As any parent will tell you, having children is one of the biggest upheavals one can experience. At the time of talking, Scott Matthews’ son was yet to be born, but he was already feeling the seismic shift that is impending fatherhood.
“It’s definitely had a big influence on the ideas I had on this new record,” he says. He’s talking about The Great Untold, his second release through his own label Shedio Records, through which he released his last album, Home Part 2, in 2016.
The Great Untold is very much a labour of love. Working entirely alone - Matthews wrote and played every song himself - he combined his creativity with the business demands of running a label, and is honest about the fact that it wasn’t always easy.
“It’s the first time it’s been just me playing everything. It had its ups and downs; you become your own boss and your own worst enemy,” he admits.
“But it’s been rewarding as well because when you spend a lot of time with a band touring, it can get monotonous. Being isolated has a big influence, but then you’re pulling your hair out at 2am trying to mix the last song before the day of mastering. You go crazy, paranoia kicks in, but something gets you over the line and suddenly you’ve made a record.”
His guiding light was the spirit of the songwriters he admires. “I look at Paul Simon in my head [when I write] and go, ‘Paul, is this any good?’” he says. “The more the songs started to evolve, different ideas came in.”
They say never to mix work and pleasure, but his wife also had a big part in bringing the album to life. “My wife is becoming quite the co-writer. I like that chemistry, I think Tom Waits and his wife write songs together as well, it adds another string to the bow and I’m proud of what that brings to the surface for us as well.”
Ambiguity is key
As for the topics that have inspired this new, insular mode of songwriting, Matthews likes to keep things vague. His favourite kind of song, he says, is one that makes you think. Leaving his poetic and often introspective lyrics open to interpretation keeps an air of mystique around his work and the element of artistry alive.
“Ambiguity is a big factor. I love the mystery of songs. That’s where the charm is,” he muses. “I think Sufjan Stevens has that quality. Judy Tzuke once said to me that it sounded like I wrote Elusive [the song that bagged him the Ivor Novello Award in 2007] without thinking about it. And I thought, ‘She’s right, don’t overthink it because that’s when the magic bubbles away.’”
One area where the magic isn’t so tangible is the business side, but Matthews says the fact that he’s able to sustain a career as a full-time musician in an industry in a state of flux is enough to keep him inspired.
“I was asked at a gig once what I deem as success, and the fact that I’m sitting here talking about a sixth album and I’m able to be a full-time musician… I know a lot of my friends in bands have had to pack it in because of the financial situation, and it’s a crying shame. You’ve got to find ways in today’s climate just to cut through.”
Matthews’ means of getting his album heard was Pledge Music. Independent artists are increasingly turning to crowdfunding - Ani DiFranco was one of the earliest pioneers - and he says the process was invaluable, not just for generating funds but for connecting with fans.
“I crowdfunded the last record, which proved pretty successful, it’s more insightful for the fans during the recording process,” he says. “It gives you that outlet, you create the page but they set everything up and the infrastructure is brilliant because of the ways people can invest. And fans because don’t have to part with any money until the record’s made. Shedio Records is my own label, which struggles to generate the capital to do everything, from manufacturing the album to hiring PR and radio pluggers. You need a starting point.”
The fact that Matthews has been active in the industry for over decade proves he’s a much more savvy businessman than he gives himself credit for, but for him, everything comes back to the art. “The music industry is like football - doing keepy-ups,” he says. “You just have to believe in it, and wake up and find the reason every day.”
The Great Untold is out now.
Deep panned piezo
How stumbling across an independent pedal company shaped Scott’s sound.
“The new record includes a combination of gear I’ve had over the years. I’ve got a Maton C50 from the 70s, a late-70s Guild D25 and a Guild F30, which is the workhorse. It’s all pretty stripped-back.
“Bright Onion Pedals made [me] a custom pedal,” he explains. “It’s like a switcher pedal. I try to bridge the gap between the live sound and recorded. I’ve got two pickups coming from the acoustic; there’s a pure acoustic signal from one pickup then the second pickup goes to the electric amp and effects pedals. I like to think it sounds like so much more than just my voice and guitar.”