Life is full of unexpected contrasts, sunshine becomes rain, day turns to night, and land flows into the sea. Likewise, Matt Walters is a musician who offers something surprising. At the age of 20 he shouldn’t have such a rich full bodied sound or have lyrics of such poetry in his treatment of love, longing and life. But there is no doubt, Matt Walters is just one of life’s wonderful mysteries, a young guy with the voice and music for all ages, transcending time, space and musical stylistic constraints.
Development of this timeless sound may be partly due to his exposure to music from a very young age. ‘I travelled around a lot as a child with my family. I remember two albums being played on repeat, R.E.M’s “Out of Time” and Tracy Chapman’s debut album. I never considered it until recently but those two records had a profound effect on the way I write music now. Lyrically, I love Michael Stipe’s (REM) ability to throw inspired vivid images into catchy pop songs. It’s very in the moment, less about sense and more about singing from the heart. I guess Tracy Chapman’s simple folk songs are just so plaintive and honest, again she doesn’t dress anything up, being plaintive and to the point lyrically and musically is very powerful.’ Exposure to the live music scene no doubt also allowed Walters to absorb and appreciate great musical talent and develop a unique sound all his own. ‘As I got older my parents took me to music festivals like Apollo Bay, Queenscliff and Port Fairy where I was exposed to every kind of music I could imagine. I remember my first show was seeing Colin Hay perform at Apollo Bay music festival; he played by himself, just a guitar and one hell of a voice. I was right up the front just totally mesmerised by this guys ability to put everything in perspective with a word, or even a sound…I wanted to be like that.’
Unlike music that lacks depth and is easily forgotten, Matt Walters music is both meaningful and real, sounding like it comes straight from the heart. ‘If there is one thing I’ve learned so far it’s that you have to write what you know. It’s hard for me to write about things I don’t feel passionate about personally. I just sing and words come out and I use them in the song. That’s the most honest thing I can try and do. Just let the words flow, and try and write them down and not think about it or analyse it too much.’ This ability to let his songs breathe and find their own space allows Walters to build emotionally genuine atmospheres, switching from soaring melodies to fragile melancholic landscapes with ease. ‘If there’s one thing I want to be it’s totally unguarded as a songwriter. I never worry too much about sense in a song. It usually reveals itself later on down the track if it’s any good. It’s good to trust in that.’
Given that his songs are drawn from life and his own experiences, it’s not too surprising that inspiration can strike at any time. ‘I think the best songs are written when the words and music come at once. That’s when you know you’re onto something. You get shivers when you hit something. I don’t like to draw the process out too much. You know when a song is coming, it’s just a particular feeling that’s hard to describe. Song’s find their way to you, it’s just hard not to go looking all the time. I think you have to be patient.’
Walters has spent the time since his last release well, honing his craft and polishing his style. His latest album, ‘The Moon, Stars and People’ showcases a diversity of musical styles and sounds, a real smorgasbord of sensory pleasures. This seems to reflect his love of all things music, a love he is continuing to develop. ‘When I made, “The Moon, Stars and People” I really only owned a few records. I mean I loved music but I just listened to my parent’s records to learn about music. I loved the singer/songwriter thing and I wanted to step it up and work with full band arrangements and even try as many things as I could and experiment studio with the studio environment. It was a relatively new experience for me to record in a big studio and I wanted the music to reflect that. I was excited as hell to be there and naturally wanted to explore as many options with sounds as I could.’
Rather than spoil the spine tingling beauty of his music with overwhelming instrumental accompaniments, Walters keeps things pared back and lets his music get straight to the point. With songs that sound like a conversation between friends, listeners are invited to partake in a shared experience. This is a sentiment echoed by Walters, ‘It’s a totally unique and universal experience to be taken away into somebody else’s world for a moment. It’s very personal too. I guess I’m saying that music has always been so important to me, a lifeline almost. A great song or songwriter has always made me feel that I’m not the only one, totally connected to something. As a songwriter that’s something I would love to achieve.’
After travelling extensively with friends and family in the past, Matt is heading overseas for a solitary adventure, ‘All of a sudden I’m craving to be totally alone in an unfamiliar place. There are a few opportunities for my music that I’m pursuing also, but more than anything I’m just excited about getting lost for a while!’ Listing ‘Back Home’ as one of his favourite songs from the album, we certainly hope that Walters takes his own advice and comes back home soon.
I originally wrote this article for ‘The Dwarf‘.