DateSeptember 10, 2023
Becoming one of the UK’s most exciting new artists was never in Matilda Mann’s plans. Despite playing and writing music since she was a child, the London singer-songwriter always thought that she would be behind the scenes, writing songs for other people to take out into the world.
“I didn’t even consider being an artist as an option for me,” she explains. “I just didn’t really think that was something I could or should do.” She spent her last two years of school attending a performing arts institution, where she felt other students were more of a good fit for the stage than her. “Everyone who wanted to be an artist just had an aura to them where you could tell that they could [do it] and I never really thought I would have that.”
Despite that, after she left school Matilda gave herself a year to try out the musician thing. She took a job in a pub and spent her spare time working on an EP, producing it with a friend from school. It would be that record, titled ‘October 16th and self-released in 2018, that would kickstart everything and mean its creator wouldn’t have to think about switching lanes after her allotted 12 months were up. Over its four tracks, it presented a young musician with an undeniable gift – one for not just writing beautiful, moving songs but delivering them with a rich, emotive voice and melodies that wrap themselves around you like a cocoon.
The art of songwriting is something Matilda has been working on for years. At first, it wasn’t anything serious. “My dad does adverts and when I was nine he would give me the advert that he was working on, but without sound,” she recalls. “Then I’d make up a terrible song for it.”
When she was 13, the now-21-year-old discovered Laura Marling and began to work on her own music. “I really liked her style of songwriting,” she says of the British folk star. “It was so raw.” Matilda soon began taking guitar lessons so she could accompany herself on her tracks and slowly developed her writing into the story-filled songs that have gained her so much attention over the last three years.
In that time, Matilda has achieved a lot. She’s graduated from lunchtime performances at school to touring with and supporting the likes of Beabadoobee, Arlo Parks and The Staves – her heroes. The latter two tours coincided with each other, with the young musician using days off from one run to join the other. “I got really used to playing live [through that],” she says of the dates.
Her live skills – hushed, magnetic performances that quietly draw you in and lock you into the tales she recounts in her songs – have also seen her score acclaim as well as good support slots. Last year, she was named runner-up at Glastonbury Festival’s prestigious Emerging Talent Competition, securing a coveted slot at the iconic festival.
On record, Matilda has also been making plenty of waves. Last year she released two EPs – ‘If That Makes Sense’ and ‘Because I Wanted You To Know’ – that highlight her unique narrative powers and arresting harmonies. “‘If That Makes Sense’ was my first time putting out something that had been properly produced and I think that’s where I got my sound together,” she explains. “My voice is quite close to the microphone and there are lots of harmonies all over it. There’s not too many effects on it because I want to bring out how my voice naturally sounds.”
Both records capture her desire to make something original. “There’s so many chords and chord progressions, but they’ve all been used before,” she notes, citing lyrics and harmonies as the two elements that she can use to elevate her songs into their own realm.
“When I listen to songs, I listen to the lyrics because I want to hear something that will say something to me,” she says of the former. “The best thing in life is if you’re going through a strange time and you hear a song that says exactly what you’re feeling. I want to write something that will let someone know that they’re not the only one thinking that way.”
Her new single ‘Doomsday’ taps into some of the emotions widely felt over the last year as the pandemic has made us consider the fleeting nature of life. “Before the world is doomed, I hope I get to live a life next to you,” Matilda sings over layers of feather-soft harmonies and gentle guitar.
“When I wrote that, that’s when it felt like the end of the world,” she explains. As a songwriter who usually gets her inspiration from being around people and overhearing others’ conversations, she turned to the screen. “I was watching Normal People at that time and Pride And Prejudice, and I just thought, ‘It’s the end of the world, we’re the last couple, let’s go and get married’.” Littered with references to pandemic-era habits – “get out of your sweats”, she commands at one point – Matilda wanted the song’s romantic spirit to also reflect “the little mundane aspects everyone’s put into into their lives over the past year”.
The pandemic has also impacted the young musician’s views on the wider world, citing the Black Lives Matter movement and “women trying to change equality” as things that will stick with her from this time. Both subjects and more, she says, will feed into her music in the future, but first she’s taking the time to educate herself properly. “There’s so much I want to say, but I need to learn first,” she reasons. “Before getting into it, I want to know my stuff.”
The 21-year-old’s goals for her future are simple and humble, but mirror the passion in her music. “I would just like to continue to be someone who gets to make music for a living,” she says. With an arsenal of enchanting, poetic songs already in her bag – and plenty more in her future – Matilda Mann should long reign as one of British music’s most special voices.