Crooner is such an ugly word. But if one person can make it beautiful, it’s South London songwriter Matt Maltese. Ahead of releasing his latest album Krystal, it’s lead single ‘Rom-Com Gone Wrong’ was unleashed upon the world with a video that had a rather more DIY feel than the slick stylings of his debut LP. It may well have to do with an appreciation for awkward humour – something he shares with actor, filmmaker and the video’s director Craig Roberts. Exploring the world of the visual and the melodic, I caught up with Matt for New Sounds magazine, to chat about the song, its video, and where music and art meet…
There’s a scene, two minutes into the video of ‘Rom-Com Gone Wrong’ when you know Matt Maltese is one hundred percent dedicated to his art. Shot through wobbling vintage Super 8 cinematography, he stands waist deep in a debris covered lake; his eyes scrunched as water cascades over his hair and fills every facial orifice. “Apparently there were eels in there, or someone told me after shooting that scene anyway,” he grins. “I’m glad they didn’t tell me that first or maybe I wouldn’t have done it. It was full of slime though!”
According to Matt, it was entirely his own idea; unprompted with no-one about to talk him out of it. And besides, a true artisan of break-up songs would never pass up an opportunity to suffer for his art. “That scene where my hands are hovering over the keyboard, I literally couldn’t play, it was freezing! But I guess my pale complexion suited the song,” he chuckles.
Therein lies the appeal of Matt Maltese’s romantic yet realistic gaze upon the world. Since waltzing onto the scene with debut record Bad Contestant and its flamboyant velvet suit extravagance of ‘Bad Comedian’ or the soaring Morrissey-esque politic-apocalypse balladry of ‘As The World Caves In’ (written about a fictional romance between Donald Trump and Theresa May), Matt’s stories have always been brought to life through carefully selected visuals to reinforce a firmly lodged tongue-in-cheek. The only difference this time, is that Krystal is a declaration of independence. “This album is a lot less polished at the edges so the feel of the video fits with that,” Matt tells of its suitable imperfections. “I wanted the first record to be grander, like an orchestrated album from the 70s and to make a statement but a video like that just wouldn’t have suited the bedroom writing style of Krystal. I wanted this record to be more like throwing food on a plate and not minding about the presentation, as long as it tastes alright.”
“When creating a music video it’s most important to keep the visual side honest, especially in this day and age where it’s easy to create content for the sake of creating content,” – Matt Maltese
Craig Roberts, on the other hand, is no stranger to working with the camera. Whilst most will know him for coming-of-age acting roles in Richard Ayoade’s Submarine and Amazon series Red Oaks, his most recent work centres on filmmaking, including his directorial debut feature-length Just Jim in which he also starred, and most recently as director of Eternal Beauty starring Sally Hawkins. In 2013 Roberts directed his first music video for fellow Welsh creatives Los Campesinos and their track ‘Avocado, Baby’ was given his wide-eyed wonder treatment. Its gameshow concept offered the perfect set for Roberts to utilise the sweeping dynamic camera flow of hero Paul Thomas Anderson with vivid colour and humour. It’s no surprise then, that when Matt first met with Roberts, he knew their creative outlooks would complement each other entirely, even if the outcome wasn’t quite as intended. “Initially I tried writing some music for one of Craig’s films. We went for coffee and just hit it off,” Matt recalls. “He’s a great guy, we share the same kind of awkward sense of humour.”
One constant in both Roberts’ music videos is the use of subtitles that lend an additional narrative to the music. In ‘Rom-Com Gone Wrong’ the subtitles act as a shrewd way of inviting the viewer to experience the bewilderment of Matt’s inner turmoil through jarring internal dialogue. “The captions just came about through conversations we had and throwing different ideas around and things we thought were funny,” remembers Matt of how it felt to find himself meeting an unlikely co-star who, it’d turn out, was wooden to say the least; “From early on it was clear Craig and I shared the same sense of humour so that’s how I ended up talking to a tree!” Matt tells. “Humour is important, and you do worry that what makes you laugh between yourselves might not be as funny for others but that’s just the creative risk you have to take.”
Like those buildings with their structures on the outside, the video’s humour is on full display through the irony of a fictional situation that couldn’t be more opposed to real-life and could just as easily be another in-joke between the pairing. “I wanted this video to be an eye into behind the scenes of making a music video, within a music video, and there’s this struggle between the musician and the director and how they both seem to want different things,” Matt suggests.
Enlisting Scottish Outlander actress Lauren Lyle to play the role of Matt’s baseball cap wearing director, his incandescent acerbic wit is channelled through her caricature and Roberts’ skewed innocence. With a voyeuristic charm, typical of both Matt and Roberts’ regular output, listeners and viewers are drawn in whist always rooting for the protagonist; often the underdog. Between grainy stake-out shots from the bushes, the Super 8’s sped up silent movie vibe alongside a perfectly placed Edgar Wright-style crash zoom, adds to the video and song’s comedic effect. Literal interpretations of the lyrics, whether indulging in a wet shave or through a recreation of the bedroom in which the album was written, but of course next to a lake during a summer’s late afternoonin Banbury, allows the video’s low-budget DIY feel to become painting-like, and when each picture is placed next to another it takes on its own independent charm; “I had to work with a lot less money and to put out a record myself was a challenge,” Matt says, “but hopefully it’s paid off.”
Whilst Roberts is known to be a fan of Scorsese and Kubrick and writes much of his own stories whilst listening to music, he and Matt’s work both share a feeling of vulnerability; something unexpectedly fitting for one who describes his own songs as “Paino” music. “I guess I like ‘sad-com’,” hints Matt at a few possible visual influences, “I like dark comedy, shows like Flowers or Fleabag.”
Through Matt and Roberts’ astutely self-aware collaboration between their two musical and visual worlds, awkwardness is embraced, and the sensory experience enhanced. “When creating a music video it’s most important to keep the visual side honest, especially in this day and age where it’s easy to create content for the sake of creating content,” Matt tells. “That said we actually didn’t think we’d fit everything in and had to get all the shots wrapped before we lost the light, but we got there in the end and used everything we shot; nothing was left on the cutting room floor.”
It just goes to show, often things will go Rom-Com wrong but just sometimes, with a meeting of the right creative minds, it can also go very right.
Krystal is available now on 7476. This article appears in beautiful print, in issue 2 of New Sounds magazine, published October 2020.