Sunday, May 13, 2012

Scott Matthew - Gallantry's Favourite Son - INTERVIEWS

New York-based Australian-born singer songwriter Scott Matthew has been likened to David Bowie, Antony Hegarty and any number of musicians from the annals of music history who shiver and quiver as they sing,  while the vibrato comparisons roll in, Matthew isn’t fussed, he is at his most content living life as a connoiseur of sadness, what matters more to Matthew than the folly of likenesses are the distinctive nuances and prismatic shades of melancholy. Paul Andrew speaks with Scott Matthew about his latest album Gallantry’s Favourite Son.

Let's get to your latest deep pop album in a jiff, but firstly l am curious about your earliest musical influences Scott?

There was a lot of music in our household. I grew up in an age of singer songwriters that has totally shaped my approach to song writing. My father would be listening to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, John Denver. These are songwriters who were ground breaking in their heyday but these days would be called traditional. 

I have no desire to be avant-garde or experimental.

I understand your Dad is a talented musician too?

He was the first and only one to teach me a few chords on the guitar.

For this I am grateful. He was in a band as a young man playing the fender electric. I remember seeing his band photos and thinking it was so cool.
He is a wonderful guitarist and sadly gave it up professionally to support his family and get a "real" job.  I believe he hated this choice his whole working life. He was a wonderful provider and I thank him for this too.
There would be many parties at our place over many years and always the guitar would come out and a sing along would ensue. 

I love these memories.

What music did you enjoy listening to while growing up in South East Queensland?

The Cure, The Smiths. The Cramps were all fascinating for me. I have just tracked down a t-shirt design of The Cramps I owned as a teenager and bought it out of sentiment.

Music and musicians were a way to give me solace. That the world was interesting, that suppression and being misunderstood was not the norm and that someday, there would be a time when I would find people who allowed me to fit into their world. 

Oh, and I loved The Jam and even The Sex Pistols. The Smiths were always my favourite band and I haven't outgrown them.

Tell me about the first album you purchased for your music collection?

Growing up in the Australian bush I didn’t have access to a lot of popular culture. My only connection to “cool” music was through community radio 4ZZZ. I would hole myself up in my room; lit incense to mask the smell of my cigarettes and listened avidly to the radio.

It was during these evening listening marathons that I discovered bands like The Smiths and The Cure. We would make trips to the city and with my small allowance- earned from washing cars, mowing lawns and other tawdry chores- I headed for the record shop in the mall.

Of course it was impossible to find “cool” music in this suburban record store. The only option I had was to order something at the store and then wait an agonizing two weeks for it to arrive.

This is what I did. The dilemma was what to order. I was given a huge catalogue and went straight to C for The Cure. I was surprised that they had released so many albums even back then. Me being the rebellious kid, I was always looking for ways to piss off my parents, so when I discovered they had made an album called Pornography my mind was made-up. Two weeks later and another trip to the mall in the city and Pornography was MINE.

It was the darkest, most deliciously depressing album ever made.
I cranked that album up in my room and listened to it with the repeat firmly ON. The imagery of spiders, blood and sickness were unbelievably amazing. I truly believe that it had a profound influence and shaped me as a teenager.

It also really pissed off my folks. Perfect.

I understand you studied music at Southern Cross University in Lismore?

Yes, and for me this time was formative. I wouldn't say so immediately for my song writing as song writing comes from life experience. It was my first year out of the family home and that rite of passage that accompanied this time was immense. It was a time of self-discovery, self-acceptance and expressing my sexuality for the first time. 

And, as painful and confusing as it was falling in love with everyone and anyone who wasn't available, it was so important to go through that process. In a way I still feel I am constantly processing who I am, my place and my worth in the world.

Tell me about your song writing journey since these awkward early beginnings?

Strangely I feel it keeps getting simpler.  I try less to be complicated these days lyrically. 

I have never had formal musical training so my chord structure was never challenging to start with. It’s even less so now. I strive to be spontaneous and pure. I am not approaching music with intellect, only emotion.

