Everybody is searching for happiness – and although it might be impossible to find, Matt Maltese is getting closer. For his fourth album, in order to look forward the musician finally let himself look back to the past. Reflecting on a sense of place, the meaning of where you grew up and the secret to being able to just enjoy the moment, ‘Driving Just To Drive’ finds Maltese at his most free.
Album cycles have long defined his’s life – the 25-year-old’s growth can be mapped in tandem with his music, and it’s only with this record that the young man is finding peace between past and present, and slowly better become himself. “‘Bad Contestant’ was someone I wanted to keep up with rather than just me,” Maltese says of his 2018 debut, a record he holds close to his heart and wanted to channel with his most recent release. A rewilding, of sorts.
The record finds Maltese at his most open, and settled, embracing new sounds but returning to the most organic version of himself he knows. He’s always wanted to find a way to make people laugh, but finds ways here to charm while somewhat letting his guard down. The result is something bittersweet and deeply, authentically emotional. Since his second album, 2020’s ‘Krystal’, Maltese has “felt a pull of earnestness being like, ‘Come over here.’” What a pleasure that ‘Driving Just To Drive’ finds the artist fully surrendered, curled up and honest with that feeling at last.
“When I was younger, I was über earnest – when I was 18 and got my heart broken I lost this ego thing in me, and it brought back earnestness in a way,” Maltese says of the governing emotions that guided him to a level of pure nostalgia and romanticism that elevates this album into a more powerful, sincere plane than ever. “I’d pushed that earnestness away as I felt self-conscious, but as time goes on, there’s no time anymore for self-deprecation. I think the way I lived my life before 2021 was all thinking. I now try to think less, and be less precious with what I write.”
It gives this album great clarity and depth in storytelling. The things Maltese wanted to sing about include honouring his youth (the warm and sunny ‘Florence’ was written in his teen years about a gig that changed his life) and, more specifically, his hometown of Reading. He had to drive to sixth form every day, and nods to that melancholy era on the soaring valentine ‘Museum’. He says of the place’s influence on his life: “You change a lot but these places hold those different versions of yourself that you were and that you can’t change. I like my current self more than my teenage self, but I also realised it’s a shame to not see how the present is so intertwined and indebted to the past.” It’s truthful in a way you can’t ignore as much in the simplicity of ‘Irony Would Have It’ and the unexpected peppiness of ‘Mortician’.
The lush, almost cinematic sound also comes from Maltese working with a producer for the first time in a while – a first-time producer at that, in Josh [we didn’t mention last name!]. It was only after thriving in a songwriting space, collaborating with Joy Crookes, Celeste, Etta Marcus and more, that Maltese better realised how he wanted to write for himself. “I’m bad at letting go to make someone else help me, but I’ve got better,” Maltese says. “Sharing those moments in real life with another person is just really nice. Josh hadn’t made an album before which I loved, and also working someone with my age ended up being really important.”
‘Coward’ also sees Maltese toy with rhythm, with the Americana-infused ‘Mortician’ suggesting more fun, and ‘Suspend Your Disbelief’ finding hope, more joy, more energy in Maltese’s life. Yet he’s not necessarily stuck in this either (the album’s title track is an aching, heart-stopping ballad about letting go of self-imposed necessity), or in anything for that matter – the point here is to find what feels good, in the very moment that it does. “The dream is doing something without any sense of how long it’ll last or what you’re doing it for,” Maltese says of the album’s namesake, and his current state of mind. “So many things are a better experience when they don’t have that end goal. Trying to not being obsessed with the length of things was really important. Your career, or relationships, or how long your parents are going to live for.” It’s about sitting back, listening to your younger self, and just enjoying the journey.