Hi Finn! Thanks for talking to me today. You often get into quite a vulnerable space in your music, and a great example of this is in ‘Into the Open’ - “‘Cause I want to smile, but I can't right now/The world is breaking down”. This song came out in April, so is this lyric a response to the pandemic, or was it written with something else in mind?
I wrote it last year, before all this crazy stuff happened. I was in a transformative time, I’d just been through a break up, you know the stage after where you recenter yourself and figure out who you are again. That period was definitely a very transformative time, I was trying to be free, I feel like that’s what every human on earth wants, not to be locked down emotionally or mentally. I’ve struggled with this a lot since the quarantine and I allow my past experiences to put a filter on what I’m experiencing in the present. So in the song I say “I just wanna be in the moment, just wanna see myself growing”, and I do try so hard to be in the moment all the time. It’s really a waste of energy to think of bad stuff that hasn’t happened yet when you’re in an overthinking state, most of the time those things don’t even happen. The only time in my life that I’ve ever felt truly happy is when I’m not trying to be happy. That’s a big thing for me.
“Just want to be in the moment/I want to see myself growing/They want to be us so bad, but they don't see what we go through”. You’re 20, so you’ve grown up with social media, and a lot of people compare themselves and live vicariously through other people’s social channels. Where do you stand with social media?
I think there’s positives and negatives, like everything in life. But recently I think it has become more on the negative side because everyone has so much time. It becomes its own reality. Like if you spend ten hours on your phone, that becomes the world you’re living in. Recently, there's been a lot to be unhappy about in the world, and you still have people on social media posting about their lives being perfect, and the people that are suffering see that and it makes it even worse. I try to be as vulnerable as possible. I don't want it to ever feel like I'm putting on a show. I always want to keep it focussed on the music, because at the end of the day I’m a musician and an artist. I play guitar, sing, play piano all the time so if I come up with something I like I post it. If you think something is cool then that’s cool to you and you put it out there, then that’s all that matters that it satisfies you.
"The only time in my life that I’ve ever felt truly happy is when I’m not trying to be happy. That's a big thing for me."
How would you describe your sound?
I wouldn’t describe it as any one genre, it's a mix of stuff I love and grew up on. Definitely R&B, but I also love acoustic music, and in the last few years I’ve gotten into Hip-Hop quite heavily, which you hear in my vocals. I really want my music to be lush and beautiful and make you go ‘ahh…’
But as I’ve experienced more in life and gone through different states of depression and anxiety, as much as I’ve been happy for most of my life, but as I’ve experienced more of the dark side of things, I definitely feel the need to put more gritty elements into my music, because that reflects emotion in a completely different way. When you have that contrast - if you think about death metal, I’m not a huge fan, but you hear the distorted guitars and it gives you a feeling of anger, and those people are trying to express that anger through the music. I’ve tried to open myself up to every different genre and the basic building blocks of today’s music.
You recently collaborated with Rick Ross on ‘Pinned to the Cross’, which is such an intense song. What was that experience like?
I was really excited about that song because I don’t usually touch too much on social issues, because in the climate we’re in right now it’s a sensitive topic and I don’t want to say anything that it’s not my place to say. But I feel like that was a great opportunity because the lyrics are about the racial injustice that’s going on, and I think the way that’s going to be solved is through both sides trying to reach an understanding with each other. And it shouldn’t be ‘both sides’, ‘black vs white', because I believe we’re all the same, we’re all humans.
The oppressed side does have it worse right now, and that's just a fact. It takes white people recognising that’s what it is and to stop being in denial. We’re all the same and we want to help each other, and love should be the thing that motivates that. It’s also recognising that despite all the trauma and the things that have happened in the past, this beautiful culture has come out of that, and once we all recognise that, a lot of the problems are going to be solved.
I’m not going to make my career political in any way, because honestly I’m not educated enough about it. But I am educated on right from wrong, and I know that racism is wrong, putting other people down for something they’re born as is wrong, whether that’s religion, race, sexual orientation, gender - whatever it is, that’s evil. At the end of the day, a lot of people know that, but they’re scared to say it for some reason. This shouldn’t be a question of what political side you’re on, it should be 'love vs hate'. When everyone comes together with a sense of love between them, that’s going to trump any hate that is out there. I feel like recently, given the state of the world, hate has definitely become the default mode of communication, but I think we will find a common ground and everyone will be able to understand each other. I want all people to love each other - I love all people regardless of race, gender, whatever. I think it’s not a matter of if, it’s when.
You have a new song out - how would you describe the vibe for this one?
It’s called ‘Closing In’. It’s the first song I wrote for the album, I wrote it two years ago. It’s really weird, it's kind of like a free-structured song.
"Putting other people down for something they’re born as is wrong, whether that’s religion, race, sexual orientation, gender - whatever it is, that’s evil."
After that, I’m putting out a song called ‘Clouds’ which is really one of the most special songs that I’ve ever made, I’m really excited for that one - that’s definitely a step in a different direction to what I’ve been doing lately.
Is there an album in the works, and if so when we can expect it to drop?
