Talking With Hurry's Matt Scottoline About Making Real Art in a Fake World
A conversation about Matt's new record, his new book, and how to make people pay attention in a crowded landscape.
I first became aware of Matt Scottoline through his old band, Everyone Everywhere. Their two albums remain some of my favorite stuff from that first wave of the "emo revival" and, though they haven't put out any new music in nearly a decade, those records still sound fresh to my ears. In 2012, the same year as the last Everyone Everywhere LP, Matt put out a release under the name Hurry and he's been refining his craft as a songwriter, front-person, and indie rock Twitter personality ever since.
But for the new Hurry album, Fake Ideas out June 25 on Lame-O Records, Matt did something a little different. In the long gap between the album being finished and it actually getting released, he wrote a book where he interviewed every single person involved in the making of the record. While people know the names of famous producers and engineers, in the current digital age it's easy for a lot of that work to be erased, especially if you're listening to a record made by someone who isn't headlining stadiums. While Fake Ideas is easily the best Hurry record yet, what made me appreciate it even more was the idea that, in order to make people pay attention to your music, you have to go out of your way to remind them exactly how much work went into making the thing.
In an era where most people just click play on a song—or a playlist—and then immediately forget about the album once it's over, it's harder to build connections to new music than it's ever been before. Fake Ideas feels like it understands that and is working to make the album feel important again without coming off as pompous or self-indulgent. So I called Matt and we talked about his record, his book, and all the things that inspired it.
Let’s pull the veil back to start. You messaged me last summer about wanting to publish a book or a zine or something. You had the record done and said you were doing some writing, but it sounded like a very different thing back then. How did you decide to merge those two pursuits?
I can’t remember how fully formed the idea was when I talked to you, but it started by virtue of the fact that the pandemic put this giant roadblock in front of me releasing the record because I had just finished it and, like everybody, my entire plan went out the window. I have this funny hang-up where I won’t really write new music until the last music that I’ve made has been released. It’s not principled, it’s just how I operate. I just need to have it off my plate to let the creativity go. So like everybody, I just felt stifled.
I’d always liked writing but when you turn into an adult and you’re not a “professional writer” it feels funny to write things. [Laughs] Society doesn’t encourage people to write and not feel weird about it.
I was thinking about things that were achievable. Because as much as I would like to write a novel or something, I just didn’t have an idea. I was thinking, there’s this magazine I used to read called Wooooo Magazine. Do you know Wooooo Magazine?
No, I’ve never heard of it.
One of my old band mates in Everyone Everywhere turned me on to it. It was written by this guy Jason Crombie from New York and he would publish these little pocket-sized, perfect-bound magazines and he would interview this insane range of people. He interviewed Andrew Reynolds the skateboarder and in the same issue he’d interview James Franco and Parker Posey, and all of his interviews had this crazy vibe to them where it seemed like he cold-called them without warning them. They were just super loose and super weird and they were just fun.
My first idea was to leverage all these people I know in the music world and kind of do a take on that and just have conversations with those people, make a little book, then put it out. So I started kind of doing that then the wind sort of left my sails and was like, “What am I even gonna do when I finish it? Who cares?”
Oh buddy, let me tell you…
[Laughs] So I sort of deflated. But in the course of my pandemic reading I got to this book by A.J. Jacobs called Thanks a Thousand, and I talk about this in the intro to my book, but the premise was that he’s an experiential journalist so all of his books center on him trying to do this one premise. His most famous book was the one where he obeyed every single law in the Bible for one year. So it’s about all the funny stuff he does, and talks to experts and whatever, but in this one he tries to thank every person who made getting his daily cup of coffee possible. He talked to the baristas and roasters, but he was also talking to the cup manufacturers and the sleeve manufacturers and every little nuanced thing you could think of, he would go and meet them and thank them. In the course of the book, he goes and meets and thanks a thousand people just for this one cup of coffee. It sounds kind of Coexist bumper sticker-y, but I just thought it was really cool.
Around that time, there was some discourse online about music streaming and rights and credits to writers and producers and engineers and things like that, and I was just kind of thinking about how, if you’re not buying physical media, no one has any idea who makes anything in the music world. And I’m guilty of the same thing. There are records I love where I have no idea who made them. So the seed of it kind of came from that. It was an easy thing to do to take my first stab at this idea by centering it around the record and talking to all these people involved in the record. It sort of alleviated my anxiety around the whole, “Who cares? What am I doing this?” thing because it gave me an out for that. It kind of lifted that stifling weight off my shoulders because it kind of made it feel like a more reasonable undertaking. So that’s kind of the whole story I think.
