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Interview: Matt Scottoline (Hurry)

14 August 2023

Photo by Emily Burtner

Tight songs delivered in 3-to-4-minute bursts brimming with catchy hooks and bright guitars are the hallmark of the power pop movement and, as has been the case for decades, some of the absolute best in the business remain known to just small handfuls of ardent and passionate listeners. Rest assured, if you ask a power pop fan for recommendations, they’ll deliver band names you’ve never heard of for days. Hurry isn’t the most obscure band out there, they’ve got a solid track record with Lame-O Records but you can’t help but wish the material on the band’s fifth full length, Don’t Look Back, would be in regular rotation on your local radio station.

Singer/guitarist Matt Scottoline has unintentionally followed a regular release pattern with new Hurry albums dropping just about every two years for the last decade and while the band’s earlier material is the kind that should soundtrack a college kid’s summer vacation, the latest – named after a (big influence) Teenage Fanclub song – is the most consistent start-to-finish album in Hurry’s existence. While Scottoline readily admits his influences, there’s nothing on Don’t Look Back that sounds like an imitation of those who came before him. And while most bands in this genre stick to traditional instruments, Hurry sprinkles some tasty horns – courtesy of Ben Grigg (trumpet) and Logan Bloom (trombone) – on tracks like “Beggin’ For You” and “Parallel Hunting.”

It may be a cliche, but the 10 tracks that make up the 40-minute Don’t Look Back are all killer, no filler. While it sounds like a seamless album to make, Scottoline admits that following 2021’s Fake Ideas, he questioned whether or not to go on in the midst of a pandemic and the end of a relationship. Fortunately for listeners, those two things eventually helped directly, and indirectly, reignite Scottoline’s passion.

When the pandemic started and there was so much uncertainty in the world, I felt like I lost human connection. There was no one outside my immediate family to see in person. I was depressed. Going to work meant going to the basement and getting on the computer for 8 hours a day. And then I realized I could do Zoom interviews with artists and re-establish connection with the outside world. It helped refuel my passion.

MATT: I had a really similar experience because the last album we did came out in early ’21 and when James, my publicist, started reaching out to people and setting interviews up, I had this really shitty attitude where I was like, “What’s the point?” I was in the same headspace as you. But as soon as I started doing interviews, I was having these really long phone conversations with people and I was like, “Oh, this is amazing. I feel so good now, it’s just really great to talk to people and not feel so isolated.”

Not that this should make you – or anyone – feel any better but I kept thinking that this was a global event so there was no FOMO. It wasn’t isolated. It wasn’t like I would scroll through someone in California’s Instagram feed and be like, “They get to go to concerts and I don’t.” Literally nobody was touring. Nobody was going to see shows.

MATT: It was an interesting time because, as an artist, it removed a lot of pressure in a certain way because so much of the stuff that we spend our time worrying about, especially on an album cycle, just wasn’t available. So, it became this really pure thing in a way where it was like, “All we can do is put a record out and that’s all we’re going to talk about.” Then it’s out and that’s it. There’s no other business, like touring, to address.

You’ve very consistently released albums just about every two years since you started in 2012.

MATT: It’s not even really intentional for the most part. I have a habit where I write and then I record the record and then, from the moment the recording process starts, I stop writing altogether and don’t start again until after that album is released. I just have some sort of mental block where it feels like I can’t move forward until I’m totally done with the record I’m working on. So, I feel like maybe that’s what puts me on that sort of schedule. It just kind of works out that way, or at least it has so far.

It hasn’t been super calculated. The longest gap, I think, was between the 2018 record (Every Little Thought) and the one that was released during the pandemic in 2021 (Fake Ideas). But, it would have been on the same two-year cycle had there not been a pandemic.

I think because I’m sort of like a solo act in the sense that I write all the songs myself, it just sort of happens at my own pace. The label doesn’t pressure me or anything. I think my natural internal pace is that two-year cycle for some reason.

Did you start writing Don’t Look Back as soon as Fake Ideas was finished?

MATT: With the cycle for that album, starting to write the new album was a little more delayed. I got off my pace a little bit because I had a lot of personal stuff going on. This happened to a lot of people, but Covid definitely had an effect on my brain and kind of stole a lot of my juice. I went through a long period where I didn’t play guitar at all because it just didn’t appeal to me. I felt really kind of existential and weird about it all. I had that going on and then I was in this long-term relationship that ended up fizzling out during that time too and that was a huge shake up in my life.

