Matt Corby opens up about turning inward to find self-realization, the effect of the digital age on music, and why his third album ‘Everything’s Fine’ is the record he’s always wanted to make!
Stream: ‘Everything’s Fine’ – Matt Corby
In the five years since his last album, Matt Corby has been arming himself — not just with the tools of music making, but turning new life experiences to inspiration for his craft.
The songwriter and producer has returned with his highly-anticipated album, Everything’s Fine, released March 24, 2023 via Communion. A record marked by expansive introspection, impeccable songwriting and a discerning melange of Corby’s skills, it’s an arresting body of work. From dedicating his time to producing records, to living through NSW’s 2022 floods, the last few years have been nothing short of significant for the Australian artist, and Everything’s Fine marks a new milestone in Corby’s creative realm.
The thought-provoking record sees Corby turn inwards as he peels back the layers of his truth. Thematic threads of current affairs, self critique and human connection pull the record together with an undeniable strength. Tracks like “Big Smoke” and “Problems” showcase Corby’s distinct songwriting identity, while “Mainies” and “Better Than That” maintain a tenderness in its rich arrangements and production.
Corby called in from the one-and-only Rainbow Valley Studios to chat with Atwood Magazine about Everything’s Fine. With a longtime admiration for Corby’s music and vision, getting a peek into his creative processes was rewarding; the openness and earnest with which he shared it truly humbling. On top of creating the record, he shared the impact the last few years has had on his music. We also discussed the age of social media, and how music of today is shaped by social media as a result – for better or worse.
A CONVERSATION WITH MATT CORBY
Atwood Magazine: Congratulations on Everything's Fine! How has it been since the release?
Matt Corby: Yeah, it’s pretty strange. We finished it maybe 8 months ago, I think I had to hold on to the memory of how I felt when the songs were fresh. You’re tweaking finer details, going through the mixing and mastering process – you get kinda sick of the songs. And then when it comes out you’re like, “I can’t even remember if this is good”! But it’s been a really nice week, got a lot of really lovely messages from friends that I haven’t seen in years. They’ve all been telling me the record’s great, and it’s been quite reassuring. It’s funny, all this buildup and then it comes out, and you’re like, “Oh. Okay.” I don’t really read reviews so I don’t have a good grasp if people are liking it It’s not really for me, it’s for other people, I guess, to figure out if they wanna listen or not. I have my own opinions on it, that’s all I really need.
What was the creative process like for the album?
Matt Corby: They were all written in a pretty short period, most of them in the studio. There was only one that I wrote at home, on the front porch, called “Mainies.” When I’d just voice memo things all the time if I had good ideas. There was a funny tuning on the guitar, and I was sitting out on the balcony one night, the kids were asleep – and this whole thing just came out. I just thought this is a whole bunch of really cool ideas in guitar land. Me and Chris [Collins] were hanging in the studio the next day, and we didn’t really know what to do. And I was like, I kind of got this thing on the nylon string. And what you actually hear in the recording is that first time of me walking into the room and cutting it. It is pretty much the whole song. I just had to overdub the lyrics, the melody stayed the same. And a lot of the guitar you hear when there’s no singing is just the very first time that I’m like, “Eh, this is probably the way the song should go.” And it just had a really cool feeling to it. We just couldn’t mess with that. And then I lost that guitar in the flood! There were so many that I tried that just didn’t sound like the one that I had.
That's the thing about guitars though, isn't it? Even when it's the same model or whatever, it's not the same.
Matt Corby: No, the age, and the age of the strings… there’s so many things that change the way something sounds in guitar world. And especially fancy mics, they pick up the tiniest differences. But we got there with it. It ended up being pretty smooth, but we liked all the original guitar so much that we had to overdub the moments where I was singing. I really love that song. It’s really special.
That’s my favorite on the album actually! There's something about the simplicity and the rawness of it that you can hear in the recording, really lovely to hear how it came to life. Well you've had a very significant few years leading up to the album. You spent time working on other people's records, the floods. Has it changed the way you approach making music?
