It’s a little hard to believe that Matt Corby is only just about to release his debut album. For years the Sydney musician has been a household name, twice winning ARIA Song of the Year (in 2012 with “Brother” and 2013 with “Resolution”) as well as picking up nominations for a host of other awards. Across five EPs, Corby has grown from one of the country’s most exciting prospects into one of the nation’s best-loved performers. It may have been his success as a contestant on reality TV show in 2008 that first brought Matt to the world, but that beginning has been totally eclipsed by the pedigree of his music since, with his intimate, emotional songwriting confirming Corby as anything but a TV pop star.
Still, despite the accolades he has received, the road to Corby’s debut record has hardly been easy. It’s been two years since he last released any music, but that time has been far from tranquil. “I actually recorded a whole other album before this one, in the U.S.A,” Corby reveals. “It was one of those weird situations where everyone was pulling me in different directions. We recorded about 22 songs in two weeks, and there were two producers and too many people all saying what the album should be and so it pretty much turned into a massive fucking mess.” By mutual consent, Corby and his label shelved the project, but rather than let that experience deflate him, Matt took it as a sign that if he were to make the sort of album he felt he was capable of, then he needed to take more control. “I came home, and in a weird way, was happy I had failed at that – I was at rock bottom, and I love being at rock bottom, because then you can only get better,” Corby explains. “I basically said, ‘I need to be able to play every instrument well enough to get the ideas out of my head.’ So that’s what I did – I went and locked myself away and learned to play everything: keys, drums, bass, guitar, flute, I even learned to play the hang drum, which is cool.”
That journey of self-discovery became the heart of what would finally become Corby’s first full-length album, Telluric. Left to his own devices – and, by his own admission, with his “back to the wall” – Corby dug deep to find a sound that would not only satisfy his audience, but also his soul. Blending his own unique roots flavor with old school funk and groove, Corby’s debut album not only reflects the rollercoaster ride he has taken to get where he is today, but also hints at the stunning breadth of possibilities that lay waiting in his future.
“I finally felt free making this album,” he says. “It started with me just jamming with people for nearly two years, finding a way back to what had made me want to do music in the first place. Then I rented a house overlooking the Tweed River, and lived there on my own for six months. That was really a weird time – but it was awesome. You don’t get clarity like that any other way, just being totally isolated. After that, I knew where I was at, and where I had to go with the music.”
The first stop after Corby’s self-imposed exile was Paris, where he reunited with esteemed artist Mocky [Feist, Peaches], one of the two producers who had worked on the aborted LA album with him.
“He’s amazing, and he totally understands what I want from music,” says Corby. “We spent about two weeks, and tried the whole thing where I played every instrument, did about seven songs. It was the most amazing exercise, to go through that in a really good studio and hear what it sounded like at the end.”
Inspired and excited about the results of that whirlwind session, Corby returned home to write more material, with every intention of going back to Paris to finish the job with Mocky.
“Then Dann [Hume] came along,” Matt laughs. “I have known [producer] Dann for ages, but never thought he would do the album, until I hooked up with him while I was doing some backing vocals for Grace Woodroofe in his studio, and we mucked around with some stuff. He suggested I come back, and when I did, we did four songs in four days. After that I thought, ‘We can do this’, and I rented a house in Berry to record in, and everything flowed from there.”
What flowed surprised and excited Corby and Hume as much as it will the musician’s fans. From the organic splendor of first single “Monday” – composed entirely of sounds made by Matt’s mouth and body – to the shivering genius of “Good To Be Alone” – which features a gorgeous electric guitar part by Corby – Telluric takes the Sydney singer’s sound to new heights and new depths.
“I just wanted to push everything until it almost broke – in a good way,” says Corby. “I think we got that, at one point or another, every part was played by me, even if I got other people to re-record some things later for the final tracks. At the core though, all the music came straight out of me, and that was important I think.”
Lyrically, Telluric pours out both pain and pleasure, as Corby balances personal and philosophical points of view to create the kind of songs that can mean as many different things as there are different listeners. At one end of the spectrum, “Belly Side Up” and “Knife Edge” wrestle the age-old uncertainties of intimacy, the former over a spooky, slinky groove, the latter over a fat, dark funk. At the other end of things, the multi-textured soul of “Sooth Lady Wine” accepts the need to unwind, although Corby admits, “I don’t actually like wine, but you can’t say ‘soothe lady weed’, can you? It’s just not a very nice vowel sound to rhyme to!”
In between, Corby lays some personal truths on the line, from dismissing conventional concepts of faith and religion with “Monday” to confronting some of the misconceptions various people have had about who or what he should be with “Wrong Man”.
“Everyone has felt like that at some point in their life,” he explains. “Like, ‘I am part of this system and I have to play this game, and there’s all this weird shit in the middle of it, and I just don’t feel like I am the guy that you want.’ That’s when you need to be able to just walk away and re-evaluate.”
Given what Corby has gone through to get where he is, and given the results on display with Telluric, he has not only practiced what he preaches, but also proven exactly how well it can work out.