Cracking a beer with Sydney’s own Matt Corby at the offices of Universal Music in Woolloomooloo, we chatted about everything from his favourite Radiohead album, Amnesiac, to his favourite Australian frontman, INXS’ Michael Hutchence. Most importantly, we discussed his new album Rainbow Valley, out today, and how he is moving past his iconic acoustic guitar sound. After exploding in 2011 with the Into the Flame EP and releasing his debut album Telluric in 2016, Corby has turned towards the sounds of funk and soul.
After spending nearly a year touring for Telluric, Corby moved from Sydney to a small property near Byron Bay that included a studio of his own. Together with friend Alex Hendrickson, he filled his days jamming with new instruments.
“I just started experimenting with new songs, making a whole bunch of instrumental tracks. I didn’t really think I was making a record until half way through last year,” he said.
With all this time to experiment with new instruments, his iconic sound began to shift. Drawing on the sound of Daptone Records, Corby began to find a sound that would be unexpected to those familiar with the acoustic guitar sound of 2011 hit ‘Brother’.
“Funnily enough I kind of just forgot about guitar for a while, I was so preoccupied with figuring other stuff out that it just got left by the wayside on this album,” he laughed.
Rainbow Valley embodies this journey to new ground and forms of instrumentation. In our chat, Corby went as far as to compared the more imaginative elements of the album, like the opening of ‘This Ordinary Life’, to the fantastical Willy Wonka score.
Matt would begin each day alone in the studio, picking up an instrument and playing. When he found something that he liked, Corby would stick with it, and introducing other sounds and new instruments to develop it further. After hours of experimentation, he had created something fresh.
“It was just a snowball effect of one sound leads to another, leads to another, leads to a whole other progression. It was pretty fun.”
This new approach to song-writing, driven by instrumental experimentation, allowed Corby to broaden his range of influences while simplifying the conceptual side of his music. As each song was built from the instrumentation upwards, there was a greater focus on the musicality of the song rather than any deep themes that it may contain, in Corby’s words “moving as much musical weight with as little musical elements.”
Compared to 2016’s Telluric, which he felt became “muddled in the mid-range” attempting to accomplish too many things at once, the tracks on Rainbow Valley are simpler and more refined, with producer Dan Hume ruthlessly trimming the fat.
“I have the tendency to overthink stuff massively and it takes me a long time to value an idea that’s come out. Having someone like Dan there, he tells you when to stop and he’ll actually say ‘Cool, that’s really good. Please stop playing, move on,’” Corby laughed.
The result is an extension of Corby’s talents, moving beyond guitar, to play the bass, drums and piano. Most significantly, he attributes his musical evolution to his newfound love of the Mellotron, an electro-mechanical tape replay keyboard, and sampled instruments such as drums, horns and keys. These were his way of paying homage to the 2000s revival of funk and soul led by the Menagan Street Band, but championing long standing artists Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones. The Mellotron gave Corby a whole new perspective on how a chord can sound, where this leads the track, and how a melody on top of it can result in an obscure timbre. Combining these artistic and instrumental influences, Corby had to leave his previous sound behind.
“Every time I attempted to play a bit of guitar on it, I just ruined it. The instrument I know the best, it’s kind of limiting me creatively in a way, I’m too aware of the rules.”
With the album released today and rehearsals beginning in less than a fortnight for his 2019 tour, Corby is excited at the unknown prospect of this new sound translating to the stage. However, as the album is so studio orientated, he believes it will be a case of trying to come as close to the record as possible. With instrumentalists who double as vocalists, at least three keyboards at once and the potential for Corby to hop on drums himself, he believes the concerts will be massive.
“I do have expectations. It has to sound good, but I have no idea how it’s going to turn out.”
Matt Corby’s Rainbow Valley is out today in retail stores and is available through all major online distribution platforms.