CMAT Interview: “It’s very freeing that I can do whatever I want with CMAT.”

CMAT
Photograph by Sarah Doyle.

CMAT’s new single ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby’ is out now.

In advance of her new chart-topping single ‘I Wanna Be A Cowboy, Baby’, I caught up with Irish alt pop singer/songwriter CMAT whose previous releases ‘Another Day (KFC)’ and ‘Rodney’, have proved instant classics this year for being perfectly crafted and equal parts catchy, hilarious and heartbreaking. When she arrives, the first thing to capture her attention is our copies of Date Magazine; a girls’ mag from 1960.

CMAT: When I was a kid I used to collect old issues of Bunty, and Mandy. My favourite years are 1978-1982. All of the CMAT artwork so far and probably for a good while is going to be based on the concept of it looking like a comic strip from Bunty. The art is so gorgeous, and it’s so effortlessly done. That’s just the illustration style at the time.

CMAT
CMAT digging into 1960’s girl mags.

The CMAT brand is as distinct visually as it is musically. The Bingle, a coiffure featured in the magazine, has unsurprising immediate appeal to her.

CMAT: I’d love a Bingle. The Bingle kind of looks like Skeeter Davis. You know how she wears it on the Porter Wagner show? It’s super high bouffant. I love the ’60s. I’m fascinated by decades where it’s transitional. Right now is really cool. My least favourite year that I’ve actually experienced was 2012 because it was a mess. Nobody knew what was up. It’s also why I like 2020, besides the horror of the Roni; they’re transitional periods; the ’60s, early ’80s, really early ’70s… and actually late ’70s.

Overblown: So, CMAT is an entirely self-directed project, but your songwriting craft extends beyond what fits into your personal brand. What defines the CMAT material from your other songwriting work?

CMAT: It’s very comforting and freeing that I can do whatever I want with CMAT. I’m doing bimbo shit. I’m making it really girl-centred. The main point of CMAT is that it’s not for male consumption. I think men who make music get it, they have to respect the craft.
But I’ve had a lot of blowback from men on the internet who really don’t like it, who say that it’s cringe and ‘who lets her make this stuff?’

I genuinely love writing for other people. I’m not treating it as my desk job; “This is the daily grind” versus “This is me having fun”. I love working with other people, and on other people’s projects. I get such a buzz out of all songwriting. But there is something about the CMAT project where it’s stuff that nobody else would be able to sing because it’s too personal, or too specifically in my style which I’ve created myself: really reference heavy, super duper melodic in a 1970’s structural way, a lot of country elements and very much to my own tastes. But I love them all. They’re all my babies.

Overblown: So it’s like different guardians of different babies?

CMAT: Yeah. Like one song I was writing lately, I really feel it’s one of my best ever, an absolute banger. But I don’t think I’m going to sing it. It’s not that it’s too good, or too pop or mainstream for me. I just think it would be more effective if it was with a different artist. Sometimes when I write a song I find as an artist, the artist I am, I can’t effectively present this song with all of the groundwork I’ve already laid for myself where it’s very reference heavy and tongue-in-cheek and it’s really sad and depressing but also very funny. If I write a song that doesn’t align with those things, it’s not going to Pop! Whereas if this particular artist I’m thinking of sang it, they would sing it so well, and it would mean so much within the framework of their music. It happens all the time. It’s not that I don’t want to sing it, I just think the song would live better in another home

I still feel all my songs are very personal. Sometimes they’re too personal. Like this one song that’s about something very personal and specific. I can never sing it in public because it’s going to be very obvious and I still haven’t had that conversation with that person

Overblown: But is that kind of what songs are for?

CMAT: Exactly! It is what songs are for: I can’t have this conversation with anyone else, so I’ll just have it with this song. And then it’s out of my conscience forever. Except it’s not and it will haunt me forever.

I’ve actually discovered so much about songwriting in recent times. The lockdown period I’ve just been absorbing everything that comes to me, and I’ve had a lot more time to listen to music. The last two days I’ve just spent in my room watching like 6 hours worth of music videos, old performances, and what people around me, people in Dublin and in Limerick are releasing. There’s so many different genres of music but I feel I can always find the bones of commonality between all of them.

Take hip hop for example. Hip hop is a million miles away from what I do, but I’ve finally been able to figure out the difference between a good rapper and a bad rapper and it’s exactly the same as how I identify a good pop star versus a bad pop star, which is: presence, and lyrical relevancy. If someone is writing for themselves it’s very obvious versus when someone is writing with a brief or a very specific directive, and you have these barriers up that are very exclusive to who that person is. That just slaps.

Overblown: ‘So I Wanna Be A Cowboy Baby’ is out September 23rd. It’s definitely bang-on brand, it also seems like a slight change in canter from the humour and self-deprecation of Another Day and Rodney Dangerfield?

CMAT: Yep! It’s a bit of a left-field turn from the last few singles.

The last two singles were definitely me trying to establish myself as not a comedy writer per se but a clever pop songwriter. Pop is the crux of what I do, as a writer. Not as an artist. As a singer, I think of myself as a country singer, because that’s just how I learned to sing. But as a writer, I’m a pop writer, so I really wanted to establish myself as a radio-friendly, pop pop pop writer. That’s where the majority of my interests lie.

But the single that’s coming out now is pretty intense. It’s pretty sad and has a lot more depth than the last two I’ve released. A lot of people have said that it’s my best, but I just think it’s my baby.

It’s about modern urban isolation. Everyone our age has social anxiety, as a result of spending too much time indoors, on your phone, watching telly, watching 6 hours of youtube videos or whatever, and then when you feel the need to get out, the need to be free, you just can’t do it, because you’re just too scared. And it’s specifically a women’s song. It’s a song for women. It’s not for boys! It’s for girls.

It’s about wanting to go out and wanting to live your life, but you’re just too scared, especially of men. The fear of men is very prevalent these days and plays a big part in girls’ social anxiety.

Overblown: That’s a hugely relatable feeling and an inspiring fantasy to any girl who has had her confidence knocked.

CMAT: Absolutely. There are girls, they’re 15 years old, and they’re amazing writers, and they’re amazing musicians and amazing performers, and it takes them like three years to get involved in the music industry only to decide that they don’t want to work in it anymore because they’ve been put down too many times, and they’ve been harassed too many times.

I’m always being asked where my confidence comes from, and I’m not actually that confident. My confidence comes from the framework of songwriting and the only reason for that is that I did so much of it myself for such a long time, that I didn’t have to come into contact with that many bad men.

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Caoimhe Lavelle is a goth from Dublin. She writes and performs poetry and prose, draws comix and DJs on the Dublin Alternative Scene. Her written work has appeared in Totally Dublin, The Bohemyth, and such zines as This Is Not Where I Belong and Glitterstump. Her poem "Self-Belief Poem (Ha Ha)" was used by Poetry Ireland to promote Poetry Day nationwide. Caoimhe is currently seeking a talented band with image issues to seize control of.