It’s no secret that Matt Colwell, aka 360, has had his share of close calls.
In fact, the Melbourne native may just be the proverbial cat of the rap world.
From an eye disease claiming part of his vision and ending his basketball dreams, to massive injuries caused by a go-karting accident, to convulsing on the floor backstage mid-tour from a codeine overdose just a few years ago, ‘Uncle 6’ as he is known to many of his fans is a very lucky man.
In the hiatus since he finished the tour that was cancelled (Re-topia), Colwell has encountered more personal demons, including severe depression, a bipolar diagnosis and more eye concerns.
Far from calling it quits, the formerly controversial, now inspirational rapper has used the past couple of years to his advantage – getting sober, quitting smoking, hitting the gym and writing some of his best material yet. The proof is in the pudding – Vintage Modern debuted at number three on the ARIA charts, and received radio airplay on some tracks before they were even released as singles – not bad for a ‘comeback’ record.
Girl caught up with Colwell on the eve of his North Queensland tour to get a bit of insight into the man behind the music.
Girl: How are you, what’s been going on?
360: “I’m very good, just been rehearsing, going crazy every single day just going over and over and over the show. Which is, you know, fun… and also annoying at the same time (laughs) to do songs over and over again. But yeah, it’s shaping up to be pretty amazing. It’s going to be real interesting to see how people take to the new album. So it’s a good little test run to see how people take to these songs and work out which songs work and which songs don’t so when we go into the big tour in March we’ll have a bit more of an understanding of what’s going to work.”
So is that why you decided to do this North Queensland run before the cap city tour?
“Well no, actually, we just got pitched for this so we just thought it was a good idea to get up there and just do something beforehand. So it just ended up working out in our favour. It’ll be a lot of fun… I’m going to stay in Cairns for a week and have a holiday, go up to Port Douglas, which will be fun.”
Oh lovely, very nice! So from your social media it looks like you’ll be covering a lot of older ground with the shows as well, not just flogging the new album?
“Yeah! Yeah, that’s it… we’re doing some songs that are super old, you know? We’re doing a whole bunch of stuff, some modern stuff and vintage stuff (laughs) – heeeyyy!”
Haha yeah I did see the video that you put on Facebook yesterday…
“Oh yeah! Oh that’s crazy hey, I mean that’s one of the best songs we do live and that’s a bonus song, you know, it didn’t make the album.”
So are you keen to get on the road again properly, or are you kind of a bit apprehensive?
“Nah, I’m very keen! Like I’m excited as, it’s gonna be amazing. It’s gonna be super super fun. We’ve just got a strict policy now, no alcohol on the rider or anything like that. So yeah, hopefully people can stick to that, everyone that’s involved, and we’ll be sweet.”
Haha how does PEZ feel about that one?
“Yeah he’s very respectful and understands my situation, me and him are very close friends so yeah, he’s all good.”
Fantastic. Well, how do you feel now that the album’s out and been so well received?
“I feel really good. Like, it was a great response the week it dropped for it to debut where it did, and from now I think it’s just a matter of us just pushing forward, like I think you can have songs that make the radio which really helps in so many different ways, and it’s a great thing; but I think if they don’t make the radio you’ve got to have plans in place. So yeah… my whole thing is to just keep pushing out more and more content and more videos as much as possible.”
You’ve had a lot of love from commercial radio, but not so much Triple J this time – did that surprise you?
“Oh, nah. To be honest Triple J is kind of on and off you know? Like, sometimes they’ll get into something I release, sometimes they won’t. So I wasn’t really banking on them. Like I always pray that they will get on board but, you know, I’m not surprised if they don’t. I mean, it is what it is. I don’t think anyone should aim just to be played on radio, like you should just be making music for the sake of it. I think if an artist makes music to get played on the radio I think it makes it super contrived, and people realise that because it’s quite see-through. So you’ve just got to make music and hope that radio does get on board, if they don’t then figure out a way of making it work without them.”
Well yeah, I mean some of your songs aren’t exactly radio-friendly, so you know…
“That’s exactly right (laughs) spot on, yeah.”
So you shared a number of songs on social media I noticed that were going to be on the album but they didn’t seem to make the final cut. So how much unused material do you have?
“Oh, it’s crazy. I have, like, over the last probably three years I reckon I’ve recorded about 200 songs, and I had an album completely finished ready to go probably about six months before we made the actual album. So I thought that was going to be the album we were going to release. I had it all planned, everything like that. Then we did one session where I worked with a guy called Carl Dimataga and we made three songs in that week and it was like, the songs was different to what was on the album but I was like, ‘I love this so much more.’ So I was like, right, I wanna do a whole album like this, so we just completely made a new album. But those songs that didn’t make it I actually really like a lot of them, so we’ll still release them just over time.”
