Get a selfie with 360, or just catch him live
Well, this is interesting. You could have been forgiven for thinking that 27-year-old Matt Colwell, aka 360, aka Sixty, was intent on claiming the party crown from rock stars like Tommy Lee and Kid Rock. In fact, it seemed he’d rather die than give it back.
But the man on the phone from LA is considered and calm, and unfailingly polite. He could be forgiven for letting out a few excited expletives about his forthcoming third album, Utopia, but he does not.
After 2011’s aptly titled Falling & Flying went double platinum and won Sixty two ARIAs, he was unwittingly thrown to the lions. For a self-destructive, secretly quite sensitive young man, suddenly getting mobbed wherever he went gave him a newfound appreciation for drugs. Free drugs, one assumes.
In the last quarter of 2013, manager Rae Harvey got tough and battened down the hatches at her rural Victoria home, where she sobered him up – no mean feat, by all accounts. Utopia is thus a Frankenstein’s monster of both sober and wasted writing and recording sessions – but it’s all the more compelling for it.
Sixty co-wrote songs with producers M-Phazes and S1, Stylaz Fuego and Lifted X Ryan. The tracks ‘Impossible’ and ‘It’s All About to End’ were co-written with Silverchair’s Daniel Johns – the latter, about the hypocrisy of organised religion, recorded mid-bender. ‘Life Was Good’ is a team-up with the Living End’s Chris Cheney, and Gossling appears on ‘Price of Fame’.
There’s a familiar narrative arc to tracks like ‘Still Rap’: hip-hop artist struggles for years and is roundly mocked; is discovered and rolls around hotel rooms in dollar bills; takes all the drugs; laments the loss of what was once pure. Unsurprisingly, Sixty had to rejig his friends list since sobering up.
“Friend-wise… I’ve got hardly any friends,” he admits. “It sounds silly, but I actually cut a lot of people off. I’ve figured out who the genuine people in my life are and yeah, there are only a few. Honestly, just a handful. And it’s all people who were friends with me before anything happened – they’re the ones who’ve shown that they are genuine friends who are in it for the long haul.”
When he’s not having meetings in the States and lining up his ducks in a row, Sixty lives in Melbourne with old mate Pez. They worked together on ‘Live It Up’, an instructional track with another recognisable theme: rapper turned life coach. One can only imagine the earnest D&Ms that have gone on in that sharehouse.
But the earnest numbers are balanced out by something entirely mischievous, such as ‘Sixavelli’ with Lunar C, or ‘Eddie Jones’ with Miracle – a track so aggressive and unpredictable, it’s like a king hit in a packed bar.
“‘Eddie Jones’ was sober,” Sixty laughs.
That’s kinda worrying.
“Yeah, I know, it’s funny. The ones you didn’t expect to be written while I was fucked up, probably aren’t.”
Sixty’s biggest hit to date is 2011’s ‘Boys Like You’, recorded with indie sweetheart Gossling. It went quadruple platinum, hitting number three in the singles chart – and Sixty felt there was a grumbling consensus in hip-hop circles that he was a pop star, not a real rapper.
“I used the negativity to motivate me towards being a better rapper,” he says. “I started to study A$AP Rocky, Jay Z, Drake, Kanye West, Danny Brown – their timing and their flow.”
That’s not to say he then slavishly set out to reinvent those artists’ albums.
“The Beatles are a massive influence on me,” he ventures. “The way they went about their whole career and changed their style so many times on so many different albums. I’d just think in my head: ‘What would the Beatles do?’ They’d do whatever they wanted to do. They didn’t try and tap into certain markets; they just made the best music they could.”
All eyes are on 360 this year. First single ‘Live It Up’ entered the ARIA singles charts at 21, and excitement is mounting for his Splendour set and as-yet unscheduled Australian tour. He reflects on some of the more surreal moments of fame already: playing to 60,000 in New Zealand while supporting mother-fucking Eminem; seeing fans with copycat tattoos: the Mickey Mouse he has on his neck, the writing that tracks down his arm.
“They’re just stamping their love for me on their bodies, I guess. It’s weird.”
Sixty certainly inspires both high-pitched devotion and zealous trolling from his audience. Girls want to save him (and shag him; not necessarily in that order), while bravado-fuelled blokes want to look like legends for taking pop shots. In both cases they’re a basic plea for attention.
For Sixty, Facebook had become not so much a marketing tool as a confession booth. He took to it to show off -rated texts from his then-girlfriend, or to post a video message about suicide and the importance of looking out for each other – the common thread being that there was never (rather endearingly) any filter. You were getting 360, 100 percent.
“I definitely get trolled a lot,” he muses. “It’s ridiculous. If you manage to get through all of the trolling, you find there’s a lot of really positive things people have said like; girls, mums, kids, saying music has saved their life. But I’ve had to become really conscious of updates involving other people, like I can post pictures with fans, because they will be attacked. I can handle it because I’m already used to it, but for someone else it’s a hard thing to deal with.
“I just can’t understand how so many young kids can say the most horrible things – and they have no care what the consequences are. I’ve seen girls get attacked by a group of young dudes, and the girl would say something like, ‘You guys are really making the choice of suicide easy for me.’ They literally will say, ‘Go and do it. Go and kill yourself.’ I just don’t understand why people on the internet hold the value of life so low.”
Sixty may have grown a thicker skin, but a touch of anxiety bleeds through when he reveals how proud he is of the album that damn near killed him.
“I feel great; I think it’s gonna blow people away. One thing I noticed with Falling & Flying, the people that were fans of it when it first came out, they turned when the music became so successful. When they hear this album, I think they’re gonna be really surprised. Just the level of improvement as a songwriter and as a rapper. I feel it’s so much better than anything I’ve released.”
Utopia is out Friday, June 13.