Formerly a New Music Editor at NME magazine, music journalist Matt Wilkinson was best known as an early champion of acts such as Tame Impala and Haim, and beloved for in-depth interviews with the likes of Paul McCartney and the Arctic Monkeys. Today, Wilkinson is most recognised as the face of his Beats 1 radio show on Apple Music, which airs Monday through Friday at 11am GMT, and recently hosted a roundtable conversation between The 1975's Matty Healy, Christine And The Queens, and Laura Snapes about misogyny in the music industry.
We talked to Wilkinson recently about his Beats 1 show and who his top musical picks for this year are...
Beats 1 is inside Apple Music, and it is a twenty-four-seven live radio station... We’re all just new music obsessives, we’re obsessed with the idea of finding the next big thing really early on and playing it all around the world.
COUP DE MAIN: Who are the new artists that you're most excited about this year?
MATT WILKINSON: In terms of really new stuff, there’s a band who actually just launched yesterday called BADGIRL$ and they’re from Manchester, although I think they might be based in London, but they’re from Manchester originally. They’ve got a tune called ‘Only One’ which is part of a larger project which I will imagine will drop at some point fairly soon. Literally, they’re the newest of the new, it just came out about 24 hours ago. To me, the exciting thing they’re doing is that it seems like they’re the first British band to really grasp what’s going on in America in terms of the production that people like Frank Dukes are doing, and have kind of put it through the British indie-sphere. I’ve heard more of their songs that haven’t come out yet, and it kind of reminds me of what Jamie T was doing when he first came out, but it’s very 2019 and very forward-thinking, so I’m really excited about them. As I say, they’re pretty much the newest of the new. Have you heard of Slowthai yet? He’s pretty big now. I think in the UK he’s really gonna go because he’s got this-- I don’t know how he does it, but he taps into what The Streets did when he first came out around 2002/2003, in that he just seems to sum up the general feeling of people in the country. It’s been so long since anyone’s done that. A lot of the things he talks about are quite rough and ready, and it’s not all happy stuff and plain sailing - similar to The Streets in terms of how he did exactly the same thing. So in terms of people where there’s already the hype there, I think Slowthai is probably front of the pack in the UK at the moment.
CDM: Are there any albums you're particularly holding out to hear this year?
MATT: I think Vampire Weekend have come back and been so good - so much better than I expected. I’m a big fan of them anyway, but they rolled out these two songs that we’ve got so far, and it’s just exciting! I think they’re straight back in there as one of the world’s biggest and best bands, I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album - judging by these two songs it’ll be amazing. Super excited about Tame Impala as well, I know that they’ve started to announce shows now and normally when that happens it means that there’s music not too far away. I remember Kevin [Parker], when he spoke to us last year in a sort of news-y interview, he was saying, “Yeah, by summertime next year, I want to have new music out,” which isn’t that far away! In terms of new stuff, I think Billie Eilish is gonna deliver an incredible record. Every song that she’s put out so far has just been amazing, and I just love the fact that she can put out things like the thing she did for the ‘Roma’ film, which is a throwaway song really - I don’t think that’s gonna be on the record. But it’s an amazing track. If you’re in that stage where you can do that, as a new artist, and afford to do that, then you’re obviously hitting on something and doing it right, so I can’t wait to hear that. And in the UK, I mean, she’s already huge - she sold out her tour here in a few minutes.
CDM: We have Jorja Smith on the cover of our new issue who obviously had a really big last year in the UK and is now off to the Grammys this month. Obviously everyone in New Zealand is really proud of our homegirl Lorde. Is there a similar pride for Jorja in the UK?
MATT: It’s really interesting with Jorja because she’s sort of fairly new. It’s quite weird, even though she’s massive, it’s only been, I think, since late 2015? I think the first songs started coming out and music industry people started talking about her, and to go from that to where she is now, two years later, she’s probably the premiere new UK artist of the past five years or something. It’s pretty incredible. Although, I guess it’s not at the same level Lorde was at in New Zealand, because Lorde went from nobody to literally one of the biggest stars of the decade, but it’s definitely getting there. There’s definitely a sense that Jorja’s doing it her way, and whether you’re an out-and-out pop fan who doesn’t really care to read into much about how someone is perceived from an industry sense, or whether you’re in the industry yourself, it’s quite admirable that she can get to this level on her own terms. So yeah, it’s growing massively - I think she’s gonna have a good Brit Awards, and Grammys. I think from here, she just needs to come back with an album again which is just as strong, but with her I kind of feel like she’s definitely gonna do it because she’s got all the foundation work already there.
CDM: Yeah, and I think it’s really changed how artists perceive The Orchard, and how they are a viable way to do it and not have to sign to a major label.
MATT: Yeah definitely, there was so much hype around her when she started, she could have gone with anybody. But it’s a similar path, you see it with all kinds of bands, even tiny little bands are doing a similar thing where they are sidestepping the normal label route until they need it. But yeah, Jorja’s the trendsetter for that.
CDM: For anyone that's still getting their head around what Apple Music and Beats 1 has on offer to them, how would you explain it?
