Matthew Roberts has the world at his feet. After growing up with his grandparents in London’s East End for some of the most crucial years of his childhood, the folk musician - who tries his hand at some modelling every so often - has opportunities left, right and centre, which if played right, could launch Matt to a new sphere of success, the success that is more than overdue.
After rocking out in his own band during his university years, the short-lived success of tour life, cigarettes and sex appeared to be the golden era of his teenage years through to his early 20s. But like any growing person, epiphanies, along with a new outlook on life drove Roberts to a new headspace. Meeting his wife was the ticking point that changed life for him, discovering his early-influenced folk sounds in a way that hasn’t been heard since John Denver took the spotlight during the 70s.
But since a global pandemic jumped in the way of his momentous journey to the top, his journey has been slightly stalled… But not for much longer. We sat down with Matt Roberts over Zoom to talk about all things growing up, his musical influences, working at Abbey Road Studios, presenting TV shows and much more.
BODA SKINS: So, Matt! Life has been strange for everyone recently, but it appears the COVID pandemic has put a huge speed bump in the way for you professionally. But work aside, how are you?
Matt Roberts: I’m good, man. Same old, trying to get back to reality. I’m free now I’ve been vaccinated. During the first lockdown, I was writing music, so it gave me a lot more time to be able to do that. A lot of people didn’t have the energy to do anything, but I somehow had the energy to write. Then, by the second lockdown, I had a manager then. So then I was on the phone with him every day, with all these different bands who were co-writing with me. Literally, so many bands: The guys from Alabama Three, Deacon Blue, I had the guy from We Are The Ocean… I was writing music with all these guys over Skype and stuff.
I was also working in Abbey Road, too. I Was sneakily getting on the underground and going to Abbey Road and back without anyone noticing me. So I had that to do as well, so really I enjoyed it. Music and PlayStation! [laughs]
Has COVID affected you mentally within the music game?
The first lockdown was fine, it was something different, even though it was bad, it was different. But during the first one, I was decorating the flat for 3 months… That helped a lot. But then during the second lockdown, that one was a bit hard… I got my manager in the October, then I had all of these sessions booked, and I ended up having to do it all over Skype, it was mental. There was a lot of pressure from my managers to make sure the music is at a good enough standard.
But like what my manager says, it’s still early days but we have just got to keep the focus. But mentally, Christmas was shit. I think I had a tin of tuna for my Christmas dinner… I think it was more I was so excited with what was happening with me personally, it distracted me. But yeah, I’m really bad with patience so I have just been wanting to get it done and get a head start, but sadly, because of the COVID situations, it was just a lot of waiting around. But I was mentally okay… Going to Sainsbury’s every day… Literally, every day [laughs] got to get out of the house, you know?
Abbey Road Studio is one of the most famous and iconic studios in the world. Did you feel any pressure when it came to working there?
Yeah, so when I first got told I was going there, I was excited. I spoke to my mates who had been there hundreds of times. I was excited, you know? But when I spoke to my friends, they said it could go one of two ways: it’s a very good privileged place to be, or it’s just like any old studio in London. But, yeah, I went in there excited. I enjoyed it… There is some sort of pressure, but there’s pressure in any studio.
I had just got my manager, he heard the stuff that has just been released, but obviously, he heard the original versions, so I had pressure on me to make it sound 10 times better for the versions that you’re listening to now. So trying to make that and ten-fold is a big deal. So it’s that what made me feel nervous.
It’s one of those things, where I wrote these songs… I grew up listening to 40s music, all the way up to the early 80s. I don’t listen to modern bands. When I get the chance to meet all of these new bands, they could work in Tesco for all I know. So for me, I have a very particular way in the way I want to sound. I would love to have a whole orchestra behind me. If I could get a harp player to come in, I would, and we did. For example, the first demo we did in Abbey Road was “Ideal Life”, so that’s been released, my version of it that’s on Spotify.
