Neu CMAT: “I think my position in life is to make an absolute fool of myself 24/7 to make it easier for everyone else”

Dublin’s newest cowgirl, answering the question of ‘What would happen if you made a 2021-style Dolly Parton eat an 80-piece chicken bucket?’.

When we convene with Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson - better known these days by her CMAT acronym - for a 9.30am chat, the singer has already been out and about, roller skating around the East London streets where she’s currently staying between recording sessions. The aim, she explains with a twinkle in the eye, is to be something akin to the FKA twigs of the roller world.

“I think she’s the only pop star who does being a pop star well, which is going, ‘I have all this time so I’m going to do every single hobby and justify going really intensely in on it by making it part of my brand’,” she enthuses with a chipper Irish twang. “So for me so far, I’ve learned how to ride a horse specifically for the ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’ video, and now I’m gonna go really hard on the roller skating and get just about good enough to do it for a video and then do something else.”

Taking things to the campy, highly-entertaining extreme is very much the CMAT way. To promote 2020 debut ‘Another Day (KFC)’, the singer live-streamed herself eating an 80-piece chicken bucket: a feat that she says, grimacing at the thought, gave her the shakes for four days after. “There was just so much salt; they should have put me on a drip,” she shudders. In life, as increasingly in her art, she’ll do anything for a gag. “I think my position in life is to make an absolute fool of myself 24/7 to make it easier for everyone else that’s not as confident,” she chuckles. “I’ll be the loudest person in the room so everyone else feels like they can do whatever they want and knows they won’t be as annoying as I’m being.”

It’s a confidence that served her particularly well one fateful pre-CMAT day back in Manchester, when she was still a struggling writer, attempting to help pen songs for other people. Put in a room to help workshop and give notes with Charli XCX, she recalls the pop icon taking her to one side after giving some typically vocal suggestions. “She was like, ‘What’s going on with you? I feel like you’re a musician but you’re not doing anything with it. Why are you in Manchester? You need to do music. You need to actually do something.’

“It was literally the best thing that ever happened to me, because she was totally right,” she continues, “so that was the catalyst for me moving back to Ireland and blowing everything up. I packed up all my belongings, moved into my mum’s house and I had nothing, so I spent all my time actively learning my craft and it all snowballed from there.”

Has she kept in touch with Charli since? “Oh no, she has no idea who I am!” she guffaws. “Charli did that messiah thing of, ‘My child - go and fix this’ and that’s the only interaction we’ve had and it’s all I need. Oh, I did give her a demo of my songs on a USB and then I had to message her after because I realised I’d given her something that actually had the entire second season of Golden Girls on it…”

“[Charli XCX] was like, ‘What’s going on with you? I feel like you’re a musician but you’re not doing anything with it. You need to do music. You need to actually do something.’”

Ensconced back in Dublin, CMAT’s take on country - a string of, to date, five singles that combine the classic ‘70s sensibilities of the genre with hilarious one-liners and modern woes - is a world away from the moody young men that have recently come out of the city. While the Dublin indie world spent its time glowering in darkened corners, Ciara would spend her evenings in drag bars, searching for something altogether more colourful and joyous. “The thing that’s happening in the Dublin scene right now is something that I have no relationship with because it’s just not fun enough for me,” she shrugs. “Drag is camp and some of it is really slapstick, but I think there’s something really rebellious about it, so that’s the scene I related to in Dublin way more than the music scene, and I think what I’m doing now is trying to blend those two things together.

“I genuinely believe in the value of entertainment as an artform and I think a lot of the time - in alternative music specifically - they think that art and entertainment are two separate things, and if the art you’re making is too entertaining then it’s not valid or worthy. But I need jokes! Gimme a joke cos I’m dying here!”

Undoubtedly hilarious in conversation as on record, what makes CMAT’s still-early output so appealing however is that, beneath the punchlines, there’s obvious integrity too. She’s “an encyclopedia on country music”, she professes - one who desperately hopes that the mainstream incarnation of the genre (which at the moment she classifies largely as “appalling”) will return to its true roots before long.

“You get the sense with a lot of those really old school country writers that they NEEDED to write songs, that they HAD to deal with their problems by writing it out. That’s why I write songs - because I need to get it out of here,” she says, pointing to her head, “and deal with the problem at hand. My priority is always that, but I can’t ever be earnest because… I’m Irish. That’s the way we deal with our problems! But sometimes the thing that’s funny is the thing that’s sad and they’re literally the same thing.”

More like this

Class of 2022: CMAT

Class of 2022: CMAT

The ultimate culture vulture with a knack for creating the kind of witty, kitsch (and sometimes heartbreaking) pop songs that are impossible not to fall for, CMAT is warmly welcoming you to her world.