INTERVIEW: CMAT

“I’d rather drink piss than drink Pepsi Max,” Irish pop-star CMAT candidly declared on her Instagram Live broadcast a few weeks ago. The songwriter was half way through eating 80 pieces of popcorn chicken from KFC at the time, a challenge she committed to after over 100 of her fans liked a social media post saying she’d film the endeavor. She was washing down her meal with cans of diet coke, whilst simultaneously being hilarious.

Whether it’s competitive eating, or releasing highly relatable pop tunes, according to her Twitter everything CMAT does is “for the girls and the gays and that’s it.” Her latest single ‘I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!’ epitomises this with its blend of witty lyrics and camp, country-tinged melancholy sounds. To date, CMAT has shared three singles, ‘Another Day (kfc)’ – which inspired the popcorn chicken challenge – ‘Rodney’, an ode to Rodney Dangerfield, and this most recent offering, which is currently sitting at no. 11 in the official Irish Homegrown Top 20 Chart.

We caught up with CMAT just before the release of her new single to talk about the popcorn chicken challenge, her love for Linda Nolan and Jedward, TikTok life and Jason Derulo…

Let’s start by talking about your greatest achievement to date: eating 80 pieces of KFC popcorn chicken in one sitting on Instagram Live. Is this a world record?

Every interview I do now is so funny because it starts with this question. I’m absolutely not mad about it at all, because I am ready and willing to talk about eating 80 pieces of popcorn chicken. I don’t recommend it to anyone.

My housemate was at work all day, and when she came in she saw the aftermath. People had been texting her about it saying “do you know what’s happening in your house right now?” and she came home and I was flat out on the bed. I had loads of friends texting me during the broadcast saying “please stop doing this to yourself, please make yourself vomit like in Roman times because this is going to damage you,” but I thought that was cheating. When I say I was in pain for the next two days, I mean it. It was just not right or healthy.

It was so silly, I saw the sign for [80 pieces of chicken] and I was like that’s so gas. I put up a post saying if I got 100 likes I would eat it live on Instagram, thinking that I wouldn’t actually have to do it. But I got the likes, and I was like “you bastards, you absolute bastards,” but I brought it on myself, and it was actually really fun. I’m going to do another one.

I don’t think it’s an actual world record unfortunately. I thought it was, and that I was great and that I was a legend, and then I looked up actual competitive eating and I was like “I’m never getting into that world”. There’s a woman in England who is like “I’m the number one female competitive eater and no-one can beat me.” She does this thing where she grabs fistfuls of stuff, pushes it into her mouth, and pushes it so it just jams down her throat. It’s terrifying. She does it once a week and I’m like…girl…

I’ve decided that the precedent I’ve set for myself is that I’ll only do it when I want to promote something, and that’s it.

I think that’s a good decision. Your songs – particularly ‘Another Day (kfc)’ – describe quite painful events like heartbreak and loneliness, but you filter them through a humourous lens. How do you manage to make music that’s genuinely funny but also on some level, cripplingly painful?

That’s good, that’s what I’m going for! I think this is a thing that I have going on in my own psychological make-up, which is that I like to take the big things and make them small. And I like to take the small things and make them big and dramatic. For me, KFC has Godly importance, but it’s also important to take heartbreak and love and pain, and bring that back to KFC, and that’s my general rule of thumb.

A lot of songwriting today, especially in the money-making beast that is chart pop, where you get a lot of “band aid” type songs where they’re like “we’re gonna sing a song about something really important and dramatic, and we’re gonna make it sounds really big and important and dramatic,” and fit this massive thing into a song without even trying to look at it through a more focused lens. I think that’s where it comes from. I think I also do it in life as well. A lot of people say I’m kind of like a man and I’m very bad at talking about things seriously. I can’t have a serious conversation about my emotions, or how I’m feeling. I’m just like “Yeah I’m absolutely fine, totally grand, no worries,” I do that all the time. I think that’s just carried on into the song writing, but I think that’s pretty transparent.

Something that is transparent is your love for American comedian Rodney Dangerfield on your second single ‘Rodney’. Do people know who he is when you’re referencing him? What inspired you to write a song about him?

I don’t know, and I didn’t really care whether people knew about him or not, because I LOVE him. What I said before about not being able to talk about emotions, he’s the exact same. Everything he does is super self deprecating, he hates himself, and everyone around him hates him. Everything is a one-liner, and he makes the big things really small.

I’ve wanted to write a song about him for ages, The “one-liner” in the song is “I’m the Rodney Dangerfield of your ex girlfriends,” because his catchphrase is “I don’t get no respect!” and I’m like “omg same I don’t get no respect either!” I didn’t just pick him for his catchphrase though, I picked him because he is very representative of me. He’s a one-liner comedian, and I’m a one-liner musician, because I’m all about the song, and the song being in its own kind of universe. That’s just my own personal take on it. I don’t like relying on an album, or a body of work to give context to individual pieces, I like the song to be the beginning and the end of it. I don’t think all art has to be that prescriptive though.