Cool. Interview over then?
But really, part of the reason you said A.J. Jacobs did this because buying a cup of coffee is such a passive action, and while making a record is much more intentional, consuming a record is also very passive. You just pull up the album on Spotify, click play, then three minutes into it a friend sends you a YouTube video and you pause the record, watch the video, then forget you were even listening to anything and walk away.
Yes, exactly, sure.
My point here is, when someone watches a movie, they see a scene and are like, “Whoa, I bet this took 50 people to film and a couple days to get it right,” but people hear a song and they're like, “Oh, I get how that works. I can do that.” I’ve been really fascinated by people who understand that and kind of try to break that system, like what Slow Mass did with their record made specifically for you to listen to while you sleep. I guess, by making a book that would kind of center the whole listening experience, was that a way to kind of force the listener's hand and make them focus on what all went into it?
You know, a little. I want to say yes, but I’m hesitant, because I don’t want to sound like a jerk, you know? But there’s definitely that element to it. As someone who consumes art, I always like when there is that outside-the-box special element to it that’s differentiating it. Do you remember when No Age put out that album An Object?
I’m calling it a gimmick, but it’s not really a gimmick, but the entire concept was that when you make music, you make art but the physical manifestation of it is some mass-produced thing, it’s not a real piece of art. So what they did was they pressed the vinyl themselves, they screen-printed every sleeve individually, they put them all together themselves, they basically made every single copy of the record its own object. I think stuff like that is so interesting.
What I like about the book is that it’s not framed in some uptight, journalistic way. That’s clear from the references you were pulling from, but what appealed to me about this, and I guess what the whole appeal of independent music was for me, was that you were supposed to be pulling back the curtain on all that. But now that everything exists on the same three platforms. When it’s all in the same place, how does anything really feel that different? It’s the same square box with the same number of songs, and all that’s really different is the play-count tracker that Spotify shows for some reason.
Which is insane, I have to just say.
I hate it. I’m a big physical media person. A drum I’ve been banging for years, and we’ve seen it a few times in our lifetime, but we cannot count on tech companies and digital platforms to do the archiving for our communities. As lame as it sounds, Myspace was really important for a lot of people, and it’s where people posted songs and news, it’s where people booked tours, and it’s all gone.
People make fun of Myspace now, it’s kind of the butt of a joke, but it was kind of amazing.
You could be a band from the middle of nowhere and put a song up and suddenly people cared. It’s easy to poke fun at it for the aesthetic of it, but we watched that all go away. Soundcloud has been in jeopardy half a dozen times over the past decade. All that could just go away. That’s why I’m kind of fixated on the book aspect, because I read that before listening to Fake Ideas and that kind of put me deeper into the record before I even listened to it.
I’m happy to hear you say that. That’s one of the things that I hope happens. We initially were just gonna do 100 copies for the first 100 orders and, thankfully, it sold really quick, but then Lame-O agreed to do it for every pre-order. And I do hope people have that experience. With everything you’re saying, it’s absolutely true. With the way culture is and how people consume things, this will be for a limited audience. Only the true believers will read this book. But I think that makes the experience better. I’m really happy about that.
You said something before about pulling back the curtain and that’s something I’ve always wanted to do in my music. Going back to when I was doing Everyone Everywhere, I’ve always had this attitude, and maybe I’m my own worst enemy for operating this way, that I’m gonna do the more interesting thing even if it doesn’t necessarily make sense. When we left Tiny Engines after our first record so we could self-release the second one, that didn’t make any sense. And when we released it, the vinyl was name-your-price on Bandcamp, which also didn’t make any sense. I think I’ve probably pulled it back a little bit, but it’s an attitude. We were really inspired by bands like Pavement and that attitude of like…we’re not special. [Laughs] And any band that’s pretending that they are is full of it and they’re just hoping you buy into it.
Anyway, that’s not really the platform I want to be on but, for me, the book was just an interesting thing to do. It was fun for me to have conversations with these people, and I obviously talk to the guys that play with me, but Mike [Bardzik], the engineer who has made all our records, he and I never talk on the phone even though I’ve known him for half my life. It’s just nice to talk to people. And like you said, I hope it humanizes it a little more and becomes more than just names on an insert or something. It gives it personality. It gives that total human input into this final product. That’s the experience I’m hoping people get from it.
