On the verge of releasing his most proudest and self-fulfilling record yet on 21st July, ‘Cigarettes & City Lights’ is Matt Wills’ debut album that’s taken him down on a journey through love, remorse and heartbreak. Since the 2016 release of his debut EP, Hurricane, Matt has garnered across-the-board acclaim. A creative who merges collaborations from the worlds of electronic music and grime to fuse his sound guitar compositions into his approach on pop music, his style is both unique and genuine to put it bluntly.
We caught up with the singer-songwriter going on pop star right before his biggest headline show to date at Omeara, London going in-depth on the new album, collaborations and his road to success.
You’re about to play Omeara, you’ve played T in the Park last year and supported Bastille on their recent world tour but hows this headline show going down? Is it one of your biggest shows?
This is like a big moment for me in my life. Firstly, this venue is amazing. I want to move in here already, I could stay in the shower all day and run around naked and it would be fine. It definitely is a moment, as it’s the first time I’ve got my whole band together and after opening for Bastille, it’s so nice to see that people are coming to see me from all over. Kids have flown over from Finland, Germany and Russia and that all makes it feel like its all more serious. It’s not the drunk guy with the guitar anymore, that’s what it is to me more than anything. I took a photo with my band here earlier and if I play an arena one day, I would look back at it and think “Fuck yeah, I played Omeara”.
For a new venue a lot of upcoming artists have played here and gone on to some great things. I saw Jorja Smith here last year.
Yes! Jorja’s a G. My friend Adam Jordan ‘New Machine’ and Maverick Sabre they showed me her a while back ad she literally blew my mind.
Yeah, and Maverick Sabre came out on stage..
Oh my days! Yeah, yeah. Maverick showed me a clip of it. Meeting him was such a changing point in my life, I’d never tell him because he’s my friend and I’d be embarrassed but I don’t’ want to fangirl. He’s coming down tonight to say hey, which is such a moment. I went in, with this song called ‘Emily’. I wrote it and played it to him and I said “Yo bruv, I wrote this. What do you think about it?” I played it to him and he sang it back to me. I almost got my shit and walked out, thinking like “I’m giving in music now, fuck this”. Mav’s just insanely talented and his voice just goes beyond.
Did you sit down with him and write?
So, Adam Jordan ‘New Machine’ and I wrote some stuff for his recent project and then he introduced me to Mav. We did a session together and we wrote once song called ‘Secrets’ and I put on an EP. We just kind of clicked man, both songs we wrote we did it in 3 hours. The minute the day came, we were like “Should I go get a Guiness?”. We went to the pub, went and got pretty smashed, then came back and just vibed. I’ve never had a session before where its relaxed and calm, so that coming around was great.
I imagine if you’re signed, sometimes you’re encouraged to write with songwriters you’re not familiar with. Its important to have a good connection with the person you’re put in a room with or the songs won’t come out..
Yeah. When you’re first signed they put you in a room with all these people, you can get given a name and you could head there thinking “this is going to be so amazing” and you can turn up and think “Fuck this, I’m going”. I’ve had a session before, where I’ve pretended to go for a cigarette and they’ve walked out and never come back. Because you need to love them as a friend and if there’s not a click there, it’s not gonna work. Everyone I work with now have become friends and we hang out and we chill. It’s a bit like sex in a weird kind of way, if you share your thoughts with someone with music, you get a feeling of “Oh we’ve done something weird”. I’ve given up a bit of yourself to eachother and now we have this bond, so when you’ve written something you’re really proud of, you become friends.
With your last few releases you’ve broadened your sound into more of an indie-pop, such as ‘Wallflower’. What’s the general approach to working these productions in these songs?
For me, I just love music. I couldn’t give a shit what I make not in terms of quality but in style. I grew up as a rapper, before I did music and I was an awful rapper but I’ve appreciated grime and a lot of the heavy guitar music I used to listen to as a kid, like Enter Shikari it isn’t too far away from the trap sort-of vibe these days. The kids now who are 14, 15 that are vibing trap because I feel like when we were younger. Working with them has been cool. It’s like two different worlds coming together, we both enjoy the same feelings but they’re just using different sounds and that’s all it is. So it was great working with them, especially with the remix of ‘Emily’. They’re the coolest guys in music and they’re independent and doing everything in their own way. Labels call them up and they’re like “No, fuck you” and that’s what I like about them and they do it right and always on point.
What’s the story behind the lyrics of ‘Wallflower’?
So, Wallflower was in the second half of the writing towards the album. That was produced by Chris Bond, he’d worked on Ben Howards stuff. We also just worked on a song called ‘Hallways’, finished that and we was just pissing about. Then his brother Bear, he’s one of the coolest people on the planet and his name is fucking Bear. He sat down and started playing a loop and I had a girlfriend at the time and she was a dancer and on a night out, when it was me and her there. She didn’t know I was there, she would be on a pole in the middle of the club going crazy like throwing her leg in the air. I was like “Darling, you dance like a wallflower I can see you”. From the moment I see, why do you become shy again and that was what the lyric came from. We just vibe of that and the vocal take in it is just one take. I literally just sat down because I made up the words while I sang it and we went “That’s it, done. Don’t touch it” and in some of the lyrics “I will be the one to change and every single light will fade”, the second time I sing it wrong.
