Behind the Songs: Matt Maltese Is ‘Driving Just To Drive’
British-Canadian indie artiste Matt Maltese joins Sound of Life’s “Behind the Songs” series, where we get the artistes to share stories behind the creation of tracks from their latest project.
The singer-songwriter who is raised in Reading, Berkshire, England, has been writing music since he was only 14.
From his debut single “Even If It’s A Lie” in 2015, he has since released three albums titled Bad Contestant in 2018, Krystal in 2020 and Good Morning It’s Now Tomorrow in 2021.
The 27-year-old indie pop musician returns this year with a brand new album titled Driving Just To Drive, after teasing us with singles like “Museum”, “Driving Just To Drive”, “Mother” and “Florence” that fuse a mixture of indie rock, modern pop and jazz.
As he is embarking on an Australia and Asia tour this May, we asked the baritone singing musician to share with us the story behind each track of his new album Driving Just To Drive.
From a conversation with his mom about a break-up to escapism, we are all ears.
I had this sad, almost funny conversation, with my mum a while back about breaking up with an ex-girlfriend.
It had really affected her, and in her mind, it was almost like a member of the family was just disappearing overnight. And I realised, more than ever, the similarity between my own experience of heartache and hers.
Just like you, they lose someone without choosing to lose someone, and they have even less agency than you do in the process.
I remember comforting her at the end of the conversation with a line I’d been told myself years before about the same relationship.
“You’ll learn to love again,” I said – and both of us kind of laughed.
You always feel like you’re the main one hurting in a break-up, but relationships can form these webs that intertwine the people around you into them, and that’s a lot of change and grief for everyone. And a lot of sad, almost funny conversations.
‘IRONY WOULD HAVE IT’
I wrote this song about someone close to me who has been a mentor figure to me. As we get older, those relationships naturally can change as people fall on harder times at different times.
Finding myself trying to comfort them kind of shifted our dynamic for a moment and this was really about that.
I actually wrote it when I got bored out of my mind watching 20 minutes of the Beatles documentary, and wrote this in a restless “keep it simple” mentality. I think keeping it simple is constantly the hardest challenge, and I realise more and more how much more meaningful a song ends up when it is.
Especially something like this one, where I’m really not trying to make anyone laugh (hard for me), and it really needs to be left alone once it’s written.
This is a pretty old song that Josh (the producer) convinced me to dig up from the grave and put on the album. I quite liked the idea of putting a song on the record that wasn’t really written at the same time as everything else.
I’ve made a lot more peace with my greener, sincerer older songs that I wrote before I started making my first album, and songs like “Florence” that have a multi-year gap between writing and recording often make for more interesting versions than the ones you write and record in the moment.
I wrote it after seeing a show (not Florence and the Machine) and it was right at the precipice of anger and acceptance with loss, and with life changing a lot.
I wrote the line “I’d have to be a man to know” at 19, and though I still feel some kind of alliance to that, I also feel adult in a way I didn’t then.
So, I think the song takes on a slightly different energy. It kind of came at a moment in my life before I became a lot more set on bringing humour and self-deprecation into music, and around my first album being put together, I had come to find it far too sincere and “sweet”.
And now, I often come back to these older teenage songs years later and think their earnestness was actually something to be proud of, rather than cringe or make fun of. I’m often trying to get closer to that, and still be funny sometimes (hopefully).
I really wanted some faster songs on this record, and over Christmas 2021, I asked Josh to send me some instrumentals that I chopped up, and “Mortician” came out of that.
I had the lyrics for a while, and putting them into a kind of cowboy anthem environment felt right. It’s the kind of bittersweet territory I think aim for a lot.
It’s pointing the finger back at myself and being like, “Yeah it’s sad but you don’t have to do that thing everytime.”
It’s easy to wallow and be sad, but the hardest thing and the best feeling is when I somehow celebrate the joy in those sadder things. Not judging a relationship by its length or dwelling on what went wrong, but just being like “that was a lot of bad, and some good, and now we move on”.
Those moments don’t always last forever, but they’re great when they come.
