An Interview with Matt Banham
Part 1: Matt Banham Isn't a Comedian
Matt Banham isn't a comedian. Sure he's quick with a joke, and he'll light up his smoke, but there's some place he'd rather be. Not sure where that is, but right now he's at the Carlisle Castle in the backwaters that separate the moderately wealthy residents of Camperdown from the financially secure hippies of Newtown. And he's dealing with his current predicament. Politely answering my dumb questions about his former life on the Adelaide Plains with moderately iconic solo-project-turned-full-band No Through Road, modestly talking down his achievements and speaking highly of every Tom and Dickless Harriet to ever pick up a guitar in this merry old land of Australia.
Despite the rumors to the contrary, Matt Blamham didn't migrate to Sydney in 2011 for the lucrative mining and musical opportunities (or even the musicals about minings, ala Guys & Dolls Of Beaconsfield, too soon), but rather because he's a lover at heart. "The main motivation was my girlfriend got into honours up here. She got in to Adelaide and Melbourne too, but Sydney seemed like the best option". Coming from a man that once stated that all Vagina Card holders were comparable to satanic overlords, it's slightly surprising to hear that he'd forfeited his mayor Of Adelaide sash just for the heartfelt cuddles of Some Broad. Feeling my man crush / fan-ism wavering slightly, Banheart back-tracks; "[and] I think it was a bit of a reaction to everyone moving to Melbourne. There has been a mass exodus over the past couple of years. I never really like Melbourne too much. Sydney just seems a bit more exciting".
But Bandhem hasn't spent his entire life stirring up the ancient rivalry between Melbournites and Sydney Slickers, he's also made some music. Most notably hand-crafting his self-described "funny sad sack music" under the No Through Road monikor, a project that initially operated simply as an avenue for him to drive his truck full of tears down, with only some mild assistance from his Brother and a local hero who called himself Home For The Def.
"I played my first live show and it was awful. And I didn't want to do it ever again. It was mostly because of the reaction of people, rather than coming up to me after the show and saying 'that was a great show', they came up to me and asked if I was alright. I didn't really want that, so I didn't play for a while".
The emotional and physical (mostly just emotional) scarring garnered from these initial experiences rattled the young musician, forcefully retreating him back into his shell. A lonesome enclosure with a tough exterior, a place seperated from the harsh realities of "love" and "chicks", the perfect environment to continue penning downtrodden songs of heartbreak and hopelessness. Which, when he would play live again, would cause a confusing reaction amongst the patrons. Causing him to once more be slightly bummed out. Retreat. And repeat the endless cycle.
"I didn't [initially] know how to perform that well on my own. I'd sit on a chair and play songs, [I'd be] performing between bands, people would be dancing, and I'd just bring them all down. I once went and played this label showcase, where I played before Love Of Diagrams and after some glam metal band with weird keyboard songs. They were weird, but kinda great. But then I played and everyone was waiting for Love Of Diagrams. And it was packed. And during my set someone yelled out 'what is this, open-mic night? You suck'. It was horrible. And I thought, what am i doing here?"
Little known to him at the time, but what Matt was "doing here" was planting some seeds. Yes seeds. Somewhere deep in the loins of Matthew's ever-swelling scrotums of confidence, basic particles of something significant were entrenched into the metaphorical soil underneath. Seeds that would bear fruit of self-assurance, comedic timing and lemons. And with those lemons our young prince warrior squirted acidic juice in the face of those counseling wannabes, reflecting their concerned looks and doubting gazes with his lager-induced swagger and primal instinct. A rented VHS copy of the film made famous by Eddy Norton and that gerbel guy. Later parodied in a skit by Matty B himself (*coming soon).
Beyond the neanderthal flashes of violence, however, there was a new artist emerging. A creative being unphased by the onslaughts of pity and feelings of uncomfortableness that he generated within his audience. Now that we're literally billions of ales and hankies further down the road, it's hard to believe this shadow-lurking, unsure character called Early Matt ever existed. Someone who cared about what people thought and let that dictate his own actions.
When I push the issue of his bleak and blunt nature, especially amplified on his earlier solo recordings, and how the confronting approach magnifies a larger issue of society's inability to deal with it's own feelings and thus causing people to repel any form of personalisation or emotive outpouring, Matt simply shrugs sheepishly, brushes his uncombed hair from his eyes (it's nowhere near your eyes mate) and replies "people are out to have a good time, get drunk and party".
