Interview with Matt Cornell
As the son of The Delltones’ Wayne Cornell, Australian country musician Matt Cornell lived and breathed the industry growing up. While the last few years have seen him break through the barriers of the country music genre, his musicianship has known no bounds, and he has happily performed alongside the likes of The Baby Animals and Richard Clapton before pursuing his own solo endeavours.
Just days out from the release of his fourth album, My Soundtrack, he spoke to Jackie Smith about how his ‘melting pot’ of influences has shaped his musical career, touring with Adam Brand and, of course, the process behind the new record.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of your latest album, My Soundtrack. What was your main inspiration for the album?
There wasn’t one particular thing. There was [sic] only two songs that I’d been writing well before I started really getting into the writing phase of this record.
A lot of my inspiration comes from everyday life: my real-life adventures, something really cool going on in my life. There’s also a track on the album called Unbreak My Heart, which is about a breakup I went through a couple of years ago. That’s the one really personal song on the record. For the rest of the record, the songs are really uplifting and fun, with really positive messages.
Five of the songs I co-wrote with Alan Caswell. We co-wrote In This Town together, which is the very first song that went out.
My inspiration can change on a day-to-day basis depending on what’s going on in my life.
You’ve said previously that this is the first album that represents you as a person and an artist. Can you expand on that a little?
Absolutely. I think my writing style has changed somewhat over the years. My first record came out in 2007. This is my fourth album that I’ve done.
I think there’s so much positivity on this record and I’m such a jovial, positive person. But in the past, [on] some of the albums that I’ve made, there’s a lot of songs on there that were probably a little bit too serious.
I think this album – apart from the one heartbreak song – really suits my personality because [of] the songs. If you can imagine going on a road trip and you just want to play some music that’s just gunna make you feel good, that’s what this record is.
Some of the tracks were produced in the USA. Did you actually go over for that process or was it done remotely?
The whole album was produced by Matt Fell here in Sydney, but three tracks were actually mixed in America. This is the third record I’ve done with him. He produced the record at his studio here, Love Hz.
There were three tracks that were mixed by a gentleman called Paul Lani, who’s a world-renowned mixing engineer, who also happens to be a dear friend. That’s done remotely. The tracks got uploaded online and from there, he’d mix it and start sending them back.
It was quite a process, but … apart from the two songs, the rest of the stuff I wrote over a period of about two months. I just worked incredibly hard, travelling all over different parts of Sydney, writing with different people.
I think, because there are so many collaborations on this record, when you write with someone, you end up writing a song that you wouldn’t have written yourself. I think that’s another reason this particular record has a different flavour to it.
Over the years, you’ve collaborated with a number of artists, including Adam Brand and Drew McAlister, as well as Damien Leith, who you wrote the song Rest of Our Lives with on this record. How does working with different artists over various genres influence your sound?
I think it’s a subconscious thing. There’s not a particular thing that I could point out, but over time, because for so many years I was a hired bass-playing backing vocalist for a lot of bands – predominately in the rock world. Before I started working with Adam Brand, I was playing in … The Baby Animals, so my background was as a pop and rock musician – but I was always writing.
Over the years, once I started working with Adam Brand, it opened me up to the whole country world. I think just being around him and being influenced by different country artists that I probably haven’t listened to in the past, it definitely had an impact on me as a songwriter because I think my writing style has changed.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you would like to?
[Laughs] John Mayer! Just kidding! Look, there’d be a lot. There’d be so many. But I’ve never intentionally gone out to work with a particular artist.
Over the years, a lot of those gigs have come to me. But for now, I just want to be the best artist I can be. I’m working incredibly hard to try and get my music out there. Adam Brand’s been an ally for seven or eight years now. I open his show as well as play in his band.
I’m always open to working and collaborating with anyone. I got to open for Richard Marx last year when he was here for his Australian tour, and I’d love to write with Richard one day.
As you said, you’re currently supporting Adam Brand as part of his Get On Your Feet tour. How does working with Adam now compare to when you were part of The Outlaws?
They’re not really different. With The Outlaws, there’s just more people in the band – there’s five individual artists that were singing together and playing together, but it’s not that different with Adam. They’re friends, like Adam, all those guys: Mike [Carr], Travis [Collins] and Drew [McAlister] – we all get on really well.
The thing is too, when I first started working with Adam, it was business. Now, it’s still business – we’re still out there working as artists – but we’re friends. We’re like brothers. To me, that’s the beautiful thing about working in this industry: you get to meet a lot of interesting people but along the way, you end up making life-long friends.
Obviously on the tour, you’ve been playing songs from My Soundtrack. How’s it been received so far?
Fantastic! I’ve been getting great feedback. This particular tour, I open the show with Gemma Kirby – the two of us are opening the show – and I only play a couple of songs from the new album, a song called It’s Only Midnight and another song, which is the title of the album, My Soundtrack.
