CMAT: Be the cowboy

Cutting humour via the medium of country-pop brilliance, CMAT might well be the greatest pop star on the planet. Don't believe us? You will soon.

Cutting humour via the medium of country-pop brilliance, CMAT might well be the greatest pop star on the planet. Don’t believe us? You will soon.

Words: Jamie Muir. Photos: Sarah Doyle.

When you’re in the run-up to releasing your debut album, it’s quite the time. Days go quickly at one moment, slowly the next, with every morning putting you another step closer to something that’s a significant turning point in every artist’s career. It’s a big deal. 

All of that and more is where CMAT finds herself on an average January morning in Brighton. The type where the weather can best be described as ‘nothing’ and people shuffle past the window off on another errand – oblivious to the fact that a bonafide pop star is sitting deep in thought about debut albums that have made a mark over the past few years. “So, I’m gonna be honest…”

There’s a pause.

“… I don’t think I’m going to be as famous as Lil Nas X? I just want to say that now – but the great thing is, I don’t have to be! It’s fine because I’ve still made a fucking sick album, you know?”

CMAT’s world is impossible to resist. A cheeky shot of whisky in the cup of coffee that is new music – when Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson says she’s a pop star, you best believe it. Especially when it comes to ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’, that aforementioned debut album. “I just want it to mean something to people. Particularly the people who’ve been there for me since day one. The people who’ve been along for the ride since ‘Another Day (KFC)’. I want them to feel vindicated,” Ciara laughs. “They can be like, ‘I know she’s ridiculous. I know she’s insane. I know she’s annoying or whatever, but she’s actually really good!! Look!!”

“I wanted to add something to people’s lives,” she continues. “My one dream for the album is for it to be the soundtrack to someone’s worst breakup, or the album that soundtracks a very particular period in your life and then every time you hear those songs, the rest of your life, you’re like ‘URGHHH YES!'”

That surely means it’s chart domination or nothing, right? “I mean, it doesn’t have to be like the ‘nummmbeerr oneeee smashhh hitttt albbbummm’,” Ciara announces, complete with a perfect radio DJ impression. “It doesn’t have to mean everything to everyone. I think it’s better to be underrated than overrated, isn’t it?! You don’t want to be overrated! You DON’T want to be overrated! There are a lot of albums that people try to say are capturing a moment in culture, but you know… it means dick to me, to be honest!”

“Charli XCX fully saved my life because, not to be dramatic, I was on a bad path”


From taking to Instagram to push the album using megaphones and balancing tricks to dressing as a turkey for a Xmas TV Special – everything CMAT does laughs in the face of boring. Dig deeper, though, and you get to the true heart of CMAT.

“You know, I think everybody – both people who only know me for music but even people who know me in real life – love to credit me for being the most confident person they’ve ever met. ‘You’re so confident, you can do anything’, but I’m not. I know I’m not the most confident person.” But, she adds: “Everybody’s going to die, so I might as well be a pop star.”

On ‘Nashville’, one of the standout tracks on ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’, CMAT tells a tale of escaping to the famous home of country music, yet with an underlying sense that something is not quite right, as if the dream is but a lie used for another purpose. For Ciara, a different sudden move played a pivotal role years before the track ever saw the light of day. Relocating to Manchester on a whim after the breakup of her former band, she found herself facing some life-changing decisions. “I had what experts would describe as a complete break from reality and a collapse of my mental wellbeing,” explains Ciara. “In a way, that was comical, but actually not comical at all if you were there at the time. When I tell stories about how I was, it’s like ‘Ahahaha’, but it must have been very tough for the people around me. I decided I was moving to Manchester, and then two weeks later I was there. I didn’t go back to Ireland for two years.

“I moved because I didn’t want to be in a band anymore. I actually didn’t want to be an artist anymore, either. I just wanted to be a songwriter. My thinking at the time was that nobody wanted to see me on a stage, so I focused on co-writing with people because I know I’m really good at it.” 

Having written songs since her school days, when she would set up camp in her bedroom listening to Joni Mitchell and learning how to play Laura Marling songs on guitar, Ciara continued on her path. Slowly, she began to pop back up at open mic nights across the city. Things didn’t shift until one fateful day in London, at a songwriters focus group with Charli XCX. Being asked for honest opinions on unreleased music, Ciara’s truthful feedback made her stand out from the rest. “I was SUPER opinionated!” she smiles. “There was one song she played. It was one that the label liked, but she wasn’t sure about releasing it. When it came to me, I just said I hated it. I literally was like, ‘You should not release this song. Please do not release this song’. An opinion is an opinion, is an opinion, so it’s not fact, but anyway… that upset people.”

“Afterwards, she came over and was like – ‘so what’s going on with you?’ I explained that I was living in Manchester, doing some co-writing and stuff, not being an artist or anything.” 

The resulting five-minute conversation is one that Ciara looks back on as pivotal to what came next. Charli questioned Ciara on why she was living in Manchester when she knew people in Dublin and London, pointing out how an absence of being around people who make music too meant there was less motivation to make her own work better. “She was like, do you have enough money to move to London or do you think maybe you need to go back to Dublin and figure it out a bit longer, because you’re really talented, but you just don’t really know what you’re doing? Maybe you need to go back somewhere where you can actually figure out what to do.”

