Matt Maltese Writes Love Songs For The End Of The World

Jun 6, 2018
Originally published on June 6, 2018 4:08 pm

For Matt Maltese, matters of love and international relations go hand in hand. That's why he chooses to sing what he calls "Brexit pop." The 22-year-old London-based singer's debut album, Bad Contestant, out June 8, is inspired by apocalypse, heartache and a fictional, nightmarish relationship between the British prime minister and President Trump.

In juxtaposition with the melodramatic themes of the album, the music itself is smooth and jazzy and Maltese is a warm, dreamy crooner. Fueled by Brexit, global warming and two heartbreaks, Bad Contestant is a collection of love songs for the end of the world. "I think seeing that kind of situation through the eyes of love is kind of disturbing," he says.

Maltese doesn't like to be compared to other artists, but he understands the inclination to do so. He has been likened to David Bowie in his penchant for glamorous vintage suits, Morrissey in vocal similarities and Father John Misty in his knack for satirical and apocalyptic-themed lyrics.

Maltese walks through the songs on his first full-length album with NPR's Ari Shapiro. Hear their conversation in the audio link and read an edited transcript below.


Ari Shapiro: The song called "As the World Caves In" and the lyrics are all about doomsday, atomic bombs, the earth burning to the ground. Where did this come from?

Matt Maltese: It kind of sparked when [British Prime Minister] Theresa May was talking about renewing the Trident program here.

This is the British nuclear weapons program that the prime minister is talking about enhancing and bringing back.

It brings to mind doomsday when you hear people talking about creating nuclear bombs. And it was the same time that Trump was around, and I kind of had this image in my head of them two striking up a romance.

Wait, I'm sorry. Donald Trump and Theresa May striking up a romance? They're never named in this song. Is that who this song is about?

That's where the song kind of initially sparked from.

It's quite a leap from doomsday to that kind of an image.

Because of the power they have, if they want to end the world, they can, in a way. So I think they were the two figures that came to mind. It kind of became a song I can imagine my mum listening to and not hearing the lyrics and thinking, "Oh this is nice."

It's an uncomfortable sentiment presented in such a romantic, melodic way. There is actually a lot of apocalypse on this album.

Yeah, there is a bit — a bit too much.

Is it too much? The music doesn't sound overtly political. It doesn't sound like an anthem. It doesn't sound like something somebody would sing at a march against nuclear weapons.

I don't really have an interest in writing revolution, political songs. I like writing love songs. It's what I connect to most and I think seeing that kind of situation through the eyes of love is kind of disturbing, and hopefully, would actually also act in its own way as a speaking-out-about-it song.

One could say the same thing about the song "Strange Time," which begins, "Now that we're doomed, let me show you to your room, where we can float by the moon."

More apocalypse stuff. Probably more about relationship apocalypse. But the same kind of sentiment.

I was telling a friend the songs on this album seem to be either about relationship troubles or about apocalypse, and the friend replied, "Aren't they basically the same thing?"

Oh, that's a good point. They should be a musician. I guess in a way, maybe it's the same part of your brain reacting. You fear the end of things.

And yet through all of it, whether you're talking about the end of a relationship or the end of the world, there's this pervasive sense of humor in your songs.

I'm glad that's felt. I do try and get that side of me across. I think as much as I take things seriously, or I think intensely about things, I also always have a voice in me laughing at that introvert. I explained it the other day, but a lot of the album is my extrovert side of myself. So they're laughing at the introvert, but then the introvert [is] still being like, "I'm still here and I'm really intense."

People talk about "Like a Fish" and it's a sad song, and I'd like that sentiment to come across, but I like people saying they didn't expect to laugh, and laughing.

[Editor's note: The following video contains language that some may find offensive.]

I listened to the song before I realized what the lyrics were. "Like a fish, that's how I drink these days. It numbs the envy I have against your tall, kind man. He's so much taller than I ever will be."

A lot of the album definitely pushes and falls between me sort of allowing myself to take a heartbreak really seriously and also being like, "God, there's so much more serious stuff happening all the time."

The final track on this album is called "Mortals." Describe it for us.

It kind of imagines the regret you feel when all these sort of predictions of global warming come true. It was more broad comment about my own fault of not regretting things until they're reality.

And yet the last line of the song, the last line of the album is, "There might still be hope."

Exactly. I think that's an important sentiment in general because there's so many good people and it's just important to remember that there's no point in giving up, like ever, really, until we're all disintegrated. What's the point of giving up?

Producer Selena Simmons-Duffin and Web intern Emily Abshire contributed to this story.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The other day as I was puttering around in my kitchen, this song came on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS THE WORLD CAVES IN")

MATT MALTESE: (Singing) As the atom bomb locks in...

SHAPIRO: I pictured a David Bowie-esque singer, glamorous and melodramatic as the world crumbles around him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS THE WORLD CAVES IN")

MALTESE: (Singing) As the world, as the world caves...

SHAPIRO: A glance at my phone told me that the singer is a 22-year-old from England with a buzz cut and a penchant for vintage suits. His name is Matt Maltese, and his first full-length album comes out this week. It's called "Bad Contestant." Matt Maltese, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

MALTESE: Thank you very much. Hello.

SHAPIRO: This song is called "As The World Caves In." And the lyrics are all about doomsday, atom bombs, the Earth burning to the ground.

MALTESE: That's right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS THE WORLD CAVES IN")

MALTESE: (Singing) We creep up on extinction. I pull your arms right in.

SHAPIRO: Where did this come from?

MALTESE: It kind of sparked when Theresa May was talking about renewing the Trident program here.

SHAPIRO: This is the British nuclear weapons program that the prime minister is talking about enhancing.

