Last month, London-based singer/songwriter Matt Fishel released a video for "The First Time," the first single off his new album. The song, which narrates a boy's first experience kissing another boy, offers older listeners a chance to relive a few choice memories. For Fishel's younger fans, this is likely one of the first same-sex love songs they've ever encountered. "I was always looking for those kinds of songs when I was a kid," Fishel says, "and they were few and far between."
Fishel, 28, grew up in Nottingham, UK, and was weaned on a study diet of Prince ("I was in awe of him – his musicianship, his raunchiness") and Madonna ("I learned every dance move to the Blonde Ambition tour, which I'd perform endlessly for my parents"). He then proceeded to play in a punk band, write a rock opera, and compose piano scores and a capella arrangements. Out sat down with Fishel to hear about his own first time, and how his new album is shaping up.
Are most of your songs autobiographical?
Yes. I put a lot of my life into my songs and lyrics. I love telling a story, and everything I write is drawn from my own experiences. Some of my songs are quite literal and others are a combination of various good or bad experiences or relationships that I’ve had.
Why do you think you're drawn to subjects that deal with youth and sexuality?
I think youth and sexual awakenings are extremely powerful and it can be cathartic to reflect on these experiences once you’ve come through the other side. It can be both scary and exciting. Your hormones and emotions are racing all over the place; you’re horny all the time and there are all these overwhelming feelings and urges. Then if you realize you might be gay, you have to work against the crowd to become comfortable with yourself. You end up having to search a bit harder to find like-minded people.
What were your experiences like in school, and when coming out?
I never really fit in. The ‘cool’ boys were in all the sports teams and I just wanted to play guitar and perform. I did manage to have fun and mess around with quite a lot of guys (albeit in secret for the most part). Ultimately though, it all made me more determined to learn who I was.
In terms of coming out, I messed around with a few guys, but I didn’t really know what being ‘gay’ was. When I actually realized that I was gay and what it meant to other people, I freaked out for a while. But I told one friend who was extremely supportive and understanding. After that, I began to love the fact that I was different and started to really enjoy being a gay kid.
Tell me about the process of writing ‘The First Time.’
I’ve always loved reflective songs about defining moments but I’ve rarely heard them sung from a gay perspective, so I wanted to write my own. The first time I kissed another boy was an amazing, life-changing moment for me. I can remember the day it happened really vividly and I just felt this desire to write a song about all those feelings of warmth and nostalgia that come from that first special moment.
How did you get in touch with the director, Alexis dos Santos?
It all started with his beautiful film Glue. It captures the rebellion of adolescence and sexual awakenings and it had a big impact on me. Alexis was my dream director for "The First Time." I sent him the song, my thoughts, and a message explaining how I loved his films. He also felt a connection and I was thrilled when he said he would like to collaborate. He lives in Buenos Aires so we ‘met’ on Skype, talked over the phone and emailed our ideas back and forth. I was involved all the way through the process. The two Argentinean actors (Juan Gabriel Miño and Ronan Nuñez) are great, and it's a perfect visualisation of what was in my head when I wrote the music.
How has the response been to the video and the single?
I’m thrilled with the response! Some music execs like to tell you that songs from a gay perspective will never have wide appeal, but I’ve received a lot of lovely messages from both gay and straight men and women who have been enjoying it. A lot of young gay guys have been in touch saying that it’s inspiring to hear someone singing about experiences they can relate to directly, which is really rewarding. Stephen Fry also wrote a lovely message about the video on Twitter last week, which was quite an honour!
What can we expect from your upcoming album?
Guys and guitars! Some songs are loud and angry, others a bit more fun or tongue-in-cheek, and some are quieter, more contemplative. There are songs about boyfriends and relationships, coming out and the places I’ve lived, religion and hypocrisy, sexuality and education. And musically, there are lots of guitars and big vocal harmonies. I’m so excited to put it out and start playing these songs to people.