They say you should never meet your heroes …..and past fairly incidental meetings with members of the League of Gentlemen and Cillian Murphy had more than proved that point in my case. So I was pretty nervous in the run up to meeting a true comedy idol of mine, musician and IT Crowd star Matt Berry. Within minutes of talking to the suave and charismatic frontman, I was completely at ease and relieved.
The setting for the interview was the labyrinth like back stage at the Scala in Kings Cross, Berry was there to showcase music from his third psychedelic - nature worrying prog studio album Witchazel (click here to find out more about the gig). So the evening was not about Matt Berry the comedian/actor, it was about Matt Berry the musician. The first thing I noted was that his unique and incredibly brash stage/TV voice is just that, a voice put on, his actual voice and persona was warm friendly, incredibly polite and restrained.
I went onto question Matt about his not so secret musical career and the comedy work which has helped define him. Throughout the interview it was great to note how unassuming, unpretentious and down to Earth he was. Check out the transcript below.
Describe your music in three words?
What was it like recording the track ‘Rain Came Down’ with Paul McCartney and how did this come about?
It was really good. I had a little section at the end of the song, it is in two parts and it sounded like there should be someone else singing on the second part. I actually had someone else in mind so Paul was choice number two and I asked him and he did it. Sometimes you just have to ask as people can only say no.
Who else would you like to collaborate with?
Jean Michelle Jarre. The thing is, he is kind of misunderstood because on the first album of his (Oxygene) there are still songs on there that I don’t know how he did them. It was 1976 when he did the album and it’s very very clever. I was listening to it the other day – and I wondered how the hell did it he do it? it’s hard to do that sort of thing today and he did it completely analogue back then….. pre- sequencer. After that I’m not really interested though.
Who are your biggest musical influences?
I’m a big Roxy music fan, I guess anything that’s kind of personal, jazz, prog or anything with people that write songs, rather than manufactured music.
You described your second album as having difficult themes of degradation within it – what were your themes and inspirations for Witch Hazel?
The horror and terror of the countryside, because people always assume that horror and terror go hand in hand with a town or city but I’m scared more by witches and the woods more than being mugged in the street. The album also related to seeing Watership Down and Kate Bush on Top of the Pops (performing Wuthering Heights). They both came out in 1978 and I saw them and thought that the countryside was animals killing each other and violence which it is, but I saw that (Watership Down) and Kate Bush dancing in the woods and thought that was the countryside.
There is a certain dark and wistful melancholy to some of your lyrics, do you ever exorcise your own demons through your music?
That’s definitely how I do it, lyrics and comedy – but you can’t do as much in comedy, as you’re not playing someone who is a Adolf Hitler level of mean, it’s usually someone who is stupid who can be mean, so you never get it out through comedy, so music is a good way.
What is your favourite track from the new album and why?
I’m kind of happy with the 'Pheasant' and 'Take My Hand' – as that has been knocking around for years in different forms.
How do you write your music?
It’s usually done at home or while doing other things, I got most of the hard work of Witchazel finished whilst doing the IT Crowd, my brain has to be occupied doing something else for me to be creative.
What came first your music or the comedy?
It was music, I was in bands at university and when I left university, but I get bored doing the same things all the time. I did some rude songs at some comedy clubs and it kind of went from there, I didn’t ever know what route I was going to end up going down, I didn’t think I would end up doing comedy.
The Dark Place song ‘One track lover’ is one of your fan’s favourites, do you think that if a new series of Dark Place was released now it would get more mainstream exposure?
I don’t know as I was in it, so it’s impossible to say, being involved in it I can’t be objective as it was a job. All I could think was that it had a shit time slot and this that or the other.
What is the most rock and roll thing you have ever done?
I forgot to turn up for a gig! It was actually really simple I thought it was the Wednesday and it turned out to be the Tuesday night and I was sat thinking what should I do and then I got this call. I was late and it wasn’t a big deal….actually it was a big deal, people were f*cked off!