That did really well, my manager said that I needed to rerecord it. But he wanted to go professional on it, not just a sound that’s come from my mate’s garage. But when we finished recording the new version of it, my manager said it sounded strong, then he went and got Paul Mccartney’s backing singer in… and before you knew it, we had like 7 violins playing over it. For me, it’s a dream come true because I never had much money growing up, so to have that for tea… It was pretty beefy.
So yeah, it’s been great. The difference is with my sound is that it’s sellable and marketable. But nobody sounds like me, they all want to sound like that Ariana Grande girl or Ed Sheeran. When I first began to make music, I had interest from labels but they all wanted to rebrand me. They all said that I belonged in some Rolling Stones revival band or The Who or something. I love those bands, but it’s not where I want to be. I’m very basic. Me and a banjo on the top of a mountain, you know what I mean? I love that.
We believe that you grew up with your grandparents who gave you lots of different influences from older eras. But music specifically, who were your main influences during your childhood?
My Nan raised me in a council flat in the East End. She was the one that sort of started it all off, then my Grandad, he was into John Denver and Rod Stewart and The Faces… The Carpenters and all that kind of stuff. So basically, it was my grandparents that got me into all the old stuff. My dad was a Hells Angel, so he was into Finn Lizzy and all that heavy stuff, which I loved. But it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So when I first heard John Denver, I think my Nan was making cakes in the kitchen, and it was on the radio, and that’s where it all started. Then it just grew and grew and grew.
Folk music is such a niche sound in the music industry right now. But it appears you’re no appearing to lose your musical integrity for anyone or anything. Would you say this is true?
I think out of all of my mates who make music in this industry, I’m the only one who makes this sort of stuff. I make them listen to my stuff, and then they end up loving it because it’s so underrated and off the radar. So if released a song tomorrow and I never mentioned John Denver or anything, you would think that it was solely me in a field that wrote that. But realistically, it’s taken so much inspiration from it, it’s just a revitalised version. All of my mates have been into different types of music, which I’ve played before, but it’s one of those things where I thought fuck it and I picked up a guitar and made what I wanted to make. It’s taken a while to get there, though.
Moving forward with your music, how do you intend to have a bigger loyal fan base that will stick with you throughout the rest of your career?
At the moment, it’s one of those things, a lot of my fans like me because of the way I dress and the way my hair is. Most of my fans are an older demographic. I would say from the late 20s to people in their 70s. Younger people, hell no. They won’t get it. There’s no 18-year-old fan out there, but it’s one of those things. I’m actually doing this TV show, where a major label has said that there’s a big folk revival making its way very soon. That’s come down to lockdown and more people fiddling around and writing stuff. So, I’m being the spearhead of that. But yeah, I think there is a fan base, but I think off the back of this TV show that is hopefully coming soon, I think there will be a massive folk revival.
It could be any type of folk. Irish, Scottish, my type of sound, American, which is big anyway - it never died out. But it always happens over time, everything always comes back around. Like disco came back in the late 90s for some weird reason.
You seem like an older soul in comparison to a lot of people your age. With that being said, do you define success differently than the number-orientated game that is so prominent in the music industry today?
I would say just being myself. I don’t follow trends, I’ve never followed them. I think I’m 30/40 years out of date. But when I first got into modelling, and I turned up at these agencies with my flares on, at the time, which was 7 or 8 years ago now… Nobody had flares on, nothing. But then, when I started getting fans from the music and the modelling, fans started to dress like me and get their hair like mine. I’ve never had a
problem with that, I’ve even helped some people try and get their hair like mine! People ask me where I get my clothes from… Which I find really cool! So that’s what I see as success. When I got my first manager, and I had my first official meeting, they asked me what I wanted from my career. You know, some people ask for a million dollars, some people ask for a horse, but I already found myself as a success. Anything else that I got from that would have been a dream. Like, even to get a manager is successful in my eyes. So, with regards to followers and modern-day stuff… Yes, a lot of my mates are really famous, and a lot of them ask me why don’t have I have 20k followers and stuff like that, but when it actually comes to it… I don’t give a shit [laughs] I don’t give a crap!
