Interviews Music

Music Interview: Mathas Part II

Words by: Sophie Raynor


Part I here.

Do you want to tell me about your new album in that context?

Yes!

You did every single thing for that, right?

Ah, not quite. I produced most of it – obviously the last two singles have been produced by other people. Empty produced Stone Cold Sober and Ylem produced Free Shit. By produced I mean they made the music for it. I just rapped on them. Everything else on the album is myself. I recorded and mixed it myself – in some areas to my own detriment. It was mastered by William Bowden in Tasmania – pretty amazing dude.

How did you find him?

I think through my friend Lewis Ryan. He was working in a studio called Reel To Reel Studio, in Perth, and that was his guys who was recommended to me. Pretty talented dude. He won a Grammy.

Wow. And are you doing the cover art for it?

Yes.

How’s that going?

Ah, good.

Why do you say it like that?! 

Because I hand-painted it all myself, and I haven’t done much painting over my life. I’d like to do more of it. I have all these amazing materials because my dad was a great painter. I was painting it, and it was an amazing therapeutic process, but there’s been a few changes to the artwork over time. I guess everything just takes longer than you expect it to. That’s all it is.

That’s a neat way of saying it – I know this album’s been a long time coming. 

Everything takes a long time, and when you give yourself all the jobs, it takes longer.

Why did you give yourself all the jobs?

It’s all just really personal to me. I care about the music a lot – I’m not writing songs for like, a market of people to relate to, I’m writing them because they’re sort of necessary to me and I like the idea of being able to connect with people who feel the same thing I do. That’s ultimately the most important thing. And I’ve always done my own design work. They’re hard things for me to delegate.

I have this awesome guy called Dean in Sydney doing the layout and stuff for the album, sort of helping me through all that, and I have a pretty awesome label on board now, helping me do that stuff in the eastern states, but I’ve done everything – Diger Rokwell and I have done a percentage of stuff for ourselves for years. It’s a weird thing trying to delegate, even though you need to – you get so busy! You get so busy with all the stuff.

And you’ve got to think where your skills are put to best use, which is why I guess you get people like a label on board. Can I ask you – challenging question – how do you reconcile making music with integrity and credibility, something that’s definitely personal to you, with the fact that you want people to turn up at your shows, and this industry is a business? Are those things that can be reconciled? 

Totally. You’ve just got to surround yourself with good people. I feel like I’ve made some good choices in that department. I feel pretty good about all the people who are around me. You just have to make sure the people working on your project care about it; they care about the music. The integrity thing is – sort of, I don’t know. I feel like it’s more important than it should be, in this day and age. I don’t know.

That’s really noble. 

It’s a weird thing, right?

No, it’s not weird! I just feel a bit sad that you sort of have to temper that.

(Long pause).

I was talking to my friend Joelistics recently, right? We kind of grew up in the Kurt Cobain era. Same with hip hop – it was really kind of anti-establishment. Anti-establishment – more like (long pause). There was a real validity in being non-conformist. That kind of concept was kind of the most prevalent thing in the ‘coolness’ of the world. And nowadays – not really so much in a negative way, I actually kind of enjoy it – but there’s definitely more of a slant of commerciality on everything. So, it’s a little bit of a hard thing to navigate maybe when you’re a little bit old.

Do you think you still hold onto some kind of idealism?

Yeah, probably. But how valid is it, actually? If you think about humans as a species, does it really matter that much?

Zoom closer, and look at your position within our species, within our culture. I’m white, I’m educated, I’m well-spoken, my parents are well-off, I went to a good high school, I went to uni. I’m in an immense position of privilege and power by virtue of all of those circumstances. I’d be really worried about myself if I was cynical and disillusioned and jaded about the state of the world because this world is set up for me. So, I’m completely with you on being a little bit idealistic, but not having it any other way. 

Yeah. I totally agree with you. I find it hard to imagine a reality where I’m not talking about things that really matter to me in my music, because ultimately I feel like it’s even a privilege that I’ve been able to do it. If I was talking about really trivial things in my life I’d just feel a bit fucking lame about it. It needs to be addressing things that are larger than I am.

That’s actually something I struggle with a bit, to temper the point I just made. If a friend’s having a bad day, I’m not going to say, “Excuse me you’re not allowed to complain.”

(Dramatic voice) Think about the world’s problems!

I think it’s a waste of energy beating yourself up for certain things –

I think also in your existence as a human being you can only be subject to the peripheral things around your environment. And ultimately, they’re going to be your concerns, and it’d be the same for anyone else in the world. And I think the people in positions that aren’t really as privileged as what we have; it’s probably just about the same thing for them. What is peripheral to them? I think there’s sometimes, in our way of life, we need to think a little bit more about it and be a little bit more considerate about it. But ultimately, I don’t think anybody cares.

 

Yeah? I don’t know if you actually believe that. 

What do you mean?

I don’t think you’d be making and releasing songs like Nourishment if you thought no one cared.  

Oh no, no. I don’t mean that. I mean more like – you know when we end up being cynical or critical about ourselves, the importance of the movies we’re making in the world – maybe those things matter far more to us than they do to other people. That’s what I mean by that.

I thought you were commenting on apathy, rather than insecurity, there.