So all this stuff was happening where the last thing I wanted to do was write music. And even around a big sort of separation, I still just had this feeling of, “I don’t want to start writing sad breakup songs. It doesn’t feel like what I want to be doing.” I just kept taking time away and working on myself and going to therapy and processing all the grief I was experiencing. Only after that, when I started getting back out into the world a little bit, did the creativity start kind of coming back in.

I think maybe in very late ’21 is when I finally started writing again and then it just happened really fast. The floodgates kind of opened. That’s typically how things go for me in some sense. I’ve learned over the years, I can’t really force it. I just have to wait for it to start happening again.

Are most of your songs based on things in your real life or do you write from the point of view of a character or generalities so it’s not too personal?

MATT: I think I play a little game with myself where I like to think they’re not personal when I’m writing them. Often, later, I realize, “Oh, that was actually some pretty deep stuff you were thinking about.” There’s a certain element of denial. Even the record prior to this new one, Fake Ideas, there was a lot of content on that that in the moment I didn’t think much of and then after I went through everything I went through and we started jamming again because we were going out on tour and I started playing those songs with the new context and I thought it was almost like I was talking to myself without sort of realizing it.

So I do think with a lot of my previous stuff I did, maybe to protect myself or feel less scared about it, I would just be like, “This isn’t really about me. These are just abstract feelings that I can relate to.” But yeah, I think it all is pretty personal to some degree. And the new record, I think, is more explicitly like I was not in denial this time. It was a lot more conscious of the types of things I wanted to talk about.

When you set up an appointment with a therapist, do you just say, “Here’s a link to my last record, let’s talk about it”?

MATT: No, but she would be into that. It’s funny, the person I see sees a lot of my peers, especially in the Philly music scene, because I think I heard about her from someone else. So she gets it to some degree.

We never explicitly talk about that, but I’ve talked about the story I just told you. I think it’s common for a lot of people who write music, or create any sort of written art, a lot of the time it’s things that you don’t feel comfortable expressing in normal life, but for some reason putting them through the lens of a song or a poem or a book, whatever you’re working on, it gives you more permission to communicate your truths and the things you’re thinking about. That’s sort of what I’ve realized about myself. Maybe I’m not always the best communicator in my real life, but if you listen to one of my records, it’s pretty clear what I’m going through or thinking about.

Do you feel this is the most fully realized record you’ve made? To my ears, it sounds the most consistent from song to song of all your albums.

MATT: Yeah, I think so. I would agree with that. I spent a long time, and many records, trying to figure out who I was or what I wanted to be as a songwriter. And I feel like I would catch glimpses of it every now and then and those would be the songs from an album that would stick with me or stay in the set list. But then there’d be a lot of songs where I was experimenting a little bit and thinking, “Let me try to write a song that’s more of like a Yo La Tengo -esque, droning, freak-out song but I’ll put a pop chorus in it. Just trying weird stuff.

In revisiting a lot of stuff on this press cycle, I went back and there’s songs I totally forgot about where I’m just like, “Whoa, what the hell was going on there?” And I think it was just not being totally in tune with what my natural state of songwriting was. This time around, I had this new attitude of not thinking about it too much and writing what comes naturally. Don’t try to write a certain way or do something with a song.

I can’t just make a record that sounds like a record I love. A big part of this record was just not laboring too much this time around. And I did a lot of stuff in pre-production too, where I was talking to a lot of songwriters that I am friends with or respected and just hearing their processes. I spent a lot of time learning a lot of songs that I love, which is not something I really had ever done before. And then I did a funny thing where I would learn an Evan Dando song that I’ve always loved and never really bothered to play, and I would record, on my phone, myself playing that song and then listen to it and hear myself in that context. I think all of that stuff helped a lot because it got me a little more comfortable with where I naturally fit, whether it’s keys that work well for me or vocal range stuff. It was one of the benefits, actually, of not having any creative juice going to write my own music. I was just doing a lot of other weird stuff to try to open my brain up a little bit.

