The title of Scott Matthew’s album Home Part 1 is deliberately evocative of a sense of place and belonging and as Scott has remained true to his roots, it’s also coincidentally where the album was made. As he explains, “I’m still in Wolverhampton, but we’re on the Shropshire borders. It’s what’s regarded as the posh end, if there is such a thing and wasn’t even within the city right into the 60s. We’ve been living in this house for about seven years, so I’ve effectively made three albums in it. But this is the first one that I’ve made myself.”
Over the years, Scott has been steadily building up his home recording equipment until he reached a point where, “I was making demos and the recordings were getting better and better until it got to the point where I thought these are good enough to put out in their own right.” It still wasn’t a decision he took lightly and he qualifies it saying, “I have a huge admiration for engineers in the studios and the way they can capture sounds and put instruments together, but over the course of making the previous records, I’ve learnt a lot and felt more able to get what I wanted. “
There’s more to it than just recording at home, however, as he recalls, “There’s a quote form Elliott Smith, where he talked about only being able to deal with the songs he was working with at any one time and I’ve taken some of that ethos on board. But over the last two records I’ve thought a lot more about how the songs work together and perhaps fit into a theme. All of that has fed into this new album. I couldn’t have made this record three years ago, but it’s actually been quite a natural progression.”
I suggest to Scott that technology has advanced to the point where the scale of equipment required has shrunk and he acknowledges, “Sure, at one end people are making records with Garage Band and a computer, but I guess I’m a bit more of a purist. Certainly my friends, the people I hang around with and have worked with are more into that golden period of the 70s, valve amps and so on that give you that warmth, a bit of that old school analogue sound. So, at the other you have all of these really great but expensive bits of kit, but there’s a limit as money dictates to some extent, but I’ve been able to add a few really tasty bits of equipment to help me get the best out of my instruments.”
He reveals, “I find it fascinating. I mean I’ve made a record at the bottom of the garden and I still find that a really weird concept, but then I guess the days are gone when the label has to be shelling out the hourly studio rate. I mean, I’ve been there, with the clock ticking and panicking that I’ve got to get a song recorded and I still haven’t got the lyrics written yet. But the result is that this record hasn’t been forced and I’ve had time to let it come together and I think that’s been a big factor in the type of record that I’ve made.”
For Scott the advantages are clear as he admits, “I can sing a lot better at home as well. Not having someone looking over your shoulder really helps. I mean I’m quite capable of making some mistakes, real howlers, but then I can look round and think, ‘Yes! Got away with that one!’, because no one’s looking on. I guess the point of that is that I’m more willing to take risks and try ideas out. Of course the other side is that you can get to absorbed with your own thing and there’s a danger that you get too close to it, becoming this control-freak-Joe-Meek like character. You know, as the bus goes past your thinking, ‘What’s that note? I need it now!’, crazy stuff like that” He laughs, delighting in the image but also at the musical reference point.
It’s a good point and Scott elaborates, “You always need someone else’s input, another set of ears. My missus Sally has been great for that. She’ll come in and I’ll play something and she’ll give me the big thumbs up or the thumbs down.” We laugh as I suggest the latter must be devastating and Scott agrees, “Oh yeah, especially when you’ve just spent seven hours on a drum part, or on something that you think is pure gold dust. To get the thumbs down is totally deflating and hits you like a big whale in the face.”
I suggest to Scott that the relaxation shows through, but there’s a also a confidence and the natural progression that he’s talking about also make this new album a much easier step on from his last album, when compared with the first two. He agrees and thoughtfully concedes, “Yes that’s true, but then I guess I was so determined that the second album was going to sound different to the first that I stopped listening to my inner self. With the benefit of hindsight that was probably a mistake, but there are still some songs on Elsewhere that I’m really proud of. I take your point though that the transition from the last record to this one is much smoother.”
In some ways the sense of relaxation comes from the fact that the record doesn’t sound busy. It’s not that it’s sparse as there are carefully constructed layers and textures throughout, but the pervading feel is that just guitar and voice are central to the sound. Scott’s voice takes a more humorous crackle as he counters, “There always this little Brian Wilson character that pops up and says, ‘I could use a couple of extra harmonies in there,’ but there is also this part of me that acknowledges at some point I have to back off and leave the track alone.” He continues more reflectively telling me, “The difference is that having the time has allowed me to work up two or three different versions of the songs. I’ve been able to create versions where I throw everything at it, but then you start to see what you can take away and leave out and those are the ones that become the album version.”
He admits that one of the challenges of his more relaxed state was to create power, “It was mostly recorded though the evenings working up until about midnight, so I was naturally in a more relaxed state. But with tracks like Sunlight, where the vocal is much more from the diaphragm, drawing the notes, the challenge was to get that energy. It’s so different to playing a gig where you have that natural adrenalin, but somehow you have to create that sense of performance. It’s a difficult thing to achieve in a little shed on your own, having just had your dinner and watched Coronation Street,” he deadpans, “but I think I’ve finally worked out how to do it.”
It’s a significant part of what makes Home Part 1 such a good record, but then it’s blessed with a great set of songs. I love the way some of the melodies resolve, especially on the chorus of The Outsider, “It’s the circle of fifths,” Scott explains, “My cellist Danny Keane is very quick to point things like that out to me, reasons why he likes something or that something works. I don’t read theory so I don’t have that level of understanding that he does, but I find it fascinating.”
Scott expands, “Maybe it’s the fact that I don’t know so much means that I’m not tied down. I know it can probably help, especially if you’re stuck on something like a middle eight, it can give you a way to move on, or it can give you another way to take an arrangement.” He changes tack, “For me melody is king. If a song isn’t working in that way then anything else you try and do to it is pointless.”
