The last twelve months’ lockdown has had many of us re-evaluating our lives, making changes, and trying something new. For Ivor Novello, the award-winning songwriter Scott Matthews, 2020 provided the platform to examine his music and explore different avenues. The result of this musical journey for Scott can be heard on his upcoming new release, New Skin, an album some are already describing as his “best work to date.”
Thanks for your time Scott. How is life treating you at the moment?
Scott Matthews: “Life is good at present, thanks. Trying to keep up with my three-year-old boy is tiring but my wife and I are finding ways to keep him entertained in these challenging times for us all. There’s only so much Thomas The Tank Engine you can watch!”
You’re about to release your new album New Skin in a couple of months. Can you tell us a little about the album?
“New Skin was born out of circumstance really. I originally planned to record an album in my local church with purely voice and guitar. I was spending a lot of time there simply disconnecting from everything and playing songs to an empty room, but due to lockdown I had to abandon those plans and leave the remnants of song ideas still echoing off the walls. Thankfully, lots of those new ideas transferred to a sound I’ve always wanted to pursue, to make a sort-of electronic album.”
I believe the album came about from you reassessing your music due to COVID-19. What triggered that need to reassess and what did you want to achieve from it?
“The world of synths and ambient Eno-esque music has always fascinated me greatly and I’ve wanted to make a record with that spirit for a long time. Lockdown, and its rules of isolation, meant I had to work inside the box to a large degree. I’ve found out a lot about myself. I had to learn a ton about sampling my own organic sounds. I’d never programmed a beat in my life before but was excited by the potential of where I was going with it. The whole adventure was like going down a rabbit hole, but I cultivated many useful tools that I envisage using for future records.”
New Skin would indicate a complete ‘out with the old, in with the new.’ Firstly, what didn’t you like about the “old” Scott Matthews and, what did you most want to change?
“(laughs) That isn’t the case really. A change is as good as a rest, as they say! I do feel it’s crucial that I continue to find ways to progress and grow as a songwriter. New Skin certainly feels like I’m shedding old skin and stepping into unfamiliar waters. There’s always a true sense of the need to test myself and not tread over familiar ground too. I think all that I had become up to the point of recording New Skin informed me with absolute clarity, so I wouldn’t have changed anything even if I could.”
Secondly, what did you learn about yourself as an artist from reassessing your music?
“Not to be afraid to try something new and that I have to be fully committed to embrace where I’m trying to get to otherwise the path I’m taking is hardly worth the worn out shoes. It’s a sense of believing that the choices I make are bold and true and that they hold a purpose and value to my life moving forward.”
I read that you had a to-do list of ideas you wanted to explore. What held you back from exploring them until now?
“It was more a case of amassing a pool of songs, spanning twelve years or more, that never quite knew where they belonged until this new record came along. 2020 felt like the perfect lighthouse for those washed-out-at-sea rogue songs to swim towards.”
It’s been 14 years since the release of Passing Stranger. Going back to then, what was your vision for how you wanted your music to sound?
“When I think back to 2005, which is when we recorded Passing Stranger, my primary goal was to make the best album I could possibly make. I had accumulated a wealth of knowledge and influences in those 29 years on the planet and I was simply trying to find out who I was and how to achieve that in a musical form. I think that push and pull of ideas is probably what makes Passing Stranger my most eclectic album to date. Over time, you refine yourself and chip off the rough edges.”
Would you say that New Skin is the closest you’ve come to achieving that?
“I had no idea that 15 years later I’d be hearing the sounds of New Skin. It’s so far removed from my debut album, which kind of highlights that you can never tell which way your heart will sway. I dare say the passage of discovery will lead me a long way, if time will allow.”
Now that you’ve taken the time to reassess and explore new avenues, where do you see your sound expanding from here?
“I think exploring a new sound has naturally led me to write in a different way. Whenever I listen to expansive, cinematic music I find myself writing about different things and I certainly see different things in the new sounds I’ve created. I can only hope to continue developing my ideas and learn from my reasons and actions. I do feel excited by the volume of possibilities that’s cranked up in my head. I have so much music I want to explore and I’m not even sure what kind of record it will be next time around, but as always, I’m dictated to by what I write about and what songs are bearing fruit. Only then will I be able to gauge how best to present the songs.”
Listening to the new record, what do you think long-terms fans will be surprised by most?
“I think it will be the general departure, instrumentation wise, as there’s lots of straight angular programmed drums and synth melody lines, which drive a lot of the pieces. I’m sure they’ll still be able to connect to the emotional pull of the songs, but the way they’re presented may take a few listens to be fully immersed in the experience. Initial fan feedback so far has been pretty overwhelming to be honest, with some even saying it’s my best work to date! I’ll take that!”
Looking back over this period of your life, what has surprised you most about yourself both as a person and as an artist?
“That I can be a pain in the ass at times especially when it feels like Groundhog Day! (laughs) I do find that retaining a strong core of creativity helps me to be a better human being, husband and father to my little family. They’d probably agree that I’m a grumpy old so and so if I don’t pick up a guitar most days.”
And with the tour coming hopefully later in the year, what are your hopes for the year ahead?
“I sincerely hope that I can play my new songs to my fans and that we can all share and connect with each other again. I feel strongly that live music will come back with more desire, heart, hunger and beauty than at any time we’ve ever known. I sense a great urge from performers and fans to rekindle those sacred experiences once more. I personally can’t wait to play to a live audience once again. Live music will never die. Its heart is impenetrable.”
Scott’s new album, New Skin, is available to pre-order from his official website.
10/01 – John Peel Centre – Stowmarket
10/02 – St Mary’s Church – Shrewsbury
10/03 – St Mary’s Church – Chester
10/06 – Leaf – Liverpool
10/08 – Roisin Dubh – Galway
10/09 – Unitarian Church – Dublin
10/10 – The Duncairn – Belfast
10/12 – Brudenell Social Club – Leeds
10/13 – Oran Mor – Glasgow
10/14 – Voodoo Rooms – Edinburgh
10/15 – St Michael’s Church – Manchester
10/20 – Unitarian Church – Brighton
10/21 – Revelation Ashford – St Mary’s – Ashford
10/22 – St John’s Church – Cardiff
10/23 – St Stephen’s Church – Bristol
10/26 – Holy Trinity Church – Guildford
10/27 – Quay Arts Centre – Isle of Wight
10/28 – Kingskerswell Parish Church – Newton Abbot
10/30 – Upper Chapel – Sheffield
12/01 – Luxor Live – Arnhem
12/02 – Tivoli Vredenburg / Cloud9 – Utrecht
12/03 – Mezz – Breda
12/04 – Oosterpoort Binnenzaal – Groningen
12/06 – Privatclub – Berlin
12/08 – Loppen – Copenhagn
12/09 – Dexter – Odense
2022 Tour Dates:
02/12 – Union Chapel – London
02/13 – St Paul’s – Birmingham