While the infectiously catchy hook from Matthew Young’s ‘Headcase’ had me sold instantly, the lyrics “Cause I can be a headcase, I'm a headcase, I can be a little off base” living rent free in my head - it was when I heard “So come get acquainted with the other side of me” that really roped me in. That exciting statement from an artist who has been battling his own mental health, and as he puts it, riding the bipolar roller coaster, building up speed.
Allow me to introduce you, or maybe re-introduce you to Matthew Young.
“I was in an interesting space.” Matthew says. At the time he made Headcase, he was a few years into a treatment plan to learn some long overdue life skills, turning new leaves and testing new remedies to help get his life back in order. Matthew had just released his Fruit EP, and began talking to his record label about starting an album. He was approaching this music with a new strategy, “I felt like I wanted to take more of my ownness from a production standpoint” he tells me, moving away from the usual collaboration techniques he was familiar with from his past EPs. Matthew asked for all of the funds from his record advance to build an entire musical rig that he could take on the road with him. “It was very generous and crazy that they agreed to do that…” he continues, “It's such a gamble but I guess they believed in the project.” They built the rig, and took it on the road with him, travelling the whole of the country to record music in beautiful remote locations from top to bottom down the West Coast. The first stop was Opononi – a place Matthew has never been to, but always wanted to visit. “It’s like paradise” Matthew tells me with a grin on his face, remembering the spiritual energy that resided there. He stayed in a wooden house in an isolated mountainous valley, with zero distractions around him.
“Being around all of these places, each of them added a certain colour to the music.” he continues, “That’s how I want to record from now on.” Spending the majority of his time there completely alone, it helped Matthew focus in on combing through the knots in his brain, birthing the concept for his latest single, ‘Headcase’. “It kind of forced me to reckon with all of the years lost with various bi-polar related kookiness…”
“I beg for relief. But all they can see is I'm crazy, so more pills for me and less of reality.” Matthew openly confesses, a harrowing visual forming in my head. It is artists like Matthew Young that wear armour for others. Headcase is the first layer Matthew has pulled back for us, allowing us to view his daily experiences living with bipolar disorder. After combing through the first knot in his brain, the writing process combined with his time spent alone helped him further unpack his brain, the next major phase in his much needed journey of self-acceptance. It all reminds us why we seek so much comfort in music.
Now, Matthew Young is back and better than ever before, coming in full swing as he gears up to release his highly anticipated debut album. With that said, let’s get acquainted with the other side of Matthew Young.
Matthew Young is Tenner Magazine's
November digital cover.
Photography by Rose Hope
Words by Oli Spencer
How are you? How have you been?
I’ve been alright, lockdown has been infuriatingly dull... Here's the thing though, I went into this lockdown thinking it might be the last long lockdown that we had. In 2020 when the virus first started, that was the start of the best year of my entire life... I might be the only person in the world who thought 2020 was my best year of their life. It was great, it forced me to rest and take care of myself and I loved it. This time, my expectations were too great and this time round has been absolutely annoyingly shit.
How does it feel to release music again?
It feels really good, I've been trying and failing to release for a while, we actually had this single set for a release a couple of times over the last twelve months, but timing and other factors, plus shit hit the fan with Covid, and me getting in the way of release strategies just because I have terrible ADHD and I find it really difficult to finish tasks on time, which is really annoying for everybody in my orbit and myself. But it’s been really great, I've been looking forward to this for a while! I feel like in music I'm my happiest when there is a steady stream of stuff coming out, it's just getting to that point that can be a little arduous and difficult.
It’s such an awesome song, I love it so much.
Thank you, I'm so glad you like it! It’s funny, when you spend so much time working on a song, you don’t really have any objectivity... you just hope that people will enjoy the thing you’ve spent hours obsessing over and however it turns out to be honest I... I don’t know if it’s a coping mechanism, but basically any time a song comes out I'll never listen to it again. I’ll play it at a show, but I'll never ever opt in to listen to the song ever again. I thought this time around it might be different, but nope... same old, same old.
Does it sound different when you listen to it on release day?
Yeah, I've been thinking about that recently with how it’s the last time I'll ever hear it is the day it comes out, I’ll play it once or twice because I’m proud that I put it out, and then that’s the last time I ever want to hear it. On those days you never think about it, I’m like “yay its out... finally, fuck. This is about damn time!” and then that’s the moment where I go “see ya later!” I don’t know why I do that, it’s not that I don’t like the song either... There are some songs that I've released that I absolutely hate, and I think everyone who makes music thinks that a lot about the music they make. I've never met anyone who's like a huge fan of their music post release... and I wish I could be that person... I wish I could retrain my brain to just have Stockholm syndrome about my own music, I don’t know... it’s a weird phenomenon. You almost try to trick your brain into thinking it doesn’t exist, and I think that it’s something that helps push me into the next step of what I want to create. Maybe it's a healthy thing because it forces you to want to better yourself? To want to keep going and do more of whatever it is that you're doing, but I think mostly it’s a negative because you can’t appreciate the wins. That’s the difficult thing, I never appreciate the wins. I spend all of this time focusing on making something and getting it out, and by the time it's out I'm like... now what?
"Being around all of these places, each of them added a certain colour to the music. That’s how I want to record from now on."
What kind of space were you in while writing ‘Headcase’?
