‘IT WAS a lovely surprise when we got offered the opportunity to come to Israel... No matter how many records you put out, I think it’s important to be physically present to let people get to know you,’ says indie singer/songwriter Scott Matthew..
(photo credit: MICHAEL MANN)
There are two kinds of performers.
First there are the ones who have crafted a carefully rehearsed, impeccably played stage show, complete with well-placed “put your hands together” moments but without a shred of real emotion or honesty. Then there are performers like Scott Matthew – his shows are also carefully rehearsed and impeccably played, but bursting with life’s extremes and all that entails.
The Brooklyn-based, Australian- born indie singer/songwriter has had critics grasping for words like “otherworldy,” “quivering” and “melancholy” to describe the four albums he’s released since 2008 and countless live shows to a growing audience primarily in Europe.
“I don’t really understand why I’m more popular in Europe than the US,” said Matthew in a Skype conversation earlier this month. “There’s a lot more emphasis on money and commercial success in the US, and basically there’s a different sensibility and appreciation of different types of music in Europe.
That more suits what I do.”
What Matthew does is bare his soul through his music, described by music site the Sonic Hive as “songs and tales of experiential pain and pleasure. The wild unkempt beard, the hairy bare chest, and the entire appearance of the man was disarming at first. You didn’t expect to hear this gorgeously tender voice emanate from his lips.”
Music has always been Matthew’s salvation, especially growing up in the countryside of Queensland, Australia.
“Growing up in the country was incredibly beautiful but incredibly backwards in some ways. I never felt like I was able to fit in, so music was huge for me,” he said, adding that his father Ian was a musician and his home was filled with music.
“It helped me make sense of what I was feeling. If I could hear in the lyrics something that touched me, it provided me with solace.”
When he got a chance to relocate to New York in 1997, barely out of his teens, he grabbed it, and spent the next decade in various indie rock bands.
It was a chance meeting with independent filmmaker John Carpenter Mitchell in 2006 that helped launch Matthew’s solo career. Mitchell had just finished the filming of Shortbus, a dark indie erotic comedy with a cast of unknowns that went on to become an underground hit.
“I just kind of randomly met John at a party in New York when he was doing pre-production, and he was looking for someone to write songs for the film,” said Matthew, who ended up writing the movie’s theme song “In the End” and recording five more songs for the soundtrack.
Mitchell’s decision to take a chance on a relatively inexperienced and unknown musician didn’t surprise Matthew, who while admitting that the experience of writing a song for a specific scene was a harrowing experience dove into the project with enthusiasm.
“That was the whole purpose of the movie – everyone was unknown or had [no] experience doing anything, whether it be making movies or making music for movies. That was John’s intention, I think, to use people that were kind of living the life in New York.”
“I’m thankful for that film because it changed my whole life and the trajectory of my career and ability to make music.”
From his self-titled debut to 2009’s There Is an Ocean That Divides and with My Longing I Can Charge It with a Voltage That’s So Violent to Cross It Could Mean Death, 2011’s Gallantry’s Favorite Son and this year’s This Here Defeat, Matthew has honed his haunting style while losing none of the raw originality that gives listeners goosebumps.
Adding to his oeuvre was 2013’s album of covers, Unlearned, that brought Matthew’s unique and refelatory touch to a diverse collection of songs. Stripping most of the selections, from artists disparate as Janis Ian, Jesus and Mary Chain and The Bee Gees, down to the bare bones of his guitar or ukelele, and cello and piano, Matthew reinvented them. Nobody who’s heard his stark version of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” will ever listen to the original in the same way.
“I had a personal connection with those songs through time or place,” he said. “A lot of them came from my childhood and the songs my father would play in the house. All told, it’s a bit of an ode to my musical influences.”
That same musical accompaniment will be onstage with Matthew when he makes his Israel debut on December 15 at Levontin 7 in Tel Aviv.
“It was a lovely surprise when we got offered the opportunity to come to Israel and I’m really happy about it,” said Matthew. “No matter how many records you put out, I think it’s important to be physically present to let people get to know you.”
With Scott Matthew, that eventuality is all but unavoidable.