"This is my idea of a pop record. Anthemic pop songs played on an acoustic guitar. Really simple." It took exactly one album for Matt Walters to come full circle. For two years the Melbourne singer-songwriter has been honing this long-awaited debut at gigs, in hotel rooms and in his head, seizing inspiration then second-guessing himself through countless demos and studio sessions. FAREWELL YOUTH marks the end of all that, while taking him back to the spark that first lit his musical path. "We did most of it live, including the vocals," he says with the grin of a man released. "I just went into the studio with Paul McKercher (Augie March, Pete Murray, Sarah Blasko), took Dave Symes (bass) and Hamish Stuart (drums), we set up and played. We did it in six days. "The weird thing is that's what I always wanted to do, to make a kind of live album, just capture that energy and spontaneity. Who said 'First thought best thought?' I think was Allen Ginsberg. I was obsessed with that." For those who came in late, this is how Matt recalled his musical awakening at the time of his debut EP, ECHO ON, back in '09. It happened in a tent at one of the countless folk festivals his parents dragged him along to as a kid: "One voice, brilliant lyrics, so powerful and believable. That's when it hit home, that you can be so moving and effective so simply. I went home and started trying to write." A few of the songs on FAREWELL YOUTH have been kicking around a while. Conversation is the one Matt famously strummed for Mercury Records A&R head Peter Karpin at a chance encounter in Melbourne a few years ago. In a first for both of them, he was signed on the spot. The exquisitely languid ode to innocence, Horses, is another that came ready-made to the sessions at McKercher's Electric Avenue studios in Sydney last winter. It was produced by Francois Tetaz (Gotye, Bertie Blackman) and co-written and sung by Nashville artist Kim Richey, who Matt befriended after hearing her on Ryan Adams' Come Pick Me Up. Another of the older songs is Sleeping In New York, which was produced by Scott Horscroft (Little Red, The Panics), and contains a key line that almost seems like an affirmation of the reckless spirit of youth that informs the rest of the album: "This is your life and it's passing so carelessly." "There's a zone you can get into where you start thinking and saying things very spontaneously," says Matt, "and it's very exciting. I wanted to get all of those moments on record. As a result there's cliché, there's insight, there's everything. I really like that." There's much more of the latter, as it happens. Sure, there's the carefree acoustic immediacy of Today, but there's also the abstract narrative of St Peter's Gate, which loosely adapts the themes of Dante's Inferno with subtly escalating lines of piano. There's the barbed break-up song, Dark Days, dramatically offset by the sobering emotional complexities of I Would Die For You, a stunning centrepiece crowned by the ghostly high harmony of Megan Washington. "I like writers who seem fearless," Matt says. "Michael Stipe is an amazing writer. He takes so many risks and that can be really powerful. "I never considered myself religious but I got excited about writing about that kind of stuff too. Paul Kelly's right: if you run out of stuff to read on tour there's always a bible in the bedside drawer. There's plenty of inspiration there." Back in the real world, Kim Richey's rock solid presence was another vein of inspiration, Matt says. Her voice is an assured thread from Midnight Calling to the ultimate track, The First Time — a fitting finale to an album that celebrates the passage of time and the many small deaths that lie in its wake. "What I wanted to do was to bundle up all of the insecurities of youth, all the exuberance, the innocence, all of it, and just send it off," says Matt. "There's a lot of naivety in the record and I feel like it's fitting. Because I don't think I'll ever write or make music quite like this again. "The other reason I liked the title FAREWELL YOUTH is because I've been through quite a monstrous time," he laughs. "I put myself through a lot of youthful turmoil but I came out of it just before we went in to record. I was running every day, I stopped drinking, smoking. We just made music and it felt really fresh and free. I thought 'Yeah, this is what music should feel like…' Farewell Youth is out on Mercury Australia on 6 May 2011.