It’s a cliché. The hard second album. The weight of following-up, evolving, justifying. All that angst and self-doubt and second-guessing that chokes the creative spirit. Or not…
“I actually think this is the start of me really having fun with music.”
If anyone deserves to break the shackles and enjoy the moment, it’s multi-platinum-selling musician Matt Corby. For a decade, Corby has been pushing his own boundaries, embracing a journey of self-discovery that’s seen him wrestle a few pre-conceptions and stare down his share of demons. Now, with two ARIA Song of the Year awards on the shelf, and a #1 debut album, Telluric, behind him, Corby can genuinely lay claim to some hard-earned perspective.
“I think, in a really good way, I have stopped caring quite so much,” he says. “I don’t mean about the quality of what I am creating, but about that seriousness, about having to prove I can write a song in a clever way or perform a song in a way that makes people feel good. I can trust my instinct a little now and go with it.”
None of which is to suggest Corby’s new album, Rainbow Valley, isn’t clever or prone to making people feel good. It is both, and then some. Written and recorded in a period that also saw the birth of his first child, Corby’s second full-length release is brimming with a new-found vitality and joy, a fresh energy that finds perfect expression in a kaleidoscopic reimagining of the sound he has honed for the last ten years. From the surreal, dreamlike splendour of first single “No Ordinary Life” – which was met with worldwide acclaim and high-rotation on triple j – to the soulful majesty of the title track, Rainbow Valley reveals an artist who seems both more aware of what he wants and why he wants it.
“When I found out I was going to be a father, it helped me get my head together,” Corby says. “And as part of that, I was able to set aside a lot of weird hang ups I used to have, personally and selfishly, about making music. So, when it came to writing, I found I could be less stubborn, more open minded to going in new musical directions.”
In exploring new directions, Corby has not forgotten his past. Like Telluric before it, much of the creative momentum behind Rainbow Valley was born from jam sessions with old friend and long-time artistic foil Alex Henriksson. “I do most my experimenting, jamming, songwriting, fun sort of stuff with him,” says Corby of Henriksson. “He’s co-writer of two songs on the record (“Get With The Times” and “Rainbow Valley”), but a lot comes from what we did together. We hang out and try all kinds of stuff until we find something that we can grow to sound good, and because we know each other so well, we can push the boundaries a lot with those ideas.”
Buoyed by a boatload of inspiration from those creative sessions, earlier this year Corby retired to the idyllic surroundings of Byron Bay’s Music Farm studios to begin work on the album proper. As he had with Telluric, Corby once again enlisted the help of producer Dann Hume (Amy Shark, Client Liason) and engineer Matthew Neighbour (Avalanches, Missy Higgins). Everything else, he took care of himself.
“I play and sing every part on the album, again,” he says. “Working like that meant we could really develop ideas quickly – when I want it to feel a certain way, I know five things I can do on six instruments that could potentially create that, and so we just go through them all.”
The results speak for themselves. Lush, multi-textured and sparked by hints of both old soul and futuristic psychedelia, Rainbow Valley is, in Corby’s words “joyous music”, but it also has the depth and perspective of an artist who understands you can’t just take the good times for granted, you have to earn them. “We definitely tried to be wary of that,” says Corby. “The more joyous you go with anything, the more you need to have all your bases covered, and then the content of what you’re actually talking about becomes very crucial.”
The core theme running through Rainbow Valley certainly lives up to that ideal. From the early lines of slow-burning opener “Light My Dart Up”, with its suggestion that what really matters is, “The way you see yourself in everyday”, the new album translates elements of Corby’s personal journey into something universal, built on the idea that we’re all in this together, which is both a blessing and responsibility.
“I think a lot of what I write is some form of self-soothing,” he says. “I speak to myself as much as I speak to my friends and the people whose lives I draw on for thought patterns and interactions and reactions and emotions.”
Rainbow Valley puts plenty of those emotions on display. Early on, “Get With The Times” blends gospel harmony with a gnarly guitar line and, as Corby explains, “Reminds us that even though we’re all at war with ourselves, we have to keep it in perspective, we have to keep up with it.” The bare-bones ballad “All Fired Up” sees a similar struggle from the outside, draping the stark, aching admission, “When you break, I break”, over an understated piano arrangement.
Later, “Elements” reprises the same theme – a reciprocal sense of togetherness and individuality, the yin and yang of human relationships – this time in a whole different atmosphere, as a psychedelic, Sixties-styled soundscape is matched perfectly to a dreamlike lyric of connection and togetherness. “That song is really paying homage to the collective human inspiration that we are all operating in, all the time,” says Corby. “In our essence, we are all very similar creatures, with very similar needs and very similar ways of communicating those needs. That brings us together, emotionally.”
Elsewhere, “New Day Coming” threads a slinky groove between hand percussion and stacks of keys to carry an uplifting message, which Corby translates simply as, “You can really only control the things going on inside yourself, so make the most of that.” And even when Rainbow Valley gets a little dark, as it does with the gallows-optimism of “All That I See”, it is telling – and damn cool – that it manages to do so with swagger and a sense of wonder.
The album closes on the title track, which Corby suggests is both the perfect conclusion to this chapter and a possible hint of what the future might hold. It’s a song that won’t sit still, at once familiar, foreign and fantastical. If it turns out to be an indication of where Matt Corby is headed, then it suits him well.