- Mon, 2007-07-16 11:25
I Like Music caught up with acclaimed Wolverhampton singer-songwriter Scott Matthews to talk about the re-release of his debut album Passing Stranger, working with John Leckie, and winning the Ivor Novello Award for 'Best Song Both Musically and Lyrically' for his song Elusive.
“I Like Music because… it’s a great healer.” Scott Matthews
ILM: Your single, Elusive, is out now and won the Ivor Novello award for best song musically and lyrically. Wow. Tell us how you felt about that accolade?
Scott: It was a feeling of disbelief really, just to be up for nomination was a massive thing, considering it’s my first record as well. The way everything’s gone since the release of the album and to be up against some great people like Arctic Monkeys and Nerina Pallot…we were just there and just to be at the event was amazing, and when my name was called out by Robin Gibb, it was seriously unreal, a very strange feeling, but something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. It’s an amazing achievement, it’s great, I’ll never forget that feeling.
ILM: And it must have given you a great confidence boost and the knowledge you’re doing something right?
Scott: Yeah, that’s it, because that award has been voted for songwriters as well, not just everyday Joe, but people in the industry as well. So it’s a great achievement and hopefully I can win a few more in my career.
ILM: Can you describe how the track came about and describe its whole vibe?
Scott: Well, musically, its first incarnation was a kind of The Strokes feel to be honest. I had this real hard-edged drum loop that was going on behind the music and I was thrashing the guitar chords at the time and I had these words come about which never really made sense at first. But then we played around with the music once we got into the studio and changed the mood round totally, and I started going back to basics with the riffs and, when you hear the first few notes ,[Scott sings first few notes] something just seemed to click and the words fitted the music and it all fell into place quite naturally.
It’s a bit of a love song going on with it, but there are hallucinogenic qualities as well, it’s like a twisted love song but one where images fill your head so you’re never quite sure what it’s about, so people can interpret it in many different ways. It’s a song that doesn’t have just one thing to say; every time you listen to it you can always hear different things.
ILM: So it’s a bit like art, where there are different meanings and different people can take different meanings from it?
Scott: Yeah, I think my lyrical style is to… I don’t know… still make people a bit unsure about what’s going on with the music, yet somehow still connect to it at the same time. That’s what I’m all about really.
ILM: It must be nice to have everything flow organically?
Scott: That’s how I write as well. Once you’ve got the music and some kind of mood going on with the music it’s so easy to get a different vibe on what you’re trying to say as well with the music, because so many words just do spill out from nowhere rather than the other way round. There are many different ways to approach a song, but the music always comes first and the lyrics come second.
ILM: So you’ve answered my next question which was going to be: Please describe the Scott Matthews process of making such good music? Do lyrics or melodies tend to come first or is it just random?
Scott: Yeah, well it starts off as a huge big rock guitar riff, and then gradually all the distortion gets taken out and then suddenly I can hear a bit of a song going on. I’ve got many songs actually which go through a real demo process, with drum machines going on and then I thrash a few chords out and see what happens. Generally I’ll just play around with a few ideas, and even if I’m watching the TV or whatever, there’s always a guitar around, which is quite worrying. I remember Eric Clapton saying once that even today he just can’t do without one. It’s an extension of his fingers man.
ILM: I guess you’re addicted to your guitar?
Scott: Yeah I think so, it could be a problem, but it’s paying off at the moment.
The processes can be working with the band, working out some crazy jams for half an hour, or it can be some really structured little idea where I’m just sitting on my own and I’ll work out some nice chord voicings and play around with tunings as well and suddenly start humming melodies over the top. The best songs are the easiest really, they flow naturally so you don’t feel the need to force them. Sometimes other things overlap or comments about the arrangement will divert things chord progression wise. So there’s no set formula. Music shouldn’t be forced.
ILM: Your Passing Stranger album is out now. Which track most fun to lay down in the studio?
