Artist Interview: Matt Scottoline of Hurry

Posted: by The Editor

Philadelphia’s Hurry are first and foremost known as pioneer practitioners in the recent power pop revival. Aligned with the very double-P friendly local powerhouse Lame-O records, each Hurry record has been catchier than the last. Frontman and chief songwriter Matt Scottoline has a knack for refining indelible hooks that often recall Teenage Fanclub and other ’90s power poppers. On their fifth LP, named after a Fanclub song (who cribbed it from Bob Dylan), Scottoline augments many of the arrangements with a hearty horn section. We chatted about the current state of power pop, alongside expanding beyond the boundaries of the oft-misunderstood genre.

Since the release of your last album Fake Ideas, a new burgeoning power pop scene has developed, with many bands networking and communing via the illustrious “Power Pop Group Chat.” As someone who has long prophesied the Return of Power Pop, what’s your assessment of the current state of the scene? The State of Power Pop, as it were?

I think it’s going pretty well. It does feel like it has changed pretty significantly in only two years. People who have been at it are getting a little more recognition, and tastes change too. I wish I could put my finger on exactly why it was happening. I don’t totally know, and I don’t think it’s exactly a huge thing yet.

It’s still very much an underdog thing. None of us are raking in the big power pop bucks yet.

Not yet!

A lot of subculture and a lot of scenes can sustain themselves no matter the overground things happening in the music industry or culture in general. I think people who share the same aesthetics or ideals are always going to find each other, and hopefully a community can be built from that. That’s kind of what’s happening in the power pop scene. We have a little network of likeminded bands and friends who all have something in common.

Even with what’s happening in the film industry, with all the striking–that’s a similar situation. New tech is proving to be unsustainable. We kind of need the Power Pop Group Chat. I remember when I was on tour last year, and I was in Charlotte talking to Josh Robbins. We were talking about power pop, and he was like, “There’s this chat room…” It was very cloak and dagger. I was like, “Oh…?”

Power pop is a very insular genre where I feel like you can go for a long time–most of your life–feeling like the only person you know who is into it. You’re kind of on an island. It’s a kind of individualized genre, in a way. Much like professional skateboarding, it’s probably why it draws a lot of libertarians.

Is that even true?!

I think it’s because it’s an inherently nostalgic genre, there is always the chance to run the risk and mutate into being reactionary. Speaking of Don’t Look Back–of course, named after the Teenage Fanclub song–Hurry is doubling down on its ’90s power pop influence. 

Always a distinct reference point for Hurry as a band.

I was really struck by the addition of horn arrangements on several tracks, which really added to the overall sound. A lot of talk about horns right now–a lot of people on social media seem to be under the impression that all rock music with horns is ska. This is power pop with horns. There’s precedent for it, bands mature into writing songs that call for horn arrangements. Can you speak on your songwriting process with regards to adding horns?

I dabbled in it on the last record, there was one song where I had a horn arrangement, but it wasn’t super calculated. It came from the same vein as trying to channel a Beatlesque sort of thing. Not to compare myself to The Beatles.

It always goes back to The Beatles! This is power pop we’re talking about. I caught myself earlier, I almost said, “Well, The Beatles and The Kinks did it…”

Yeah. [laughs] It definitely comes a bit from there. Before I started writing this album in earnest I was listening a lot to this album Melbourne, Florida by Dick Diver. That has a lot of really sparse but emotionally affective horn arrangements, oftentimes solo trumpet. As I was writing songs, I was thinking to myself, “What can I do to not just put another guitar solo in here?” I just wanted to do something different. I took a lot of inspiration from how emotional hearing those horn arrangements made me feel, and the power of how those melodies were arranged, and how affecting that can be when done right. That’s just sort of where my head was at. It was a new thing to try. It was an experiment and cool thing to play around with, and it was cool to finally hear the arrangements be played by a full horn section. That was really thrilling, too. 

Who put together the horn section?

Ian Farmer, who recorded the record, got all the players together. To your ska point, we had initially asked someone from Reel Big Fish to play on the album. We almost had a pretty direct ska connection.

Cohesively, it’s still very much a pure power pop album, but with the direction your songwriting is taking on this album it made me think about how power pop as a genre seems to have a dearth of albums that have mature perspectives on love or love songs, or relationships in general. Even though you can obviously make power pop about real emotion and real situations, It runs the risk of always coming off trite, or too universal. Are you comfortable talking about that change?

Certainly. Personally, my life shifted a lot in the last couple years from the last album to now. I gained a lot of perspective through that, I think in the ways that you only can through having sudden and unexpected life changes. Not to talk about Teenage Fanclub again–I’ve had such a funny experience with that band specifically, because I feel like I can connect with their albums more when I’m around the same age they were when they recorded it. An album like Songs From Northern Britain, a couple years ago that was not near the top of my list. I was more of a Grand Prix guy, or Bandwagonesque, or Thirteen. Listening to Songs From North Britain, especially when I was going through some stuff, really struck me. A lot of the themes, and lyrics, and melodies–so much of that felt like it had this enlightened perspective. The way they were talking about a little more serious life things, and how to interact with and think about life and the world. I tried to carry that into what I was doing in a pretty conscious way. Going through a situation like that, where I was in a relationship for 11 years, and it ended–that automatically creates a mandatory shift in perspective. That helped me grow intellectually and emotionally–and as a songwriter.