Oh no, no! I think ultimately people do care, a lot, about things. I think the more people you can tap into, that you can target in that area, they don’t normally access being empathetic.

 

That makes sense. It’s like in this great play the other day, called All That Glitters. It’s about refugee rights, but from the view of an ordinary Australian. It talks about what our responsibilities are to refugees when the government is committing human rights abuses in our names, and I felt really uncomfortable after it, like I hadn’t had to think about it in that way before. Realising my own ignorance. And I felt that way the first time I heard Nourishment.

Thank you. That’s ultimately what’s important. It’s really cool that it’s being translated properly.

Can I ask you there – something that I think a lot about. What’s my place there? What am I allowed to talk about? 

Yep. That’s what Nourishment was. Nourishment wasn’t me talking on something I didn’t understand; it was me talking about something I didn’t understand. I think people get that a little bit confused with me as well. That I have some kind of great knowledge that they don’t on Indigenous people. I’ve got no fucking idea! And I say it constantly in the song. But people listen to the song and they read things differently, they read it differently from the way it’s written. And it doesn’t happen that often but it does happen. People come up to me and they think they’re being told off in the song, or something. And that’s not what I’m trying to do at all. I’m just trying to say, “I’m pretty confused, can anyone give me some answers”. That’s kind of what the song’s doing.

How else have people responded to your songs?

I’ve had amazing responses to all my songs, actually. One for Nourishment was pretty amazing. A guy was running a program for Indigenous women at a prison in the Northern Territory, and he was doing this program where he’d play them a song and they had to write a review of the song. And I had this one girl called Nicole – they all sent me letters with their reviews; they wrote the reviews like they were letters – and there was this one saying that she’d listened to the song during a period of time where she was really feeling down on herself, and she was missing her kids outside, and it made her feel better, made her feel like other people gave a shit. It was just really amazing.

It’s amazing when your music affords you an opportunity that other people wouldn’t ever have. How often do people get sent letters from people in prison listening to their music? That was amazing.

What’s it like to release that song, coming from a position of not wanting to represent yourself as an authority on the topic? I’m assuming you still felt unsure about the song after you released it.

I still feel unsure. Um, yeah. Most definitely. It felt – just, nice. You’ve made a connection with someone you wouldn’t have made a connection with.

I think what would be affirming for me with that song is to get to a place where I feel like I’m taking real action on that issue, at some point. And it’s not yet.

What are you going to do? What can you do?

I don’t know. Stuff. (laughs).

That’s very anti-establishment.

Maybe if I just start throwing my money and my actions around some stuff that’s related to music that’s more important than my own personal benefit or gain from it. I don’t know.

I’m 31 years old. I’ve been chasing something with my music that I think I’m moving towards, and I’ve had this same idea in my head the whole time, and now it’s starting to kick the door down more than it used to. I feel like I’m actually moving towards it now, which is really awesome.

What is that goal? 

Um, ultimately, I just want my life to revolve around it – around the music and the positivity and benefits that it’s given me, over my life. Being able to involve other people in it, who may not be given the same privilege.

I’ve been working on this album for six years. Five-and-a-half, six years. And it’s been like this project, thins thing to do. It’s very very important that I finish this album. So it just made everything else get pushed to the sides. So I want to work out a way to make the music, while at the same time doing a bunch of stuff I’ve wanted to do. Go into the Northern Territory, do workshops. Do stuff. That feels like I’m taking some kind of action on things that are important to me.

I feel like it keeps getting put on the back burner so I can finish projects I have going on at the same time.

Is that because you can’t delegate?

Ah, yes. It’s because I can’t delegate. I’m a bit of a control freak with my own music.

Oh my god, me too!  

Are you very clean at home?

Yep.

See, I’m not. I’m messy as fuck (laugh). I’m not sure I’d be making the music I do, or being able to articulate it as well as I feel I do, if I was a really clean person. I think part of coming along with the 90 per cent creative brain my father gave me, a little of my mum’s bookkeeper qualities – I think if I was better at that shit, I wouldn’t be making the music I do.

Seems like a fair trade-off. 

Yeah, I’m ok with that.

As a control freak – you’re not the one who decides how I interpret your music. How’s that for you, when you’re so personally connected to it? You’re offering a piece of yourself to your audience, and you don’t get to decide what they do with that.

Yeah. That’s what I like about making music that’s really subtle. That’s what I like about lyricism that isn’t really straightforward and obvious. I think it is to some degree. But I like it being more, sort of, loaded. So people have to pick it apart.

Even if it means someone could be like, “Oh, this Mathas guy reckons he’s an expert on Indigenous affairs”.

Yeah, fine! I think that’s cool – I haven’t really had to deal yet with that onslaught of online trolls, and people who just hate you and don’t like your opinions. I know that I will, but ultimately like, I just like that the people who get it, they bother to sit there and try and work out what you’re talking about. I love that. That’s what I do with rap music. I sit there and analyse the songs that I like but I don’t quite get.

I’m a super emotional person – I take things to heart. I think that’s something I’m going to have to get better at when people are dismantling my music. I support I feel confident enough in it from the people who do relate to it that you don’t take that other shit on board. Because it’s just different opinions. And some people have a way of offering their opinions in a really dicky way.