Interview: Scott Matthews

One of the Midlands’ best loved and consistent songwriters of recent times, Scott Matthews continues to deliver with his fourth album due out this month. But this time he’s gone full circle and ditched the expensive studios in favour of recording it in his own house.

He tells David Vincent why home is where the heart is.

Debuting new material is often a nervous experience for musicians, no matter how experienced they are. And although Scott Matthews says he has been blown away by how supportive audiences have been to his latest offerings, he admits, in those few quiet moments before he steps into the limelight with guitar in hand, he’s still fleetingly gripped by self doubt.

“About 10 minutes before I go on stage, this crushing doubt just kicks in,” he confesses. “But within five minutes of being on stage, it’s flipped on its head. I know why I’m there. So in this 20-minute period, I’ve gone from one extreme to the other. And then the adrenaline kicks in, and you’re just buzzing from the occasion when you come off stage.”

It’s over a decade since Wolverhampton-born Matthews went solo, making his first live appearance at the old Robin 1 in Brierley Hill back in 2003. He’s since proved to be one of the region’s most consistent and well respected songwriters, earning an Ivor Novello Award in 2007, working with Robert Plant and Danny Thompson, and more recently performing as part of Way To Blue: The Songs Of Nick Drake, a package that took him all the way to Australia, performing with the likes of Lisa Hannigan, Vashti Bunyan, Robyn Hitchcock and Green ‘Scritti Politti’ Gartside.

“It was such a great experience playing the Sydney Opera House – the 2,000 capacity space! And I’m doing From The Morning or A Place To Be and thinking ‘can I put my own spin on it?’. But it was a great thing to do and I met some important people, like Danny Thompson. It got me touring and it got me to chapter four.”

Chapter four is album number four, the about-to-be-released Home: Part One.

“I’m very excited about it. There’s 11 songs on it and I think I did justice to them,” he says. “That mindset, ‘can I play them on my own?’, that definitely creeps into this album. Last time I made it work with a three-piece [but] it’s not cheap to take a band out, so there was a little bit of that thinking behind this record – can I do these songs justice every night on my own?

“Still, those Brian Wilson moments happen, ‘that harmony would be nice, a Theremin in there would be ghostly’. So it took time.”

Having recorded previous long-players with established producers in established studios, for Home, Matthews decided to opt for a more familiar setting.

 “There’s no one producing this album, this was recorded at home, I made this record at my home, put a microphone in front of the guitar and the end result, it sounds nice.

“I’ve got a new skill set. I’ve recorded it all, cellos, drum kits, and I’m pleased with how I engineered it,” he continues. “You might expect a super lo-fi organic thing, but I’ve picked up a lot of tricks from watching other engineers and producers. People have said it’s a really solid sounding record.”

Recording in comfort, without the clock ticking, a more relaxed Matthews noticed a change in his vocal performances.

“I do sing differently at home. There’s always someone there when you’re in the studio, you get that voice coming over the playback. At home you don’t get that and it’s quite nice to be flexible, take a few more risks. There’s no one there who can hear those dodgy bits, you can experiment easier,” he laughs. “But there is a danger of being isolated. You do need someone to say ‘that’s shit!’ or ‘that vocal was great!’. My missus, Sally, has been great with all that. If I get the thumbs up from Sally, that’s alright for me.”

The new set up has meant a new dynamic too, and that has all contributed to an evolving sound, with noticeable new influences. And there’s even an instrumental.

“This album is the first time I’ve done an instrumental, the track has flugelhorn, Spanish guitar, percussion, there’s a bit of a Love thing – though it doesn’t really sound like Love. It’s a full scale thing, four minutes, not an interlude. It’s very different to anything I’ve ever done before.”

If the record has seen him go home in a literal sense, thematically it’s also about him reconnecting with his roots.

“We all get inspiration from something,” he explains, “from bus journeys, seeing a great film, a homeless person on the street. Theme-wise, it’s about getting back to my roots. I’m four records into my career, and I write about what makes sense to me. I’ve been fortunate to play in America, Europe, Australia, and coming back and putting your case in the hall, that feeling, that emphasises the home thing, it’s what it’s about. Those subjects, those ideals are in this record. You have to have a strong lyrical theme people can relate to. That’s important, that’s something tangible for the listener. My goal to for someone to have those same feelings as I have.”

Scott Matthews is live at the Hare & Hounds in Kings Heath on April 8 with support from Chris Helme (ex The Seahorses). Tickets are priced at £12.50 advance and are available here.

He also performs at the Lunar Festival, Tanworth-in-Arden, Warwickshire on June 8. Visit lunarfestival.co.uk for details.

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