Matt Corby: I learned a lot working with other people and getting to drive the production ship more. It really helped me trust the process with my own music. The last few records and EPs was kind of unknown territory when I got into the studio. Playing live is very different. The way you have to think is big-picture and long-term. And things just sound different when it’s in a vibe-less, quiet, dead room. You get away with way less. I drew a lot from what I’d learned as producer and was happy to have Chris Collins, and Nat Dunn and Alex Henriksson — it was a very collaborative process, I definitely let those three in way more. I wasn’t totally trusting before, or trusting of others’ process. Back then, I’d be like, “Well, it doesn’t sound like a finished record right now.” And I’d be all funny about it. I probably hindered myself because of that, but I am gaining that understanding.
The flood and all that, that’s just one of those things that was just like, fuck. It was definitely a bit of a wake up. Like, hey, here’s a big dose of fucking shit for you to deal with! We’re sort of still untangling that mess. But sometimes it takes heavy things to show you how resilient you can be. It was definitely tricky, especially with my four year old – me and him are best friends – sometimes he doesn’t understand when I’m like, “This is quiet time! Daddy needs to sing!” then he’d like, scream down the door like, “Daddy what are you doing in there!” and we can hear it through the mics and we’re like, it’s not the take! Haha!
It kind of taught me to be really economical with my time. If I felt we got something, and it felt good, that’s done. Let’s not squeeze every little bit until it has no life left. It’s why I like “Mainies” the most too. It’s literally me noodling a song out for the first time. I think it taught me to be more loose and forgiving with myself. Not everything has to be 100% fucking perfect. It just has to feel good, you know?
I think it taught me to be more loose and forgiving with myself. Not everything has to be 100% fucking perfect. It just has to feel good, you know?
That definitely makes sense. Collaboration and resilience definitely makes one let go a little. What does this record symbolizes in the trajectory of your musicianship?
Matt Corby: I feel like I’ve graduated my little production, songwriting course that I’ve been putting myself through. I think I proved to myself I could make a record the way I want to make a record. Every day was really different. Some days we didn’t hit it and it was cool to recognise that. And the days that we did, we all knew it.
It’s like getting rid of the training wheels, I guess!
Matt Corby: Yeah! And I look forward to making more records after this. I think they’ll probably come more frequently now. Rather than waiting five years, though sometimes I love artists who do that – not doing anything until they feel like they should, or they’re ready.
xI’ve already sort of started writing the next one, there’s a bunch of great songs that I’m really happy with. I have the means to do it, and this space. I’m learning more about the production and engineering side of things all the time, so that’s a constant evolution. So I hope they come more frequently. I feel like I have the confidence now after making this one. It wasn’t like I took five years to make it, but I took that time to really learn a lot of production, engineering, and songwriting skills. Also absorbing other people’s approaches to things. I’ve been loving working on their records, and I felt ready to make mine.
I really like that! I really love the span of this album, there's a rawness to songs like “Mainies,” and then there's the layers of “Reruns.” It really showcases all the different sides of your musicianship; Do you usually start with lyrics first, production, or something else?
Matt Corby: Yeah! Normally we’ll get a bit of a production vibe going. I really like making beats. “Reruns” is a good example of that, actually, I just made that on my own one day and played all the piano. And I was like, “Oh, that’s kind of cool!” I didn’t touch it for probably a couple of months, that track was just an outlier – I was going to give it to someone else, but I ended up saving it for me, and that was the one that I lost in the flood! The water got into my computers and it exploded. And I had other people’s projects on there –
No! That’s so bad!
Matt Corby: But I’ve got it all back! I got it all back. I just admitted how irresponsible I am, haha! I always back things up now, that’s lesson learned. I always remembered there were a few key things that I made on “Reruns,” I always loved that beat. And I didn’t use it for anyone else’s thing, and when I was gonna make the record, and fucking, it’s gone! I remember the last week we were recording I’d taken the computer to this recovery place, it was as expensive as a new computer, but they got everything back.
Anyway, I found it and I showed Nat, and we just threw melodies around all day. Most days would be like that, we would play a lot of music for an hour or two, hit the kit first, or come up with some chords, and find a tempo. And then it’d be the game of where the hooks are and then the music rearranged around how the vocals feel. So it’s sort of reverse engineering it once we have a basic vibe. Yeah, so a few levels of discussion.
I love what you said about this album being about “managing your actual reality,” I think you can really hear that on the record. I want to ask about “Problems,” which was written after the flood. Can you walk us through that one?
