JESS & MATT | Stevie Nicks told them: ‘Never change your style’

Local talent Jess Dunbar and her partner Matt Price rose to fame when their talent was on display in season 7 of X Factor in 2015. 

Since then, they’ve signed with Sony Music Australia, have released single hits including Nothing Matters and have just returned home from performing overseas.

We caught up with Jess, originally from Liverpool, and Matt to see what they’ve been up to and what their plans are for the future, but first . . .

Any funny moments while performing?

Jess: We did our first Carols in the Domain concert in 2015. I was wearing this jewelled red gown and I realised as we walked out there were grates on the stage, which didn’t exactly turn out too well since I was wearing these tiny little stilettos. Mid-song I got stuck – and that’s the type of thing you totally can’t plan for! I was panicking because there was a crowd of 80,000 people.

Matt: Meanwhile, I’m performing and trying to remember the lyrics when I just see Jess’s expression when her heel gets caught! It was hard to see because I was blinded from the spotlight. But thankfully, we just popped it out and kept walking. You should’ve seen the terror on our faces! But on the same night Justice Crew came out and they had a stack live on air. 

Where did your latest gig take you?

Matt: At the end of last year we spent a month in China where we were given a crazy opportunity to sing our single Sydney to Me in Mandarin. It was amazing and the media response was incredible. We sang in Hong Kong and Guangzhou on tour, traveling with the NSW Premier. We couldn’t speak Mandarin so we had to get a tutor who we got to sing the lyrics with us. That’s how we learnt it! Other than that, we only know a few more words. Before that we spent three months performing in the United States.

What’s coming up?

Jess: We’re going on tour around Australia in May with Jack Jones and Rick Price. We’ll also be performing our song Sydney to Me in Mandarin at Madame Tussaud’s Sydney for the Lunar New Year celebrations. When Madame Tussaud’s approached us with this opportunity, we felt honoured to do it in front of so many idols’ statues. It will be a really intimate performance and the first time we’re singing the Mandarin version of our song in Sydney.

How would you describe your music?

Matt: We love folk music, it’s all about the story. We’ve done a bit of everything but the base is acoustic singer-songwriter.

How did you meet?

Matt: We met at music college in 2010. Jess was a year below me and we found out we had a lot in common. We haven’t spent a day apart in seven years now and we got engaged half-way through last year!

Jess: We’re planning to get married in September at the Hunter Valley in the spring. 

What do you think of Liverpool as a starting point?

Jess: I grew up in Chipping Norton and my Mum and Dad still live there. I moved out of home about four years ago, closer to the city – we’re actually very close to the airport which can be really convenient. I was in a really amazing music community coming from Liverpool. At school I travelled the world and did workshops every two weeks which really developed me as an artist. It also helped me with self-confidence which is important as a young girl because it’s quite daunting to step on stage. Straight out of college Matt and I played in a lot of Liverpool clubs and pubs almost every week for years, such as, the Collingwood Hotel and Liverpool Catholic Club. That’s where we built up our audience and fan base.

Matt: Even though I wasn’t from Liverpool, it felt like I was adopted into the community. It’s such a nurturing area that cares about music and artists. You don’t often find that in other areas around Sydney. After X Factor we were the Go West ambassadors for music and the arts. So for a while we were going out to different schools and doing workshops where we were able to see all of the amazing local talent.

Advice for young artists?

Jess: If you’re a singer, always find another instrument to pick up for yourself. As soon as I picked up the guitar my career took a turn – it meant I could go anywhere and not rely on anyone else. I did busking at Liverpool and went into the community and that’s what really boosted my confidence.

Matt: It sounds cliched but don’t give up on yourself if it’s not working out. Going through X Factor and being exposed on such a public platform highlighted how originality is so important. It’s about offering something unique that you haven’t heard before.

The highlight of your careers so far?

Matt: It’s been a whirlwind since coming off X Factor. And we’ve been able to meet people we never thought we would. One memorable moment was when we met Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac our biggest idol. We went to her show at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena which was sold out. We couldn’t believe it when she made a shout-out to us. Then we met her after the show and a year later we met her again.

Jess: We have artwork of her all around our bedroom at home. She gave us advice about staying true to ourselves and not to change our style. She said the beauty is we stick to what we love doing and we have such a a unique sound. We’re an acoustic folk duo, we’re not a pop act – so just to be ourselves. She’s very inspiring, she’s become a mentor.

  • Jess & Matt at Madame Tussaud’s Sydney, Aquarium Wharf, Darling Harbour. on Thursday, February 15, 8.30pm to 10.30pm. Entry: $35. Tickets: goo.gl/236X9c.

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