Had you ever interviewed anyone before or was this a fresh thing for you? Not that interviewing is some impossibly difficult task, but did it feel weird to approach these conversations with people you knew under that pretense?
It did feel weird. I’d only interviewed one person before and it was when I used to do this radio show on Drexel’s station WKDU and I sort of used my position there to finagle an interview with Ira Kaplan from Yo La Tengo but it was really just because I wanted to meet him and talk to him. I don’t remember anything about that interview, but I’m sure it was bad. But it was strange, because I got nervous to talk to my friends. [Laughs] It can be so awkward. I think what I learned was I need to plan less. Because I had my list of questions and I stuck to them and I felt better the more I got away from them.
What do you do? What’s your strategy?
I never have questions written down.
This is just me, but I like interviews that feel like a conversation. If I’m there holding a notebook, it feels off. Generally speaking, if I'm interviewing someone, it's because I’m interested in what they do and have the questions outlined in my head already. When you’re so focused on hitting the points you mapped out, you’re not listening to where the person you’re interviewing is trying to take you. Interviews are better when you’re listening and following instead of dictating the direction. Of course, that doesn’t work when you’re trying to press someone on something, but that’s pretty rare for what I’m doing here.
People just want to have a good conversation and readers want to read a good conversation. They don’t need to see my quoting lyrics back to you verbatim and digging into the intent of each line. The more prescriptive you get, the more didactic and boring the piece is to read. But that’s just me.
I think that’s true. So…which specific lyrics on the album do you want to ask me about then? [Laughs]
Well, since you pushed the button, I’ve got one…
Oh, I was just kidding!
No, no! Put me on the spot and I’ll prove I listened to your record. You have a line on the album that’s about taking a break from tweeting, and I find myself really fascinated by the space you occupy of making these physical, long-lasting artifacts, like a record and book, while also addressing the fleeting nature of our present world by singing about Twitter in a song. But you’re also really good on Twitter so, with that specific line in mind, how do you feel being someone who makes these permanent, unchangeable entities while dominant form of promotion for those things coming by way of posts that someone will like, scroll past, then forget?
I think about this often. Very, very often. It’s something I struggle with constantly, because it makes you feel insane. I’m sure you’ve been through it too with promoting your writing. Nothing I’m saying now is an original thought, but the way that social media quantifies everything is horrible. It doesn’t do anything positive. But the double-edged sword is that, without that, no one would hear my record. Realistically, that’s how you have to promote things. I could just let the distributor put the album out into record stores and I could let the digital distributor put it onto Spotify and maybe get it onto a playlist or something, but it just doesn’t work that way. I go through these periods, like right now, you’re talking to me in a moment where I feel the most insane because I’m actively trying to get people interested in this record and I’m feeling the heat. All this work you’ve done over years is built up to this two-month window when you’re like, “Let’s try to get as many people interested as possible.” It puts you in a strange position.
I have some friends who are better at letting go and don’t worry as much as I do, so maybe part of it is my personality, but I feel compelled to advocate for the record and be on social media. And sometimes I do have fun, but I often wonder if the fun I’m having is just from endorphins and the times I feel totally depressed are from the exact same thing. Is it worth it? I don’t know, but I don’t know what else to do.
It’s a cliché at this point, but writers joke all the time about how you spend hours working on a piece and it gets eight likes but I send a dumb tweet about “Dragula” and it gets thousands.
It’s the same thing. I made some joke that got a thousand likes and then I post, “Here’s a record I worked on for two years” and it gets a tenth of that. It’s like…okay. Maybe I should just write jokes on Twitter instead of make music. [Laughs]
I think it just speaks to the fact that we live in a culture of instant gratification. People want to hear things immediately. So when you post about it, but they can’t hear it, they’re just like, “Well, okay.” Unless you can give them the thing right away, it’s harder to make them care.
I have a mildly controversial take which I don’t talk about a lot, and I’ll add a disclaimer and say that it’s a little bit of an overstatement and an exaggeration, but there’s a very pessimistic part of me that believes that the quality of music does not really matter anymore.
Oh, I think you’re right.
Oh, okay then! [Laughs] That’s not to say music that’s very popular is bad and music that’s not popular is good.
No, not at all.
But I truly believe the way the landscape has changed, the band is a brand more than it is an entity that creates art. I think so much of that pressure to exist in that social media space is so you can establish, maintain, grow, and cultivate that brand and that there are people who see it and want to be into that thing, then they go dig into that thing you do because you fit their vibe. Some people I say that to call me insane, and…I don’t know, you told me I’m right, but it is something I think about all the time. And I don’t like that I think that way, and sometimes it can be hard with the general mental health issues that I have that make me pragmatic to a fault, where I don’t know if I’m just saying it to console myself or what.
Here’s what I’ll say to build off of that: Yes, it’s very much tied to building the external, social media self. There's a whole parasocial relationship with art and artists where people are such diehard fans that they are not open to reading even the lightest criticism so the entire conversation is now just “This is the best song in the world” or “This is the worst song in the world.” There’s no in-between. I think people have lost the ability to ask themselves why they like something beyond the outward signifier of it. When I left The A.V. Club, I just wanted to listen to music I liked, I didn’t have to care anymore if it was getting popular or how it looked to other people. If I didn’t like something, I shunted it out of my brain even if it was a thing I was "supposed to" like.
I think you’re right, the whole stan culture thing is maybe a reason that I do—for comfort and my own pleasure—gravitate towards older music. Maybe it’s a subconscious thing where it’s easier to listen to that because it’s so separate from the discourse that we’re dealing with every day. But it’s tough, because I think there are positives. To your point about leaving A.V. Club and doing your own thing now, when I was talking to James [Goodson, publicist and Dazy mastermind] about doing the press for this record and what I wanted to do, I told him specifically that I just wanted to talk to writers that I like and, generally, those are people that are just doing newsletters now. It’s changed so much just in the past four years. We’re not hunting down blogs for premieres. I sent him a list of a handful of writers that I like and said, “See if they want to talk to me.” That was it. It’s kind of part of the same thing. I don’t want to worry about Blog X that people think is cool and whether they are going to post one of my songs or not. If they do, that’s great, I’m stoked about it, but I don’t want to hang my measure of success on that. I’d rather just have these more intimate and thoughtful outlets for talking about the record.
Well I’m sorry you had to talk to me, because this interview is neither of those things.
Yeah, you were specifically on the list of people I said I wouldn’t talk to.
James owes me a lot of favors so guess what, that’s why you’re here. But he sent me the record, he mentioned you just wanted to talk to people with newsletters. Why were you interested in doing that? I’ve done a few interviews with people for Former Clarity, but none of them were particularly on-message. Were you worried that by deciding to talk to people in those untraditional ways that you wouldn’t get the chance to say the things you wanted to about the record that tend to come up in more traditional interviews and help sell records?
Yeah, can you tell me what I should say to make that happen?
Since this is more applicable than most, I believe Jay Sherman’s “Buy my book” line tends to work pretty well.
Okay, buy my book, please. You get a free record if you buy my book.
But to your question: It’s both. It is freeing, but I guess, genuinely, I sort of feel like talking to someone like you and having this kind of conversation, if I’m going to try to target some fucking audience or something, this is how I’d want to do it. Talking to someone like you, my hope is that I’m going to hit the type of person that I want to hit. That’s someone who is going to take the time to read this interview or think that the concepts that I’m working on are interesting. I guess I’ll say The A.V. Club just because it’s relevant, but instead of saying, “I hope The A.V. Club writes a nice blog post about us, that’ll be good,” and then ultimately it doesn’t do anything, a lot of that stuff is so steeped in vanity. And I get it, it does make you feel good when places post about your record or song, and it does feel good when I do a standard interview and someone wants to be like, “This song’s cool. What did you do?” Because my friends aren’t walking up to me like, “Hey, cool song. What did you do on that?” they’re just like, “Okay, Matt. Whatever. Good job.” The part of me that’s on the worried side of your question is the part of me that would worry no matter what I was doing. Because no matter what approach you take, you're always gonna ask yourself what else you could have done. So I try to be mindful of that, at the end of the day, you can’t really control any of that, so you might as well make what you do something that you find interesting, fulfilling, or worthwhile.
I wrote a piece recently, and look at me making this all about me…
Oh, I’m actually interviewing you right now.
That’s gonna be your next book, Bad Ideas.