Matt Corby: I can get into some bad moods in how I feel humanity is sometimes. I think I was just annoyed with humans in general, how we’re struggling to get our shit together. It was a bleak second of not seeing the positives.
All these politicians were talking shit about helping people. I had just gotten back into my house and the water was still up quite high. One of the main TV stations in Australia were looking for a story and they were cruising around – with no food, no water, nothing. Just a camera. And they were like yelling at me from my porch, “How bad’s the damage in there?” It’s just like, you guys are here for your own game. You are not here to help anybody. This is a time where people have lost everything and you’re here as opportunists.
I was just angry. I think I was just upset watching these people drive past in the days after the event, just filming on their phone. Not getting out, not lending a hand, just filming for their own social media. Like, fuck you. You are literally coming down here to create content for your own gain. You have not picked up a shovel. You have not asked anyone how they feel. You have not offered anyone a drink of water.
You can take your complications
and shove it where the sun don’t shine
to create something to benefit all humankind
You can curb your conversations
it’s counter to the times
you’re dampening the fire that fuels every mind
Don’t be so complacent
when you’re passing out the fruit from the vine
you take advantage of those who can’t reach up that high
I think I was just annoyed with humans in general, how we’re struggling to get our shit together. It was a bleak second of not seeing the positives.
Yeah, that’s horrible. These truly bring out the best and worst in humans.
Matt Corby: Yeah, that’s the other side of it. I did see so much of that happen at the same time. All these people genuinely helping out of the goodness of their heart. I think it really created this contingency of humanity that is terrible, and there’s this other side where your faith in humanity is totally restored. It’s a tricky one. I don’t want to complain either and say everyone’s horrible. Because not everyone is, but it’s just a dark side to it. I think social media is so toxic.
I really want to hear your thoughts about that. I’ve always admired how you make music that is true to you, and as a listener you can really hear that. So, knowing you’re not a fan, do you think social media is harmful for artistry in the long run?
Matt Corby: Yeah, that’s a big question. There’s a lot to unpack there. It’s tough, because it’s the medium of the day. It’s the way we get to know what’s happening. I was begged by my manager for the last nine years to start posting on my Instagram again. But for me this has gone way beyond what I’m comfortable with. I don’t want to share intimate things about my life and my daily routine, like who the fuck cares, you know? But that’s the thing is I think I’m wrong. And I’m just like, an old fool now, haha! But I’ve seen its introduction. And I’ve seen what it’s done to people’s ability to communicate with one another.
I think it’s created a lot more noise, and not necessarily anything better for the craft of music itself. I think it’s created a lot of opportunists that are very narcissistic and great at self-marketing. Where I think most really hardworking musicians and songwriters, they don’t want to do that. They’re actually really embarrassed to even talk about anything they’re doing. I would be so so so, like, way too self-aware to be like, here’s me playing the piano. I think I’ve always had a problem with that braggadocious side of it. And you know, what sucks is that I’m wrong. Because you have to play the game in some capacity. You put out a song and you get lost in this sea of nothingness, and no one will ever give a shit if you don’t comply to some small degree. I mean I could be wrong, but I didn’t post for nine years and I still have people come to the shows. People found River Valley their own way. It might take more time, that’s not a bad thing either.
It’s a funny one, there’s good things about it if you’re connecting with people genuinely. I’ve met so many people around the world. If I could just use it for talking to them and staying connected, then that’s cool. But when it gets to the point where you’re trying to create notoriety and fame, without much substance to back it up, that’s when it gets really dangerous. And then you’re an example for other people to do that. Like, my partner loves the Kardashians. I don’t want to say anything bad. But there was a long period where I was just like, what did they even do other than film themselves? And they’re the richest, most successful people in the whole world, and people can’t get enough of it. It is insanity. They created their own TV show about their life and people think it’s awesome. It’s no shade, but it’s also kind of like, why do you do that? But good on Kim, you know, she got a law degree. She’s trying to help people.
I love how you know Kim has a law degree, haha!
Matt Corby: Yeah, I know haha! But yeah, I think it’s inspired this culture of people wanting to just be an influencer. But what do you do? You just post pictures of yourself? I think it’s kind of crazy.
I think it’s really interesting you’ve been in this industry through the rise of social media. I’ve grown up with it, and it’s always been the way artists share music. But I think social media has generally made us very performative as a society, since there’s so much riding on what we post. Do you think it affects how we consume music as a collective too?
