„You’re made up of everything you made“: A conversation with Matt Maltese on „Driving Just To Drive“

Matt Maltese (Photo: Reed Schick)

At the end of April, Matt Maltese returned with a new record which feels like his most honest work yet: „Driving Just To Drive“ is the result of making peace with the past and all the people you once were. I met up with the British singer to talk about the role of nostalgia, the strangeness of being vulnerable as an artist and why humor is so important during grim times.

Matt Maltese has poured himself into songs for quite a few years now. He seems to have perfected the dose of humor and soft piano notes to sprinkle on top of the intimate topics he adresses and the world is now twisted around his fingers. Wrapping up heartbreak in warm melodies and metaphors, he can indeed make you cry – but it will be the rather comforting, relieving kind. When going through comments regarding his music, also in the case of „Driving Just To Drive„, one can find a concerning amount emphasizing the tears caused by it. „I guess you want some kind of reaction, don’t you?“, he considers jokingly in our conversation a few weeks ago. „I hope it’s not ‚I’m crying because this album is so bad‘ but rather ‚This is making me realize something I needed a therapist to tell me‘.“

When we met to talk through the new album a bit, it had already seen the light of day. The tension that builds up before such a release started to fade, first reactions appeared and they were very much positive – the weeping included. „With an album you have this huge period where it’s finished, the songs grow old with you before you even put them out. So now I found a new sense of appreciation for them, just because people are experiencing them for the first time.“ Yet something about „Driving Just To Drive“ feels different, as if there lies a certain tranquility in Matt’s work, as if it had come full circle in a way. Considering moments gone, however painful or suppressed, he decides to face the past. That bittersweet look back in time runs through the eleven tracks and I wonder if he thinks nostalgia is a valuable thing for the present self. „I’m definitely quite an overthinker and sometimes it can be really unhealthy, it can make you see the past in a way that is unhelpful to approach your future. For me with this record, I started looking at young versions of myself I was pushing away before and reminisced about them as in ‚Oh, this was a formative time‘. Like, even if there are things about my hometown that I wanted to get away from, pissed me off, it was still my life.“

The song “Museum” tackles that thought exactly. I got especially caught on the lines “You might change / But the people you were stay the same”, the idea that you can’t escape what is over. Does Matt think similarly about his older projects? „That connection is probably pretty accurate. You will never be able to change a single thing about what you created, so you can only change your relationship to it. They’re all just truthful-ish snapshots of your time then – to hate them is to forget that you’re made up of everything you made and everything you make next is a continuation.“ With this view in mind, it makes sense he put a song from his teenage years on the album – “Florence” stands out from the rest with its lighthearted nature. He explains how it was an unusual decision to not stick to the format of only including work written in the same period, but why stress about it? „Try to relax. That’s all!“ he also replies to the question of what he would like to tell that 18-year-old self from today’s perspective, if he could.

Humor seems to be an ingredient Matt likes to mix into his words often and he has good reasons for it. „Life can be so miserable and all we have is the ability to laugh at it half the time. It’s just how I talk about dramatic subjects, in songs and in real life, too. I don’t see sadness and happiness as separate in their own box, but rather in a mesh. My music shouldn’t only be for wallowing, but hopefully the kind you listen to when you’re feeling bad and then be able to laugh, to break that feeling a bit.“ Which should not mean he does not take heavy moments seriously. On “Hello Black Dog” he addresses these phases in life, and as the song rears up towards the end, he starts welcoming the darkness instead of trying to hide from it anymore – Is this the way he has found best to deal with negative emotions? And what role does songwriting play in that process? „It is important to not try and pretend they’re not there, but let whatever feeling you have flow through you. Writing songs does obviously help with that. I just have a tangible outlet which is quite a bizarre thing, yet one I am very thankful for.“

„Life can be so miserable and all we have is the ability to laugh at it half the time.“

– Matt Maltese on the significance of humor

We continue talking about the bizzareness of being an artist. From the beginning, Matt wore his heart on his sleeve, something that drew me, and a lot of other listeners, to his music, yet of course one opens up to a larger extent than the average person. „It’s definitely a weird job to do that. Sometimes the truth isn’t what you want to sing about to a stranger, the truth can feel a bit pathetic. That makes it hard, but it has to be hard to be good. If it was as easy as turning my life into a film, smoothing off the edges, I don’t think anyone would give a shit. The best thing about a song is when it is ‚too‘ vulnerable.“ On that note, it must be strange as well to know something you made stemming from your own experiences has a different meaning to somebody else. Matt recalls people coming up to him expressing how his music supported them through a breakup or even a death. „I try to not keep too much of it in. I think it would be a lot to carry that this was the reality, but obviously I’m very touched that these songs are able to help in such situations.“ Which does not imply that all respones are as moving: He reconsiders if he needed to be told from a fan that a certain track was the one playing as she slept with her boyfriend for the first time.

Now circling back to the record, in the clip for “Driving Just To Drive” Matt basically just, well, drives into the evening light. When he goes on these kinds of rides, what music is he putting on to intensify the atmosphere? „I used to drive to college everyday on the road where we filmed the video and during that period I was very into Father John Misty. Still I find that driving enhances pretty much every song – it makes a medium song into a good one. So I recommend listening to my album in a car, so it sounds better than it actually is.“ Do with that information what you will, I’d say.

Have a look into Matt Maltese’s new (and not only medium) album „Driving Just To Drive“ here: