THE guitar-playing singer-songwriter set-up has been a fail-safe formula in rock and rock roll for a long, long time.
And while this oeuvre of rock and roll is peppered with bread and butter artists like James Blunt and Jack Johnson it does have its fair share of musical gems.
Now there’s a new addition to the pack of ethereal, stand-out singer songwriters – Scott Matthews, the West Midlands’ answer to Jeff Buckley – whose swooning vocal parts belie his gritty Wolverhampton twang.
Matthews is a man of contrasts. In one single track he can leap from aggressive strumming to fragile finger picking. His songs can be shouty and soft, spacious and dense – here is a singer songwriter who likes to keep his audience on its toes.
He laughs at the juxtaposition of his Wolvo ways and transcendental tracks.
“It’s an odd one,” he says. “If I sang in my accent on an album I’d have to have subtitles with it but in all seriousness there’s something very nice about referencing where I’m from in songs.”
And, like Sheffield’s Richard Hawley, it’s an artistic trait he uses in songwriting.
“It’s about connection and it’s good to write a song and be able to visualise where it’s taking place. It also helps me remember the words.”
Matthews welds this sense of place with a guitar sound that’s vast in scope – despite its delivery on a standard acoustic guitar.
“It all boils down to the song. The singer-songwriter set-up with just an acoustic guitar is a fundamental thing. “
He has been playing guitar for 24 years, although he joined the music world relatively late at the age of 26. Now 35, he says: “I didn’t start writing songs until the early Noughties. When I first started it was out of boredom, I was looking for other ways to express myself other than doing it just with instrumentals but even now I feel weird about singing. I don’t feel like a natural frontman but I have to do this.”
His lyrical style is often abstract, as in Elusive, in which he sings: “She’s a gambler spinning wheels / A poisoned victim / A block of steel.”
“I like to leave it open to interpretation,” he say.
“It’s goods to keep things ambiguous. People ask me what songs are about but I don’t want to give them the answer.”
In 2007 Matthews won the prestigious Ivor Novello award for Best Song Musical and Lyrically with the aforementioned track – beating the Arctic Monkeys, who entered with their When the Sun Goes Down.
The award is heavyweight acclaim, with previous winners including David Bowie, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and Lou Reed.
But his writing style is far from swift. “I’m not really over the moon with the way I write songs. I tend to stew over for too long. With Up On the Hill it took I wrote the first verse and it took me 12 months to complete it – I couldn’t finish that song for my life.”
He did, in the end, finish the track. “I went into the studio so I had to finish it. Sometimes you get to dip into a little pool of inspiration when you’re working towards something.”
Matthews’ ‘little pool of inspiration’ can be influenced by all manner of phenomena.
“I’m influenced by various artists and what I play is probably a culmination of those influences, but also films and people.
“I’m always people watching and there are always observations and ideas floating around my head for a long time. Sometimes I might have an impulse to write a certain phrase, which I’ll write down in the back of my book and it expand on it.”
Matthews plays at Plug, Matilda Street, on Friday.