Matt Corby: Music’s changed so much, I was scratching my head at the start of this writing process just being like, I have no idea what people like, I am so confused. I think it shortened a lot of people’s attention span for sure. People get their fix, not necessarily from sitting down and putting on a record, but going through reels and watching funny videos. I could totally get sucked into this, it’s funny that humanity is drawn to the silly shit rather than some physicists talking about something crazy, or the leading environmental scientists, or an incredible journalist that’s got their finger on the pulse of what’s going on in their countries. Like why isn’t that what everyone’s looking at every day? That’s the shit that worries me, because surely we’re better? But is it the platform’s fault? Or is it humanity’s thirst for stuff that’s easy and dumb, so they can switch their brain off? I’m not sure.
When I grew up listening to music, it was challenging sometimes. I would listen to a record and wouldn’t quite understand why it was so good. But there would be people telling me that it was good. I’d listen to it two more times, and I’d be like, holy shit. So it would take patience, for my taste, and for my intellect to catch up to what the artists themselves were trying to convey. I just think that we lack that patience now, so everyone’s got to make this sugary sweet stuff that’s going to grab you straightaway. People know they have five seconds to get someone’s attention. And that’s ruining music, because you’re pandering to people that don’t give a fuck anyway. It’s a tricky one. You could spend a shit ton of money on a marketing budget for a record, and it could still do nothing. You can’t get across every single platform. There’s just too much going on. There’s too much information.
It would take patience, for my taste, and for my intellect to catch up to what the artists themselves were trying to convey.
For sure, I think we're so oversaturated with content. I actually do marketing and social media at my job, haha! Which is so funny to say now after we’ve been shitting on that –
Matt Corby: Haha! I mean, I understand the hypocrisy in it all –
No, not at all! I think working it has taken the veil off for me. Because you have to tailor your content to what the apps are pushing at that moment – and that literally changes all the time. So it just seems like a game, and that’s really made me rethink how I consume things, especially music. I really resonate with a lot of the stuff that you're saying.
Matt Corby: Yeah, it’s funny that you’ve come to that conclusion. I like that. And it is a career, a business, right? You’d want as many eyes on something. It’s a shame there’s not this greater moral like, “Yeah but what about humans though?” And the vast majority of the whole world is on these platforms, it’s like, how can we better humanity, how can we make them more intelligent? People are missing opportunities to understand themselves. I used to listen to records that would break my heart. I feel like I don’t listen to records like that anymore. People are probably making great music, but they’re just not getting to me. It’s because of this oversaturation thing. There’s no one in these platforms curating food for the soul and food for the mind.
Hopefully it will shift, the pendulum swings. Maybe eventually all these kids who are super addicted to TikTok will just turn it off one day and be like, I’m just gonna listen to Floating Points. We made this record – it’s coming out soon – with this Tibetan monk. And some songs are like 15 minutes long, saying mantras over and over with all these sort of synth movements. My friend, Roy, incredible music genius, he’s bowing his guitar making all these crazy, beautiful melodies out of it. But it might challenge a lot of younger people. You never know, in 10 years time they might just put it on in their house and just be like, “Ah, this is great, why do I like this? I don’t quite understand.”
Like you say, the pendulum swings all the time. Maybe the oversaturation will make audiences more intelligent.
Matt Corby: Yeah, yeah. More alive to the fact of how they’ve been tricked, you know. I don’t know, who knows? Life is crazy, man. The internet is crazy.
Thank you so much for that, that was really great!
Matt Corby: Haha! Terrible old man rant.
Haha no! It was so interesting to pick your brain about all that. So to wrap up, what do you hope listeners will take away from Everything's Fine?
Matt Corby: That’s a good question. I hope that they just feel something from at least one of the songs. That’s all you can hope for, right? I don’t have much more than that. If someone’s super inspired, that would be amazing. That’s mission accomplished. I mean, really, they’re just songs that you put on in your car or something. If people get more into it than that, that’s psycho, that’s awesome.
I’m just in the sea of all this other music that’s come out. As we’ve just been speaking about, if I can hold someone’s attention just for a little bit of time. A lot of what I sing about is quite introspective, and hopefully thought-provoking. I think people can pick up some some cool things from it. But really, if it makes them feel good, even for a second, then that’s that’s a huge win.
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