joel Dowling and keyboardist Jack Standen. As Corby tells Paste, the process for what would become Telluric began in early 2015, after he decided to scrap a completed full-length he’d recorded with L.A. session musicians the year before and start from scratch. Somewhat discouraged, he moved from L.A. back to Australia, where he “just moved around” for the next two years. The relocation was nothing new for Corby, who has also lived in London, England and went through a similar re-focusing period after a well-documented unpleasant brush with pop celebrity as a participant on the Australian Idol reality-TV series at the tender age of 16.

This time, he “bought a van and lived in the tropics for a while.” He explains: “I was jamming with some guys around Brisbane for six months and then moved back to Sydney, where I have a little makeshift studio at my house. I would get up in the morning, surf, come back home and then I would just hit the drums as long as I could and learn as much as I could from that. I’d try and build a little track by filling all the pieces in together.”

“Sometimes,” he adds with a chuckle, “I would end up with the most ridiculous, weird hip-hop song.”

But, while laying down backing vocals for singer-songwriter RW Grace, fortune struck when he was introduced to Hume, Grace’s producer.

“I was just there for the afternoon,” he recalls. “We had a really nice time, had a few beers, and I said to Dan, ‘Hey, let’s jam. Let’s do a couple of days in the studio.’ Two weeks later, I went back and we wrote four songs in four days — all fully recorded. Then, after tracking at the cottage, we were discussing whether or not to have some of the guys from my band come in. The verdict was, ‘Yeah, have them come in and just play what I played. If they make it better, they make it better, and if my version’s better, then my version’s better.’ That’s how we operated for three weeks. We copied every song — note for note, beat for beat — from the original parts that I recorded. The record is actually a mish-mash. Like, on the verse of ‘Why Dream,’ everything is being played by me but that’s the band on the chorus. There’s a bunch of stuff like that going on.”

Though much of the album initially appears to fall into lover’s-lament territory, the subject matter begs for closer inspection. Corby, in fact, made a point of stepping outside of himself and grasping at universal sensations this time.

“The lyrics,” he explains, “were definitely a joint effort between me, Alex and Dan in all phases of the process. And I wanted to keep that conversation really open, because I wanted the music to have a message, and for the message to not be about me one fuckin’ iota. That doesn’t help anyone, especially not me.”

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