And My Soundtrack has been getting great feedback because I’m singing about my soundtrack – and it just happened to be a lot of 80s music that influenced me when I was growing up – and there’s a lot of people in the audience who come up to me after the show saying, “We love the 80s as well. You mentioned that band and this particular song!” So this particular track has become a real talking point for a lot of people that have heard it so far.
You’re launching the album in Sydney on March 29th, but it’s released later this week. Are you nervous leading up to that and the official release of the album?
I haven’t had time to be nervous, to be honest. I’ve just been so busy doing the tour with Adam and media for the release. The release is on Friday [24th March] but the launch is actually next Wednesday in Sydney at The Bridge Hotel.
But it’ll probably be more on the day or on the night I’ll get nervous. I’ve just got that much going on in my life at the moment that I haven’t actually had time to stop and get nervous, if that makes sense!
What can people expect from one of your live performances, either as support for Adam Brand or at one of your solo shows?
Look, just a lot of fun. I’m an entertainer and I’ve been in and around the entertainment business my whole life because both my parents were in it. I just want people to come to a show and feel good, to listen to the stories that I’ve got to tell, to listen to my music – whether they’re already fans or if this is the first show they’re gunna come to. When I put on a show, I want them to feel good.
At the end of the day Life’s hard and it can be a real struggle sometimes, so if someone comes to a show, it’s my job to make them forget about their worries, if they’ve got them, and leave with a smile on their face.
What do you enjoy most about touring?
The most incredible friendships; you meet some amazing people. I get to travel around this beautiful country of ours and I think that I get to go to places I probably would never had gone had I not gone there to do a show.
I think it’s just discovering this beautiful country of ours and the ability to meet new fans along the way, while doing something I love. That’s the best part about touring.
What is it about country music as a genre that appeals to you, especially seeing as it wasn’t really where you started?
It’s the stories. Country music [is] all about the stories, the lyric, being able to paint pictures through your songs. That’s definitely something. I’ve just fallen in love with the genre so much.
On another level, it’s the friendships I’ve made with other artists and other musicians within the country genre. We’ve become very good friends, and then you get to make friends with fans.
There’s so many passionate country music supporters out there that just love [it]. Country music, to them, is a way of life and so, I feel very lucky that I’ve been embraced by the country music fraternity here in Australia.
There’s so much to love about country music. I’ve got friends [who] don’t know much about country and they’ll say to me, “I don’t listen to country music but I really love your music.” and I tell them, “Well, if you love my music, you love country music.”
Who are your idols, both personally and professionally?
That’s always changing. Music is so subjective and so I’m always discovering new artists. But, [I love] everyone from Keith Urban [to] Brad Paisley. I love John Mayer. I also love Sting. You know, I love The Beatles.
For me, I’ve got this massive melting pot of songs, due to growing up on my mum and dad’s record collection. I’ve referenced the 80s; all of that stuff inspires me. But definitely, working with Adam Brand has been a gamechanger for me because he’s acted as a mentor for me and I’ve learned so much … In the past, I’ve played in Richard Clapton’s band and that was an experience.
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about a career in the music industry?
Oh, I think they just see the bright lights. They’ll come to a show, and they tell me I’ve got the best job in the world but they’re only seeing an hour out of my day. And if all I did was get on stage and sing songs to a crowd, then I would have the best job in the world, but the reality is, there’s so much other stuff that happens outside of that that isn’t so pleasant. It really is a very, very tough business.
And I think just like anything, whether it’s someone who is a professional sportsperson playing football or whatever, they don’t see all the injuries they go through, the rehabilitation, the training, that sort of thing.
Unless you’re in a particular industry, there will always be a perception … People just see the glamour and the bright lights but I can assure you, there’s a lot of other things that happen that are a lot of hard work.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Keep working really hard at your craft. You’ve got to be hungry. Ask questions. Try to do as many gigs as you can; listen to as much music as you can. Enjoy what you’re doing … and be positive about it because it is a really tough business and it can get you down. You’ve got to have a thick skin but ultimately, just work hard.
What music are you listening to at the moment?
I’ve been listening to Charles Kelley from Lady Antebellum. I’ve been listening to his record [The Driver] quite a lot. I’ve been giving Adam Brand’s record [Get On Your Feet] a flogging. I’ve been listening to the Viper Creek boys … their new record. I’ve been listening to Cam (she’s awesome), Keith Urban – I’ve absolutely flogged to death Ripcord. I’ve got a few things on the go at the moment.
What does the rest of 2017 hold for you?
Well, this tour with Adam should finish around June. I’ve got a couple of festivals I’m hoping to be on – which I’m going to find out soon. Basically, working hard, trying to do as many gigs as I can, and also trying to get out there and let more people know what I’m doing.
I’ve got more singles that’ll be released throughout the year. I’m just working on a [new] single release. That’s pretty much it. It’ll keep me busy until the end of the year.
Connect with Matt Cornell
- Jackie Smith