Yeah, it’ll come out at some point next year. There’s one record that I wish was out now because then we could talk about it on here, but I’ll tell you briefly what it’s about. It’s called ‘Why Do I Care?’, and it’s about the subject of only really feeling happy when you’re not trying to be happy. The lyrics are “I could find a place with some buried treasure, infinite pleasure, personal heaven, but I’d still want to know why it’s there, who do I care?” So it’s about questioning a lot of things in life, and a lot of the times when I’ve felt good I’m like, ‘Why am I feeling like this?’ and I don’t even allow myself to enjoy it. It talks about being in your head, and how sometimes it's better to be blissfully ignorant (“Ignorant paradise, that’s where I want to go”). You can’t control everything, and I think for me that perpetuates a lot of negativity. I’m a very introspective self-aware person by nature. It’s great to be self-aware, but it can also be your downfall if you let it overwhelm you.
We have an article in this issue talking about how music can be therapeutic for listeners, but often stressful to create. How do you find the creator’s experience vs the experience of the listener?
It’s definitely therapeutic to create, but it’s also stressful at the same time. The therapeutic part for me is the writing, producing and recording and getting a tangible product. The part that becomes stressful is when it’s 80% done and you’re trying to take it to 100%. It already conveys the emotion in the way that you want, so at that point it’s purely technical, where you’re trying to get it to sound right. When you put your feelings down you can put the song on whenever you want and experience it again listening back to it. That’s a big thing for me in making music, whenever I’m experiencing mental health issues, I can just put the songs on and think, ‘Yeah, I was feeling like this at that point in time’, but it helps me realise it comes in waves and it isn’t permanent. It’s so easy to let yourself feel like what you’re going through is going to be forever, for example when you’re experiencing anxiety it feels like it’s never going to end. I really believe that life is a series of stages. You’re going to feel down sometimes, up sometimes, and sometimes you’re going to feel indifferent and not really know how you’re feeling. But that's what makes life beautiful.
Finn's Top 3 songs with a theme of mental health:
1. Stupid Deep - John Bellion
‘What if who I hope to be was always me, what if the love I fought to feel was always free’ This is a recurring theme bc I really do believe this, the less hard you try to make something happen, the more its gonna happen. You’re trying so hard to find love, and you don’t realise its right in front of you. Just trying to appreciate the things around you, I feel like a lot of people put their happiness on future events, and it’s really not the way to do it because if I was in that boat where I think ‘I’m. musician and I’m going to make all this money and get all this fame, and then I’ll be happy’. But the only thing that can truly make you happy in my opinion is having a genuine connection with the people around you, and also doing something you love, which is why I’m constantly doing music because that’s what makes me happy. Any time I’m stressed or feeling down I just pick up the guitar and get that out. Trying to be happy in the present is super important, and then when you have the material things, you can enjoy it and do good with it, and help other people. If I make a lot of money I’m going to help the people around me. Obviously it’ll be cool to have a fast car and nice house! But that stuff doesn’t motivate me, it’s my desire to be as good as I can be.
2. All the kids are depressed - Jeremy Zucker
This song talks about vices, and the lyrics are "my natural reaction is that we’re scared". It has a lot to do with the internet, where everyone’s always looking for that next thing to make them happy, and they’re not happy in the moment. The natural reaction is to feel scared to be alone, I would say, when you’re in your room by yourself you’re looking at Instagram and other people’s stories, because deep down it makes you feel like you’re not alone. You can click on their story and see their birthday party happening and you kind of feel a part of it, and then you turn it off and it’s like you’re not really there anymore, because you’re not. It’s those temporary little capsules of feeling like you’re part of something. It’s that fear of missing out - where a lot of people in my age group and younger who grew up with the internet, people don’t really know how to be happy on their own. It has a lot to do with parents as well, if they’re not happy you’re going to have a skewed sense of what’s normal and what it is to be happy. I’m super grateful, because I had a great family and they were always super loving to me and we had a genuine happiness and togetherness, and I feel like now that’s my default mode. I know a lot of people who aren’t as lucky as me, and they had tumultuous childhoods, and that’s why a lot of people create problems when there aren’t problems, because thats their comfort zone. It’s really sad, and I hope those people can work through that. I feel like, as someone who has been through things but also not really had any tragic things happen to them, I’m able to offer a positive perspective, because sometimes when you’ve had a lot of bad things happen to you it’s hard to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I like to always be that positive voice, even if it might be a little bit of an ignorant positive voice, you know what I mean?
3. Who am I? - Bazzi
It’s again about losing yourself to social media - it’s funny how all the recent mental health songs are about social media, because its such a big cause of mental health issues in people my age. Like we have the highest rates of mental illness ever, and I believe it’s truly because of social media. It causes anxiety and depression for so many people because they’re comparing themselves to others. A lot of the time, I think it’s because they don’t think that they don’t have to do that, its hard to consider ‘Oh, I don’t have to look at this all the time’. I made a screensaver for my phone that says, ‘Do you have a reason to be on here?’, so every time I turn my phone on, I’m reading this, and sometimes I turn it off because I really don’t. Sometimes when we’re bored we do it as a nervous tick almost, we’re just scrolling because it’s something to do. If I’m on my phone because I’m bored, I try and think ‘Oh, I’ll pick up my guitar instead', and I’ll try to do something that’s actually tangible in my life. Back to the song, what Bazzi is talking about is also when you experience an influx of material things, its easy to let those things define you.
Stream Finn Matthews' new single, 'Closing In', which is out on all platforms now.