Meet: Lisbon – Matty Varty returns for a chat

The band at The Rocking Chair, Sheffield

I caught up with Whitley Bay heroes Lisbon at the end of their successful winter tour at The Rocking Chair. A tired but enthusiastic Matty Varty (lead singer) picked up where our chat had left off last year.

Backseat Mafia: So, the end of the tour – what are your highlights from the last few weeks?

Matty: There’s been a highlight every other day probably. Maybe even more frequent than that. It started like a month ago now, so it’s hard to figure out which day was which. Off the top of my head, Newcastle last Saturday was absolutely one of the best shows we’ve ever done. We had amazing shows with the Amazons. Birmingham in particular was one of the best shows on the road, London was good where we got the big “Vice” neon up (a striking piece of set design) but I think every single show we were happily surprised and the crowds were really receptive so the whole tour’s been a big highlight for me.

BM: How’s the health? (The band had to adjust their tour dates due to Matty’s voice problems.)

MV: Good. It’s good to get back. My equilibrium’s all settled again I think. I’ve had a few downs – I lost my voice twice on tour. The first time was when we missed the first Sheffield show. London, Southampton and Guildford I did with no voice, so I couldn’t speak during the daytime but warmed up for the night time, managed to do the 45 minutes, but by the time we reached Guildford, I think I was just screeching on stage. I actually lost my falsetto as well – I could speak and sing normally, but I couldn’t reach the high notes. So like “Vice” was a struggle, “Good 2 Me” was a struggle, but we managed to get around them by singing a bit lower.

BM: Quite a few bands have falsetto as a big part of their sound and their back catalogue, like Chris Martin in Coldplay for instance. Do you think that’s something you’ll still be able to maintain in the future?

MV: Well, I’m losing it at 21! [laughs] I think our next single’s mainly falsetto as well, so I think songs like that will become fossils, eroded away in the memory bank!

Lisbon’s latest artwork

BM: You mentioned the “Vice” backdrop earlier – is that going to be part of the video?

MV: It’s part of the artwork – that was the initial idea. Our tour manager Paul, it was his brainchild. He wanted to take the “Vice” neon sign and put it in strange settings to create a bit of juxtaposition, like a dark forest. We had a bit of a ‘mare taking those photos. It took two days to do it – the first time as pitch black, raining and we couldn’t get the generator working for 8 hours. The second time we did get it working after 4 hours, it was freezing cold, then it packed up after 5 minutes cos we had no petrol, so I had to go and get petrol and the car broke down! But we got through it in the end, so I can’t complain! We’ve got a video that’s coming soon and it has the “Vice” neon in as well. Half of what I love is, I love music and I love songwriting, but I also love videos, I love films, so like we created the “Vice” theory a couple of months ago, over Christmas, but we’re waiting as our song hasn’t even gone out to blogs yet, it’s only on Spotify, so it’s going to go on soundcloud, blogs then YouTube. Eventually. Hopefully. [laughs]

BM: Since your new single is “Vice” and I know how much you love these silly themed questions, here’s some on the theme of vice and sin! [Matty laughs] So, the sin of pride – when are you most proud?

MV: Mmm [thinks]. The most pride I get when playing with the band is when people sing back our songs. It’s good playing shows and patting yourself on the back, but when everybody receives your songs and sings along, that brings the most pride.

BM: Who’s the vainest member of the group?

MV: I dunno! We all take a long time getting ready, but it’s not ‘cos we’re vain, it’s ‘cos we’re really slow, we’re really lazy. We’re always like an hour after check out at hotels and stuff. I think we all spend a fair time looking in the mirror. I think Wrighty (drummer, Alex) is probably the least vain; Gaz likes a little check in the mirror, he’s always rubbing his beard; I’m fairly self-absorbed and I think Joe likes to think he’s fairly self-absorbed too so that’s a tough question to single one band member out.

BM: Are there any other bands or singers that you envy or feel jealous of?

MV: [exhales deeply whilst thinking] Yeah! Not in the way of jealous as such, but there’s a band called High Tyde where the singer, the front man he’s like a really good front man in the sense that he’s great at doing his job. This tour I think I’ve been good at doing my job, but like he’s like a natural front man, which I don’t see myself as yet. I think I’m developing into one. There are bands where the frontman can just walk out on stage and have the audience in the palm of their hand, no matter how many people are there. Sometimes if there’s just like ten people in the crowd, I’ll struggle to get going until about 5 songs, but you know a good frontman as he can do it from the start.

BM: You’ve already said about being lazy, so I can skip that one! [both laugh] Well, lust is one of the deadly sins, so how do you cope with desire when on tour?