Well you managed to cover a lot of ground with this one, you’ve got your typical humour but you’ve also covered sex, politics, religion, stillbirth, personal demons – do you think this is some of your better work to date?
“Yeah, definitely. Usually when I write music I write from personal perspectives, so I write about stuff that I’ve gone through and usually that’s what drives my creativity. But with this album I really wanted it so that the main focus point was not just about myself, I wanted it to be more outwards rather than inwards, and I think it is. I mean really I think it’s definitely the best album I’ve made so far.”
I’ve noticed you’ve been getting a lot of questions about Witness and a few other things. Do you have any regrets about any of the material you’ve put on there or anything it’s brought up?
“Well I’ve seen people speculate on what I’m talking about in Witness and stuff like that, but you know, people can speculate, that’s why I wasn’t straightforward with what I was talking about. But no I’m definitely very happy with everything on there, you know. I wouldn’t really change anything, everything’s all exactly what I wanted to say.”
Well I mean, you’ve obviously been through some shit. So how do you stay positive?
“Um… it’s a constant battle, to be honest. I have my moments literally all the time, like one week I’ll be absolutely loving life, I’ll be my normal self and then bang – I just get hit with this wave of just the most brutal, severe depression you can imagine, where I’m just bedridden and can’t do anything, like I can’t bring myself to go outside and if I go outside in public I almost have a panic attack and shit, it’s crazy. But I just continually force myself – I get up every morning at 5am, I go to the gym, I exercise a lot and try to get outside as much as I can. I think the more I get outside the happier I am for some reason. The more I get in the sun the better I am, it’s weird. I think in winter I’m not as happy, I don’t know why but I feel like the more I get in the sun I’m a more happy person, which is kind of strange I guess that’s a sort of seasonal thing.”
Well the North Queensland tour and the holiday in Cairns will be bloody perfect for you, then.
“Yeah, exactly! Spot on, I’ll be very happy up there!”
Excellent! Well, you’ve been a bit of a beacon for fans going through shit as well, I’ve seen in The Close Circle Facebook group a LOT of people reach out to you and they also say, ‘thanks for helping me, I’m now sober,’ or, ‘thanks for helping me, I’m still alive because of you.’ How does that make you feel?
“To be honest a lot of the time it feel surreal. Like I read that kind of stuff and it just doesn’t feel real, like it doesn’t sink in that what I’m doing is having that kind of impact. Like, what I’m doing is so normal to me that it just feels hard to believe. But it’s touching. It’s very touching. It’s just amazing how many people reach out and say that stuff. Like, people say it on the group but we also get so many emails from people saying the same kind of stuff, where they say my music has stopped them from killing themselves or a certain song has caused a woman to get out of an abusive relationship, stuff like that. It’s amazing, but at the same time it’s pretty heartbreaking because so many people are going through it. I don’t think people realise that it’s really common for people to be going through a lot of mental illness or just shit, a lot of people are going through some really shit times. So yeah, it is bittersweet. It’s good in ways but it sucks that people are going through it.”
Well yeah, and I guess there’s not a lot that you can personally do either.
“I always definitely thank them and make them see that it means a lot to me that I can have that kind of impact, but when people ask for advice I think the best thing to do if you’re suffering is just to see a professional and talk to them about it, and be open with your friends and family. Especially if it’s something like addiction or something like that, like I was very reserved and kept it all to myself which was full on my undoing, you know what I mean? That was the worst part for me. So if I had’ve been open and honest about it I would’ve been in such a better place back then. But I guess it all worked out and led me to where I am now, so it’s all good. But people need to be open. A lot of people are ashamed and think that people will judge them and stuff like that, but if they really love and care about them then they want to know, you know what I mean? They might not understand it at first, but at least they’ll try to give them the support that they need.”
Obviously you kept a lot of stuff hidden for a long time, but then you were really open about it, and since then you’ve been quite upfront about everything – your addictions, your mental health, your medical issues – do you ever regret being so open? Particularly with media and people bringing it up all the time?
“You know what, the only thing for me… like, I’m happy to be open about my addiction and my mental health and stuff like that, and it’s not hard for me to be open about it, but the only thing is I don’t want that to become my identity. I think for this album it definitely has, because the main focal point is that, ‘oh he’s coming back from addiction and he’s bipolar now,’ and all that kind of stuff, but I don’t want that to be what everyone talks about, I want my music to be the main thing. I want my music to be the main thing that people want to hear, not just me talking about the same stuff over and over and over again. Which can get a little bit frustrating, but I understand that that’s just the point where I’m at at the moment. Hopefully over the next few years that will stop so it won’t be the point of discussion every single time.”
I guess especially for musicians people do seem to stick on the addiction or substance issue for quite some time.
