Matt Cornell is an singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and one fifth of Adam Brand and the Outlaws. Having just released his new single Feels Like Yesterday, off his 2014 self-titled album, I spoke to Matt about Texas, tattoos, musical influences, growing up in a showbiz family, and the future of the Outlaws.
Congratulations on the new release and music video for Feels Like Yesterday. What was the concept behind the video and how does it relate to the lyrics of the song?
Paul Stefanidis, the guy who shot and directed the clip, came up with the idea. He’s been wanting to do a video with me for some time. He said to me, “I’ve got this idea, let’s do this video overseas”, and I wasn’t really sold on the idea. Everyone who hears “Feels Like Yesterday” [will] think it’s a song about going back home and when you hear the lyrics, it talks about that and it is – but it’s also about being in a familiar place – a place you feel a connection with.
Dave Wilkins, who I wrote the song with, he and I both performed at SXSW in Austin many years ago. My first EP, that came out in 2007, was called Miles From Texas, so I’ve got a connection with Austin. Dave said to me, “Why don’t you go to Austin?” and as soon as he said that, I was like, “Holy crap, I love Austin!” He said it’s a familiar place and you have a connection with it, so I think it’s a winner.
It was a little spontaneous, but there’s a definite connection with me and Texas, Austin in particular. The daunting thing for me was going over to a place where I’ve got very little connections. [There were] only two things we got help with. Everyone you see in that clip are people that are just appearing spontaneously – there’s just me out in the street singing the song, walking around, me in a bar shooting pool [and] drinking beer. There’s no actors, so it’s really organic.
A lot of people [have] said to me what they loved about it is, especially my friends and family, we get to see you – just how I am as a person. I’m super proud of this video. Paul and I just had so many things stacked against us. I’ve done quite a few videos over the years and this is the best one.
You’re about to start work on the next record. How is it coming along?
I’ve written a couple of songs for the new album. I’ve got some people that I’m lining up for some co-writes and I will go hard, [and] write and write and write every day. It’ll keep me awake at night. I’ll be obsessed until I get it done. It’s about being proactive when you come off a tour, and when you’ve got some momentum, you’ve got to keep it going.
I’ve got expectations for it. Even though my current record only came out September 2014, I still feel like I’ve evolved as an artist and I’m really finding my place in this world of country. I’m actually excited about the next project. I can’t wait to start writing this next record and I wanna get into the studio and bang it out.
I’ve had a great start to the year and now that the single’s out, it’s doing really well, so I’ve got to follow it up and release the next record. I’m hoping in about five or six months, there’ll be another record coming out.
You’ve worked with a lot of different artists spanning many different genres. Why did you ultimately decide that country was the genre you wanted to focus your solo music on?
It was definitely my connection with Adam Brand. When I first started playing with Adam, it was the year he won Dancing With The Stars, literally straight after he won, at the same time I was playing with The Baby Animals [and] with Shannon Noll. I’ve always enjoyed playing in rock bands and I’m a big fan of pop music, even though I grew up listening to both my parents’ record collections – everything from the Beach Boys, Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams to Stevie Wonder.
But in terms of the business, I never had really worked in the country genre in Australia [or] worked with a country artist. I got asked to do one tour with Adam Brand; it’s always a bit edgy when you’re doing your first show with a new artist, because you’ve got to have a bit of a cheat sheet on the ground so you remember everything – there’s so much to remember!
I was getting ready in my hotel room, I put my hand up through the hole in my shirt and accidentally stuck my hand into the ceiling fan. When I could see the bone, I knew I needed stitches – and we were gonna be on stage in two hours! I got some gaff tape and some cotton and I packed the wound as best as I could. It worked for about five or so songs, then I started bleeding all over the stage! I managed to get through the gig [and] straight afterwards, [drive] myself to hospital to get stitches.
So, I start touring with Adam, [and he] had a heart to heart with me one day, and he said, “Look, I really love your music, but you really should think about doing a country thing – you write songs from the heart and your voice suits the genre and I know you like some of the old school country.” It was Adam that suggested that I do it.
Adam was the mastermind behind the Outlaws. How did you come to being an Outlaw, and what was your reaction to the idea?
It was two Tamworth’s ago, and I still remember it like it was yesterday. We were about to go on stage to do [Adam’s] show and he pulls me aside and goes, “Mate, I’ve got this idea – you, me, Mike Carr, Travis, Drew McAlister, we’re gonna have this band and we’re gonna call it The Outlaws.” He was about 30 seconds in and I was like, “Are you waiting for me to say yes? Because I’m saying yes. I want to do it.”
It came to fruition very quickly. Adam, he makes stuff happen. If he gets an idea no one will stop him from doing it. He’s very driven, and he had a very clear vision about what The Outlaws was going to be. He’s an interesting man. He’s got great ideas and great business ideas, but this Outlaws, no one can take credit for this – it’s all Adam Brand.
Sounds like you owe Adam a lot.