But I wrote about this band The Armed and the "gimmicks" people kind of latch onto with them, but how I really don’t have any interest in the gimmicks. I just want to hear good music. That’s it. Similarly, with the book and the narrative conceits here, at the core of what really interests me in Fake Ideas is just that the songs are really good. For me, being totally frank, since leaving A.V. Club I’ve basically only listened to underground death metal, so for a power-pop record like this to grab me, it’s got to be doing something outside the norm because that style just feels way more predictable to me now. But I’m also the guy who ordered Everything/Nothing when it was up for pre-order on Hot Green, so maybe I am the target demo.
Did you actually get it? [Ed. note: Hot Green Records was notorious for not shipping the records you paid money for.]
I did, yeah.
That’s the most miraculous part of this, that you received it after you ordered it.
It’s hilarious, because I know so many people who never got their stuff, but I ordered every single release of theirs and got all of them. He knew I’d have a semi-important newsletter one day.
That’s what it was.
Back to the question, on the last couple records, it sounded like you were using the music to kind of find ways to be a little more obtuse with that style, but on Fake Ideas you’re just hitting it straight on. You’re making these songs feel as airtight as they can be and putting the message right upfront. What was the goal to make this record stand out after so many years doing Hurry?
Well, first of all, before I talk about it, I just want to say thank you. Because your entire hypothesized assessment of this is so exactly right that it makes me feel good that someone is on the same wavelength. But, to that point, Hurry has definitely been a project for me that involves a lot of growth personally and musically and emotionally. When I did Everything/Nothing that record is steeped in distortion and fuzz and sounds kind of insane. I think a lot of that is me lacking confidence of a certain kind. I was writing song I was proud of but, you know, when you come from the punk world or the emo world, writing something straightforward and earnest isn’t encouraged in that scene. No one is playing open-chorded, major-key pop songs at DIY shows usually. So the first one was about making it really fuzzy and really raw so no one would make fun of me for it. But I’m sort of post-analyzing it all.
Moving on from that record, I had this inverted thing where I had to do the exact opposite thing, because I had already made this crazy loud record, so I set this rule in the studio with the engineer that any time we would normally use a distorted guitar we would have to use a guitar that was even cleaner and use these weird phaser effects instead of a fuzz pedal. It was basically George Costanza trying to do everything opposite to try to make his life better. It came out really cool, and I didn’t know how that was going to end up sounding, and there were moments where we were literally laughing in the studio where it was like, “I can’t believe this is the decision I am making right now.” So I did that, and that’s how I got that aesthetic. And for the follow-up record, I wanted to kind of stick with that and tried to perfect that sound.
This time, I would say I finally felt a certain kind of confidence to not overthink the aesthetics of anything. I just let the songs be the main attraction instead of whatever sound I was working in or whatever tones I was painting with. It does come from confidence, I think. Me becoming more self-assured as a writer and as a person, I wasn’t worrying that people would ostracize me from a scene because my record sounded a certain way. I was super stressing about it before we started tracking it because it was the first time I didn’t have some kind of scheme and I was like, “Does this mean I shouldn’t be doing this if I don’t have that?” But the real answer was that it was a good thing.
While I’m also drawn to stuff that’s very conceptual and is playing with those mixes of tonality opposing the sentiment, I like that from the moment I clicked play it was just like, “Oh, we’re doing this.” It just felt like you saying, “This is who I am and this is what I want to make.” It just felt like really honest work.
Even though you sort of outlined the way I have thought about the evolution of Hurry, I do think confidence plays into that. And you see that in the lyrics on the record, but over the last couple years I’ve been going to a lot of therapy because I have had pretty severe problems with depression and anxiety, and if you were like a scholar of my music, and Everything/Nothing I don’t really count in this equation, but Guided Meditation is called that because I got so deeply into meditation during that time because I thought that was going to solve my problems. Every Little Thought both thematically and, well, everything, that’s my low point as far as mental health stuff goes. Since then, I’ve done so much therapy and this record, to me, is a lot of the things I’m starting to realize and the things I’ve discovered about myself and the way I think. It’s the way that my own faults and habits and instincts can sort of color everything. There’s this inherent pressure as an artist to kind of hit the moment and not get left out of the conversation. But I just wanted to make something I could really feel proud of, and I think that's what I did.
Order a copy of Fake Ideas from Lame-O Records. You won't regret it.