The development of Mutt's musical personality from Sad Cunt to Comedic Backhanding Champion (Grass Court) wasn't an overnight transformation. It took a little bit over a week. A week that started like most others, with Matt working in a souvenir shop at Adelaide Beach, surfing what was then called "the www" and shooting hate eyes at the parading swarms of future ex-girlfriends that strutted past draped in self-confidence and cheap Sportsgirl accessories. But this week would take a turn for the better, climaxing with a short nap, logically followed by an awakening (both literally and figuratively) whereby MB should shed his mild bout of early-20s depression, under the realisation that he lived in one of the most magnificent cities on the planet (Adelaide), had a naturally devilishly subtle wit and that if he stayed bummed out he would remain trapped in a vicious cycle of bumming out was only going to lead to one thing — being bumming out.
"I think it was more just me listening to less sad sack music. Listening to more Smog, who has a great sense of humour in his music. In the self-depreciating kind of way and that was a big influence. And so I thought I'd try and add a bit of a sense of humour into the songs."
While some (read: the author of this article) find solace in the never-ending pursuit of wrist-slit-ingly depressing music, Matt's decision to inject Laffs into his lyrical content was welcomed by the wider community. Suddenly, he had mid-song giggles, polite chuckles and post-show high fives, replacing moments previously occupied by awkward glances, concerned phone calls to government-funded hotlines and lonesome after-parties.
Of course, every positive reaction deserves and warrants a negative reaction. We're not solely talking about Warrant (creators of the iconic sex-rock-jock classic Cherry Pie) but also the Bloodhound Gang, Blink 182, Seal and SPOD — artists that have blurred the line between comedy and music and occasionally felt the full force of the soul-crushing label — "novelty act".
"I've been accused of being a novelty act right from the start. The first song of mine that did well was that 'How To Make You Cum' song. It got into the Net 50, that Scott Dools guy interviewed me and he asked how I felt about being a novelty act. I guess it is a funny song, but also a very personal song."
And it's on this corner of Giggles Street and Gaggings Of Suffocating Agony Lane that Matt proudly parades his No Through Road sign, soliciting sexual acts from passes by and/or performing songs that convey mixed emotions of both humanity and humour. None of the songs are gut-wrenchingly hilarious, however, the un-shined abrasiveness of the delivery and the lyrics make the approach unique, self-aware of its own shortcomings and presenting them in all their imperfectness. Like laughing at a midget pushing a baby hippo up a hill, whereby the unfortunateness of the situation is almost as funny as the existence of the situation itself.
While musically Benhem has pursued a tragic subtlety in his comedic endeavours — even going as far as to compare his work to that of the late/great Woody Allen (yeh, that kiddy fiddler wishes he wrote a song like Berlin Wall) — outside of the tight confines of A-minors and G-strings he enjoys short, sharp jabs of direct contact, concussion-inducing punchlines. Mostly via the help of his not-so subtle Muhommad J. Fox jokes. But also via his ongoing, appropriately titled, Matt Banham's Jokes web-series.
In addition to these micro-skits (and some slightly longer, sexier clips involving Rosie Perez as you've never dreamt of seeing her before) Matt has also recently laid the foundation work for a Gettin' Drunk podcast with long-time Online Funny Guy, James Ross-Edwards — publican at The Moderation Hotel and creative mind behind The Beer Economy. The two aim to get a little bit "wet under the whiskers" and then record their thoughts on the bigger issues grappling our nation, including terrorism, immigration and the true definition of the word 'grappling'.
Yet, much like the merging between Jesus and The Steak, Mett isn't sure the indirectness of his offline musical endeavours would particularly merge well with his more traditional online Laugh Out ROFLs.
"I've toyed with the idea of trying to have a segment in my gigs, where I just play a sample of the 'Matt Banham's Jokes' theme, and then tell three jokes. Then just go back into playing three songs. Having a reaction from an audience that's one of confusion is one of my favourite things".
So, here's an idea, Matthew McLolinah, why not ditch the whole musician thing all-together? Put down the guitar. You've got a lady friend already. You're obviously fairly in love/whipped now. After all, you moved across the nation for her. No need for more "groupies" and hoochies and rock-star ambitions, right? Quit with the rehearsal spaces and the late night sound checks and just become a bloody comedian already. Right?
Although he's been approached to do stand-up "by some lovely ladies that have seen [him] play a few times in Sydney" Mutt's reluctance to pursue his comedic ambitions are mostly dragged down to the depths of Probably Never Ocean by the obese expectations associated. The need for a reaction. Likely drawn from the unwelcoming experiences of his early "sad cunt" days, Banham isn't keen to recreate a situation where his vision and that of the audience exist on two completely different planets. And even though performing music can often feel like a joke itself ("it's pretty stupid what we're doing on stage, right?", Banhammer states poignantly) it's still a much safer bet, keeping the injections of humour as a bonus rather than as the main event.
Matt Banham isn't a comedian. Not yet anyway.