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Matt Maltese Writes Love Songs For The End Of The World

"I don't really have an interest in writing revolution, political songs," Matt Maltese says. "I like writing love songs."
"I don't really have an interest in writing revolution, political songs," Matt Maltese says. "I like writing love songs."

For Matt Maltese, matters of love and international relations go hand in hand. That's why he chooses to sing what he calls " Brexit pop." The 22-year-old London-based singer's debut album, Bad Contestant, out June 8, is inspired by apocalypse, heartache and a fictional, nightmarish relationship between the British prime minister and President Trump.

In juxtaposition with the melodramatic themes of the album, the music itself is smooth and jazzy and Maltese is a warm, dreamy crooner. Fueled by Brexit, global warming and two heartbreaks, Bad Contestant is a collection of love songs for the end of the world. "I think seeing that kind of situation through the eyes of love is kind of disturbing," he says.

Maltese doesn't like to be compared to other artists, but he understands the inclination to do so. He has been likened to David Bowie in his penchant for glamorous vintage suits, Morrissey in vocal similarities and Father John Misty in his knack for satirical and apocalyptic-themed lyrics.

Maltese walks through the songs on his first full-length album with NPR's Ari Shapiro. Hear their conversation in the audio link and read an edited transcript below.

Ari Shapiro: The song called "As the World Caves In" and the lyrics are all about doomsday, atomic bombs, the earth burning to the ground. Where did this come from?

Matt Maltese: It kind of sparked when [British Prime Minister] Theresa May was talking about renewing the Trident program here.

This is the British nuclear weapons program that the prime minister is talking about enhancing and bringing back.

It brings to mind doomsday when you hear people talking about creating nuclear bombs. And it was the same time that Trump was around, and I kind of had this image in my head of them two striking up a romance.

Wait, I'm sorry. Donald Trump and Theresa May striking up a romance? They're never named in this song. Is that who this song is about?

That's where the song kind of initially sparked from.

It's quite a leap from doomsday to that kind of an image.

Because of the power they have, if they want to end the world, they can, in a way. So I think they were the two figures that came to mind. It kind of became a song I can imagine my mum listening to and not hearing the lyrics and thinking, "Oh this is nice."

It's an uncomfortable sentiment presented in such a romantic, melodic way. There is actually a lot of apocalypse on this album.

Yeah, there is a bit — a bit too much.

Is it too much? The music doesn't sound overtly political. It doesn't sound like an anthem. It doesn't sound like something somebody would sing at a march against nuclear weapons.

I don't really have an interest in writing revolution, political songs. I like writing love songs. It's what I connect to most and I think seeing that kind of situation through the eyes of love is kind of disturbing, and hopefully, would actually also act in its own way as a speaking-out-about-it song.

One could say the same thing about the song "Strange Time," which begins, "Now that we're doomed, let me show you to your room, where we can float by the moon."

More apocalypse stuff. Probably more about relationship apocalypse. But the same kind of sentiment.

I was telling a friend the songs on this album seem to be either about relationship troubles or about apocalypse, and the friend replied, "Aren't they basically the same thing?"

Oh, that's a good point. They should be a musician. I guess in a way, maybe it's the same part of your brain reacting. You fear the end of things.

And yet through all of it, whether you're talking about the end of a relationship or the end of the world, there's this pervasive sense of humor in your songs.

I'm glad that's felt. I do try and get that side of me across. I think as much as I take things seriously, or I think intensely about things, I also always have a voice in me laughing at that introvert. I explained it the other day, but a lot of the album is my extrovert side of myself. So they're laughing at the introvert, but then the introvert [is] still being like, "I'm still here and I'm really intense."

People talk about "Like a Fish" and it's a sad song, and I'd like that sentiment to come across, but I like people saying they didn't expect to laugh, and laughing.

[ Editor's note: The following video contains language that some may find offensive.]

I listened to the song before I realized what the lyrics were. "Like a fish, that's how I drink these days. It numbs the envy I have against your tall, kind man. He's so much taller than I ever will be."

A lot of the album definitely pushes and falls between me sort of allowing myself to take a heartbreak really seriously and also being like, "God, there's so much more serious stuff happening all the time."

The final track on this album is called "Mortals." Describe it for us.

It kind of imagines the regret you feel when all these sort of predictions of global warming come true. It was more broad comment about my own fault of not regretting things until they're reality.

And yet the last line of the song, the last line of the album is, "There might still be hope."

Exactly. I think that's an important sentiment in general because there's so many good people and it's just important to remember that there's no point in giving up, like ever, really, until we're all disintegrated. What's the point of giving up?

Producer Selena Simmons-Duffin and Web intern Emily Abshire contributed to this story.

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