Looking back, it was the intervention Ciara needed. “She actually fully saved my life because, not to be dramatic, I was on a bad path at the time. She just took one look at me and was able to tell it to me straight. She was able to tell me something that I probably had needed to hear for a very long time. She gave me the best fucking advice of my life.”

Returning to Manchester, packing her bags, breaking up with her boyfriend and moving back in with her mum may not have been the life-move Ciara thought was coming, but it proved to be vital. “I think that advice, being pretty much single for the first time in my adulthood along with going back home to Dublin where I knew people, was really important. I didn’t realise when I was mentally in pain that there were people who cared about me. Being surrounded by those who care about whether you live or die is actually a very important thing. I simply didn’t understand before.”

It set Ciara back on the path to embracing her role as an artist, and with that, CMAT was born. “No one else is going to sing these songs as well as I can, and also, nobody would want to sing these songs other than me anyway.” 

It came with newfound clarity, supported by those around her. “Even if I make an absolute tit out of myself, and even if everybody thinks I am a fool. Or, you know, the fattest person they’ve ever seen on roller skates. Or that I’m ugly. Or I’m way too confident for the lack of musical ability I have – these are all things that go round in my head. Even if all of that is true, they’re all going to die.” 

“The people who like me are going to die. The people who fucking hate me are going to die. I’m going to die one day. Everything is temporary and will get scrubbed away by the big fucking sun or the ice caps melting or whatever. So – I might as well be a pop star. That idea applies to everyone; you should always follow your impulses and follow your dreams because, why not?”

In the year and a half that followed, Ciara would spend a lot of time in taxis from work to gigs and then from gigs to work, usually wearing what she wore to work on-stage. It’s where CMAT grew, where Ciara would “get on-stage looking like a bag of shite and just absolutely take the piss out of myself on stage as part of the act. I’d be like – ‘Well, I just came from Healy’s, I smell of sweat, and I haven’t slept in three days but anyway, here’s my fucking song ‘KFC’. People liked it. People can relate to struggle because everything is a struggle.” 

‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’ captures everything CMAT is about in a perfect bottle. References to Robbie Williams, being bought nice bits from Waitrose and Peter Bogdanovich are coupled with heartbreaking songwriting. It delves into the very nature of comedy and humour by both embracing it and stripping it away for an album that reveals more and more on each listen. It’s both devastating and uplifting in equal measure. 

“It’s about this double-edged sword where, in one sense, if you can get to the point where you’re laughing about something, and it means you can get over it, then that’s a really good thing to do,” Ciara explains. “Using humour as a coping mechanism can really get you through the worst things that you will ever have to do in life.

“On the other hand, though, people use humour as a deflection. They use it to not acknowledge or deal with their problems. That, in turn, can mean that you internalise everything, and then it festers and bubbles and then boils over. In my life so far, I find the people who are the most jovial and loud and comedic have been the people that we lose the soonest because they’re overcompensating and not being honest. They’re simply not out there.”

“Everybody’s going to die, so I might as well be a pop star”


It’s a dilemma that ultimately ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’ can’t answer. “It doesn’t really have a point to make about this; it’s just acknowledging that it’s a thing that we do. It’s hard to strike a balance because there is no balance. Like, I haven’t struck it; I definitely haven’t struck it. I definitely have 100% overcompensated myself and rely on comedy and humour at times where I shouldn’t need to, but maybe the first step to ending all the bad work is to point it out and say – this is a thing.” 

“You know about the psychology of the clown, right? It’s this very noble belief system that making yourself the most ridiculous, loud, obnoxious, annoying person in the room makes everyone feel better about themselves. They feel less self-conscious about what they’re doing,” Ciara explains. In 2022, it’s a role that she feels fully ready to embrace – offering that solace to fans who’ve quickly been drawn to her every move. “I find a lot of people who have really bad anxiety really like my music, and I think there’s this whole thing of, ‘well, if I’m at a CMAT show then at least I’m not going to be the most annoying person in the room, because she’s there!'”

“I’m more than happy to offer myself up as being the nation’s number one clown,” grins Ciara. “People are scared and have stuff they’re going through. I just find whenever I’m really loud, ridiculous, annoying, obnoxious or any other word you want to use,” she stops in her tracks, “and I guess problematic as well, then everyone else can be like: ‘I can take a breather because no matter what I do, it’s not gonna be as bad as that!'”

It’s a feeling that Ciara is keen to encourage others to embrace, much like the people in her own life that do that for her. Being that light in the darkest moments to pick people up and show them that life is worth grabbing by the lapels. Being larger than life when you need it the most.

As Ciara prepares for a blistering few weeks before dropping ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’, what about those detractors? “Whenever I come across anybody like that, who’s like CMAT is terrible at music or her music fucking sucks… whenever I see that I’m just like…”

Ciara leans in, putting on what can only be described as an impression of a dog-owner talking to their new puppy: “Ohhhh, but you’re wrong! I’m so sorryyy, but you don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Sounds like the perfect pop star to us.

Taken from the March 2022 edition of Dork, out now. CMAT’s album ‘If My Wife New I’d Be Dead’ is out 4th March.

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