My only focus with my music career at the moment is just to keep writing really good songs that are really fleshed out. Not just for myself, but for other people that I’m working with too. All these little co-writing jobs that have been popping up since I started releasing my own music, I have real tunnel vision for whatever the song I’m working on is, I’m like “this has to be the best song in the world”. I don’t really care too much about an album at the moment. There’s a couple of concept projects that I’d like to work on, where it might be an EP or a collection of songs. I had an idea to work on just pure country music duets, do a “CMAT and friends” type thing, but that’s the only way I’d be able to think about it. I wouldn’t be able to put my own songs into a collection and be like “this is cohesive and they’re all related to each other,” because they don’t at all. It’ll have to be a greatest hits album. I don’t think people will mind.

We certainly wouldn’t mind a CMAT Greatest Hits record. Let’s talk about your recent online interactions with two iconic Irish pop groups – The Nolans & Jedward…

The Jedward thing I don’t think is that special to me as an individual. They seem to know who I am now, because they sent me this really specific DM where they called me a “glowing princess” and told me to keep doing what I was doing, they’re so funny. They do seem to be messaging everyone though, saying “keep on keeping on, love John and Edward.” I’m obsessed with them, I think they’re great.

They must be independent now, I don’t think they have any relations with a label because they’ve been so political and outspoken on really meaty topics, and doing an amazing job of it. It’s almost as if they’ve been waiting to do this for ages, and now they’ve been set free they’re like “fuck you Jim Corr!” and they’re dead right. Fuck Jim Corr, what the fuck is he doing? [Jim Corr is a member of the Irish folk/rock band The Corrs.] We can take the conspiracy theories thing, maybe he has weird opinions about the events of 9/11, but the far-right weird movements that are popping up over here in Ireland – Jim Corr is substantiating their views with his weird fucking twisted conspiracies, and also just not wearing a mask during a global pandemic. So for Jedward to be the ones stepping up to the plate and just telling him to go and fuck himself is so sweet. It’s exactly what you want from a popstar, in my opinion. I want to feel like someone has my back if they’re a popstar, and I feel like Jedward have everyone’s backs at the moment.

The Nolans thing is a much longer story…
I don’t think anyone is more important or less important in terms of the Irish musical pop canon, but, for me, I’ve been obsessed with The Nolans since I was about thirteen. My teenage years were spent watching re-runs of Old Grey Whistle Test and Top Of The Pops and BBC4 on the weekend until about 3am. I love music television and I love old music television. So from that era I’m obsessed with Bob Harris [presenter of Old Grey Whistle Test] and he loves country music. So Bob Harris and The Nolans are kind of the same level of importance for me in terms of music discovery. I was always tweeting about them, and then all of a sudden The Nolans just started seeing that happening and Linda Nolan started DMing me, and Maureen would retweet me when i released a single and be like “listen to this, it’s fantastic,” and I was like “what is going on?! This is the most exciting thing in the world! (for me, personally).”

Then, I found out that a lot of people in England really don’t like them, because they were much more famous in England and they have more negative associations over there? I dunno why, I guess people still have that mindset of “it’s manufactured pop music, therefore it’s bad.” I noticed that people were slagging them off, so I would get really defensive and be like “Fuck you! Don’t talk to The Nolans that way, how dare you!” They’re Queens. Linda sends me DMs from time to time just giving me advice about the music industry, and what to watch out for. She was also telling me that The Nolans were one of the first Irish acts to play the USSR, and they were having a party because it was Colleen’s 18th birthday. They party got shut down because guards came into their hotel room and held them up with AK47s and were like “you have to go to bed!” So they waited for an hour before sneaking back into each others rooms, and kept drinking for the rest of the night. It almost sounds made up, but I’ve actually read it in a couple of interviews with them, so it’s real! I’ve also read Linda’s autobiography and she mentions it in there too.

I also did a tweet that said “Who would win in a fight: Jedward or The Nolans?” and then Linda DMd me and was like “obviously we would. Lemmy from Motorhead used to be scared of us and said we were the most aggressive girls that he’d ever met,” and I was like…where am I? She’s a fucking legend and I love her so much. I’m also so receptive to anything she tells me, I’m just like “YES! TELL ME MORE!” I think I might be the number one Nolans fan in the world. Also, on a genuine level, I love their music.

A place where you seem to have a lot of fans is on TikTok…in Poland? Talk us through how that happened?

