After wading through the usual web of technical difficulties that precede so many zoom calls, I am greeted by the beaming, if pixellated, face of one of the UK’s most exciting singer-songwriters, Mathilda Homer. “Oh my god, we actually did it,” she laughs. After the stress of thinking that we might never manage to speak with one another, Mathilda’s relaxed and amicable demeanour puts everything at ease. Her music functions in much the same way.
Over the last few years, Mathilda Homer has been releasing a dazzling array of blissed-out tracks, drawing from jazz, hip hop, and pop. The stunning production value on tracks like ‘Enjoy The Ride’ ‘and ‘Rock Bottom’ is topped only by Mathilda’s remarkable vocal elasticity.
I caught up with the singer-songwriter just after the release of her new EP, If You Were on Fire, which is available on streaming platforms now. It is a powerful selection of sun-soaked and honey-sweet pop anthems. In just four songs, Mathilda somehow manages to conjure up everything from heart-warming nostalgia to political disillusionment. Obviously, some of that nostalgia had rubbed off on me because, when I sat down with Mathilda, we spent the first five minutes rambling about our shared affection for the pick n’ mix section of Woolworths (R.I.P).
The first thing you should understand about Mathilda Homer is that she is an artist in constant pursuit of her own sound. Her passion for songwriting started at an early age, and she has spent the last decade honing her craft. Born into a family in which music played an important part Mathilda explains that her early life was distinctly Von-Trapp in character: “I was always trying to impress my parents with a better harmony than my siblings. That was basically my whole life, trying to get the best harmony, the weirdest harmony,” she says.
That eagerness to chase a unique sound is yet to fade. When she released ‘Enjoy The Ride’ in 2018, the track’s distinctive jazz flavour whipped up a storm on streaming and social media platforms, earning Homer millions of listens and a dedicated fanbase. But, as she describes, it wasn’t until the lockdown that she really started writing music she felt was her own: “I grew up listening to Tracy Chapman, Norah Jones, Eva Cassidy, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone – all of these classic, really unreal artists. And in the pandemic, I finally revisited them.
“Before, my style was much more like jazz leaning, like a bit soulful.” Mathilda continues, after pausing to take off her sunglasses. “I had a real phase a few years ago, of listening to Jorja Smith and people like that. I was listening to them and kind of trying to make their sound my own. But it wasn’t what I’d grown up listening to and it wasn’t authentic to what I felt my songwriting was. And then, in the pandemic, I just started revisiting all the stuff that my parents had played me, all the things that first inspired me to actually do music and write songs for myself. And that inspired the sound that I’ve created in this EP.”
Mathilda co-wrote all but one of the tracks on If You Were on Fire with fellow singer-songwriter Matt Maltese. The two met during the pandemic and quickly formed a friendship and collaborative partnership. I asked Mathilda how, for a person used to writing songs on her own, she found working with Maltese. “Matt always says to me, ‘do you have a title you want?’ because that’s sometimes a good way of inspiring a song. So I brought a title into the room and it was ‘Something Sentimental.’ And then we just started. When I’m writing with Matt, it just flows. There’s no stopping and starting.”
But Mathilda seems to recognise the inherent danger posed by collaborations. It’s easy for one member of the partnership to dominate the process, but it appears that Mathilda’s collaboration with Matt Maltese was nothing if not democratic. “I respect his [Maltese’s] artistry so much, but it was about finding a balance and making sure that it didn’t sound like a Matt Maltese song, even though his songs are all absolutely flawless. I’m obsessed with his music, but I wanted to make sure it sounded like my material, so it was definitely a joint thing. Thankfully, everyone in the room was on the same tangent of getting this kind of melancholic song.”
But beyond the EP’s subtle melancholia, it also rings with a politically charged vitality. The track ‘If You Were On Fire’ might, on a first listen, sound like a break-up anthem. But, as Mathilda explains, the song’s roots lie in far more socially conscious territory: “‘If You Were on Fire’ is basically about world leaders being assholes,” she explains, “But I didn’t really want to mention people’s names like Donald Trump because it would be a bit blatant. So it was more a case of tailoring the lyrics to make sure I was smashing the topic without being too obvious.”
For Mathilda, it would seem that it is the songwriter’s duty to tackle social and political issues. During our chat, I get the impression that she, like so many of us, is tired of musician’s shying away from overtly political subject matter. This dalliance with democracy doesn’t seem to frighten Mathilda, however. In her own words: “I made a pact to myself last year that I wasn’t going to be an artist that was worried about speaking about politics, or injustices or sexism, racism, homophobia, all of that. It would be easy for me to be quiet about it, because then I could get more right-wing fans. But I don’t really mind about not having those kinds of people liking my music. I think it’s more important for me to use my voice in any way that I can to make a difference rather than being complacent in social issues.”
As we wrap up the interview and Mathilda describes what the future holds, it is clear that she is a songwriter for whom complete artistic control is essential. She explains that she would like to continue using her voice to tackle political issues and move towards an artistic practice that truly captures the music in her head. From where I’m standing, I’d say she’s doing pretty bloody well already.
Make sure you check out Mathilda Homer’s new EP If You Were on Fire. You can listen to the title track below.