You can feel it. It’s palpable. You’re at a point too–in your songwriting and in your career–where it seems like you’re maturing beyond power pop.

Well yeah. That’s the funny conversation. I think about this all the time, and talk about it with people. When you get to that point, how do you even start to define power pop as a genre anymore? [laughs] Even Songs From Northern Britain–is that power pop by our own definition? It gets a little fuzzy sometimes.

I think there’s a juvenile aspect to power pop that eventually has to be shed a bit to truly transcend. The bands that have careers–your Sloans, or your Guided By Voices, or your Teenage Fanclubs–they have a pretty consistent and diversified body of work. Plus they have continued to record and tour consistently for decades. To your point, to be able to age into the level where you can appreciate a record because you’re finally old enough to understand it, you also have to be open to having your perspective changed.

Maybe that’s what it is, I don’t really want to talk about juvenile shit, but I still want to write hooky songs that get stuck in your head.

I don’t think being catchy has to come at the expense of real shit.

I think that’s where I’m at!

Some of your catchiest and most immediately arresting songs are on this record–“Beggin’ for You” is just a massive hooky earworm for the duration of the song. When you add that real emotion behind it, it really elevates everything. That’s the key to great songwriting, right?

I think another thing, too, was really taking my time writing and not trying to do anything specific. It’s a trap I’ve fallen into, and a lot of songwriters fall into. You’re like, “I wanna make my album, and I have a vision board, and it’ll be like all the stuff I love!” This time I really tried to not think about it. Just, approach songwriting in a different way. I had a lot of conversations with other songwriters I liked. I wanted to understand their process. I talked a lot with Jake from Slaughter Beach, Dog about his process. Just trying different things, and trying to not labor over it or stress, basically.

Part of writing a power pop song–or any song I suppose–is that it’s like a puzzle piece. Or assembling a puzzle of disparate elements. One specific strain of power pop I know you’re really influenced by–and that we talk about ad nauseam in the Group Chat–is the very ’90s, mainstream Top 40 singles power pop. Your “Roll to Me” by Del Amitris, your “Story of a Girl” by Nine Days, your New Radicals, or even Oasis. Gin Blossoms, Lemonheads, those all count. I always think of that type of power pop as “supermarket power pop,” because they play it a lot at Kroger or Ralphs. 

“Out of My Head” by Fastball!

Even weirder! Like the follow-up Fastball single from 2000, “You’re an Ocean.”

I don’t know that, I gotta check that out.

Immaculate ’90s power pop. What is it about that pristine ’90s power pop that catches your ear?

I was coming of age at a time when there was a station in Philly that basically only played all those songs. That’s all I listened to when I was growing up: The Lemonheads, or Gin Blossoms, or Oasis, or Nine Days. I was obsessed with that stuff, and that’s what I thought cool rock music was. I was impressionable and young and it just stuck in there. As I got older, I went through my phases, playing in hardcore bands and I was in an emo band. Even through those, I feel like all of my songwriting has always been inspired by ’90s power pop. That was my first real exposure to emotionally connecting with music. That resonates with most people, in some way. The music that hits you at the right age and connects with whatever you’re going through as an adolescent, you get fuckin’ branded. I was a nerdy loser kid who found comfort in angsty love songs. That’s just what worked for me.

Totally! I went through a very similar thing. In the pandemic, I hit my 30s right before quarantine. In the midst of it all, I was thinking a lot about ’90s radio. Remembering songs and making playlists of songs and realizing, “Oh, these songs I was ambiently listening to in the backseat of my mom’s car formed the basis of my taste.” When you’re younger, you’re more apt to be embarrassed by things that remind you of when you were a kid, but the older I get the more I’ve softened on a lot of that or have found ways to reapproach that music or reappreciate it.

Music like that can often come off as cheesy, but I feel like a lot of that stuff holds up to modern standards more than, like, pop-punk from the year 2000. It’s not as cringey to go back to.

It doesn’t sound as dated, yeah. A song like “Roll to Me” is just like a perfect pop song and a song I can enjoy in different phases of my life for completely different reasons.

I distinctly remember–a really clear memory. I’m Jewish, and when I went to Hebrew school when I was 12, there was a girl I had a really big crush on. My dad came to pick me up, and “If I Could Talk I’d Tell You” by The Lemonheads came on. That was one of the first times I really related, like, “This song is about me, having a crush.” Later, you grow up and realize that song is about being so high you literally can’t speak.

An earnest and pure interpretation. 

I guess you could say the same for “She’s So High” by Tal Bachman. 

It’s really funny you mention that! I love that song. When I was in college radio over a decade ago, I was goofing around online with my coworker and, somehow, we stumbled across Tal Bachman’s personal Facebook page. We might have been a couple Four Lokos deep. My friend dared me to friend request Tal Bachman, and I did. I’ve been privy to Tal Bachman’s private Facebook feed ever since.

That’s beautiful.

He would occasionally message me and ask me who I was, and I would ignore it and he wouldn’t block me or anything. His feed is extremely libertarian–that’s kind of what I was talking about when I was talking about libertarian power pop heads.

You’ve gotta imagine he still thinks of you, from time to time.

I hope not! I don’t want this to come back to him. 

What if he gets a Google alert from this interview?

I don’t have any problem with libertarians! I can reach across the aisle. Tal, you wrote a great song, and I also love your dad’s songs.

Thanks Tal! He’s definitely reading this.

Don’t Look Back is out today.

Luke Phillips | @EldoonLDP

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