Scott: I had real fun doing all of them at some point, I was really interested in all of them, but I think when we got the tablet player involved in Dream Song that was a highlight. Just because of the sheer caliber of this guy, and who he’d worked with as well. And just for him to come down to the session and play on my record is a massive thing for me, because he’s such a phenomenal player. And he just enhanced the song and took it somewhere else with his performance. I doubt Dream Song would’ve been the same if it wasn’t for him. But, personally as well, I was really pleased with the outcome of one of the songs towards the end which was Blue In The Face Again. That’s just got a really nice feel to it, and again lyrically it’s kind of non descript as well, so it’s slightly strange. The mood is really what makes the song one of my favourites and the flute sounds great as well.
ILM: What was it like working with John Leckie (Stone Roses, The Verve, Radiohead, Muse et al)? What did you learn from him specifically?
Scott: Obviously years of experience. John Cotton actually produced the album and John Leckie just worked with us on the bonus disk, so we did some string quartet stuff and John’s experience over the years, he just walked in and knew exactly what to do. He didn’t give much away. He’s a really cool guy and he’d expressed an interest in working with me, quite early on and we got the idea to work on this, a different vibe for some of the old songs, and he came up with the string quartet versions which were amazing. You learn a lot from him without realizing actually. We recorded in the old fashioned way as well, back on to tape, and everything was live performance, so the string quartet and me, we’d do two or three takes, so he just gives you a different approach as a performer for your songs. It just really works, the whole process and it’s something I’d like to do again. Obviously John Leckie’s the man and it was a good experience.
ILM: You’re supporting Rufus Wainright on his UK tour. I bet you’re looking forward to that? You’ve just played Cornbury festival. How was that?
Scott: That was cool man, a really good gig. It actually rocked out a bit which was quite good. It was a very good gig. Nice little vibe that festival. There was a good response and a really good sounding stage. Everyone enjoyed it. I managed to see a couple of other bands as well.
ILM: You’ve got Ripcurl Boardmasters in Newquay coming up too. What’s your current fave Scott Matthews song to play live?
Scott: Actually yeah, one of my favourite’s at the moment, and I think that goes for the band as well, is a song that’s not on the album. It’s a really old song and it’s just an instrumental. It’s called Instrumental 16. We all get a chance to go ape sh*t on this one, and all let loose and it’s the first song that we play at gigs so it gets us all going and it really works. From the record there are quite a few, but Fool's Fooling Himself is one we like to play as well, just because we crank everything up and make noise in a Sonic Youth sort of way.
ILM: You were raised in Wolverhampton, can you tell us the best and worst thing about Wolverhampton?
Scott: That’s a difficult question. The best thing about Wolverhampton is the people, definitely, you won’t find any more down to earth people than in Wolverhampton. They just know where they come from, know their roots and there are a lot of genuine people in Wolverhampton. The worst thing is maybe some naff buildings. Even though there is some beautiful old Victorian architecture as well, there are some pretty naff buildings around. It’s generally a good place to be. That’s all I’ve ever known really.
ILM: Any advice for young artists starting out?
Scott: I don’t know if I’m the best person to advise; I’ve kind of got lucky I think, but you’ve just got to keep writing songs, whether you have a band or are on your own, just keep writing songs. With technology that’s available today, you can demo an afternoon’s work and record everything. Just keep believing in what you do. Wherever you’re based, just try to suss out all the great venues to play and find open mic nights and just keep working the whole thing until you get better and more confident. Then hopefully something will happen with your demo and someone will see it at the right time, somebody who believes in your songs and takes it from there really.
ILM: What do you listen to when driving? Driving playlist?
Scott: Yeah, I’ve always got a bunch of CDs in the car. I tend to listen to Tom Waits of an evening. Tom Waits, last thing at night, when you’re driving back from something or Elliot Smith. I’ve been listening to a lot of Sonic Youth lately. Driving… actually Beck, Sea Change is a good album to drive to when you’re driving back from something, that’s a really cool album, quite moody. It depends what mood you’re in at the time. It’s never any kind of hardcore trance though.