She'll take Manhattan
Pop Chanteuse Wendy Matthews plants Lily overseas
Who Weekly 18, October 1993
by Peter Castro
Over a cup of coffee and a slice of poppy seed cake in the New York City flat where she is staying temporarily, Wendy Matthews tells a visitor about the nude men in her life. Last month, shortly after arriving in Manhattan to promote her album Lily, Matthews was sitting in her living room when he happened to glance at the YMCA opposite her building just as several nude residents were happily towelling themselves in front of their bare windows. Suddenly, as if on cue, a stark naked soaking wet bloke appears in one of the windows, towel in hand. Oops there's another one," says Matthews, simultaneously howling with laughter and turning red. "What perfect timing. You've got buildings in front of you, pal!" she yells at him. "There are people in them. This is New York!"
It is also one of seven international pit stops Matthews, 32, is making (including London and Toronto) in an effort to expand the enormous popularity she reaped last year in Australia where Lily blossomed into Australia where Lily blossomed into a triple-platinum seller and earned her three ARIAs for Best Female Artist, Best Single and Highest-Selling Single for her mega-hit, "The Day You Went Away". The torch song is now being strategically injected into the lucrative North American and English markets by Matthews's record company, rooArt, with hopes that it will become as ubiquitous globally as it was on the Australian airwaves. "It's been a good six months of turning off car radios and getting down on my knees and apologising to my friends for driving them fucking crazy [with 'The Day You Went Away']," says the waifish Canadian expatriate with a grin. "The last time I got back to Australia, dear friends would say, 'If I hear your song one more time . . . and you feel like 'Oh no, I'm making people sick. They'll never want to hear me again.' "
Hardly, Matthews, along with Archie Roach and the band Weddings, Parties, Anything, has been invited to sing on Oct. 24 at the Sydney Opera House's 20th anniversary celebration. Some of those performing will remember Matthews from the '80s, when she was one of the finest session singers in Australia. But, in a strange reversal of fortune, her solo success has resulted in a new round of financial insecurity.
"Now's the tough part for me," acknowledges Matthews, whose first solo effort, 1990's Emigre, went platinum and copped two ARIAs for Best Female Artist and Best Debut Single ("Token Angels"). "I mean I made a lot more money then [when the work was steady as a session singer]. This whole thing of people hearing you on the radio and thinking you're rich is such crap. I don't even own a car.
That's not the only misconception she'd like to correct. Matthews says that rumours about the end of her eight-year relationship with Scan Kelly, lead singer of the Dukes, have been greatly exaggerated. While Kelly did move out of their Bondi flat last year, Matthews says they remain close. Still, she screams in mock pain when asked to discuss their fragile status. "Oh gosh," she says, "Sean and I still see a lot of each ... well, I guess ... Let's say that we're on the road a lot of the time and it's really difficult. I have a relationship with Sean." Her confidence increasing, she adds, "There was a really shaky time there, definitely, and the dynamics have changed a lot but I think we're both stronger because of it." Matthews is quick to admit that her altered relationship with Kelly isn't the only personal sacrifice she has made for her career. "Oh sure, she says. "I mean, I think about having kids and all that stuff. It's a double-edged sword. When you hit your 30s there's this invisible rule book about what you're supposed to have by then. I'm supposed to be married, have kids and a mortgage. One out of three ain't bad (she co-owns the flat in Bondi) and to me that's fine. There's time for all that stuff. The recording business is a limited life span and it's not going to be here forever. Neither is a relationship. But I'm doing what I need to do and I trust Sean is too."
Matthews is less sanguine. However, about the brutal and false gossip her petite build has spawned over the years. Beginning in the late '80s, rumours about her being anorexic and a heroin addict were rampant within the music industry. "I must say, at first it really bothered me that I was supposed to be a heroin addict," says Matthews with a hearty laugh. "I'm terrified of needles. And when that one went away then I was supposed to be anorexic. I love food. I've been eating like a horse here in New York. I don't care who believes what," she adds, "but I've never apologised for a second helping of chocolate cake. I was born thin. I'm actually trying to get bigger and it's more because of what I've heard about myself than my desire to."
Gaining acclaim and success in the beginning was as hard as gaining weight. When she was 16, Matthews, a fledgling blues singer, left Montreal, her home town, to busk across Canada, Northern California and Mexico until "there weren't a whole lot of streets left to sing on."
Wendy's mother, Joan Matthews, a yoga instructor who teaches near Quebec was a marginal nervous wreck when her only daughter left home. "I was awfully sad to see my young daughter leave, not knowing what was going to happen to her," says Joan, who is divorced from Wendy's dad, Peter, a Vancouver ad executive. "But I believed in her because she was a very unusual girl and she always had a wisdom and courage that made things work out for her. I still can remember her hair flying, her skirt blowing and her leaving. It was hard." Wendy's brothers- Gary, 33, a Montreal photographer and Glenn, 31, a mountain climber, were less traumatised by their groovy sister's departure. "Wendy would always be singing as a young girl," says Joan. "She would sing [along] to Barbra Streisand and Joni Mitchell and the boys would yell, 'Mum, make her shut up, she's singing again!' "
In 1978, Wendy wound up in Los Angeles after a friend introduced her to a producer who offered her a record deal which she shrewdly turned down. "The person they wanted to produce me was this alligator farmer from Miami who didn't have a good grasp on music she re-calls. Instead, Matthews began steady work as a session singer for the likes of Cher, Bryan Ferry and the Little River Band, and in 1993 she joined the band for a tour in Australia. "I was just asked to do a tour for six weeks and I've been there for 10 years," says Matthews. In fact, she's about to apply for dual citizenship. "The pace of business in Australia is much more to my liking," she says. "It's an incredibly healthy place. I realised that I was dropping my shoulders for the first time in many years." Although Matthews appreciates the importance of this current promo blitz, the truth is she'd rather be focusing on her next album, which she hopes to record early next year. "I'm still talking about an album that for me is over a year old, she says. "I'm ready to move on. This isn't a guarantee," she adds. "Just because I've had one successful album doesn't mean the next one's going to be. I hope to God I keep improving until I'm in my 60s."
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