“Yeah I guess you kind of put yourself in this environment when you’re so open about something, you throw yourself out there and people are always going to bring it up no matter what. I mean that’s cool, I’m happy to talk about it, I just don’t want to be known as the ‘ex-addict rapper’ or the ‘mental health dude,’ you know.”
Well for a while there you were the ‘controversial rapper’ – I’ve seen so many headlines saying that – ‘Australia’s most controversial rapper’ – how did that sit with you?
“You know, I didn’t mind that. I think sometimes there were certain controversies and stuff… oh, fuck, it really did my head in a lot of the time to be honest, I didn’t want to be controversial and I think a lot of the time people had the wrong idea from a lot of the things that happened. But it is what it is, that’s just how it all rolled out I guess. Now I guess it’s a different thing. I’m not that controversial any more (laughs) but maybe something might happen in the next few years where I might be, I’m not sure. I think I’m a lot more grown up now, I’m not so rowdy and… I’m outspoken still but in a more mature way (laughs).”
Well speaking of maturity – tell me about the 180 Movement and your involvement with that?
“Yeah so that was a thing I started with James Kennedy, who’s a good friend of mine, I actually went to school with him. It’s like a support kind of network, we try to promote different ways to help your mental health and stuff like that. So we’ve had a few events where we invite people to come down, anyone that’s struggling, and we try to give them the right tools to help them turn 180, you know, turn their life around. We try to promote fitness as one of the main things that can help mental health, but just try to figure out anything – like, some people don’t want to exercise whatsoever – so we try to figure out what’s one thing that makes you feel good when you’re not feeling good? We also go to rural centres and go to the youth centres and hang out with a bunch of the kids there, and I let them ask me any questions they want to know and just have this open discussion with them and let them chew my ear off (laughs) if there’s anything they want to know we can talk about it. I think it gives them an insight so they know that even people in my position go through some really fucked up shit too.”
Well it’s good that you’re using your experience and your status for a positive thing.
“Yeah, definitely. I think that’s really important. I never used to see it that way, you know, I used to just think I had to keep making music and just try to keep killing it. It’s funny, I did this interview right when I was starting out and this was when I was doing a lot of rap battles, I was quite misogynistic. I said the word ‘faggot’ a lot in my raps; I used that word quite regularly, like it was nothing, and called stuff ‘gay’ and stuff like that. And this guy that was interviewing me, he did the interview, it was a great interview, and then after it he stopped the recorder and he said, ‘Look just off the record, I just want to ask you why you think it’s okay to say those words so frequently. You’re on this platform where you’ve got so many young kids look up to you, and you saying those things makes them think it’s okay to do the same thing.’ And ever since then, it made me realise how powerful words are, so I think that’s when everything changed for me. I was like, I’m in such a privileged, amazing position – do I want to take the positive route and inspire people in a positive way, or do I want to be a fuckwit? And the answer was definitely that I want to try to be a good role model and try to help people understand what good morals are and stuff.”
I mean you never even finished school did you?
“No, I dropped out. Well, I got asked to leave my first high school, and then I ended up working for a bit then went back to a different school and ended up dropping out again because I just wasn’t interested in it, nothing there ever really grabbed me, you know? I wasn’t able to do much if I didn’t like it, like I couldn’t bring myself to really put time into it. So yeah, I don’t think school is for everyone, you know, I think a lot of people think you have to finish school but that’s really not the case – you can do anything if you really want to do it. And you only live once so I think you should do something that you really enjoy.”
For sure. This is the time of year too where a lot of kids will have just left school and got their HSC results and maybe be getting their uni offers and thinking this is the be all end all but you’re living proof that it’s not.
“Yeah that’s it, one hundred percent. And yeah for a lot of them it’ll be hopefully what they love doing. But if they don’t, or some people just don’t get there, I think they need to literally just ask themselves, ‘if I could do anything what would it be?’ and work towards doing that. I mean you’ve still got to work and you’ve still got to do what you have to do to survive, but if you’re still working towards your dream then that’s a good thing.”
Watch: 360 ft. PEZ & Seth Sentry Coup De Grace –
360 New Years Eve Tour 2017:
Supported by PEZ
Thursday 28 December – Harvey Road Tavern, Gladstone
Friday 29 December – Magnum’s Hotel, Airlie Beach
Saturday 30 December – Dalrymple Hotel, Townsville
Sunday 31 December – The Jack, Cairns
360 Vintage Modern Tour 2018
Supported by PEZ
Saturday 24 February – The Evelyn, Melbourne (u18)
Friday 2 March – The Metro, Sydney (AA)
Saturday 3 March – The Triffid, Brisbane (SOLD OUT)
Sunday 4 March – The Triffid, Brisbane (AA)
Friday 9 March – The Gov, Adelaide (AA)
Saturday 10 March – The Astor, Perth (AA)
Friday 16 March – The Forum, Melbourne (18+)
Tickets and more info