Following a failed attempt to land a job on a fishing trawler he found himself in Edinburgh with a four-track recorder and an urge to make music.
There started an insatiable appetite for sound that has continued despite a debilitating attack that left him unable to make noise and nearly shelved his debut album.
While he was in recovery he felt ‘on the verge of a total nervous breakdown for a lot of the time’, afraid to leave the house or encounter strangers. But as the pain ebbed, he found his musical chops again, and songs like Violent Night emerged – a skewed track with words drenched in fear and confusion.
Created with composer Atzi Muramatso on cello, James Metcalfe (The Pineapple Chunks) on bass and Casey Miller (STONES) on drums, Matthew’s debut album A Ghost, A Beast was more than five years in the making, but is now ready for the world.
Out on Friday (23 February) on Songs By Toad, its mix of art rock, seventies glam and soothing strings is a gloriously wonky anthem to keeping on.
Here, we find out more about how it all came together…
How did you first get into making music?
I was in love with Little Richard when I was little, I wished I could be him. From my rather culturally naive perspective in country Australia, I thought he was the wildest and most exuberant a musician could possibly be.
Then I plucked up the courage to approach the mysterious aloof girl a year above me in school one day and impress her by introducing her to this out of control rock ‘n’ roll. She just kinda rolled her eyes into a soul shrinking withering glare, plonked a VHS copy of [The Birthday Party’s] Pleasure Heads Must Burn into my nervous little hand and did a contemptuous about face.
When that came flickering onto the screen I felt like a lightning bolt had struck the back of my soul! It completely shocked me and lit up my mind with anxious, excited possibilities. I remember asking my mum (who knows some basic Latin), ‘Mum, what does Porca Dio mean?’ She replied: ‘Pig God dear. Why?’ ‘Oh ..um.. no reason.’
It was immediately clear from that moment that I had to get to a city where I might meet some of these kind of spangled degenerates and make some noise of my own. That's never really amounted to much until now, for whatever reason.
I just wanted to capture great performances as directly as possible to maintain the immediacy of a live performance. So we recorded the drums, bass and guitar straight to tape in one full take and then added vocals and cello afterwards. Would have been great to play everything together but the studio set-up didn't allow for that.
How did the attack influence its creation?
It made the process drag out over some time. Whilst we had most of the song arrangements done, I was just too poor from not being able to work to afford studio time.
We had enough from gigs to lay down the bass, drums and guitar together, so whenever I could scrounge together enough to go and do a couple of hours here and there I'd do some vocals or guitar overdubs. The cello too, when I could afford it and/or when I could pin Atzi Muramatsu down (he's busy doing dance and film commissions now after he won a BAFTA).
I really felt that I was completely on the verge of a total nervous breakdown for a lot of the time. Unsure whether I was going to make the rent each month or be able to cope with the pain. I think you can hear that on the end of the title track where I'm ad libbing the guitar and vocals, I was really, genuinely losing my shit.
Violent Night kinda touches upon that too, trying to convince yourself that you're not afraid of going outside, not afraid of violence from other people anymore. The realisation that the darkness within somebody else that makes them hurt people can make you so angry that you too end up having violent fantasies yourself - revenge is quite a frightening conundrum. So, it seems very important to stay reflective upon the forces within you that may cause you to act out of character in response.
How did the songs take shape?
The songs all start as a guitar part usually, and then I'll try and find a melody I can hook onto that. When I feel I have something interesting enough I'll play it to the chaps and from there they'll write their parts and help with the final arrangement. Lyrics will be edited and changed right up until the time I'm about to record the vocal line.
Your music combines loads of different sounds and styles – what are your biggest inspirations?
To me it sounds like one style. A style that includes catchy pop jangles, dark n twisted improvisation and everything in between I suppose, which is to be fair, a load of different styles. Ha.
My biggest musical inspirations are Little Richard, Link Wray, John Lydon, Rowland S. Howard, Kim Salmon, Sonic Youth, [Dirty Projectors’] David Longstreth and Arthur Russell. Come to think of it David Longstreth's vocals sound quite similar to Arthur Russell’s. Or do they? I'll have to go and test that thought.
What is your worst musical habit?
Probably over-analysing the lyrics and spending ages editing and changing them until I finally end up realising the original ones were the best anyway.
What’s the last great record you heard?
I'm still really enjoying the last Gorillaz album Humanz actually. I didn't like it at first but that's true of a lot of my favourite albums. The breadth of Damon Albarn's musical vision is quite astonishing.
What does 2018 have in store for Zed Penguin?
Our debut album A Ghost, A Beast will be released on 23 February then we'll be touring that around the UK and possibly elsewhere. Playing the Neu Reekie extravaganza in March at the National Museum of Scotland, that should be pretty different.