MV: [laughing] There’s not a lot of lust going about on a tour bus full of four smelly boys. You do get a bit of cabin fever, like with pirates when they see mermaids and fall in love with them, well no, more like they see something like a hippo and think they’re mermaids. So we’ll be like walking down the street and double take at some girl and be like “phwoarh!”, that sort of thing or like we’ll watch films, like we saw “The Wolf of Wall Street” the other day and Margot Robbie’s on and we’re like [satisfied sigh]. That’s about the most desire we get on tour. We struggle to keep calm when that film came about!

BM: How’s the university course coming on? (Matty is studying journalism when he’s not off being a rock star.)

MV: I came in and started on Tuesday, that’s the first time I’d been in this year and when I’m there my mates are always like “Ah it’s you, we’ve forgotten what you look like! It’s a shock to see you here.” But my placement module’s due in tomorrow, so I’ve been spending the last few days writing up my evaluation and collecting my portfolio. It’s been a bit of a rush. I always forget what I’m doing. You do work, then you go away for a month and your mind just leaves everything behind.

BM: Is it easy to switch between the two things? Do you forget about Lisbon when you’re back studying?

MV: I never forget about Lisbon, because everything I do always revolves around Lisbon. It’s always the other way round, like if I go back to uni, I’ll be scrolling down Lisbon’s twitter whilst doing my work, on Facebook, like it’s always there, the What’s App group is constantly going. That’s always on my mind.

BM: In terms of social media, you’re identified as “highly responsive” when it comes to responding to messages. You’ve already said how important that is to you and the band, but how do you manage it? Do you share out responsibilities?

MV: Joe (Atkinson, guitarist) handles a lot of the replies, but then if he hasn’t replied, I’ll reply, Gaz replies, we all do our own separate tweets and you usually do one and tell other people “I’ve just done a tweet, don’t do one for like five minutes!” That sort of thing. “Don’t do the same one!”

BM: And again, like last time we spoke, your new track’s getting some big plays with Radio 1. How do you feel this time, now? Does it feel like things are building?

MV: I feel like in the past it’s been just more like an introduction, like stab in the dark with the producers, but this time we’ve heard that Huw (Stephens, Radio 1 DJ) loves the song, Annie Mac (a fellow Radio 1 DJ) loves the song and to get two plays with her, for an unsigned band, is quite rare, so hopefully we’ll get some more. It’s already the most we’ve ever been played on Radio 1 with this song. I think we’re starting to see a development in how people are receiving it and more people are coming onboard after a play. It’s just about people knowing your name, even in people hear the song and it doesn’t register, they might recognise the name the next time. It’s about getting that name out again and again until it becomes a household name, so people remember when they hear the music again.

BM: So profile building, no rushing out an album?

MV: Yeah, until we get enough fans to do it. We’re really happy doing what we’re doing at the moment. We’re seeing some progress. If we did the same tour again it would be like, “Hang on, what are we doing wrong?” but the single’s done better than the last one and we haven’t even put it out properly for sale yet. The radio’s gone better, the gigs have gone better, so we can’t complain. We’re just doing the right thing for now until we’re ready to put one out.

We also talk about their Tarantino-esque continuous steadicam tracking shot in the new video, Matty’s forthcoming skiing holiday (a belated 21st birthday treat which he thinks could be his last proper holiday), big announcements forthcoming (their support slots alongside Model Aeroplanes in March) and an exciting link up with Billboard. During a more informal chat at the first leg of the tour in Hull, we also talked about some of the dance influences the band incorporate which saw Matty take to the piano for a house-flavoured future-smash, sadly lacking from the later set lists and about him bidding his girlfriend goodbye for a month whilst on tour.

The next day the band will be heading for home, where they can all take a moment to reflect on this hugely successful tour and relax before the next big moment in their carefully orchestrated plans for domination.

Check out my interview with Matty from last summer here.

Listen to “Vice” on Spotify and look out for the exciting new video soon. In the meantime, here’s their last epic adventure for “Game of Thrones” inspired “Khaleesi”:

Lisbon are very active on Facebook, twitter and their own website and YouTube channel, but as I said before, live is the best option!
Lisbon will be supporting Model Aeroplanes at their London (Barfly, 7th), Brighton (Green Door Store, 8th) and Manchester (Night & Day, 12th) dates in March 2016 as well as playing alongside Lyger at Koko, London on March 25th.
Details here:

Matty was speaking to Ben Lewis.

Previous Live Review: Lisbon / Feral Mantra / The Wired at The Rocking Chair, Sheffield, 18/02/16
Next DVD Review: The Smuggler (aka The Mule)

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