Interview: Matt Fishel on his new album Not Thinking Straight

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Following on from the success of 2010’s Football Song and 2011’s The First Time, singer-songwriter Matt Fishel has released his latest single, Radio-Friendly Pop Song, and his debut album, Not Thinking Straight.

Matt Fishel is a proud gay man with a knack for writing infectious rock and pop songs. Having been working on his debut album for the past three years, garnering a number of celebrity fans along the way, he finally released Not Thinking Straight earlier this week.

“I’ve been involved with music since I was a kid,” Matt explains. “I’ve written songs for as long as I can remember and I was in a rock band as a teenager. When I was growing up I lamented the lack of songs in that genre written from a gay perspective. That’s really what I’m trying to rectify with my music.”

Not Thinking Straight began life as a song Matt wrote called Football Song, which started as a piano ballad and became a YouTube sensation in 2010. The video has been seen almost 90,000 times, in part due to support from Stephen Fry.

“He must have heard it online,” says Matt, “He wrote a comment on Twitter one day and it just went wild. He described my music as “gloriously gay, sweetly romantic and wonderfully touching”. He then did the same thing when I released my second single The First Time. I’ve since been in touch with him to tell him how much I respect what he does and thank him. He was very complimentary and very kind back.”

With echoes of Jonathon Harvey’s Beautiful Thing, Football Song is about a young gay boy with a crush on one of the straight lads from his football team. It’s an uplifting tune, worthy of chart-toppers like The Feeling.

“The piano riff at the beginning was what I started with,” Matt tells me. “I can sit and write a song for three days and nothing will happen, and then other times I can write a complete song in ten minutes. That’s what happened with Football Song.”

“The video was filmed with Stonewall FC, who very kindly offered up some of their players. The video actually features a mixture of Stonewall players and professional dancers. It was a really fun shoot.”

Matt’s lyrics are refreshingly true to who he is. Nevertheless, in today’s age of acceptance and near-equality, how does he respond to the accusation that he’s alienating his potential public by referencing his sexuality so directly?

“I’ve always responded to music that’s truthful,” he tells me. “For me I just happen to be gay, out and proud. The songs I write about are all about relationships and experiences that I’ve had. I’ve never been willing to deliberately not write about that or change it to combat what major labels call ‘limiting your mass appeal’.”

“I personally think that attitude is quite patronising to straight people. As a young gay boy I was able to relate to ‘heterosexual songs’ with men singing about women and vice versa. It didn’t stop me liking particular groups or artists.”

“I get a lot of messages from straight men and women who enjoy my music so I don’t think it’s limited to a gay audience. I get that there are some people who will be turned off by the narrative in some songs, but I think these days those kind of people are very much in the minority.”

Matt’s talent received further celebrity endorsement when he released his third single, titled Testament, in May 2012. This time the helping hand came from British actor Tom Hiddleston, whom most readers will know as Loki from 2011’s Thor movie and 2012’s The Avengers.

“Tom was really sweet,” Matt blushes. “He said I was a man of many talents and tweeted a link to the Testament video.”

The Loki Army, the collective name for Hiddleston’s 450,000 Twitter followers, responded by flooding message boards with praise for Fishel’s work.

Remembering an interview I once did with Armistead Maupin, and how Maupin resisted the term ‘gay writer’, I wonder how Fishel feels about being labelled a ‘gay rock star’?

“It doesn’t bother me,” Matt replies. “I want to have my art heard, seen and enjoyed. Each time I’ve uploaded a video to YouTube I’ve expected a big backlash of homophobia, because it’s pretty vitriolic on there anyway. But it kind of hasn’t happened and when it has there’s been a whole crowd of people defending me. I think it’s important that artists don’t try and censor themselves because I think a lot of the limitation gay people believe exists, often occurs in their own heads.”

Given Matt’s talent, it’s obvious he could have carved a career out writing for other acts. The pop and rock industry is littered with gay musicians who have compromised their integrity, gotten themselves a foothold and then come-out to the world from the safety of a seven-digit bank account. Was that ever an option he considered?

“I’d rather have done what I’ve done,” he tells me. “I’m a bit of a rebel. When people say I can’t do something, I say: “Well, then. I’m going to do it.” I’ve spent my whole life trying to prove this is doable. If everyone’s telling me I can’t do it’s probably just because there aren’t other people out there doing it. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible.”

“I have a couple of friends who haven’t been able to do what they want artistically because they’re signed to major labels. So, given the choice, I’d rather do it my way.”

Matt Fishel’s debut album ‘Not Thinking Straight’ is released on Monday, 8 April and is available to buy on Amazon as a CD and from iTunes as a download.