Fortunes. may be based out of Melbourne these days, but Barnaby Matthews and Conor McCabe‘s distinct sound is deeply and intrinsically linked to their original Kiwi roots. Fusing elements of classic RnB, soul and forward-thinking electronic production, the duo’s shared love of music dates back to their time at the same high school but was never fully realised until they linked up years later by chance here in Australia.
After catching the attention of Future Classic on the strength of their first two EPs – 2015’s ‘Hoodie’ and last year’s ‘Jacket’ – Matthews and McCabe are now gunning for a global audience on a reputable label with their freshly-dropped third EP ‘Undress’ (catching that running theme yet?). Led by the cheeky feel-good single “501’s”, the four-track set sees Fortunes. at their most mature, confident and polished yet.
Barnaby and Conor took some time out to update us on the process behind the ‘Undress’ EP, how their new material is translating live, the rise of New Zealanders in the local and international music scene and how signing to a label as prolific as Future Classic has shifted their experience as established artists.
Best Before: You guys are originally from New Zealand, but you’re based out of Melbourne now. Can you tell me a little bit about your origin story? How did you end up collaborating as musicians, and how did Fortunes. start to take shape?
Barnaby: Yeah. We went to the same high school in Hamilton, but we were few years apart so we didn’t hang out then. We saw each other around the music block a lot, though. Then a few years ago when I was living in Melbourne, Con happened to come into the café I was working at. And then that weekend we were at the same house party and he was like, “Oi! I know you!” I didn’t recognise him because he used to have an emo fringe and he was smaller than his backpack in high school. Then it clicked! I told my friends that he was an incredible singer and kind of put him on the spot a bit, and he sang D’Angelo’s song “Devil’s Pie” a cappella for us. Anyway, after that I asked him if he wanted to try put some vocals over some beats I was making at the time, and we met up and had heaps of fun. We haven’t stopped making music since then.
How does a Fortunes. song come together during the writing and recording process? Do you have a formula worked out for the studio, or is it more spontaneous?
Barnaby: We both write pretty consistently just by ourselves. Then when we meet up, we sort of go through and match stuff based on things like tone, atmosphere and vibe. From there we’ll change shit around and flesh it out into a full song together.
What did you find yourselves drawn to in terms of subject matter when writing the songs on ‘Undress’? Is there an overarching theme to these four tracks that listeners can dig into?
Conor: Good jeans, superhero boyfriends, cuddling your pillows and being bad at your job. Feel free to dig deeper though, listeners!
Your last two EPs have been named after items of clothing: ‘Jacket’ and ‘Hoodie’. How did you end up selecting that motif, and how does ‘Undress’ fit into this idea?
Conor: I’ve always got a lot of clothes, and about 95% of the time they’re everywhere. Its a sea! So that was part of the inspiration for the ‘Undress’ art, as well as wanting to feel like I was undressing myself from ‘Hoodie’ and ‘Jacket’. I also got rid of most of those clothes after that photo was taken.
‘Undress’ is marked by some elaborate, multi-layered arrangements – ’Focus’ in particular is quite intricate. Do you have to sacrifice any of that intricacy when you take these new songs to the stage? Has there been any challenges translating these songs for your live show?
Conor: On certain songs, I’ll keep all the vocal harmonies in, or at least a portion of them, but I left “Focus” empty. Now that I’m saying this, I kind of want to put in some for this tour. A lot of the songs are super wordy, so they can be quite challenging live because there isn’t much room to breathe. I’ve been really trying to give myself some more space when writing these new album songs because I wanna smash it like a boss all the time, every time.
Barnaby: There’s always the question of how to perform electronic music in a live scenario. At the moment I use kind of a hybrid DJ/live remix setup in Ableton, where the focus is on the flow of the set as a whole. I make little variations on the beats and arrangements rather athan trying to play in all the different elements live (which I don’t have enough arms for). For a little while ages ago I tried playing some keys and synths in certain points, but I definitely prefer to just push buttons and dance all over the stage.
The production on ‘Undress’ is world-class, and there’s an eclectic mix of influences in there: shuffling hip hop beats, soulful hooks and melodies, classic R&B transitions and really nice piano sounds. Who or what inspired your sound and style? Are there any artists that have really shaped you both as musicians?
Barnaby: Uh, I dunno – too many! Everyone: Dre, 9th Wonder, Premier, Kaytranada, James Blake, Timbaland, Kanye West, Jamie XX, Alicia Keys, Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Dam Funk, Anderson Paak…
How has signing to Future Classic changed your experience as artists overall? How has it impacted the process behind writing, recording, releasing and promoting your music?
Barnaby: Nothing’s changed at all, really. We still work other jobs outside of music, and we still have to find time to write, demo and record, which we still do out of my little home studio. Basically, all that’s changed is that now we’ve got a second set of ears to bounce ideas off of if we want, which is great. Oh – and all the release cycles and promo stuff is a bit more intense now, but all our day-to-day shit is exactly the same.
There has been a surge of incredible artists coming out of New Zealand over the last couple of years. Why do you think that is?
Barnaby: It’s probably a lot to do with accessibility. There used to be a lot more barriers to entry in the music industry – the biggest one being money. It used to be expensive to record a song well. But now anyone can do it on their laptop. Also, you used to have to get signed to a record label and get publishing, distribution and PR to get your music heard – especially since New Zealand is so far away from everything. But now you can secure instant worldwide distribution via the magic of the interwebs. Basically, more people are able to put out music more easily, and fewer people can say, “Nah, we don’t like that” and stop you before you even have a chance.
Conor: Because New Zealand is sick! Well, a sick place to grow up. Everyone just gets it. And we have a different point of view on stuff because we’re so far away from everyone else. Ha – what am I saying? Na, but I actually have loved music from New Zealand for my whole life. We’re constantly on the surge!