Irish popstar and songwriter CMAT gives us a glimpse of her colourful, eclectic world of internet-inspired jokes, heart-wrenching breakups and dad rock references. Through her signature pop-country flare, CMAT has a unique ability to package her most desperate moments into earnest and incredibly humorous tunes. Her new album Crazymad, For Me comes out in October – with this milestone in sight, she chats to METAL about the importance of perspective, having fun, and re-writing past emotional experiences through music.
First off, could you start by introducing yourself very briefly?
Yes. Hello, my name is CMAT. I'm 27 years old. I'm from Dublin, Ireland. And I am an international teenage pop sensation who loves stupid pop culture moments more than probably, like, the work of Leonard Cohen? I think that pretty much sums it up, honestly.
Great answer! I've been listening to you for about a year and a half now, but I’d never gone back to read about the origins of everything. And I found out that it all started with a song of yours called Another Day (KFC) being played on the radio. Can you tell us a little bit more about that song?
That was my first song that I ever released. I wrote it when I was in my last band. I brought it to them, and my old band were like ‘We don't do comedy music!’. And when you’re in a band you have to represent everyone in it. So I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, okay, fair enough’. But I loved it. I really, really loved the song. And the minute that I went solo, I just really wanted that to be my first single because I looked at so much and it was funny, it was weird, and I just thought it would work. And it came from a very real place.
I used to work as a sexy shots lady, carrying a tray of shots and selling it for a couple of pennies. And I used to walk home from the nightclub that I worked in completely sober. And I would see couples being really drunk and fighting with each other, girls sobbing in fast food restaurants and chicken shops. I just found that so funny. It’s funny that you can have your most desperate moment in a KFC. And I also did! I also had a breakdown in the KFC. I had been working in a shop for 10 hours that day, and my only thing that was getting me home was the KFC that I was going to have at the end of it. And I got there and my card was not working. I actually sobbed.
I kind of combined these two experiences and I made the song that I loved. We released it March 2020, and because everyone was stuck at home due to Covid it just blew up. I felt like I was everywhere for all of 2020.
You come across as a very extroverted person in your music and in your aesthetic choices. But then in your interviews you mentioned that you’ve had quite an insular adolescence. So how did it feel to suddenly blow up?
I mean, I am extroverted, I am loud. And I'm very interested in other people. But I guess on some level I also have anxiety. I grew up in a small village in Ireland, and I was always like this, I was completely delusional. I was eight years old and I was like ‘I’m going to be a popstar, you have to bring me to Los Angeles so I can audition for Disney’. Everyone thought I was weird. Because of that I had a bit of a hard time when I got into secondary school. I don’t think kids knew what to do with me. I spent six or seven years in my bedroom because I couldn’t find anyone to get along with. I was just so loud, and like, obsessed with Paul McCartney.
But all of the friends that I still have to this day are friends that I made on the internet when I was 14 years old. I was in a Bombay Bicycle Club fan forum, this Tumblr blog and all this kind of stuff. And my three best friends I met on that forum.
So I’m definitely extroverted but also definitely spent a lot of time alone because it was easier. And that’s also where the internetiness of my music comes from!
Your sense of humor definitely makes me think of the internet in a lot of ways! You’re able to merge funny and sad bits of life at the same time. How do you go about it and why do you think it’s important?
Dealing with your trauma by way of being really funny seems to be a real Gen Z thing, right? But Irish people have done that for centuries. Our whole national backbone is dealing with the saddest thing ever by being funny about it, because Ireland has had a terrible time. We’ve had a terrible history, a lot of colonialism, a lot of suffering, and a lot of people being fucking killed. And it just always manifests through humour, at least in my family and my community. You know, we might be at a funeral. But Jesus, his suit looks fucking terrible, doesn't it? I always refer to it as funeral humor, because I went to a lot of funerals when I was a child. And people would inevitably start cracking jokes at some point during the funeral, which is just like, not something I'm aware of happening in any other culture. I think I’m just very lucky as a musician that I happen to do this at the same time as Gen Z. It’s great, it’ wonderful. At the same time, though, I think it’s going to return to us being very serious about things. I see TikToks by 16-year-olds with this laissez-faire attitude towards global warming and things that are affecting us very badly. I don’t necessarily agree with that either.
This is an interesting theory, definitely. I never thought about it that way. Thinking about humor, one of the last singles that you've written from your new album is called Have Fun!. It’s essentially a song where you sort of, passive-aggressively encourage an ex-partner to go have fun. How did this song come about?
This is one of the few songs on the album that I would have co-written with someone else. I went on this writing session with the intention of writing for someone else. And I don't know, I just like I had all these lyrics, and this melody. And the producer, Rob Milton, was just playing music over and over again, on a loop. I showed him some references. I was like ‘Oh, I really like this country song! Let’s turn it into a pop song’. I do that all the time. I just kind of wrote over the top of it.
It was clearly something that I've been holding in for a while that it really happened very quickly. What can you do? Have fun, I guess. I really do believe in having fun. I think it's very important for the development of human progression. We're in a culture of mass productivity right now. Everyone's like, ‘I'm going to drink some stones blended together in green juice for my neurological pathway. And then I'm going to eat my last meal at 11am so it's fully digested by 7pm’. There's a lot of that coming through right now. And I just can't help but be like, damn, when you people going to have fun? Nothing's going to happen if we don't have fun. There's no motivation to do anything, and people don't have fun. So I feel very strongly about it.
Yeah, I agree. I feel like it's something that has to do with femininity, as well. We’re taught to police ourselves a lot of the time around our habits. But your encouragement to have fun seems to stand in opposition to this sort of, controlled femininity. You also have said in other interviews that sometimes femininity can still be a limitation in the music industry. What do you think?
