With a UK tour underway, including a date at Nottingham’s swish Metronome later this month, LeftLion caught up with the West Midlands songwriter in his man cave adorned with string instruments of every variety…
A great set up you’ve got there – is that your home studio?
It is! Just back from picking the boy up from school so I’ve got a window to chat to you.
How was the first leg of the UK tour?
We’ve tried to stagger the dates across the year to give ourselves a bit of momentum but, also, it’s difficult to be away from home, so it makes sense to do three or four then head home and go out again later. We try to find the best locations possible to really enhance the music.
After a mini tour of Portugal you land in Nottingham at the Metronome on May 24. Any memories of playing the city before?
Of course. One of the early ones was the old Maze, I can’t remember the location – I think it was 2013 or 2014. That was a great show. Nottingham’s always been the map since 2006. So, I can’t wait to start the next phase of shows.
Your eighth album Restless Lullabies is out now – I like the juxtaposition of the title. How did that come about?
I was actually a hidden lyric on the last song on the last album (The Light). It’s about when you’ve got toddler brain. My previous album, New Skin, was about a different type of soundscape but Restless Lullabies was a curious move in the sense I was trying to throw a curveball on these songs as New Skin was very electronic.
They’re very stripped back. It felt like I had to retain the headspace I was in at the time and have something else to show for it. Before you know six months can pass and you think what could’ve been. Time is moving on, I’m 47 now, so I feel very lucky I get to do this and the fanbase is growing.
Just looking at the instruments on the wall, is there a particular one you are yet to master?
I don’t think you ever get a full grasp! I’ve got two sitars, which are very complex beasts and an old dulcimer – the banjo, I’m still trying to get that. It can be too easily to get lost in this stuff, I’ve got friends and musicians all over the world who can help – it’s important to still connect, call them up and be inspired.
You’re from Wolverhampton which has a mighty rock history – were you aware of that growing up?
My dad was a drummer in the late ‘70s. When I was Elliot’s age, my boy, I remember a drum kit being in the house and music was always on – everything from The Beatles to Dylan. Mum was a big Motown fan. My brother got me into Zeppelin too. We were never forced into music - it was always a hobby.
Did it blow your mind when you found out Robert Plant was from Wolverhampton?
It did. But yeah, it was astounding really. Then I got a phone call from him! Pretty mind-blowing. I was doing my second record and the producer Gavin Monaghan said ‘ah Robert Plant’s just been on the phone and he’s popping in next week as he wants to get some work experience for his son’.
Gavin mentioned he was working with me and Robert told him he had the first album. I got a call from him the following day waxing lyrical about the first album and we hit it off straight away. He was very encouraging and supportive. Then I got to tour with him!
What is the first gig you remember attending?
It was the dad rock thing – 1989, 1990. We went to see Eric Clapton – it was brilliant. It was at the NIA in Birmingham, which is massive. I would take mix tapes of Jimi Hendrix and Ry Cooder into school, and everyone was into Wonder Stuff and The Stone Roses and I’m trying to play the blues to everyone – I think I was born at the wrong time. I was bit of an outside kid.
Fast forward to today and the way the industry works now – how difficult is it to generate income with streaming being the most popular way to access music?
It’s not good. The balance is completely off, which puts pressure on physical sales, which are non-existent really. It’s the modern world and you could argue it’s better to be discovered but it’s a challenging climate. It’s a struggle.
You can play the shows and play a few bills – it’s a case of trying to keep your head above water. You can see correlating figures – when I was on tour with Robert, Spotify listenership went up, there was quite a spike in my figures in that two or three-month window. So, it just shows the correlation between you being active and that different demographic and listenership.
Are you a big fan of trying to sell vinyl copies at your gigs?
Massively! Vinyl’s the king, vinyl’s the saviour. The CD demographic are dwindling away. The last two albums have been really well-received, and I had this one mastered at Abbey Road. Thank God the vinyl format is stable and gaining momentum, even HMV still push it as a leading format. It feels completest – having the fully realised version of the album is great. You don’t get that with a CD. A lot of fans buy the album at shows who don’t have turntables they like looking at it too.
Some of your music has a real filmic quality – is there a director you would love to write a score for?
Not so much a specific director but it’s definitely an avenue I see as the next interesting chapter. I’ve been fortunate to work with some interesting people and I’ve already sang on a film which is yet to be released. There’s always been a cinematic edge to my songs, so it’s something I’d look into more and balance the two things then. It could be a really fruitful existence. Watching a film can often spark an idea for a song for me.
Scott Matthews plays Metronome on May 24
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