I do, I owe him heaps! I tell him often and I thank him often. He’s a humble man. He’s given so many artists a go. I remember the Sunny Cowgirls said the first tour they ever did, Adam took them on the road. Adam took Mike Carr out when he was first doing his original material. Adam was instrumental getting McAlister Kemp signed, then took them out on the road. There’s a lot of artists out there that would never do that. They always look after themselves and they feel threatened sometimes. Adam, he’s the opposite. He embraces people that are having a go, he will give them advice, he will mentor them – he’s done that for me and continues to do it.
Obviously now, doing the Outlaws, it’s a great example of him giving me another opportunity. Along the way too, we’re not work associates, we’ve become brothers, we’re friends, we’ve lived together, we’ve cooked together, we’ve spent so much time in cars, sitting next to each other on planes and listening to each others songs. You get to know each other intimately well when you’re a touring artist and working, because you can’t not. A lot of the time it can be a stretched friendship, but with Adam it has never ever been that. We’ve never ever had an argument. He’s not that sort of person. He’s just full of love.
As I understand it, The Outlaws project is just a once off, never to be repeated tour. How do you feel about it all coming to an end?
[In] my personal opinion is, I don’t think The Outlaws are going to stop here. We’ve had chats about moving forward, but we’re focused on just finishing up these last few shows and then we’ll see what happens after that. I’m hyper aware of the crash after a big tour, so I’m trying to keep myself busy over the coming weeks. I’ve got a lot going on.
If you were going to record a second Outlaws album, are there any songs you’d like to see on the album?
There is, but I’m not allowed to talk about it. I’ve been sworn to secrecy. It’s secret Outlaws business at the moment. We’ve got some ideas, a couple of different concepts. We’re throwing some ideas out [but] we’re undecided.
Right now, it won’t be something we’re going to be discussing in the near future – because Adam’s doing another record soon, Trav’s got a record coming out, Drew’s gonna have another single coming out [and] I just have a single out – so our focus, after these shows, will be our own thing, and then later in the year, we will start to throw some ideas around and see what happens.
The current Outlaws album is made up of different rock classics and covers. Which song was your contribution and which resonates with you the most?
I really have to think about that because there were so many suggestions. In terms of what song I relate to, my Mum, growing up, loved Robert Palmer. I remember when Bad Case Of Loving You first came out, I still remember my mum distinctly singing it. When we recorded that song, I knew she was going to love the version of the song we did, because she loves the song.
Your Mum is the first person on the Outlaws album you thanked – why does she get the highest accolade?
She’s my rock. No one can love you like a mother – their loyalty and love is like no other. I’ve got a great bond with my Mum. We’re more [like] mates. People that have known my Mum and I for a long time, they see how I interact with her. A lot of the time I call her ‘Chez’ or ‘Cheryl’. She’s really a great mate of mine and I love her to bits.
She sacrificed a lot for us growing up. I was 11 or 12 when she became a single parent. She had two rat bag sons that she had to try to keep in line and, at the same time, she was paying a mortgage and working three jobs and all that sort of stuff. I’ve never forgotten that, so she’s always my number one.
You grew up in a musical family, is that correct?
My Mum and Dad were in show business, my Dad still is. I studied classical piano at the age of 5 until I was about 8. My Dad, as well as being a great singer, he was a classically trained guitar player, [so] from about the age of 8 to about 13-14 I studied classical guitar.
When I was in high school, I was playing in a band. I had my first band called Shaky Ground when I was about 13. At about 14 or 15, the bass player left and we couldn’t get someone, so I said [I’d] fill in until we get someone – then fell in love with the bass guitar and I basically never looked back. That ended up being my instrument of choice. All through school I played in bands and even when I was doing my HSC, I was doing professional gigs and sometimes I’d have to sneak in the back of the venues because I wasn’t old enough to get on stage.
Funnily enough, my first job was a cars salesman. I sold cars for six months with Ford, then realised I wasn’t a suit and tie man and went back out on the road. That’s what I’ve done ever since – I’ve been a professional musician. I’ve had a lot of different jobs over the years, I’ve had to, but for the most part, music is what I do. Fast forward many many years and I’m still doing it and I don’t want to stop.
What genre of music did Shaky Ground play?
Oh my god, we’re going back a long way here! I think it was just a covers band, but I was only just 12 or 13. We were doing everything from Goanna, to Bryan Adams to old school 50s rock, Bill Haley – just all sorts of things, and songs that would have been relevant at that time. We did all kinds of things! We just had this melting pot of songs, because we were only young too, we only had a limited repertoire, but I took it pretty seriously back then.
I still have in a box somewhere [of] Shaky Ground business cards [for] you know, weddings, parties, anything. I’d be handing out business cards at 13 [Laughs]. I’ve got friends from school who still have a laugh when they see me, like, ‘When you gonna put Shaky Ground back together again?’
Which of your parents do you think had the greater influence on you musically growing up?
Oh, it’s both and for different reasons. In terms of playing an instrument, I’d say my Dad, because he taught me how to play guitar and a lot of piano I picked up from [him]. In terms of singing, my Mum was and still is a great singer. My Mum always had the amazing ability to harmonise well and I think I inherited that gene from her, because I’ve always been able to sing harmonies without even thinking about it.
