When Matt Cardle turned up for his first audition on THAT show just over 18 months ago, little did he know the mind-numbing shifts in plastic factories or gruelling labour on building sites would soon be a thing of the past. The hard graft hasn’t stopped though.
This year has been about touring with X Factor, and over the last four months, studiously writing and recording. He has teamed up with the best in the business to bring his dream to life. Hours tucked away in Biff Stannard’s Brighton studio. Late nights and cases of beer with Starsailor’s James Walsh in West London. Awkward dinner dates interrupted by flashes of genius for a new middle-eight…
Not only has Matt created something special, he has come up with a combination of music and lyrics far beyond the expectations of any chart debutant. The rasp of his vocal on X Factor has gone, with a far smoother delivery. He still has a full strength falsetto in his armoury, which is used sparingly but efficiently across the album.
“There are a couple of bits where my vocal does have that edge to it. But I’ve been trying so hard to emulate my past influences, and young heroes like Kurt Cobain. If you’ve got that then you’ve got it, if you don’t and you try and do it, then you damage it.
“If you’ve got a clear voice, you’ve got a clear voice, and I think I have. When I get right up there, that’s when it can rasp.
“I do love the falsetto though, you get away with that, and it’s not hard, if you’re a singer the falsetto is really easy on your voice, rather than belting it all the time.”
Talking of Kurt Cobain, Matt’s influences have remained the same since he was travelling the country in his old bands Darwyn and Seven Summers. But on this album he’s tapped into soul and the gritty, emotional delivery of singers like Ray Lamontagne. “We reference When A Man Loves A Woman by Percy Sledge, and Ray Lamontagne. The desperation in those vocals is something else.”
Matt’s album opens with a big statement - Starlight. Biff and songwriting partners Ash Howes and Seton Daunt, played their part in setting the tone of the record. Matt explains: “It’s a banging tune. We played it back when we finally got there and we were like ‘wow’. “We wanted to open up with something that was edgy, something that was strong. Something that wasn’t X Factor.
“It took me ages to sort the lyrics out. I had the ‘hearts are racing at the speed of light’ forever. But it took two months, three months to finally pen it. Essentially it’s just about the end of time. That was the feeling of the track. It was big, I wanted to get something lyrically massive.
“It was strange because we didn’t want it to be like beginners luck. We’ve all been writing for a long time, but it seemed like such a strong start.”
Track two, Run For Your Life, was written by Gary Barlow. Matt’s A&R man is the legendary Chris Briggs who famously teamed Robbie Williams with Guy Chambers.
Chris was at one of the Take That concerts, and Gary was like, ‘you know what. I think I’ve got a song for Matt. I was apprehensive prior to hearing it, because I really wanted to like it because I’m not going to stand up there and pour my heart in to something that I don’t believe in. But it’s so true, it’s about being a crap boyfriend and telling your girlfriend to run and find someone that can really give them what they deserve out of a relationship. “I just of got it. With songs like that, when I was recording, no word of a lie, I was crying in the vocal booth. My girlfriend was on tour and I was hungover and all that sort of stuff, and I ended up in tears doing it. I really do believe in the song. “I’ve been trying to write a song like that, but mine were always three and half minutes of me slating myself.”
Track three, a co-write with Eg White called All For Nothing, was a far more simple business for a sensitive soul like Matt. “That just brings it down to being raw. That vocal was done about one in the afternoon, after about half a pack of Marlborough Lights and a couple of cups of tea, straight after writing it. “It’s about when you’re in love with someone, or something - be it wife, husband - and you just want them to be safe. You don’t want any harm to come to them.”
Pull Me Under with James Walsh and Eliot James came together after a few beers, like most of the tracks they delivered together. “It was weird, we were kind of building the track from quite early on, and myself and James were kind of throwing around melody ideas. It was one of those things where you go right out on a limb, and could look like a ****. James and I had two different ideas for the chorus. Our ideas just fitted together perfectly.”
The chorus on Amazing, track five, was written by Biff’s nephew.“I listened to it, and I loved it, and it’s such an easy thing to write, about being found. Not having anyone and then having someone. Funny enough that was the night I went out, and I got hammered and wrote the verses to it. “It was necessary for me to get in a bit of a pickle to think about it.”
Faithless, written with James again, was a more personal song about relationships - staying true to a girlfriend and the struggle of temptation. But Beat Of A Breaking Heart could be the most personal of all. “It’s deeply personal stuff. Absolutely. It’s about a time I nearly split up with someone I really loved. At the end of the song it says ‘how are we here? It’s just the start.’ She was in the car in tears, I’m in tears, and at this point it’s just the beginning of the relationship. How are we here?” the song was written the day after the event, and the vocal was put down that evening, it was all still very fresh.
Phil Thornalley, who has been working with Pixie Lott recently, Jon Green and Matt co-wrote Stars & Lovers. Title track Letters, is another moving, emotional effort where Matt’s heart-on-sleeve attitude is in full force again. It’s in no small part down to the chemistry he developed with songwriting team Nexus.
Reflections was a song written at that point in the day when everyone is ready to go home. A song when it was least expected. The job was done for the day when James Walsh and Matt came up with something from nothing - and it was written within the hour.
Matt has laid his emotions and relationship frailties bare on this album. None more so than on Walking On Water. “It’s about things that are going on in your relationship, and before you know it you’re f*****. And you’re like, ‘how have we got here? We were walking on water for so long, and to notice the waves going over…. I thought it was all great.’”
Similarly, Slowly is about, “finding an attraction with a female friend, who becomes more than just that.” And When We Collide, his huge No1 hit, needs no more introduction than that. But best of all? Matt feels he is now free of any X Factor pressure, with no creative confusion during the making of his album.
Simon kind of left me to it, which I’m grateful for. He put enough faith in me, management and the label to go off and make the album we all felt was right. Even the tracklisting was a simple discussion. It was about 15 minutes to work it out. It just all fell into place.”
Excitement is written across his face at the mention of the forthcoming warm-up tour. Playing live, finally testing the new material on a live audience, is exactly what this 28-year-old man is all about.
He’s not the only one getting the feeling everything is just about to fall into place.