"I would love to write a record with her [Selena Gomez]. I would just make it really, really indie because I actually think that's where her talents lie."
Photos By: Olivia Cummings
Irish sweetheart CMAT creates 20th century country music for a pop music audience. Her ambition and complex songwriting has evolved over the last couple years. Her acclaimed debut album If My Wife Knew I'd Be Dead (2022) received Irish Album of the Year at the 2023 Choice Awards and caught the attention of publications around the globe. Her sophomore album Crazymad, For Me is "...an abstract break-up album… about what happens when you are still angry about something that happened 10 years ago.”
CMAT - Crazymad, For Me
Available on Indie Exclusive Opaque Orange Vinyl
CrazyMad, For Me is grand, full of hooks and picture-painting lyrics projected by her singular vocals. It’s the mainstream indie that CMAT loved as a teenager, filtered through 20th century country music, amplified by knowledge of 80s and 90s pop hits with a slide guitar and a camp twist. Complex, intimate and with influences far-flung across time and place, Crazymad, For Me is an instant classic album for the broadest audience.
We caught up with CMAT after her sold-out Baby's All Right performance to chat about country music and the array of songwriters who shaped her.
I don't know this particular record super duper well but I am a Rhiannon Giddens super fan/stangirl. She's a combination of a lot of my favorite things, but namely, she's like an archivist, historian, and an academic of country music, but then also plays it fucking beautifully and she does a lot of lectures about the relationship between the banjo and original West African music. She really does a good job of linking country music with its original origins, which is like the melting pot in America in the 18th/19th century. She also just sings so wonderfully and plays such a mean banjo. But most importantly of all she loves Ireland and she moved there. She lives on the West Coast of Ireland and she’s always harping on about how much she loves Ireland, which is like the two things that I harp on about as well: Ireland and Country Music.
This record I probably came into contact with when I was about 16/17 and it's never left me. It’s kind of so sad that this is the only real record that we got from her. She was such a significant figure in the Greenwich folk music scene but she was so different to everyone else. I think when she made this record she had like five kids or something and was just hanging around New York. I could be completely wrong with the story of this, but Harvey Brooks tricked her into recording this record by saying that she was rehearsing for another band. She refused to go into the recording studio because she was really, really shy and took it very seriously.
So, they kind of tricked her into making this record with her band and all these songs that she knows really well because Brooks just really, really, really wanted to record her. The first song, “Something on Your Mind” is, for me, easily one of the top five songs of all time. I don't know a lot of other figures like her. She's of Native American descent, although I think she had to leave home very early when she was younger. But I don't think there's a lot of people with her background that are such significant figures with really well produced stuff of the time because these productions are so lush. Also side note, she didn't have two front teeth. So she whistles a lot.
I've really picked a lot from the same genre, or like in my head, the same genre. There's a lot of people from this scene in Nashville in the 80s and 90s who were absolutely hated by the country music establishment. And for whatever reason Iris Dement seemed to be one of them. I think it's just because she made quite traditional country music and stuff that wasn't super shiny and super sexy. And listen, I love sexy, shiny, poppy country music as well, but there should have been room for everything. She recorded a lot of this record in a hotel, the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, Nashville, TN. I have this record in my boyfriend's car because I can’t drive, but I have the CD of this and I listen to it probably every day. I came in contact with this record again when I was like 18 or 19 because somebody told me that I sang like her and I'd never heard her before. And then I heard her and it was like, well, that's me. In particular the song “Our Town” is just so sad. Iris Dement and John Prine had a really intense relationship with Ireland and with Iris, I would put it down to that song because it's a song about emigrating and then trying to go back to your old town and it not being there anymore, which is an extremely common Irish experience.
A year and a half ago I was playing a solo show in Nashville, TN in The Basement, but not the nice one, the other one that's kind of rough around the edges, one that's like quite a small venue in a legitimate basement. I got a load of requests for support acts, which you do in Nashville because every person there is a singer-songwriter trying to get a gig every single night of the week. She was one of the people that put in, and I listened to her stuff and, at the time, she had like 500 followers on Instagram or something. I listened to her and immediately was like “Yeah, love her. Her music is fucking amazing let’s get her on,” but by the time I had asked for her to be my support she was already not available because she'd been booked for something else. It's been really nice to kind of watch her blow up so quickly since then and this record's amazing. Love it, love her. Also, side note: she has a frequent collaborator named Sean Thompson and he is in the band called Sean Thompson's Weird Ears, they’re also an amazing band. My little brother's name is Sean Thompson, and I've never come across anyone else with the name Sean Thompson. So that was a weird connection.