It really did help a lot. Even from a really basic standpoint of when you learn someone else’s songs, you’ll play chords you don’t normally play and you’re just like, “Oh, that’s interesting, maybe I could do something with that.” Hearing yourself do things you don’t normally do helps rattle some stuff loose in your head. For me, at least, it put me in a position where I feel like when it got down to writing, I had a little more confidence and I was more comfortable working in the correct wheelhouse.

On the songs on the new record, in your head, are you thinking, “This is the Evan Dando song”?

MATT: There’s elements of stuff like that, I was talking to the guy who wrote the press bio that goes out. His name is Mo Troper and he’s also a musician. We were having this phone call, and I think so much of that stuff is inescapable where I grew up listening to The Lemonheads and Oasis and later discovering Teenage Fanclub. No matter what I do, I feel like stuff always kind of comes out a little bit like that. So I hear the influences. I hear little stuff that I nicked off other people but I do also feel like, more than any other record I’ve made, it does sort of sound like its own thing a little bit. I don’t hear elements of imitation the way I feel like maybe I used to engage with a little more.

There have been big power pop bands, obviously, but, to me, power pop bands are often discovered through word of mouth. Like, if you talk to a power pop fan and mention a band you like, they are going to tell you about a dozen other bands you’ve never heard of that you should check out. From where you sit, is there a vibrant and thriving power pop scene?

MATT: It’s funny because earlier today I just finished this piece that I got asked to do where I basically made a playlist of contemporary power pop bands that I like.

I do think the scene is growing but it’s still a niche genre for sure and not topping the charts. I think it’s a combination of nostalgia and, what my friend calls, “mall power pop” or “grocery store power pop” which is sort of referencing power pop music from the ’90s into the early aughts, a lot of one-hit wonders and weird radio stuff like Del Amitri. I think people are nostalgic for music like that so I think that’s helping it a bit.

I think a lot can be said about the bad things about streaming platforms, but I think one of the positives of it is the way that it destroys all of the gated communities of genres and it just opens everything up to everybody in a way. I think it’s made people less precious about, “I only listen to punk music” or “I only listen to whatever.” I think you see that even just with how popular Taylor Swift or Carly Rae Jepsen are with people who wouldn’t normally be Top 40 pop people. I think people are just way more open now. When it comes to power pop, to a lesser degree, I think there’s more social permission to engage with a genre that is maybe traditionally considered slightly cheesy or a little silly at times, but, at its heart, it’s still pop music that’s supposed to be fun to listen to.

Do you feel like this acceptance and exploration of power pop by listeners results in people coming out to see you play live?

MATT: I don’t know if it translates directly to that. I still think it’s the heads that are coming out to the shows for the most part, but where I feel like where I feel it most is the tours we go on and who brings us out in a support role on a tour because I don’t think we’ve ever done a tour with another power pop band. Every tour we’ve ever done has been with someone operating in a pretty different genre.

Last year we did this huge theater tour with Brian Fallon from Gaslight Anthem, and we sound nothing alike. I think that is more the example of the thing I’m talking about, where I think someone like Brian doesn’t feel like he needs to just bring another Americana punk band on tour with him. He can branch out and bring a scrappier power pop band and that’s cool. I forget how many years ago it was we did a tour with mewithoutyou and Joan of Arc and, on that tour, no band was the same and it was just like this crazy barrage of different styles of music.

The Don’t Look Back cover fits the music most out of all the covers of your albums. Just by looking at it, I kind of already feel like I know what it’s going to sound like. Was it a conscious decision to make the album cover with that aesthetic, or was it something you had laying around that you decided to give a try?

MATT: No, I didn’t have it laying around. There’s sort of a theme with this whole process where I was just trying to not necessarily do the opposite of everything I would normally do but, with everything, I realized that I just need to let go and not be such a control freak like I usually was. Every other album, I would have this vision for the album cover and I would make it happen. This time, I was like, “Let me get my friend who’s an artist and designer and kind of let them take the wheel.” The only guidance I gave was that I wanted it to be a little playful and a little bit unthematic in a way, like albums that I love like Teenage Fanclub’s Grand Prix which just has a race car on the cover. And the only thing we got to brainstorming was this idea of signs, basically, and that was kind of it. He started sending me some mockups and we just took it from there.

