Should you have found yourself, one chill evening this past September, standing in an east London garden in the wake of Matt Corby’s recent secret show, you would surely attest to the breadth and the fire of this young man’s talent; songs that are robust and yet impassioned, and a voice capable of stilling not only the crowd of late-summer revelers, but of quieting even the cold autumn air.
Corby is just 21, and hails from Sydney, Australia, where he grew up steeped in the gospel of the church, his passion for music fed first by renditions of His Eye is on the Sparrow and later by a love for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Along the way his talents were shaped by experiences both mundane and quite remarkable: touring with a church band, a stint working in Subway, music scholarships and support slots and talent shows, until by his late teens he found himself burned out and bewildered and unsure just where to take his music next.
It took a trip to London, shortly after his 18th birthday, to begin his path back to creative contentment. Playing low-key shows, falling in love with music again, it was in London, that he would meet with label Communion (home to the likes of Ben Howard, Marcus Foster and The Staves) and find himself encouraged to learn the craft of songwriting, to understand the marriage between the force of his voice and the words it carries.
“I was a singer before anything else,” he explains. “I could always sing whatever I wanted, but I didn’t really write songs. I only learned as I got older about the power of songwriting, and what a quality song can actually do to someone. I think being involved with Communion really changed how I saw songwriting, because of the community of artists under that banner.”
He recalls a particular night put on by the label to showcase its artists, at which he played alongside Marcus Foster. “And I was just outgunned in songs,” he recalls. “I thought then I have to write better songs, because I wanted to get my point across; I wanted to convert this white noise around us into music, into what I wanted to say.”
Having recorded the Transition to Colour EP for Communion in the UK, Corby headed back to Australia, and before long embarked on a tour of people’s gardens and backyards across the country. “I just got in the car with two or three friends, and we started playing shows,” he says. “We worked our way down the coast, surfed and played music, and just picked up a lot of momentum. And by the end of this tour I was ready to make another EP.”
Corby went into the studio armed with six songs and a half an idea for another, called Brother. “I finished writing that song in the rehearsal room,” he recalls. “I’d never done anything that epic. I felt I was really going out on a limb trying to do something so grand. And I’d never really sung properly on a record before. I always just did this whispery thing, trying to hide the fact that I could sing good.”
If there is a song that captures not only Corby’s extraordinary voice, but also all of the determination and struggle that has led him to pursue a career in music, it is surely Brother; a union of wolf-howls, falsetto, and pure gutteral, heart-torn yearning. “When that song that came out it was this feeling of if this doesn’t work I don’t know what will,” Corby says.
Quickly picked up by cult Australian radio station Triple J, and lent weight by a now-legendary acoustic live version performed for the station, the Brother EP has gone five times platinum in his home country, and secured him the coveted third place (second only to the Black Keys and Gotye) in the annual Hottest 100 chart of the year’s best songs.
Most thrillingly, this is a collection of songs that offers only a glimpse of Corby’s talent. He speaks of the confidence the EP’s success has given him, his delight of finding a new home at Atlantic and of the songwriting it has subsequently unleashed, of the joy and release to be found in writing music. “It’s a physical thing — people talk about your heart and your soul,” he says, with a hand firm on his chest, “something in here that feels this connection or this wholeness or this warmth… that’s the feeling I get when I’m writing something good. And it’s that feeling — that’s the exciting thing for me.”