I got different things from my Mum and Dad. I definitely know I was heavily influenced, not only by my parents, but by their music collection. I grew up with everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Frank Sinatra to the Beach Boys to Billy Joel. You name it, my parents just had this great record collection and they trusted me with their vinyl. I still remember when I was a little kid, I’d just be so careful lowering the needle onto the record player. I used to wipe the vinyl records before I put them back.
When my Dad, back in the day, used to sing with some of the best big bands this country has ever had – like the Billy Burton Big Band and the Daly-Wilson Big Band – I’d go along [at] like 6 or 7, I knew my Dad’s patter in between his songs off by heart [and] I knew all the songs off by heart. My Dad would come off stage and be like, “How’d I go, son?” and I’d be like, “Dad, you stuffed up the lyrics in “New York, New York”” or, “In “Chicago”, you got the second verse wrong”, or things like that. I just knew his show so well, he obviously thought I was a cheeky little bugger [Laughs]. My parents had a massive influence on me, what I’ve done growing up and who I am now as an artist.
My Dad’s still in the music business. My Dad’s got a variety show called Back to the Tivoli. It’s been the most successful running variety show in Australian music history. It’s been going for over 20 years. I forget how many thousand shows they’ve done. They sell out most of the times they take it out on the road.
Would you like to follow in his footsteps and still be performing at his age?
I hope so. If I could just do just music full time, every time, I would. I’ve got so many passions outside of music and one of them’s cooking and I love coffee. I’ve got a background in hospitality. I’ve managed restaurants. I managed Adam’s restaurant when it first opened up in Townsville. I hope I’m still playing music and performing at my Dad’s age. I think my Dad’s 73, but at the same time, it’s not always going to be music – there’s other things I want to embark on.
Your website says you’re a multi-instrumentalist. You’ve mentioned the guitar, bass guitar and piano – do you play anything else?
I can get behind a drum kit and hold down a pretty good groove. Piano was my first instrument but because I never stuck with it, when I get behind a piano now, I’m a real hack [and] I don’t know what I’m doing. In terms of what level I’m at, the bass is my instrument and the guitar would be second.
What is it about the bass that you love?
I don’t know. I just remember playing piano and the guitar, I loved them both – but something happened when I first picked up a bass guitar, it just felt really good and exciting. I was 14 or 15, [playing for] eight hours a day, I was completely obsessed with it! I just couldn’t put it down! I would drive my family absolutely crazy. They’d be sitting there watching TV and I’d be sitting in the corner slapping the bass. It would drive everyone nuts and I’d have to be told to leave the room. Looking back, I’m so glad that’s the case, because it put me in good stead all the years later when I do it professionally.
You don’t hear of many bass guitarists who also sing back up. Why is that?
It’s actually really difficult. When I first started writing and releasing my own stuff, it would have been in the mid 2000s, I played guitar back when I did my gigs. It wasn’t until probably two and a half years ago, I committed to playing bass. I thought, “If this is my main instrument, [the one] I feel most comfortable with, then I’ve got to work at playing and singing.”
I’ve worked at it really hard. It was probably two or three months before Tamworth a couple years back, when I was going there to do my first show playing bass and singing; I remember about three weeks into practicing I thought, “What the hell have I done?”, because it was so difficult! Then by the time the gig came around, I felt very comfortable. Now I don’t even think about it, as I’ve done so many shows, I just play bass and sing. When they say men can’t multitask, that’s not true! We do and we do often when we’re on stage. [Laughs]
Lastly, I have to ask about your tattoos – how many do you have and what do they mean?
There’s two tattoos. One on my right bicep, was the first tattoo I got. Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m a die hard South Sydney Rabbitohs supporter. I always said, first time I see them win a premiership, I will get a tattoo.
I got to see the grand final in 2014, with my Dad by my side. It was an emotional night. It was a crazy night and about two or three days later, I went and got the tatt. There’s a very famous acronym amongst Sydney supporters that’s S.S.T.I.D. which [stands for] South Sydney Til I Die. [The tattoo] looks like a stamp, and at the top [it says] ‘2014 S.S.T.I.D.’ and ‘1908’ (the year the Rabbitohs were founded) underneath.
The second tatt, I got maybe six or so months ago – it’s in the shape of a bass clef. The reason I got it in the shape of a bass clef is because I wanted to pay homage to my bass guitar, because that piece of wood with four strings has given me so much. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve met so many people, and done some amazing things with that bit of wood. [Written within the bass clef are] the words ‘somewhere in my mind a song is playing’, because I’ve always said that since I was a kid. That’s probably why I used to get in trouble as a kid in school, because I wasn’t listening – I was singing a song in my head.
Are you planning on getting any tattoos?
Absolutely. I’ve got plans for a couple more but I can’t tell you what they are just yet, because I’m not 100% sure myself! (laughs)
Originally posted at the AU review