You starred recently in the film Moon, with Sam Rockwell can you tell us about your character and the plot?
There’s only about four people in the film so anyone who is listed in it – it looks like they star in it, whereas it’s all about Sam Rockwell and everyone else just appears briefly. I play his boss but I only appear for ten seconds.
Would you like to write a film sound track?
Well I have scored Saxondale (sitcom series starring Steve Coogan) so would definitely like to do more things like that.
Now that the IT Crowd has had more mainstream success do you feel that your music can reach a larger audience?
I think giving away the new album for free was a good idea as it meant that more people have heard it because it was free. (Matt made the album available for a limited time and it is coming out officially in October of 2009)
Has the IT Crowd’s success changed things?
The only difference is that with the other shows I did the same people always stop me in the street, young blokes with black T-Shirts, but now it’s people from all ages which has never happened before. People always yell stuff that I can’t remember that I’ve done on the show ‘father’ is one and the ‘sex pants’ thing.
What was it like following on from Chris Morris on the IT Crowd?
If I had thought about that too much I wouldn’t have done it. It was big shoes to fill, so it was f*cking frightening so I didn’t think about it. I knew whatever I did people would say ‘who the f*ck is this guy bring Chris Morris back’ so I was f*cked from the start. I had to just not watch what had gone before and do my own thing. I was at University in 94 and I used to watch Brasseye and The Day to Day and if someone was to say to me that in fifteen years time you were going to be doing a show with that guy (Chris Morris) then no way would I have believed that. So it’s all great.
Do you feel that the IT Crowd was a slow burner and took a while for the characters to really bed in and the show really came together at the end of the second and start of the third series?
The reason that seems so extraordinary today is that most things are canned in an instant, if you look at Only Fools & Horses it didn’t really get going until the third series, same with Blackadder which only really got going in series two. In this day and age you never know whether things can develop as if people are slightly unsure of them then they get axed in an instant. But because IT Crowd was written by Graham (Linehan) it wasn’t canned, he did Father Ted so they gave him a bit of time and respect which is extraordinary in this day age but really shouldn’t be.
I heard rumours you and Rich Fulcher were planning on returning to Snuff Box, possibly a stage version?
I don’t know about stage but maybe a TV version
Is he here tonight to sing the theme tune?
No. You don’t want to hear it with him anyway he’s awful he can’t sing and he doesn’t remember any words, it’s like having a four year old on stage. The band are half his age and they’re more switched on.
How did you and he meet?
On The (Mighty) Boosh set
What is one thing you’ve read about yourself that isn’t true?
Yeah they’ve said I’m a frustrated rock star which just isn’t true, but most press has been cool really. I had this interview with Timeout and they said ‘he thinks of himself as….’ And that’s not true I don’t think of myself as anything, I do what I like and what I find funny or I do what I like the sound of and that’s it really, if you think you want to be like someone then you’re f*cked. You’re just thinking about yourself way too much and that’s a dumb thing to do.
Why do people get so hung up on actors/comedians being musicians?
I’m doing music and I’m doing comedy, and it’s pretty kind of lucky as I didn’t think I’d be able to make money doing either and that’s the truth. Doing comedy and music is only really thought of being weird over here it’s not odd in other countries such as France were they have actors who have music careers, but I don’t care about that I’m just going to do what I want whatever. I mean if you think about it the comedy I do is fairly unimportant and these albums are fairly unimportant in the grand scheme of things, it’s not good to take things too seriously.
But people will play your music and watch your comedy and derive pleasure from it?
Yeah that’s kinda cool but I don’t want to take myself too seriously as that makes me feel sick even the thought of that, there’s too much of that about and I’m not going to f*cking add to that ego thing.
Is there an IT Crowd series four planned?
There is a Christmas special planned but I really don’t know anymore than that.
Listen to Matt Berry here
Want to comment on this article? Pay a visit to our Comedy Forum to discuss this and loads of other topics!