MALTESE: Exactly, so it kind of - I mean, it brings to mind - doesn't it? - doomsday when you hear people talking about creating nuclear bombs. And it was the same kind of time that Trump was around. And I kind of just had this image in my head of them two kind of striking up a romance.

SHAPIRO: Wait; I'm sorry. Theresa May and Donald Trump striking up a romance?

MALTESE: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: They're never named in this song. Is that who this song is about?

MALTESE: No, yeah, that's where this song kind of initially sparks from. That's right.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

MALTESE: Yeah, and it kind of...

SHAPIRO: It's quite a leap from doomsday to that kind of an image.

MALTESE: Yeah, well, I guess it was just, I mean, because of the power they have, I guess if they want to end the world, they can in a way. So I think they were the two sort of figures that came to mind. And then it kind of all just became this song that I can imagine my mom listening to and not hearing the lyrics and just thinking, oh, this is nice.

SHAPIRO: Well, exactly. It's an uncomfortable sentiment presented in such a beautiful, romantic, melodic way.

MALTESE: Yeah, that's kind of the aim, yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AS THE WORLD CAVES IN")

MALTESE: (Singing) As the world caves in.

SHAPIRO: There's actually a lot of apocalypse on this album (laughter).

MALTESE: There is a bit, yeah, a bit too much (laughter).

SHAPIRO: Is it too much? I mean, the music doesn't sound overtly political. It doesn't sound like an anthem. It doesn't sound like something that somebody would sing at a march against nuclear weapons.

MALTESE: Yeah, yeah for sure. I guess, yeah, I guess I don't really have an interest in writing kind of revolution political songs. I like writing love songs. It's kind of - it's what I connect to the most. And I think seeing that kind of situation through the eyes of love is kind of disturbing and hopefully would actually also act in some way as a kind of speaking-out-about-it song.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. One could say the same thing about the song "Strange Time."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE TIME")

MALTESE: (Singing) Now that we're doomed, let me show you to your room where we can implode by the moon.

(Laughter) Yes, more apocalypse stuff, probably more about sort of relationship apocalypse but, yeah, the same kind of sentiment.

SHAPIRO: I was telling a friend that the songs on this album seemed to be either about relationship troubles or about apocalypse. And the friend replied, aren't they basically the same thing?

MALTESE: (Laughter) Oh, that's a good point. They should be a musician. I guess in a way, maybe it's the same part of your brain reacting, your fear of the end of things.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STRANGE TIME")

MALTESE: (Singing) Come on now, and let's just have a strange time. Oh, it's just right if we deface our minds. We can have a strange time and get stranger every night.

SHAPIRO: And yet through all of it, whether you're talking about the end of a relationship or the end of the world, there's this pervasive sense of humor in your songs.

MALTESE: Yeah, well, I'm glad that's felt. I do try and kind of get that side of me across because I think as much as I take things seriously or I think, you know, I think intensely about things, I'm also - I also always have a voice in me kind of laughing at that introvert. You know, I guess it's - I think I explained it the other day. I feel like a lot of the album is kind of my extrovert side of myself sort of laughing at the introvert but then the introvert still being like, I'm still here, and I'm really intense.

(SOUNDBITE OF MATT MALTESE SONG, "LIKE A FISH")

MALTESE: People, like, talk about "Like A Fish," and they're like, it's a sad song. And I'd like that sentiment to come across, but I like people saying that they didn't expect to laugh and laughing.

SHAPIRO: I listened to the song before I realized what the lyrics were.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A FISH")

MALTESE: (Singing) Like a fish - that's how I drink these days.

SHAPIRO: Like a fish - that's how I drink these days. It numbs the envy I have against your tall, kind man. And then I love this line. He's so much taller than I ever will be.

MALTESE: (Laughter) Yeah, that's definitely one of my best lines.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIKE A FISH")

MALTESE: (Singing) He's so much taller than I ever will be.

A lot of the album definitely pushes and pulls between me sort of allowing myself to take a heartbreak really seriously and then also kind of being like, God, there's so much more serious stuff happening all the time.

SHAPIRO: I mentioned that when I first heard your music, my mind sort of went to Bowie. I've seen other people compare you to Morrissey and Father John Misty. Do you see yourself as being in a particular lineage with other musicians?

MALTESE: No. I like to not think about it. I think it kind of gets me worked up because I think I then start to think about some of those people's legends, and that's a very hard thing to think about. And I think I get the most out of my music and out of life when I'm thinking sort of month by month. I think it is part of the - like, our condition is to try to find a kind of similarity so that you're more likely to click on the article...

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MALTESE: ...Or to actually listen to it. So I get that side of it. I'm not bitter about comparisons. But I try to just not think about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORTALS")

MALTESE: (Singing) And when all the roses die and the last of us have lived our lives...

SHAPIRO: Should we end where we began, with the apocalypse?

MALTESE: Yes, please, yeah.

SHAPIRO: The final track on this album is called "Mortals." Describe it for us.

MALTESE: It kind of imagines the regret we feel when all these sort of predictions of global warming come true.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORTALS")

MALTESE: (Singing) Mortals, oh, mortals, where'd it all go so wrong? Didn't think this far on.

It was more broad comment about my own thought of, I guess, not regretting things until they're a reality.

SHAPIRO: And yet the last line of the song, the last line of the album is there might still be hope.

MALTESE: Exactly. Yeah, I think that's an important sentiment in general because there's so many good people out there all over the world. I think it's just important to remember that there's no point kind of giving up, like, ever, really. Until we're kind of all disintegrated, what's the point of giving up?

SHAPIRO: Well, Matt Maltese, thanks so much for talking with us.

MALTESE: Thank you very much for having me.

SHAPIRO: His debut album is called "Bad Contestant."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MORTALS")

MALTESE: (Singing) There might still be hope. There might still be hope. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.