For many artists, there comes a point where they decide to strip things down and head back to basics.
For acclaimed singer-songwriter, Scott Matthews that point has come with album number six, The Great Untold.
The performer, who won an Ivor Novello award for his 2006 debut single, Elusive, may no longer be on a major label, but he is as energised as ever about his career. And having recently become a dad for the first time less than three months ago, he's finding new reasons to keep going.
'It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster few weeks – it’s a whole new challenge. The tours have many pluses, and one of them I’ve now discovered is that I can get some sleep when I’m on the road,' he laughs.
'It’s one of those situations where you instantly find a whole new reason to keep doing what you’re doing, and you’re totally realising it’s the fans that are getting you through. I’ve got a lovely fanbase that have been very loyal over the years.'
After the expansive last couple of albums, Home, Parts 1 and 2, Scott decided he needed to make a change of tack. The Great Untold is largely one man and his guitar. What prompted this?
'I think a lot of it was to do with the practicalities of touring the record. When you’re making a record you can get swamped in the details and think you’re Brian Wilson for a minute, adding all of these harmonies and layers and exotic instrumentations that you think are adding something. But the reality is that you have to try and tour these records and for the last record, I felt like I was struggling to replicate that in the live context.
'This time around I wanted to make a record that was more seamless from the studio to the stage, making it very much more a cohesive experience. When people hear the record they can have a very much similar experience at the gig. I wanted that synergy of studio to stage, bar a few harmonies, it’s a record that supports itself with just a guitar and I’ve always wanted to do that.
'This is a solo tour - just me and my five guitars. Many times on the microphone on the stage I’ve said to the audience, "I’m still here", and the support behind me at that point, it’s all the encouragement you need.'
Given the cut-throat nature of the music business, and the way it can turn on a former hot property, are their times when he's thought about jacking it in?
'Many times I’ve questioned what it’s all about. When I got my first record out there, we cut the tail-end of the old business model. I was this kid from the Black Country who didn’t really know what he was doing. Before I knew it, I was doing a special gig at the 12 Bar in Denmark Street, in Tin Pan Alley in Soho, and we had everyone there from Columbia, Sony, Island records, Universal, and this was all worlds apart from where I’d come from. I did a deal with Island and it all went kind of crazy from that point.
'But you fast forward 10-12 years things are very different in the industry now. We use Spotify purely as a promotional tool and it’s trying to cut through those kinds of mediums, really. It’s difficult.'
He now releases albums on his own label, Shedio, and has used online pledge campaigns to fund his last two albums and a live DVD.
'I’ve got my own record label now, and in some respects I kind of wish I’d done that a few years ago.
'Pledgemusic is great as a platform to generate some capital. When you’re raising capital, manufacturing, hiring PR and radio pluggers and all that, me and my wife wouldn’t have been able to do it any other way. To have that preorder system and your fans can buy into the experience of the making of the album, it’s good for everyone.
'It’s a great model, and I think it’s the way forward. It gives everything the chance to grow organically.'
‘Fortunately I’m sitting here with six albums under my belt, and I think in many ways of getting stronger creatively. Having your own record label, you get more of an insight into the cycle and planning.
‘First and foremost, you have to find a reason to make music still. If you’re making music for the wrong reasons, then it’s time to pack up. It’s important to still believe that you’ve got something to write about and the music’s interesting enough to warrant a new album. From there you’ve got to think about touring, so I’m already thinking about 2019 and my next release.
‘And I’ve got my little boy - I’m thinking about his first job on the road, maybe guitar string changer,’ he jokes.
‘As the title, The Great Untold suggests, it’s going to be a brand new chapter for and me the wife, and a very exciting one. I’ve already written songs about my boy.
‘Who would have thought after all this time I would even be talking about my sixth album? Especially with the way the industry has panned out. There’s a lot of people out there like me just trying to keep my head above water, but I’m still enjoying it, and that’s the main thing.’
The Great Untold was recorded and produced largely in his home studio, which is ‘still essentially the garden shed’.
‘Studio rates are very expensive, and the flip-side of that is home recording equipment has really come on leaps and bounds to the point where you can do some really decent quality recordings in your own home. And I think I’ve picked up a few engineering skills from people I’ve worked with over the years. If you can picture the scene there’s me setting next to John Leckie at the mixing desk, and I’m thinking this is the guy who was the tea boy for George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, you know? Naturally I’m going to tap him on the shoulder and ask him, “That’s a great little trick, what did you do there?”
‘Over time I’ve grown the confidence to record my own music, and that’s how Shedio was born. It started as a glorified demo space, but the more I progressed, people were saying: “These are good quality, why don’t you just release them?” They’ve got their own charm. At first I didn’t see it, but the more I got others’ opinions, the more I got it.
‘It’s a more DIY approach, but it’s saved me a lot of money, and creatively I’ve been able to seize the moment. If I have an idea I don’t need to book a studio and wait two weeks, I can just stroll the garden with a cup of tea and the neighbours can hear me belting it out for the rest of the evening.’
And he’s remained close to his roots.
‘I’m still in Wolverhampton – born and bred.
‘I’ve been lucky to travel the world with my music, so I have that perspective, but we’re very family oriented, and I can get back to Wolverhampton take a load off. I’m still a very rooted kid, even at the age of 42, I still understand where I come from and hold those values strong.’
The Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea
Thursday, October 4