I think its those little imperfections make a song stand out and I think its important for songs to have authenticity such as that.
Yeah, so that was the super cool thing with Chris, he was super old school production, old school vibes. Everything is on a synth, he doesn’t play it in. You can’t say to him “Ah, my lyrics sound dodgy could you auto-tune that?” he would be like “No, you’re fucking singing it and you’re singing the whole thing in one day”. In the pop world, it’s track by track and completely changes my thought process. I was like “Right, if I sing it I can do it all in one take” and it took us a lot longer sometimes. I wasn’t Whitney Houston to kill it but it was worth it in the end, as I feel it was me and I’m proud of the album.
Summing up the ‘Lost and Found EP’, how do the lyrics from these songs relate to each other? What the premise of the EP based on?
So, I lived with a girl and her family. I didn’t speak to my family for the whole duration I was there. Prior to when I first started writing the EP I was homeless and her family took me in and I lived on their parents sofa. So, I wrote ‘Lost and Found’ on about how people can find family and be family even though there not actually family. From the fact I hadn’t spoken to my parents, was a moment for me. All the songs were planned out and I had the artwork exactly how I wanted it and it was the photo of the day my Mum and my Dad first met. They hadn’t heard from me in months and I had been a shit son. Then I gave it to my mum and I was like here’s my vinyl. It meant a lot and ‘Lost and Found’ was about a lost little dickhead running around, playing shows and I found a place that made me feel like home.
I think releasing music is such a powerful way of releasing weight off your shoulders and emotions inside, so that must’ve been freeing..
Oh mate, massively. It’s always been to tell someone something. So before I send my tracks to anyone, its normally for someone, being to my girlfriend and my friends and my family. I wrote a song called ‘Faith and Affection’ on the album, which is a way of telling my girlfriend, I actually don’t really like you (laughs) but I love being around you.
Has your musical taste developed since you were starting out to now?
It’s a full on journey and its changed massively. If you hear from the first stuff I made, I loved Ed Sheeran and I was so influenced by other people. It was only until I met Chris Bond did I influence myself and I picked up an electric guitar and put down the acoustic. I was like “I like this sound and I like this sound” and I started producing myself and taking my productions to someone and being like “Can you make these better” (laughs). Then I discovered 80’s music, I dyed my hair pink and wore massive glasses and fallen in love with Tears For Fears and I heard the song ‘Shout’ and that was a big influence on the album.
Well 80’s influenced music is so prominent now you can hear it all over pop, which is interesting
That was the thing, once I first started releasing music with Virgin it was so 80’s and analogue. They were like “is this a thing? Is this cheesy?”. I wrote that song two years ago and produced it a year ago and when it finished, I was I finished I was thinking 80’s was gonna come back and everyone else was like “Nah”. It’s kind of a fuck you to everyone who said it wasn’t cool.
The album has a lyrical theme of turning weaknesses to strengths. How is this presented with the music and the album name? Does each song have its own individual love story can be drawn back to this?
The whole album is based on an entire relationship with one girl. The first song I wrote was ‘Warn You’, which is me saying to this girl that I work in music. I used to work in a coffee shop and she used to say “This is my boyfriend, she works in a coffee shop but he does his music” and I remember coming and being like “Darling, I’ve got a record deal” and I was so excited and she didn’t care. And then the more the music was doing better she liked it and I wrote the whole album about that development of the more I fell in love with music, the less she would fall in love with me. She ended up leaving me for my best friend. Everyone is addicted to something and I was addicted to her and I knew it was bad for me but I kept coming back and having more and watching myself deteriorate and that was why I recorded that. She ends up with my best friend at the time, she is now with, which was a super dark moment. This guy also does music, all his songs are about cigarettes and city lights.
I saw some tweets mention Devlin is performing too, as a last minute appearance. I imagine you both will have to perform ‘Hurricane’?
Yeah, so he’s coming down. Me and him have been good friends since releasing the track I’ve never met anyone in my life, that’s more sound than him. You can’t fuck with Devs, he’s like “Nah, I’ll fuck with you”. He came to me after I sent him Hurricane, I wasn’t sure he’d like it but it was my dream to have him on the track. He told me “You’re the only ever person I’ve met that’s like Ed Sheeran, you got that thing”.
So your debut album ‘Cigarettes & City Lights’ will be released late July
What else are you up to for the rest of the year?
That’s definitely something good to get off my chest and being able to relax. You know when you wanna break up with your girlfriend and you’re like “Fuck, I’ve got to do this” and since my life, I’ve wanted to release an album and I just want people to like it. I don’t aim to get on Spotify playlists, I don’t want to aim for anything. If I get those things, great but I just want t drop it and see if people like it. My sound can be confused to some people but with this, I want to show that this is my sound, this is my vibe and enjoy it. At the moment, I’m doing album two, I’ve started that already, so I’m four songs deep into that. When I release a song, I’m like “Okay, that’s a moment of my life gone” and with album two, I’m sitting here writing and I hope I am better than I was and I’ve learned a lot, so now its album two and aim to play some cool shows. I’ve looked back at every photo from shows, I’m a grumpy fuck you’ll never see me smile in a photo ever. But tonight, there’s nothing I’d not to do for this moment, so I just want to play in front of every person in the UK, join this movement and do this together.