This song, along with “Mother”, was really a building block for the album. It came from really reflecting on my relationship to my hometown – which in my case is Reading. You change a lot but these places hold those different versions of yourself that you were and that you can’t change.
I always couldn’t wait to leave Reading. It had that kind of middle-ground feeling between city and countryside, and I craved (living in the) city throughout my childhood.
It’s funny because I have often felt like my life didn’t really begin until I moved to London at 18. And of course in some ways that’s true, but also there’s a whole life lived in this other place that I’ve frankly never really wanted to think about or write about.
I like my current-self more than my teenage self, but I also realised it’s a shame to not see how the present is so intertwined and indebted to the past.
Every day you’ve lived shapes who you’ve become, and Reading has been home for a lot of those days, even if it isn’t now. Even by reacting against it as I got older, it shaped me. And I think I finally feel a lot more like I want to embrace it, even if I can’t relate to those years as much anymore.
“Museum” is an ode to Reading.
This is the last song I wrote for the album. I’d written all these couplets about inflation, sex, global warming and corruption.
And I kept thinking to myself, “You can't sing this,” which in-turn made me start to feel, “You have to sing this.”
It’s a little hopeless at times, and although I do really like to pivot away from those feelings, it is just good to put it how it is sometimes. As I think I’ve said too many times already, I think the better and harder way to feel is the other way where you're positive about misery, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ok to sometimes cave to the feelings.
This was probably one of the simplest songs to make on the record. I’d had a half-demo of it for a while, and it kept knocking on my proverbial door and asking to be on this album.
Jess (Biig Piig) has always been someone I’ve really admired and I thought she’d bring the perfect amount of intimacy to the song – it was so good to finally work together.
Put simply, it’s a love song about that moment when you’re both clearly trying to hide feelings from each other, but failing miserably.
‘DRIVING JUST TO DRIVE’
I think getting older and busier, you can sometimes create a rewards-system in your brain, where every action needs to have a reason for doing that action. But there’s also a whole new fresh load of doom out there that sometimes can put our obsession with personal “growth” into perspective.
I often live in a building-block mindset, where I need to do this thing so I can do that thing – and that means I’ll have a chance at that other thing.
And in the meantime, there are all these uncontrollable (and maybe even unchangeable) realities like a wealth-bias financial system and an exponentially heating world that could render all the productivity pointless.
I thought a lot back to being younger and how much more I used to do things just to do them.
Playing on a playground as a kid or just going for a drive and listening to music in the car. I don’t have a car anymore but I used to love that… stuff with no sense of an outcome, with no sense of self-imposed necessity.
I think it’s important to have some of that in our lives.
‘HELLO BLACK DOG’
This one’s a very melodramatic song. I liked the idea of personifying your sadness and serenading it – greeting it unwillingly but also like a friend, and letting it in, rather than trying to run away from it.
Letting yourself just feel the feeling is always better for me than getting angry with myself for feeling the feeling. This song is reflecting that notion
‘SUSPEND YOUR DISBELIEF’
This song is pure escapism, really. I wrote it when I visited LA (Los Angeles) last winter before tour (the most escapist thing you can do), and hung out with Jonathan Rado who made my first record.
I again had these couplets that I never really thought I’d sing, but then I did and it’s all here. It’s a sort of happier sounding cousin of “Widows” – it’s not got any answers to the problems we face, but it’s hopefully a few minutes of escape.
Life is better when you forget all the bad stuff for a moment, but of course, the point is to forget for a while so that you can actually address things with enough mental strength to do so.
The art of switching off, which I suck at.
‘BUT LEAVING IS’
This was a song that came out of the lowest part of the end of a relationship. It’s complicated when the end of a relationship isn’t just falling out of love and walking away. Those two things didn’t really align and that was shit.
No matter how much I build my world and learn about myself, I really still can be shaken by love in a way I have no idea how to control.
No amount of intelligence or growth of experience or cynicism can change that. It’s still the most powerful force in life and pretending it’s not is silly.
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Cover Credit: Reed Schick
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
When he isn’t making sure Sound of Life stories are published in a timely manner, Kevin enjoys wandering aimlessly in Kuala Lumpur city, going down the YouTube rabbit hole and discovering new music.