How do you think living with your grandparents shaped your outlook on life?
I think it’s one of those things. Clothing-wise, apart from living off 70s TV programmes and World War 2 movies -- which is why I’m wearing a World War 2 outfit right now -- I was born in 1990, my Nan, bless her, she lives like she is still in the Blitz bless her. She was always watching old programmes, like Top Of The Pops with Noel Edmonds and stuff. I literally feel like I’m from that decade when I’m obviously not. My nan never gave a shit, and she was quite honest about that. And I’ve been with her all my life, I just rubbed off her. But with modelling, I have always been a musician and the modelling came from that. I never wanted to be a model, it just happened naturally. I have always been myself and it’s just happened naturally. I’ve always been more bothered about the money. I’m money-orientated… If I can buy dinner tonight then I’ll take it. But, my upbringing was a bit different to everyone else’s, I grew up as I lived in the Blitz.
Living with your grandparents, did they ever influence you to consume your music in different ways? Or do you stick to Spotify?
When I’m out and about, I use Spotify. But I do have an old 60s vinyl player. I do have vinyls, I inherited a lot of them from my mum’s dad. My gran did have vinyls, but the sad thing is because she lived in a council flat, I was only 12 or 13, my mum or dad didn’t tell me she died until a week later because I was doing my GCSE’s. It’s one of them, they didn’t want to break it to me because they didn’t want me to fuck my exams up… I mean I fucked them up anyway so they should have just told me [laughs].
But really, she didn’t own very much my nan. She had vinyls, but I was young. If I could go back now, I would have definitely taken them… But it was just, I didn’t need them back then. It was MP3s and CD players with the woolly headphone things. I didn’t know back then. If it happened now, I would have cleaned that flat out, mate. But it was always the radio with my nan. But really, I was just young, it’s only until now when I’ve gotten older, got some money, found out who these people were who I was listening to and actually buy the music. But to answer your question, if I’m at home, I’ll listen to my music on vinyl, if I’m out, it’ll always be on Spotify.
How have you managed to keep your head up and stay focused when times have gotten tough?
So that was the point where I thought I was just done. It was only when I met my wife… She’s the one that triggered everything. I was modelling a lot during this dark time, I sold a lot of my guitars to some fans and stuff, and I saw my wife play with Alabama Three, I think it was one of those bands, and we hooked up from there. We moved in together then, one day I wrote “Autumn Rain” in like 5 minutes and she walks in and says “what the fuck is that! Play it again!” Then, since then, it has just gone up and up and up to the point where I’m playing at Abbey Road studios, I’ve got a really famous manager and major labels are interested. So it’s taken me three years to learn how to write lyrics, because the boys in the band used to do that, learn how to sing; backing singing is easy, I can do that with anyone, but to be the frontman, it’s a different ball game.
I remember my first gig, I got a show in Nottingham, which is where my wife is from. I did the gig, and the songs were shit. But the guy who put me on said I’ve got something, but I just needed to work on it. That’s stuck with me for three years. Obviously, when “Autumn Rain” came out, that was played on BBC Radio 1, The Gorillaz did something with it… But in total, it was a lot of work, a lot of research and just figuring out where I wanted it to go.
What’s next for Matthew Roberts?
So I have 2 managers, one of them has had a meeting with a major label and they loved me. Then it was mentioned that I could be presenting this TV show, so the majors are jumping on it. But it’s one of those things where I’m just rehearsing for this TV show that I’ve never done. All of these labels are going to be watching… They’re going to see how I dress, how I act normally and then I’ve got to perform a song with a full orchestra. I’m going to ask the guitarist from The Horrors to perform with me. Then, if the TV show is a success, you never know who’s going to be interested and want me. But honestly, if COVID didn’t exist, I probably would have been signed right now, doing something amazing. But it’s all just a waiting game right now. That’s it really. My manager has been super busy during this horrible time too, so it’s just honestly a waiting game.