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Late last week singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist MATT CORBY released his second album, RAINBOW VALLEY. It’s a joyous, feel-good affair, the consequence of Matt’s state of mind at being a new father, a resourceful collaboration with his musical soul mates and soaking up the surrounding geological beauty of northern New South Wales, where the album was created. Matt is currently preparing for  sold out shows in Norway, Sweden and The Netherlands, as well as a London gig at the iconic Forum, which is also sold out. Upon his return to Australia, he’ll begin an extensive national tour throughout March and April. Despite achieving amazing success already with his ARIA award winning Song of the Year Brother back in 2012 and an acclaimed debut album Telluric in 2016, you get the feeling that with Rainbow Valley, Matt is only now beginning to feel at one with his musical world. Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Matt to discuss the creation of Rainbow Valley

Matt, this album sounds like it was created in the Byron Bay area, it reeks of joy and and peacefulness. Was it the intention to create a feel-good album or did it just naturally occur that way because of the way you were feeling?
It did sort of snowball from the first few things we did that sounded hyper-positive. I had no intention of doing anything in any particular direction, it was more how we were feeling day to day while orchestrating them. Technically none of this was actually done in Byron but it’s done in the area and has a similar hippy stench, a reeking of joyfulness. I didn’t intend on making it so joyous, it did just end up turning out like that.

I believe the songs were built piece by piece rather than written in one hit on a piano or guitar. Would that be true?
Yeah, that would be true. We’d start with a beat or with a few chords that moved into another movement of chords, we just added and added. So yeah, it was done piece by piece.

For most artists, recording in a studio used to be more of practical task, where you’re basically just getting the songs to tape. However these days with the cutting and pasting and layering of audio files, it’s a much more creative process. Do you enjoy producing music in that manner?
I do actually, it’s pretty fun. You are creating a moving puzzle. Every time you want to change something, you can create a chain reaction with all of the other instruments and it may turn to shit, so it is this fun balancing act of how much should I do? How much shouldn’t I do? What sounds good? What sounds better? It’s this funny, almost a process of elimination, create your own adventure style thing that I find really enjoyable. Playing it live is really different. Your expectations of what it’s going to be are all over the place and it is really exciting to do that. It’s kind of like playing the lottery, every now and then you win big with a melody and chords that work well together and you go, that feels really good… I think we’re onto something!

In that case do you end up with multiple versions of songs?
Yeah definitely. There are a couple of songs on this record that there would have been four different versions of the song. We would end up taking melodies from other songs and putting them into like a super song, where three parts from different songs are working together. I hope that makes sense, I said the word songs so many times in that sentence! It was very much like that. There were no rules, it was just getting a piece of music across the line at the end of the day.

Are you a good organiser of your music files? Do you know where to find ideas when you need them?
(Laughs) To a degree yeah! I normally just label them by day.

What is it about the musical chemistry between your collaborator Alex Henriksson and yourself that works so well?
Alex is like a human mirror. Sometimes he is capable of being really impartial to what you’re doing and he really values any idea. Even if it is really stupid, he will hear all the little bits of gold in it and push you in a place where you can hear it too. Sometimes I will come up with things and think they are really ridiculous because they seem to be that way and he will be like, well let’s put it down and maybe try something else and after about five minutes he’ll be like, I’m glad we persisted with this. I’m glad you had a feeling about it because it has turned into something really cool. If I was by myself I would overthink everything and just spend another two hours working on the same thing and it wouldn’t end up sounding any better and I’d think myself into a hole. He’s a really good collaborator like that, he can read the creative situation in a way that not a lot of people I know can. He has some sort of weird zen patience for people and he’s been with me for a long time playing music and sitting beside me while I was learning instruments, like the drums and bass and putting all of that stuff onto tracks. A couple of years ago I was definitely not as good as I am now. He’s not only a really clever dude but a good friend as well.

What did producer Dann Hume bring to the project?
I think a similar thing. Dann is a little more directional. With Alex I know that there are no boundaries, we can do anything and it can be the most ridiculous thing in the world but it is worth pursuing because we might learn a lesson from it. With Dann, he doesn’t necessarily want to waste time doing anything else other than making the best possible song. Which is fine and good for me to know that before I go and work. I can jump on his level and think, OK I kind of know what you want to hear today as well and let’s find a happy medium where we both think this thing sounds good. But Dann is a freak, he is master with engineering and has a really good songwriting mind. We were so on the same page making this record and putting it together. I think we had one minor disagreement one day where I wanted to work on one song and he wanted to do another and I ended up succumbing … which is pretty rare for me because normally I’d say no, we’ll do it this way. He keeps me more in line than Alex would and that in turn helps me to know if I am going too far with things without him even having to say anything more. I just understand what his intentions are when we are trying to make music.

Tell me about the instruments that you played on the album.
Everything you hear was done by me. All the percussion and drumming, all the vocals and choir work, the bass, keys instruments, vibraphones … whatever instruments we had at the studio. For the most part it is simple keys, bass a bit of guitar … I mean I didn’t write much with guitar for this record. Flutes! In Light My Dart Up it took about 5 hours to play all of the flute harmony lines which was hilarious and obviously we wont be bale to reproduce that live but it was fun to do. With the keyboard format instruments, you can do endless things on them. With the Mellotron you have string samples and horn samples and you can turn things into a full orchestra style composition.