I don’t really understand how to work TikTok, I had to get my 8 year old cousin to show me how to do it. They showed me how to check which videos are using the same song, and the first time I checked there were 50 videos using ‘Another Day (KFC)’ as a background song, and they were all from Poland. I have no idea why. I get streaming stats on my phone from Spotify so I can see which countries stream me the most, and Poland is not up there. There’s this gardening lady who’s all about houseplants and my song is just playing in the background of all of her TikTok videos. It’s weird, I don’t really know how the internet works, it’s terrifying.

It is a bit, but lots of artists seem to get number one hits nowadays purely from uploading music to TikTok…

I think it’s fantastic in a way. Curtis Waters had a single that was out for about a year, and then people started using it on TikTok and he now has a career out of it. Listen, I know we all work with music labels and music promoters, but the rebel in me is obsessed with user-made, user-directed applications where it doesn’t matter what PR you’re doing, or what label you’re on, it all gets overtaken by people power or people who are just obsessed with things. But then it gets weird, because you get artists who are specifically making things for TikTok, and that’s grim. That’s no good at all. Jason Derulo is making minute and a half long songs, sampling songs that have already gone viral for other reasons, and you’re just like “Jason, stop. Cut it out.”

He does seem to have had a massive “comeback” recently actually, he is everywhere…

I think that’s because he was in Cats as well. I’ve seen the film five times. It’s horrible and gross and disgusting and I love it. His character in particular is one of the most offensive characters in it. He does have some really great songs in his back catalogue though, and he works with a co-writer a lot who I love called Lindy Robbins. I think Jason Derulo is just one of those people who’s like “I can do anything, and there’s no way you can stop me” and I kind of like that about him.

And he does have that unforgettable trademark of introducing himself in the beginning of all of his songs…

I actually like that about him! I like people who keep a thing like that going throughout their whole career. It’s a very country music type thing to do, where you have a tag somewhere in the song so that people know it’s you, but his is just his name.

Speaking of country music, your next single ‘I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!’ is due out in a few days. Talk to us about what inspired it…

The visuals for the chorus are based around this VINE that was really popular from a couple of years ago of a load of guys drinking cans outside in a playground saying “I wanna be a cowboy baby!” I always loved it, but I had a bit of a deep thought about it which was like “that’s so indicative of male freedom in the world, that they can just do things like that”. The song is basically about a time when I was extremely, extremely isolated. It was the end of my time living in Manchester, I was living alone after going through a breakup, and the breakdown of the band that I had been in for years. Because I was in Manchester, I didn’t really have any friends there, so the old fashioned way of curing loneliness in the cowboy/western films is that you just go to a bar, hang around the bar, and wait for someone to be friends with you. I was like, “why can’t I just do that?” I feel like it’s this weird, unwritten thing where women are just afforded a significantly less amount of freedom than men in the world. I guess we’re addressing it now, but I legitimately want to be a cowboy. I want to walk around by myself, and have no fear and just have the freedom to go wherever I want and meet whoever I want without fear of literally getting murdered for doing it.

That’s kind of what the song is about, but it’s also about general urban isolation. It doesn’t have to just be about gender, I think there a lot of people out there who have really bad social anxiety, and it seems to be really quite relevant now because when you spend a significant period of time alone in your bedroom, or on your phone or your computer, it gets harder and harder to leave. I feel like that’s another thing I was trying to address, that the fear is put into you the more that you stay alone. It gets harder to leave, and it gets harder to become the cowboy. I don’t know what’s going to happen after this lifting of the lockdown, but I have friends who have got anxiety about things so badly that they still haven’t left the full lockdown mode. There are people who’ve been staying inside the whole time. It’s about a lot of things, but it’s mainly about the loneliness that comes with living in a capitalist, heteronormative, misogynist society.

We certainly resonate with that. Something a little more positive though, are there any bands or artists who you’d recommend we listen to right now?

Pillow Queens! There’s loads actually. Limoncello are a great folk act from Dublin, Maija Sofia released an amazing album last year. There’s an artist called Rachael Lavelle who’s released one single, but she’s incredible. There’s a rapper in Ireland at the moment called Denise Chaila who I’m obsessed with, there’s so many! Ailbhe Reddy is about to release an album and it’s fucking class.

There’s bountiful women in Ireland who are releasing really good music right now. I think women in Ireland have definitely had a bit of a rough time in the music industry, because I think there’s a notion of if you’re not a man with an acoustic guitar writing songs then nobody cares – but I am literally just a woman with an acoustic guitar, there’s basically no fucking difference. The perception is that the music is not authentic if it’s coming from a woman and she has even a lick of make-up on her face. So we’ve all been let loose and we’re doing what we should’ve been doing a few years ago. I love them all.

And we love you CMAT!
Follow her onbandcamp, Instagram, Spotify and Facebook for more updates.

Photo Credit: Sarah Doyle