Josh Kaufman, who's in this band, produced a song for me called “Whatever’s Inconvenient,” which is on my new record. And so we love him for that reason, obviously, but this band is fucking ridiculous. They're so stupidly good and they're like a supergroup. The lead singer is from Fruit Bats [Erid D. Johnson] and the other songwriter slash guitar player in the band is Anais Mitchell, who I think is quite popular here because she wrote Hadestown, and then Josh, who is in loads of bands [Craig Finn, Josh Ritter, The National]. I saw them live at a festival that we both did in the UK this year called Black Deer Festival, and I legitimately sobbed. It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my whole entire life and I couldn't believe that it was live music. The level of musicianship in this band and everyone associated with it is like the highest I've come across. I'm not one of those wanky people that's like, oh, I love Jacob Collier because he can play 75,000,000 fifths… that's not what I'm into. What I'm into is when you have a band that feels like one entire nucleus and they sound like they've played together for 25 years, but they haven't, they're just all really, extremely locked in with each other and they really love each other and they believe in each other's ability and you can hear it in the record and you can see it live. Yeah, it's really, really intense. Oli Deakin, who produced my first record, told me he remembers being in the crowd for their first ever gig where they just all got up on stage and started playing together. He was like, God, I hope they do more of this and then they just turned it into a band.
The only song I've heard for a very long time off this record was “I saw the light.” It was in a compilation or something that I liked listening to recently enough when I was like 23 or 24. The backing vocals on that song maybe changed my life. I mean specifically you hear his influence on all of my backing vocals on the first record and then like a lot in the second record. This album is just such a reference point for me because everything in it and the kind of sonic palette and aesthetic of it is like my favorite sounding thing in the world. It sounds very autumnal. It sounds like the incidental music on any episode of the Gilmore Girls, but it's catchy as fuck, right? He made this record when he was 23 and he played all of the songs, produced everything. He's disgusting, I love him so much. “Hello It's Me” has had a new found resurgence and relevancy because it is the song of the death of Mr. Big in the Sex and the City revival. So for me it is extremely relevant because I'm a big Sex and the City fan and Sex and City is, I think, referenced like four times on my new record. In the first episode of the new season, they have this thing where they do like an alphabetical record a day. We're making our way alphabetically through Big's record collection and this is the record that he pulls out and they listen to “Hello, It's me” and dance to it in the kitchen. Then he's listening to it again when he's on his Peloton and he has a heart attack and he dies. They also play it in the second episode during his funeral and flash through his life. I think it's given Todd Rundgren a renaissance. He's like the quintessential sound of the 1970s.
This is the best record she's made. Controversial but brave opinion: she hasn't really made a bad one. She's so much better than like all of the other pop girlies that are at the same level as her and she speaks to a very specific, creative belief that I have, which is that if you have less to work with, you'll do more. So the thing that was always used against her is the fact that she can't sing. She's best friends with fucking Demi Lovato, who is, you know, powerhouse vocals or whatever. But Selena couldn't really sing like that, that wasn't her style. This record was the first record where I think they embraced it rather than tried to work around it because there's a lot of tuning and a lot of pitching and a lot of, you know, really chopped and spliced vocals on the first couple of records. This is the first one where you don't hear that and she kind of changed her voice. She does that thing that people love to call “cursive-singing,” but it really works well with her voice because she enunciates in such an interesting way and I think the microphone is really hot on this record like indie music but it's in the context of a pop record. This is such a well written record, I'm just such a big fan of this record that I could say the 11-song run is amazing.
Revival is heavily co-written by Julia Michaels, which is super interesting because this record is essentially about her breakup with Justin Bieber, who, from her account, seems to have broken up with her for putting on weight because she had lupus. At that time his biggest record was Sorry which was co-written by Julia Michaels and I kind of feel like Julia atoned for her sins of working with him by writing a break-up record with Selena and she maintains that Selena is a really good writer. She's gotten out of the bad relationship, a toxic relationship, and she's going to stand around two feet now. I just love this record. I think it's great. People really, really, really don't give her credit. If anyone on the Selena Gomez team is reading, please put me in contact with her. I would love to write a record with her. I would just make it really, really indie because I actually think that's where her talents lie. I want her to make a Mazzy Star record or something.