I was in an interesting space. I guess with this release, I've been pretty open about where I've been and the intention of the thing I've made. At the time I made this, I was a few years into a treatment plan to get my life back in order, and learning some long overdue life skills. I just released the Fruit EP, and then I was talking to the record label about whether they were going to take up the option for the album. They were very eager to work on an album with me, which is very nice. Eventually, I had started self-producing a lot of my music and a lot of the collaborators I was working with like Jason Schoushkoff and Josh Fountain who have worked on BENEE’s stuff and they’re both in Leisure – but I felt like I wanted to take more of the ownness from a production standpoint as well. Which is something that I’ve always done, what would usually happen at least from the Fruit EP onwards is I would take a pretty well formed and mostly produced song to one of those collaborators and they would help me get it over the mark, but this time around I had a different strategy which was nice. I was feeling pretty good about how everything went with the Fruit EP, and then begged the record label to give me some of the funds to build an entire rig that I could take on the road with me. I convinced them to give me all the money upfront from my record advance to do that, which was very generous and crazy that they agreed to do that, it's such a gamble but I guess they believed in the project. So, we basically built this rig and took it on the road, and I travelled the whole of this country to record in all these little remote areas, from the top to the bottom down the West Coast. The first stop was Opononi – a place that I have never been to, but always wanted to visit. It’s like paradise. We were staying in this mountain valley type of area, it was amazing. I just felt really good, the geography of the location was really amazing, the fact that I spent the majority of my time there completely alone was really nice, it kind of forced me to reckon with all of the years lost with various bi-polar related kookiness... and that’s where the song and the whole concept of the song came from.
What was your favourite stop on your trip across New Zealand?
I’m a real sucker for Otago and the Lakes District, I know that it’s everybody’s favourite... but to me it feels like paradise, I want to spend as much time as I can there, if I could I would live there now. We stayed in this place called Speargrass flat, which is this little area between Queenstown and Arrowtown, we had this little house with a massive yard and its own little private lake with a billion ducks. It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, which was where I wanted to be. Outside of that though, places like Nelson Lakes and Martinborough were also incredible. I feel like this is something people work their entire lives to do, so that when they retire, they can drive their caravan around and visit all of the amazing little towns that we have in this country... and I got to do that at quite a young age, while also not really having to fund too much of it myself and being able to do the thing that I try to love doing every day.
Did being in these new environments lead to any new inspirations?
Definitely! I personally feel like it’s quite a common phenomenon now for people working in the music industry to kind of hate studios. I’ve built this studio here, which is around the back of my parents' house down the road from me. It’s got windows and it doesn’t feel dark like a casino... studios feel like a casino to me, they have this artificial sense of life and creativity, it's really horrible... So, when you travel it’s an added layer and benefit of feeling connected to everything around you, which definitely serves as inspiration for whatever you're going to make. I wanted to capture these spiritual sounds and little flavour crystals in the music. Being around all of these places, each of them added a certain colour to the music. That’s how I want to record from now on.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned during this time?
There were a lot of lessons, a lot of them to do with just my ability to exist well and to work and to feel free to make what I wanted to make in those moments, having confidence in my technical abilities and I think at the end of it, that last one is probably the one that even though there were so many mental and physical health benefits to being in these places, overall, the thing that always comes back to me is feeling confident in my technical ability to make what it is that I'm making. I self-produced all but three of the songs on this album, and wrote all of those by myself. It wasn’t a very positive experience all round, there were a lot of really difficult and frustrating moments. Working alone is pretty exhausting. Now I can walk into a room and I know what I'm talking about, I know what I'm doing. I know how to engineer a record now, all these little things that I was forced to learn over the course of this project.
Has your songwriting process changed? Did the trip help find the words that you weren't able to find before?
Definitely, I think a lot about the Dive EP and the Fruit EP and the chapters of my life that each of those were written in, they were influenced by weird things. During the Dive EP I was having a full manic freak-out, I thought I was some sort of demigod that was going to win all the Grammys and be Kanye... Ironically, I ended up a little like Kanye with my bi-polar disorder, which apart from music is the only thing we have in common because he’s Kanye and I’m... me! It was a strange time where I didn’t have a lot of self-awareness, it was all up, up, up! Then that came crashing down when I was diagnosed. Then for the next year and a half or two years I was writing the Fruit EP, and that came at a time when I was struggling with having a very boring life compared to what I thought it would be. It was a difficult existence to where I thought I would be after starting to release music... the balloon popped before it was fully inflated. I was almost in denial of my situation; I was living vicariously through memories and inflated details. With this album, I was at a stage where I just didn’t care anymore... I don’t give a fuck about pretending I’ve got everything sorted or I'm some real cool guy, I'm just not. I still have the same problems, they just lived in a very different way because I have to limit what I do. That was kind of the preface for this album, the ease of writing this album came from the fact that I wasn’t trying to be anything that I'm not. So, I wouldn’t say it was easier... it was just different upfront, and then it got hard again because I'm pedantically obsessive and the most annoying songwriter in the world, and can never let anything go until it feels right... and who the fuck knows what that means anyway.
Where do you want to take your music next?
It's hard to say... I’ve written an entire album and it's in the can basically. There are some minor things that need changing, but for the most part it is done. It’s a difficult question because for me, when I think about what comes next, I'm thinking about what comes after this album, and what I want to create. I’m so excited to start working on the next album, but I’m also excited for the release of this body of work, to have it out and ready for people to hear. Weirdly I’m excited to let it go, I’m excited to move forward. We can look forward to that day!
I’d love to talk about the photos you gave us! They are awesome. Can you share a little about the weekend you spent taking them, and a little about Rose?
I’m so glad! Rose and I are a little bit of a creative duo, we have an interesting dynamic where we are bickering the whole way through! Which is mostly my fault, I am an incredibly impatient person... I’m hard to collaborate with because I’m so obsessive. With Rose, I trust her and her eye for things and her ability to capture things that feel really casual and really lived rather than artificial. There is a lot of trust there. We just drove around and took photos, most of them are in my area and three of them are at my house. I’ve decided I’m just going to have fun, I’m through with trying to create this artificial performative life. We had such a great time!