Did you use many other synths as well?
We did use a few Junos and there was an old Casio mini keyboard that had these old Gameboy sounds on it that we ended up filtering and using for chords and stuff, sitting under a few things. We definitely worked a lot with a Juno when we were making the demos and transferred all of that information onto a Mellotron when we were putting things down seriously.

There’s some great percussion behind the tracks NEW DAY COMING, is that real percussion or samples?
Yeah that’s me on congas. There was a nice set of congas in the studio and that was just me hammering away.

The album opens with LIGHT MY DART UP, which is quite a dreamy song. Why open with that one and how important was track order for you?
I did go a little bit mental trying to figure out the track order. I thought that there may have been a few combinations that would work just as well as any others but I really wanted to get the album journey thing right. I went through a lot of classic records and a lot of them start with ballads, they set the record up with a kind of ‘come and join me for a cigarette on the deck and I will tell you about my tale’. It feels like that. I think starting with that song is almost a little deceiving. If someone was to hear the album fresh from start to finish, at the first song they would probably be like, oh I see what kind of record his is going to be, a charming folk, low key record but then the next five tracks kind of smack you in the face with a bunch of whimsical, weird shit. I reckon it took me about three weeks to work out the order and finally be comfortable with the track listing. I reckon I tried about 30 combinations.

You were saying in a video clip on your Facebook page that NO ORDINARY LIFE was a difficult song to sing. How do you actually write something that is hard to sing?
When we write the melodies, I sing quite softly and it’s easier to place notes. Then you get into a studio and have to sing it with nice tone, with a full voice and it was like, oh my god I have to do falsetto then change my voice and then it jumps down to a seventh and it has fucking intervals and bullshit. The more I started singing the song, I just got so angry and thought, I fucking hate this song! (laughs). It was like holy shit, this is so hard. Dann was losing it and he was looking at me like stop getting upset and just do this. So there was that and All That I See that were difficult, the intervals betweens the notes and the speed at which you have to do it is a little bit of a mind fuck. It really surprised me when we were putting the vocals down seriously, how much I am really going to have to try. I have been singing for years, so I don’t really have much trouble doing many melodic things. Maybe that’s why we got to the point where we could write such complicated melodies or things that were at least interesting with strange intervals because I had spent my whole life trying to sing perfectly. Blues and gospel scales I know so well. It’s nice to take melodies out of that world into this slightly more melodic place… but I’ll get better at it.

You’ve been rehearsing for your European tour. How has reproducing this album into a live situation been going for you so far?
It’s been fun. I kind of have zero expectations and it takes a while for everyone to get their head around the way things move dynamically and the feeling that has to go behind each part, so we’ve got a few weeks to get it all right … as well as learn some of the back catalogue because we have a few new guys. It’s been nice to finally jam the songs in a room with other people together. It was trippy when we did All That I See together for the first time the other day. It was like, this is so weird hearing it in a room reproduced. It’s been really nice and I’m not really concerned, we’ll get to a point where it is tight and sounds really cool. I have a bunch of really nice singers onboard playing a bunch of stuff. All our voices together I think are going to be beautiful.

Rainbow Valley the title track … that’s the name of your property isn’t it?
Yeah that’s where I live. I didn’t name it, the guy who lived there before named it. I think he was a horticulturist, semi-scientist and he’s a pretty cool guy. The logo that you see on the album cover is the actual sign on the front gate. We thought that was fitting. Most of it was written there.

How was your shut off valve? Was it hard to know when the album was done?
It was. If it was up to me I would have kept working on it. It was good that it wasn’t entirely up to me. Dann was so confident that we had a lot of tracks. When we took stock and listened to everything, I thought yeah, I think there is a record here. I sort of rely on other people to tell me that because I have been known to just obsess and keep going. I was playing demos to people throughout the process and did get to the point where some people said I think you’re done.

You have an Australian tour beginning in March, what will be the band set up?
The band will be bass, drums, a bunch of keys instruments with at any given time, two people playing keys. Probably I will be playing keys and potentially doing a bit of drumming as well. There are a few parts on the album where there’s a bit of double drums going on. We’ve been jamming that out. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to do it but I kind of want to and it is sounding kind of cool, so it could be my first foray into playing drums live on stage. Yeah, so there will be guitar and percussion going on. No real frills, it would be great to have a string section and horn section but I just cant afford it.

What else is planned for 2019?
We’ll tour for the first half of the year and I think for the second half, I might keep working on the next record. There are a few songs coming out at the moment, as in finding their way onto my hard drive. I wouldn’t mind producing a couple of records for other people, which would be really fun. There are a couple of things potentially lined up with a couple of people that I think would be cool. I would rather spend more time making music in the studio than touring at the moment to be honest. I have a little one and it’s a pretty big ask to go on tour for longer than a month or two at a time. If I can domesticate my music career somehow that would be great. We have a studio at the house and it’s definitely at the quality of being able to make a record there that could be released, so yeah I think that is my plan.

Rainbow Valley Tracklisting
Light My Dart Up
No Ordinary Life
All That I See
Get With The Times
All Fired Up
How It Ends
New Day Coming
Miracle Love
Rainbow Valley

presented by triple j
SAT APR 27 – KINGS PARK – PERTH (All Ages)   

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