Interviews Music

Music Interview: Mathas Part I

Words By Sophie Raynor

Fix yourself a mocktail and settle in for a read – local MC Mathas is just as lyrical when he’s talking as when he’s spitting rhymes. Here, he shares in depth stories of being an idealist, making money from music, and getting tanked on tequila with Abbe May (but don’t call him a rock star). Self-confessed super-fan Sophie Raynor pinned him down.

I’ve seen you perform a bit, and I’ve noticed that sometimes when you’re onstage, you make comments like, “Those lyrics were a bit tricky,” or “I tripped over that one.” I’ve always wanted to know – what are you thinking when you say that?

Sometimes it’s like an honest dialogue with the audience, sometimes it probably works because I’m ultimately just being honest about how I’m feeling at that moment. Sometimes it’s to do with having particularly tight lungs from having a late night out, or smoking too much, or something like that. And I’ll make a little remark about that.

I’ve always been really frankly honest with my audience, and there’s times when I’ve probably been a little too candid. I feel pretty comfortable onstage. I just feel like telling people how I’m feeling about the set.

I appreciate it when people can talk about being vulnerable – I really respect that.

Yeah, it’s a funny one. There’s a thing when you’re making hip hop music as well, where like showing too much of your own vulnerability sort of seems like a no-no, or something. But I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m really comfortable on stage; I’m never nervous. The only time I’m ever nervous is when something’s really not planned, like I’ve had to get up and freestyle for a couple of hours. Those kind of shows, they’re daunting. They’re nerve-wracking. But you have a really good time by the end of them. I suppose, some days you’re feeling more vulnerable than other days, and I suppose you show that more without really even intending to.

I had a show really recently where I felt really fragile on stage, and I was doing Nourishment at a fundraiser for an Indigenous group, and I was really under-slept, and I felt awkward as hell for some reason. I had a really good show, amazing show – really connected with my audience – but it actually made me think about my audience way more than I normally would.

What effect did that particular song, for that particular audience – what were you thinking as you spoke those lyrics?

I suppose what they meant to me when I was writing them. And you do a song so many times, you’re onstage all the time, and you’re like, performing something over and over again, and you go on tours and do these songs to a whole bunch of different audiences, you care about the songs and ultimately you’re trying to connect with your audience to make them all leave as your buddies by the end of the night, but on those times when you actually do make a really strong connection with the audience and kind of get tapped into your mind a little bit, the adrenaline makes you pay attention, and you start listening to your own lyrics. I don’t know. Maybe it brings you back to what you were writing it for.

Why did you write Nourishment?

It’s kind of an old song for me now. And it was never a song I intended to release as a single. It just ended up being a really good song.

Why’s that?

It’s a topic where, if you’re putting that out into a public forum, you’re kind of making a firm decision to really let people know an insight into your ideas in the world. I always do that with my songs anyway, but with that one, it’s a really fragile area in Australia anyway. And it’s a thing that really bothers me, and it has for a really long time. So, articulating that, and really putting it out to an audience, it feels like – you put that song out, it needs to be backed up by action. It’s a strange one, because that’s ultimately not what the song’s about. It’s about a disconnect.

When I was writing about it, I just had to write about it. It’s always been a thing that I had to write about. And that was a song that was really slowly moving along, and I was writing on it slowly, and once I got Abbe in to record the lyrics for the chorus, it started really feeling like a song. And then the rest of it came really easily.

(Pauses). It was important.

What about it was important? Was it just realising that together you’d made a great song, or was it realising the idea you were putting forward with that song?

With certain songs, you have an idea, and it feels really good. And the subject matter is like, crucially important to you, sort of the fabric of yourself and your planet, and then it’s not that often that I really collaborate with people, I guess. Like I’ve done it quite a bit on this album, which has been really cool. But before that, my previous album was like, virtually mostly myself and the guy I was recording with. With Nourishment, it was a song that I wrote, I wrote all the lyrics, and I was trying to sing the chorus and I couldn’t do it, cause my voice isn’t good enough to sing that chorus. And I kept trying at it and getting really frustrated with it and pushing the song aside, when I knew I liked it as a chorus. When Abbe actually agreed to come in and do it – I’ve been a really big fan of her music for a long time – when she came in and wanted to do it, laid it down, we got drunk on tequila, and she and my girlfriend laughed their arses off, and it was a really fun experience, um, it, just felt really affirming. And she did such a fucking good job of it. She just nailed it, instantly, without even having to think about it.