To be honest, when he first sent me what became the final version, I was like, “I don’t really like this” because it was my instinct of wanting it to be my thing, and it just felt like it wasn’t in my character or something. But then everyone I showed it to was like, “Wow, this art is amazing.” People were really into it. I started thinking, “Maybe there’s something to be learned here that I’m not always right and I should trust other people.” So I went with it even when my instincts were telling me, “We need to revise this more.” I was like, “This is the album art and it’ll be fine.” And now I’m thrilled with it. Now I love it. I kind of took that approach in some way with almost every element of making this record.

The things that came to mind for me when looking at the cover is the band Squeeze and maybe one of their album covers and the That Thing You Do soundtrack cover.

MATT: That Thing You Do has come up and it never occurred to me but that movie and that soundtrack, I was at an extremely formative age when that came out, and I was obsessed with that movie. When the movie Home Alone 2 came out, they made this toy called The Talk Boy. It was basically a little cassette recorder and Macaulay Culkin had one in the movie. I got it for Christmas one year. I remember I had the That Thing You Do soundtrack. I was so obsessed with that movie. I thought they were so cool. I wanted to be in a band. And I remember listening to the soundtrack on my little boombox and recording myself singing along to it in to The Talk Boy because I just was like, “This will be cool.” And then I remember listening back and being like, “Oh my God, this is horrible.”

But, anyway, it did not occur to me, even when the art was finished, that it looked like the soundtrack cover. Funny enough, I don’t know if this was the first person who said it to me, but it might have been, but through the pandemic on Twitter, I sort of developed this pseudo acquaintanceship with Ethan Embry, who is an actor in that movie. And then Adam Schlesinger died during Covid and there was all this stuff happening. There was this live stream one night where all the people from that movie got together and were talking about him and the music and everything. I just had this idea. I was like, “I’m going to DM him and send him the record because I feel like it would just be a cool thing to do.” And he immediately was like, “Oh, I really like how you reference That Thing You Do with the cover art.” I was like, “Whoa, I did not think of that at all.” So that was a funny thing, and a lot of people have said it to me since. And it should be intentional for the relationship I have to that movie, but it’s not at all.

What artist or bands put you in your happy place?

MATT: You know, a few weeks ago I went and saw Nick Lowe. He was doing a tour with Elvis Costello. I like Elvis Costello but Nick Lowe is more of a thing for me. And, that whole set that he did, I was on cloud nine the entire time. Yo La Tengo is one of my favorite bands. I pretty much always go see them when they play. I talk about Teenage Fanclub all the time but it’s been a while since I’ve seen them live. When Gerard Love left the band, I feel like I took a break from going to the shows a little bit.

To wrap it up, tell me three bands that, if they didn’t exist, Hurry wouldn’t exist either.

MATT: Yuck, for sure. Check out the second record. They lost a singer and then they made a follow up to that huge debut and I think it’s incredible. It really got lambasted when it came out. It got less grungy and got more straight-up Brit pop sounding but it’s incredible. Right around that time, I was starting Hurry, and that was in the early era where I had no idea what kind of band I was. The first Yuck record had really inspired me to be like, “I can make music that sounds like the music I love from the ’90s and that’s okay.” That really did steer me into starting Hurry a little bit because I felt like it gave me some amount of permission to write music that was like that in a certain way. And then the second record, we did a tour with them right around that time, and it’s just mind-blowingly good, and I feel like it’s so underrated and missed by so many people because of the story that surrounded the band. That was back when Pitchfork had a lot of power and Pitchfork made this whole review of “Why is this band still a thing? This sucks. They’re trying too hard.” They totally missed the point altogether. So Yuck is a big one.

I’ll say Teenage Fanclub, it seems like a no brainer.

I’m going to give you one last real band and one fake band. The real band is Green Day because they kicked the door open for me as a child and made me think, “I want to be a band person.” And then the fake band is The Oneders from That Thing You Do.

When I was in second grade, I remember I had a classmate who had an older brother and he brought in a Walkman with Green Day’s Dookie in it. And, it was lunch or recess, and he took turns letting us listen to Dookie. I remember thinking, “What the hell is this? This is insane.” Prior to that, I only listened to Michael Jackson and The Beach Boys. I credit Green Day with making me say, “I have to get a guitar now.” I feel like that was an inflection point of just veering off the sort of path that I started on.

 

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