His ability to pen a good tune has never been in doubt since the Ivor Novello winning Elusive from the debut album and to theses ears at least, there is plenty on the new record that is every bit as good as anything from the first record. I ask Scott if he knows where his innate gift for melody comes form and his reply is considered, “In any situation you look at your strengths and weaknesses. I’ve always done that. I’m an artists as well and I still paint although I used to do a lot more. In my teenage years my dream was to be a comic book illustrator and I sent off some artwork to 2000AD. I got a letter back from the editor with some constructive criticism and I always turn back to that.”
He surprises me a little confessing, “It’s very easy for me to spend a few minutes on YouTube and get despondent. There are all of these fantastic guitarists and you think, ‘Oh, I can’t do anything today that’s going to match that.’ But then I get back to what I think I’m good at and if I’m honest with myself it’s that old fashioned business of penning a good tune and putting a chord sequence together.” Scott is certainly above average as a guitarist too, so it’s strange to think of him being floored by others, but then he’s also clearly a massive music fan at the same time.
He continues on something of a roll expressing, “I think my lyric writing has got a lot better over the last couple of records too.” Scott reveals, “My all time favourite has to be Paul Simon. He’s the complete artist with such a natural gift for telling a story and I’d love to tap into that for my next few albums.” Jimi Hendrix comes up but that has Scott reminiscing about a band he was in at school telling me, “All of my mates were really into the Stone Roses and went to Spike Island and stuff. Then I turned up with this tape of Ry Cooder and no one understood, while I tried to convince them that there were bits of Ry’s playing in what John Squires was doing.”
It starts to tumble out as he talks about discovering where Jimmy Page nicked his riffs from and buying records by Albert Collins and John Lee Hooker. He considers, “I think I was very lucky that my parents had records, early Fleetwood Mac and all of this other stuff, that slowly got engrained in me. It was never forced either, as a 14 year old trying to find his way on the guitar, I instinctively got excited by a Peter Green solo, so it was that sort of music that I started to go after rather than listening to The Wonder Stuff or Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Looking back on it, it was a really good thing.”
He alters the focus continuing, “It’s more evident on my first album Passing Strangers, with it’s nod to Ry Cooder on Sweet Scented Figure. There’s that Eastern influence too and amazingly the guy who plays tabla on my record, Sukhvinder Singh also plays on the album Ry made with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, called A Meeting By The River, although I didn’t know it until after the record came out.”
He develops the thread telling me, “All of that stuff of my parents is great to have at the foundation and there’s certainly stuff that comes out of that directly onto the debut album, but since then there’s also been all of the stuff I’ve discovered for myself. Be it kitchen sink dramas, reading Morrissey’s lyrics, books and films. It all feeds in. Take Piano Song from What The Night Delivers, that song was written after watching the film The L Shaped Room. It’s about self discovery and being true to yourself with what you offer as a musician.”
There is a filmic trait to several of his songs. The strong narrative at least acts as a trailer, from which the rest of the movie plays out mentally. Scott like the analogy, Although also confesses, “One of the things I’d like to be able to do is get more concise. I’d like the ability to edit myself better. Sometime I get carried away like on Walking Home In The Rain, part of that song would have worked better with no words at all, but I was really into Dylan Thomas at the time, so was trying to get that sort of word play in.”
He concedes, “The songs sometimes change. When you arrange a version to play live and then take it out on the road then it tends to evolve. In some ways the best thing to do with a new songs is to get it out of your system for six months, take it out and play it to an audience.” Again there is a glimmer of a chuckle as he drolly suggests, “Maybe I should do a tour of open mic mights, get down the pub on a Friday night and knock out a few new songs.”
Despite Scott’s easy humour, there is a serious point about the writing process here and he continues, “My drummer Scott and I plan to get together early in the new year and just jam a lot, play and play and see what we can demo from that. There’s just something about going back to that approach that appeals, for a start, the drum part becomes integral from the off. I’m sure I’d write differently if I had a bass player playing with me, the guitar parts would change for sure.” He adds, “In fact we’ve got these gigs in February and they’ll be different as my friend Jon Thorne who plays bass with Lamb will be involved in some of the shows.” Scott also hints that he has several projects on the go as he speaks. He tantalisingly adds, “I’m not saying I’ve gone all electronic, but there’s definitely a David Sylvian vibe to some of the new stuff, I think it will surprise a few people.”
Speaking of which, I ask Scott about The Clearing, the new album’s instrumental, “Yes,” he replies, “That’s my Morricone tribute It started off a simple chord progression on the Spanish guitar, but the flute player Mat Taylor came round to play on another track and I just said, ‘Can you play something over this?’ before I knew it he’d created this brilliant flute part, so we just had to build it up from there.”
Scott also admits, “I’m ahead of the game on Home Part 2, I’ve already got five definites for it. I have this white board system so That I can visualise what stage I’m at with each song I’m working on and when they go red, they’re definitely on the album and I can see them from here. I’ve been on this cycle of one album every tree years and it would be nice to break out of that and speed up.” I confirm it sounds like a great idea and he concludes by assuring me, “I’m certain we’ll have plenty more to talk about when that one comes out.” Now there’s something for me to look forward to.
Interview by: Simon Holland
Watch Scott’s acoustic Video “Let’s Get You Home”, our Song of the Day for Christmas Eve.
February 2015 Live Dates
22 Feb – St George’s, Bristol
23 Feb – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester
26 Feb – Cadogan Hall, London
27 Feb – St George’s Church, Brighton