The song was almost finished by that stage, but it wasn’t quite finished. A whole bunch of stuff changed on it. The beat changed – I think it was reaffirmation at least that it was a good enough chorus.

It was always going to be on the album, but it’s not something that I look at and go, “Oh, that’s a single.” I don’t know if I ever really do that. Go, “Ooh, I’m writing a single.” But with that song-  it’s five-and-a-half minutes, it’s really slow, it’s pretty dark, the beat doesn’t really drop until the end of the song – it was never really a song that I thought I’d put out.

Tell me about the process of getting Abbe on board. Did you know her before?

Abbe sent like a scout out (laughs). Like a friend of hers, to go watch a set of me. She liked my music, she’d been put onto my music by I think my friend John Macliver, who’s my manager. It was at the time he was working on a DVD called Cut And Paste – a free DVD that used to come out, about art and music.

Yes! I used to scab that in 78 Records.

I used to work on that with him, I used to do design stuff on it, and I’m pretty sure he had her in to do some kind of Top 5 kind of songs, and he gave her my music then. I’m not 100 per cent sure. She liked my music, she sent her friend out to my set, the friend really liked the set, and then she got my on board to do support for her Design Desire album launch. And then we just kind of became buddies from that. I really liked her music – I’d been listening to it for ages.

I wanted to do something with her – I’d actually really like to work with her on a song as some point, instead of really just being “come in and record these vocals”. I think that’ll still happen. Just at that moment I was really at a loss with what I was doing with that song, and I kept thinking about her doing it, because I knew it would suit her.

Was it above your expectations, what she delivered?

The quickness and the ease of what she delivered, yeah. And how fun it was recording it? Yeah. That was unexpected. You can’t really predict that stuff.

Can you tell me about that, or is that like, secret lives of rock stars?

Ahh, no. I don’t know.

I have an illusion of you as a celebrity; please don’t let me down.

I’m not. I’m still living at my sister’s house.

Wow, that’s really punk rock.

Yeah, thanks. The recording booth that I built out of some stuff – you sit down in it, instead of standing up. I recorded most of this album sitting down, because it felt more chilled, or something. So I had this little sit-down booth and Abbe, myself and Mel my girlfriend sat down and drank a bottle of tequila together. They hit it off really well and just started laughing, constantly for hours, just cracking jokes. So once she got into the booth, Mel was sitting in the room and Abbe was like closed off in the walls of my booth, but they were still joking and giggling from either side. But every time it came to a take she nailed it.

So she can be totally professional and on point when she’s pissed?

Yes. Very much so. Abbe has a real professionalism to her voice – it’s an amazing, charactered voice, but she’s very good at using it on cue. That’s what a pro does.

What’s that like for you, learning from her? Were there things about watching her record that chorus that made you think, “that’s what I’ll do next time”?

Um, probably not. It just gave me confirmation of what she did and how good she was at it. But she’s been amazingly helpful to me for a long time. She’s been like a buddy and looked after me and given me answers when I’ve needed them. She’s kind of an oracle – to a lot of people, I think.

Do you mind if I ask what you need mentoring and advice on?

I’ve been performing out live for 12 years. And that whole time, we were working towards something with The Community. And that’s sort of this idea of starting from scratch, building this idea, making our own shows start, basically just created a platform for ourselves to work off. But ultimately, when you’re in Perth and you’re trying to do that business end and facilitate it for other people, and you care about the other people in your group, the whole business side of music – you don’t access it very much. And it’s very business-driven in the eastern states. The music industry is very business-driven.

That makes sense.

Well yeah, because it’s an industry.

I guess by virtue of it being a creative industry, where people sit down to record albums because it’s more chilled, you’d expect it to have less of a business flavour.

But also, when you grew up on 90s hip hop, it’s really anti-establishment, it’s really anti-industry, so it was always something you were fearful of. And not even that – you didn’t really want to engage in it, because ultimately that’s not what your music is about. And I still feel like that a lot. So that’s like a really important thing in the creativity of myself and the creativity of my crew. It was important in our upbringing that that’s not what music is about. But at the same time, there’s a certain amount of that refusal, that idea of not wanting to enter the music industry so much, that is a little bit sort of fabricated – no, that doesn’t make any sense. Basically, if you want people to turn up to your shows in different places, then you’ve got to put in a lot of work to make that happen. We have been doing that on a steady trajectory for many years, and I feel really proud of where we’ve ended up, but yeah, like, trying to navigate that stuff in an industry you don’t really understand, because it’s different: Abbe was amazing at that stuff. Because she’s been through it all and she understands it all.