On reflection now, the lyricist (s) you admire most of all?

Morrissey will always be my favourite lyricist. His charm, wit and purity is utterly astounding. The lyrics to There is a Place in Hell are so simple and so damn insightful.

I also love to sing the praises of John Denver.  I adore his lyrical sensitivity, always singing of the concept of home while always travelling. His song Goodbye Again is so sentimental and honest. I believe he is vastly underrated as a great songwriter.

Tell me something about the writer's journey for your latest album, Gallantry’s Favourite Son?

It’s a strange thing to equate the want and joy of writing with the absolute need to make it for business reasons. Meaning, I need to fulfil my contract with my label but also I need to make albums to tour.  I also need to tour to earn money. 

I was conscious of this, while making this album and it felt like work for the first time. The songs are still my truth and highly personal, all inspired by love, or love lost, mostly. I feel it is my more self-conscious album. Truth be known, it was a bitch to make, working in confines, making something with nothing.

And the subject of friendship seems paramount on the album?

Friendship is the most precious thing to me. It is true love. It is family. I only work with friends. My band, my producer, my
photographer and so forth. All friends, all family.

I am particularly fond of the mystical elements of your song writing?

I am not religious however, for some reason religious imagery always comes out in my song writing. The demons, the dark romance of death and god. I have no idea why.

I despise the church but still use the symbolism. Though the last track on the album is titled No Place Called Hell for good reason.

Gallantry's Favourite Son- it's an evocative album title?

Oh, it was my favourite lyric and also, an affirmation.

Was there another contender for album title perhaps?

Yes there was. I wanted to call it Sweet Kiss in the Afterlife, however in German- my label is Berlin based- somehow this album title, translates into "rimming"; hilarious, but not so good for the old image; or is it?

There are many many shades of melancholy in your songs-what makes you so passionate about melancholy ?

I question that a lot. I have always been inspired by it. I think it’s a very long story going back to early childhood and I seem to not want to analyse it anymore. It’s my truth, it’s also a joy. 

I dearly hope it can translate joy to others. I never want to be depressing at all. I would rather this tendency of mine be a solace, like a friend’s shoulder.

“Rimming” aside for one moment, tell me about the funniest moment you had while making the album?

I think the last track, No Place Called Hell, a song that was so spontaneous in the making. I sang mouth trumpet. Eugene sang mouth trombone. All the cute backing vocals were improvised. It was the last song to record and we just decided to have freedom, and, most importantly, fun. Two aspects I love most next to melancholy.

What is the song from this album that admirers ask you about most of all? 

People are quite interested in Sinking. I am glad for this as it’s my favourite song on the album and the song I feel is also my most personal. The question- Who is it about?- is always asked. What is more interesting for me is that I wrote this song under the Pecan Trees in Australia on my parent’s property in the bush. That’s special to me.

It seems folks are most obsessed by the song The Wonder of Falling in Love, for obvious reasons. Perhaps this is because there is an expectation of melancholy or sad sentiment with my music. This song is purely a love song in feel, arrangement and lyric. They also want to know who this strange person was that inspired such positivity in me. Ha Ha!

Unfortunately the true life story is not as sweet as the song. I wrote it as affirmation, almost in a state of defiant positivity to break the habit, to source new love. It worked. I fell in love. However, I am cursed and was witness to this wonder, all too briefly. Square one, once again.

Your earliest and most memorable live music experience?

Funny that one,  my parents did not allow me to see Culture Club but I managed to get a glimpse of Boy George at a radio station opening in Brisbane. That was profound for me as it was super stardom at its purest and most forbidden form. 

As I mentioned just now, I lived in the bush and never had the chance to see live music very often. Though I do remember my first concert was Split Enz. So amazing to see a band I had seen on the telly, on Countdown. I was overwhelmed with joy. 

It was much later in life in NYC when I saw Cat Power perform her covers album before it even came out. It was with an audience of maybe forty people. Definitely the most intense and pure experience I have ever had in my life. This live music experience still inspires me today.

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PHOTOS: Michael Mann 

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