The romantic world of Matt Fishel
Andrew Shaw talks to a gay pop star who writes songs that make you want to go out and fall in love.
There’s something unashamedly romantic about Matt Fishel’s songs. The young, gay singer-songwriter from Nottingham, UK, has been described as “Gloriously gay, sweetly romantic, wonderful touching” by Britain’s Queen of Tweets, Stephen Fry – that’s about as good a recommendation as you can get anywhere in Queer Britannia.
And the music lives up to it: it’s not ‘cool’ but it is clever and poppy, with lyrics reminiscent of a far less embittered Morrissey. There are lots of jaunty piano chords and strummed acoustic guitars, but there’s also an energy that prevents everything from being too twee and precious for its own good.
Fishel is polishing up his first album, due in April, and the video for one of the already-out singles, 'The First Time', is a romantic depiction of two teen boys having a fun day out that turns into a first kiss...
“Kissing another boy for the first time was a huge, life-changing moment for me,” Fishel says.
“It was exciting and scary and when it finally happened it felt as if everything had suddenly fallen into place. The song is about all those feelings of warmth and nostalgia that come from that first special moment and I wanted to capture a youthful vibe in the video. It was important for me to show two, regular teenage boys being teenagers and carefree and experiencing that moment together.”
In 'Football Song' the young, gay hero is waiting for his moment to shine – to be a "king" if, not captain of the team. Was this Fishel’s experience at school?
“Definitely!” he exclaims. “That song is very autobiographical. I never really felt like I fitted in at school. The ‘cool’ boys were in all the sports teams and I had absolutely no interest in sport. I wanted to play guitar and perform. I was quietly confident deep down and I felt that my moment to shine would come, I just didn’t know when.”
He describes growing up in Nottingham as “bittersweet”. There was, he says, a constant struggle to fit in and be accepted. Feeling alienated, like most gay men and women he sought out people like himself. But he says there were “wonderful” memories too: “Mostly with the rock band I was in when I was a teenager and the boys I messed around with.
“There’s a song on the album called ‘Nottingham’ which expresses a lot of my feelings towards growing up there, told from the perspective of an on/off relationship I had with a guy, feeling stuck and making the best of what you had.”
Fishel says he’s been attracted to boys as long as I can remember; he says he had crushes on boys in films before he knew what ‘gay’ meant. Then, when he was about 11 or 12 and his friends began to talk about girls, he realised he was more interested in his friends.
He laughs at the suggestion that in bedrooms across the country his image is being hero-worshipped by gay lads. “I’m not sure about ‘hero-worship’! I receive a lot of lovely messages from young gay and straight guys saying that they’re enjoying my songs or that it’s inspiring to hear someone singing from a gay perspective.
I was always looking for those kinds of songs when I was a kid and they were few and far between, so it’s nice to feel that I am providing that for other people.”
Matt’s Top 5 Queer Songs
'Charlie Big Potato' - Skunk Anansie
I adore Skunk Anansie and this is one of my favourite tracks by them. I've always admired artists who are open about their sexuality and Skin is an out and proud frontwoman with the most incredible voice. This song is full of rage and distortion and massive vocals – all things I love! I also once got crushed in a mosh pit during this song.
'Being Boring' - Pet Shop Boys
I'm a big fan of their music and this song is one of my faves. It's nostalgic, full of hope and pathos, with this great double-octave vocal running throughout. I love the Bruce Weber video too and the final verse always makes me well up.
'Flower' - Pansy Division
I was so excited when I randomly discovered this gay Californian 3-piece punk band as a teenager. Their songs are silly and funny and unashamedly gay. It was the first time I'd heard guys with guitars singing about gay sex (and so explicitly!).
'Outside' - George Michael
Even as a young teenager, I couldn't help thinking there was something deeply unsettling and homophobic in the way the press treated the whole George Michael 'incident'. I felt uncomfortable that he was being so villainised for an act that didn’t seem all that weird to me! So when I first heard 'Outside' and saw the brilliant tongue-in-cheek video, I was hugely inspired by the 2-fingers-up attitude to the police and the media. It was empowering. And who doesn't love a row of glitter-ball urinals!
'Why's It So Hard' - Madonna
Madonna was my idol and inspiration when I was young, particularly after the first time I watched Truth Or Dare (In Bed With Madonna). Although I was probably way too young, I watched it literally hundreds of times. I was obsessed with her backing dancers and they gave me my first real exposure to gay men on the TV. The track 'Why's It So Hard' from her Erotica album is about challenging the system and questioning why people can’t just be allowed to love who they choose.