Femininity can be put into so many different categories. Especially as an artist. I think I have like a lot of different genres and it's sometimes hard to pin down exactly what genre it is that I do, but I've always seen myself as a guitar music person. But in guitar music when I was growing up, the only women who were really able to break through into anything resembling the mainstream were generally very androgynous and thin, very bogey and kind of fragile. Kind of a Joan Didion pay-off. I remember when Joan Didion died, everyone really praised her restraint. She was so committed to her work. You know, she'd wake up at 9am every morning, come down with a big pair of sunglasses on, a handful of salted almonds and drink like three Diet Cokes before she started doing her work, and she'd work every single day. And I feel like that was always the only acceptable woman in music. Someone who was like very restrained, and androgynous or very fragile and quiet and delicate.
I guess you just started to have people break out of that. The best example I have of this is Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters. She had always been quite demure and careful with her presentation, and then she released this album. And it’s girly in its build up, in its sound, and in the way that presented it. But it's also angry and very, very loud. She screams about being r*ped and stuff. A great album. On the one hand, she got 10 out of 10 on Pitchfork, but other people were like, how could she do this?
And for me, that's just been something that's followed me around as well. You know, I'm like, a slightly bigger girl. I don't think I hit any of the marks of like the classical BMT standard that has been laid out. I mean, which of us does? But the few people that do seem to end up going into that stratospheric pop range. Whenever one of my videos hits the main page of TikTok I get awful comments. People just being like, ‘This music sounds terrible. Why is she singing like that? She looks like Chucky’. I get Chucky a lot, because I have short ginger hair. I'm really great, and really objectively fun to listen to. But there's a lot of people who will just probably refuse to listen to my music because of the way that I've presented it, which is myself. I think culture is still against women and queer people.
What category of people do you think you make music for?
The girls and the gays. Luckily you have dads who are not online and haven't been sucked into the horrible world of Ben Shapiro content and they are absolutely perfectly happy to come to my shows. Love them, love them and love them. There’s definitely a lot of dad rock references in my music, so it makes sense that they would like it. But it's for the girls and the gays on account of me being a queer woman. I'm making music for myself, which means the girls and the gays.
That is the answer that I was looking for! Going back to your song Have Fun!.  I think it has a different vibe to a lot of the songs that we're in your previous album If My Wife New I'd be Dead. It feels like an F-U song. In your previous album, the only song that has a similar energy that I can think of is No More Virgos. Is this the kind of energy that your new album, coming out in October, is going to be fuelled by?
This album is a breakup album. It's split into three parts. The first third of the album is like, when the relationship has just ended, or is about to end. And you're angry and furious and you’re like ‘I'm gonna kill them!’. The middle section of the album, though, is me realising that I had a part to play in all of this. It’s me realising that I have, in fact, done something wrong in my life. And then, and then Have Fun! comes in the final third, which is me making peace. I'll probably never forget that this happened to me, but I think I can make peace with the fact that it did it and move on with my life. So at least one third of the album is about one person, and that's okay, because I had to work through it. I don't actually feel like that about the person in question. The great thing about songs and songwriting for me is that it's like a diary for a snapshot in time. It's not how I feel all of the time, you know? My song Nashville is about suicidal ideation. And I don’t feel that way anymore, but it's important for me to look back on it and realise I've moved on. And isn't that so great? That's basically what all of my songs are. My songs were pretty much my absolute craziest moments – it’s like packaging them into a song that I can look back into later.
That ties in quite well into the title of your new album called Crazymad, For Me. How did you think of this title? What does it represent?
The title comes from a Sheena Easton song called 9 to 5 (Morning Train), which is one of my favourite songs of all time. The song itself really works as an allegory for the whole album. The album is about time and perspective and their effects on human relationships.  Sheena Easton’s song was released in 1981. She describes a 19-year-old girl who's just got married, and she spends all of her day at home, cleaning the house, and waiting really excitedly for her husband to come home from work so that he can have sex with her. It’s like her life revolves upon having sex with her husband. And in the 1980s that was romantic! By today’s standards, it’s a horror story. I just find it fascinating that through time and perspective you can rewrite your own history. And that’s kind of what the album is about. It focuses around a breakup that I had six years ago, which, by definition I should be over by now. But I don’t think that healing is linear. Lots of stuff went down that had an impact on me to this day and will probably be a factor in my life. And there’s a line in the Sheena Easton song where she goes: ‘All day I think of him | dreaming of him constantly. I'm crazy mad for him and he's crazy mad for me’. And I remember just being like that literally. I've definitely felt that exact feeling that she described.
I’m going to have to go listen to that song now! What tracks from the new album are you most excited about releasing?
California, definitely. People in my life have said that their favourite song is a song called Stay for Something. Which I also think is good. But my favourite song on the album, and also probably my favourite that I’ve ever written, is called California. And it’s just the best thing I’ve ever made. California is a song I wrote about making the album. I knew that when this album was released there were going to be people in my life that would be angry that I've made an album about something that happened six years ago, like why can I not just get over it? ‘Oh, women are always so dramatic! They love moaning about their problems. Just get over it and move on with your life!’ And this is a song about me, defiantly not doing so and taking all of the problems that have been given to me by that relationship and turning it into an album, or a film, to use the analogy that we use in the song.
I can’t wait to listen! I mean, if I think about famous pop stars at the moment, Taylor Swift is a person that does that quite a lot – she reminisces on past relationships, and people seem to love her for that.
I love the fact that 11 years after she's out of that relationship with Jake Gyllenhaal she will remake a song 10 minutes long to complain about more aspects of the relationship. She just added all of these other issues that she had with him. That's my kind of woman.
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