Now that U.S. music audiences are beginning to discover acclaimed UK artist Scott Matthews (he hails from near Wolverhampton, England, the same stomping grounds as rock great Robert Plant) the title of his debut Universal Republic album, Passing Stranger, stands in almost playful opposition to the lasting embrace the singer’s debut has received around the globe. Even more impressive, Matthews has garnered his network of true believers one fan at a time, nurturing the kind of hard earned word-of-mouth buzz that affirms his place as this year’s most authentic musical find. His recent win of the prestigious Ivor Novello Songwriting Award for his track “Elusive” only cements the acclaim.
Since its March 2006 UK release, the ‘Stranger’ has propelled Matthews into the top tier of England’s most promising singer/songwriters. Flexing both bare-boned and roots-driven songs (drawing comparisons to artists such as Jeff Buckley and Dave Matthews (no relation)) – and led by the UK acoustic lament “Elusive” – Matthews has captivated the hearts and minds of critics, digital music followers and traditional fans alike. ‘Scott Matthews is a star in the making,’ raved one UK scribe, with a BBC online reviewer describing Matthews’ word-perfect live show as: ‘Matthews plainly having the audience in the palm of his hand… he left (them) motionless and breathless.’
From the masterful debut’s reflective title track, to the hymnal “Elusive,” to the barnstorming romp of “The Fool’s Fooling Himself” (where Matthews’ showcases his other dazzling attribute: A-list guitarist with a penchant for muscular, bluesy riffs ala Hendrix and The Yardbirds, and others), Matthews cuts no corners in his effortless, artful snapshots of the human condition. With the groundswell of excitement about to blossom into a campfire roar, it’s best to leave it up to the unassuming Midlander to sort it all out.
“I’ve been fortunate to breakthrough certain avenues (the online buzz surrounding him) that weren’t available years ago. I benefited from people being able to check stuff out and pass the word along. I think that and the constant touring I did created really good feedback, whether it’s just me with the guitar or the full band stuff we do. What’s really amazing is I’ve only been singing since about 2003. I was a guitarist in bands for years, but I wanted to get out there and express myself more. I thought ‘I have something to say on things.’ The album worked out to be the culmination of all that.”
To say the least. With UK Tomes like Q Magazine now anointing the
artist as : ‘The most promising home-grown singer-songwriter to emerge in years,’ it’s worth a look back at his steady-as-she goes ascension. Even Matthews reluctantly points out that, from early on, he seemed to possess a natural ability for getting up on a stage and ‘breaking the ice with people.’
It helps, of course, if you’re also aware you can ‘play a bit.’ Matthews owned his first guitar when he was 7 years old. He had an electric by the time he was 11. “Hendrix was the man for me,” he says about his early influences. “Still is.” Matthews is not as sure about his own singing though – a remarkable admission from an artist who will surely go down as one of the jaw-dropping vocal discoveries of 2006/2007.
He weaned himself of his obsession with what he calls “funky-driven rocky blues – I thought I was [Red Hot Chili Peppers’] John Frusciante,” he laughs. “Then I woke up.’ The songs poured out of him. And as far as becoming a ‘star’, the singer seemed to know instinctively that it would be the songs – poetic, tuneful, heartfelt – that would do all the heavy lifting.
He recorded a demo of Passing Stranger, pressed up 20 CDs and gave one to a ‘bloke’ who happened to catch his show and would eventually become his manager. A kind of by-the-bootstraps course was charted to record and self-promote his stunning debut album, which Universal Republic would add to their roster in 2007. Among the session musicians on the diverse disc would be Sukvinder Singh Namdhari, who has played alongside Ry Cooder and Ravi Shanka. Matthews also decided to employ the skills of Ray Staff to master the album, the man responsible for such classic records as, Zeppelins Physical Graffiti and Bowie’s Hunky Dory and Ziggy Stardust, among others.
Upon the UK release of the 17 song debut last March, Matthews set out immediately on a series of buzzed-about one-man gigs, managing to cobble together a provocative, atmospheric show with not much more than him and his guitar. But the methodical performer was also very keen to present what he calls the ‘heavier slant to the music.’ A picture he was unable to paint solely based on the one-man approach.
“That’s why I’m thankful we’ve also gotten a band together to give people the full scope. To everybody that knows the record, there’s a diversity there that’s hard to capture purely on your own. I also like to think, particularly from the vantage point of the music I’ve grown up listening to, that mixing things up a bit puts everyone on the journey together.”
Does that mean Matthews is hell-bent on an even more ambitious mission now, one that includes bringing the wide-ranging, ultra-mobile American audience into the fold. “I was hoping more they’d find me,” he jokes. But kidding aside, one of the strengths of the Matthews’ story is precisely how organically-driven both the audience and accolades for Passing Stranger have been. Maybe, when you come right down to it, it’s one of those meant-to-be albums that are beyond any marketing strategy. “It’s funny, but at the time I wrote it, I really didn’t know where I was going with music,” says Scott. “To be honest, it has a feeling of familiarity, yet running in circles. Self explanatory, but also hitting a bigger nerve. Tapping that perspective that might fit into other peoples lives. Whatever the reason I’m grateful. And I’ll tell you something else: I’m having a real blast.”
Videos & Press
[Wales Online] By David Wells September 7, 2011 Scott Matthews has an impressive roster of star names with which he’s played, but he’s found his own voice on his new album. Dave Freak finds out more WHILE making his second album, Elsewhere, Wolverhampton-based songwriter Scott Matthews found himself impressing fellow Black Country lad Robert Plant […]