MATT: Beats 1 is inside Apple Music, and it is a twenty-four-seven live radio station. Alongside me - I host the morning show in the UK, which I think goes out at a pretty good time in New Zealand, I think it’s your evening time if I’ve got that right - you’ve got three other anchor hosts. You’ve got Zane Lowe in LA and Julie Adenuga in London as well. We’re all just new music obsessives really, we’re obsessed with the idea of finding the next big thing really early on and playing it all around the world. Alongside us there are all manner of shows from breaking artists like AJ Tracey who’s from London and has just started his show on Beats 1, to legends like Elton John - I don’t how many episodes of ‘Rocket Hour’ he's done, which is his show that he’s hosted, but it must be coming up to like 200 or something now. He loves being a radio presenter, which must be kind of crazy when you think about it. I think the thing Beats 1 can do is really give artists the space to get their message across in a way that other platforms can’t. If you’re an artist, your main way of doing that obviously is your music, and your live shows, but it’s also really nice to be given a platform to actually talk to your fans and curate something for them. Me, personally, I come from a print background, I worked at NME for years. When I started at NME, which was about ten years ago now, that was something that we really strived to do there. I think that’s kind of gone from a lot of print now - although, actually not for you guys, you guys really do it very well. But most print places and online places don’t really give the artist the space to breathe, they don’t create that excitement. But that is 100% what Beats 1 does, and there’s some incredible incredible shows. People like Frank Ocean! It’s just curating a platform of what goes on inside his head - how exciting is that? One of the biggest artists in the world, who doesn’t really do interviews, who doesn’t give much away, yet you can listen to Blonded and you can really get a perspective of who he is. So I think, that's the aim of Beats 1, to find new music, to try and bring it to you guys around the world first, and let artists have this insane platform to be really exciting and be at one with their fans as well.
CDM: You just launched ‘Sleeve Notes’ last month with Tame Impala, where you ask ten questions about the specific makings of an album. What made you want to introduce this new segment which dives so deeply into a specific project of an artist?
MATT: It’s like what I was saying before about giving the artist space to breathe - what I’ve found with a lot of press interviews, and you’ll probably understand this as well, is that they can almost feel quite restrictive in a way, where you feel like the artist has this incredible story to tell, but because of time pressure, or the fact that they might be media trained (and a lot of media training tells you to hold back rather than let everything out), I feel like there are a lot of amazing stories about music by musicians, which just don’t get out there. So me and the rest of my team - there’s four of us in total in the team - we were kind of throwing ideas around, and one of the things I really enjoyed doing is just talking really straight with musicians about music. I feel like in a way that’s quite rare? Because a lot of musicians tend to say, ‘Oh wow, this is really nice to actually chat about music rather than what my favourite colour is,’ or whatever. We were throwing ideas around about how best to do that. Somebody, I can’t remember who it was on the team, came up with the idea of keeping the same ten questions every month using those as a start-off point, and making the questions really simple. It was like, 'What would I want to know from Kevin Parker about ‘Lonerism’?', which is the one we launched it with. I’d wanna know when he last listened to it in full? Because that’s really interesting to me. I’d wanna know how it changed him as a person, I’d wanna know who it’s dedicated to - all these very almost simplistic questions really, they’re not too hard to understand. We all just really fell in love with the idea of doing this and Kevin’s one of the top people who I wanted to get. I’ve interviewed him a few times before, and one of the times was around ‘Lonerism’, and he was just so open then and I realised it was such a deep album for him, and such an important album for him. I felt like that side of the story hadn’t really come out before weirdly, even though it’s such a big album, so to get the chance to do that with him as the first episode for ‘Sleeve Notes’, it was a dream come true. He was amazing in the interview as well, I mean he was really the perfect start.
CDM: That’s rad. You can really tell that you love music passionately and it really shows in your interviews - you can always tell that you genuinely care. That’s not always the case with interviews, especially the more and more it becomes about just creating content - what do you think is the future of music journalism?
MATT: Thank you for saying that - I really, really appreciate that. It’s weird because every now and then someone will say that, whether it’s an artist after an interview-- Clairo was saying that, when I spoke to her she was like, ‘This is the first interview I’ve done where I actually felt like someone really had done their research and stuff,’ and that really shocked me! I was like, everyone should be doing research! It’s your job as a journalist!
CDM: We get that too, and it's so weird hearing someone say that to you, because it kind of hurts. I love Jenny Lewis so much, she’s like one of my favourite people in the world, and when she said a similar thing to us it just made me sad. Like, ‘Is it normal for people to not do research before interviewing you?! How dare they.'
MATT: It’s really weird, but I’ll tell you what, I’ve had that the whole time I’ve been in journalism - so for like ten years now, that’s been happening. It’s two things, that it doesn’t happen enough because people are always surprised by it, but also the fact it’s still happening and the fact that I’m still here, says that it’ll always exist - even if it’s only 5% percent of journalists who are doing it, and the other 95% who aren’t doing it, it will always exist and there’ll always be an audience for it. Most importantly maybe, artists will always love it! I think the crazy thing is I don’t really see much difference between Miley Cyrus and Kevin Parker. Miley was on the show in December with Mark Ronson, and I didn’t approach it being her any differently to the way I would with Kevin Parker - I just got really geeky about music. Both of them reacted in exactly the same way, musicians are the same at their core.
CDM: And lastly, if an artist wanted to pitch something to you, what's the best way to get their music to you?
MATT: The best way is to e-mail me, or hit me up on Twitter as well, or Instagram, those are the best ways really. If you’re starting out in music and you have no idea, then it’s so easy to get your music onto streaming platforms now. I’m really pleased that it’s very rare for me to find a new band who haven’t got their music available on Apple Music, whereas when we started, I think new artists weren’t as in tune with the benefits of doing that, and how easy it was as well. I think the first step is just to get your music out there, everywhere, because you have an audience then. And yeah, hit me up on social media!
Listen to Matt Wilkinson’s show on Apple Music Beats 1 here.
Watch Matt Wilkinson's recent interview with The 1975's Matty Healy below...