Scott Matthew

Interview by
Chadwick Moore
Photography by
Pacifico Silano


I am guilty of sentimentality when I think about my friend Scott Matthew. When I met him a few years ago, despite a modest fan base emerging from his work on the 2006 John Cameron Mitchell film Shortbus, he was financially destitute and uncertain he'd ever see any money from the film, let alone get a label to sign him. Scott writes ballads; his music is largely concerned with love and heartbreak. Upon meeting him, the vulnerability in those dark, unflinching eyes is striking and tells you you're in the presence of a devout romantic. This year with the release of his second album, There is an Ocean That Divides and With My Longing I Can Charge It With a Voltage That's So Violent To Cross It Could Mean Death, Scott is, after nearly two decades of endeavor, living the life of a full-time musician. Last year Berlin's top daily newspaper, Berliner Zeitung, named Scott Matthew alongside artists such as Grace Jones in their ranking of the best shows of 2009 and he just returned from his sixth tour of Europe (in addition to tours of Japan and his native Australia). We met over a couple pints of Molson Gold at a Canadian bar in Brooklyn, where he currently lives.

Chadwick: Are you reading anything interesting right now?
Scott: I’m reading An Underground Life by Gan Beck, a memoir about being a gay Jewish boy in Hitler’s Germany. He’s still alive, too, and lives in Berlin. And, well, you know how we’re all pedophilia-obsessed? You know how if a child has a sexual experience it’s immediately considered victimization? In this book he talks about sleeping with his uncle and his uncle getting hard-ons in the middle of the night–sleeping together, not having sex–and it wasn’t that he was taken advantage of. Totally the opposite. More so, this experience validated his feelings and helped him come out. Really beautiful the way the author describes it.
I think about that a lot. About the pedophilia obsession in our society.
Yeah, me too. and you have to be careful who you talk to about it. I mean it’s such a terrible thing in so many cases, just that idea of being an adult and taking advantage of a child, ruining someone’s entire life for your own sexual gain. But it’s not all black and white, either. In no way do I condone something like that, just I know there’s a massive grey area. It’s such a bizarre, complicated thing to try to discuss.
I love this Hunter S. Thompson line, from Hell’s Angels, where he says something like, ‘the American media has a curious rape mania that rides on its shoulder like a jeering, masturbating raven.’
It’s so true. Remember that show To Catch a Predator? it was so sexually charged it was disgusting. People are excited by that kind of stuff. People are excited to hear about sex with children in this country. It’s really fucked up. I don’t know, this is weird territory. What’s new with you?
Well, I saw the new video you put on YouTube. Why are you re-releasing the Elva Snow material you did with Spencer Cobrin?
Well, the album was self-released years ago and my label in Germany loves it and they’re right behind it. But I’ve made it clear to them that I’m not that person anymore.
And what person was that?
I was younger and wanted to be more in that traditional band set-up, guitarist, drummer. I don’t even have a drummer now. But that was a time and a place, ten years ago. Someone made a video for that single and we didn’t really feel it fully represented the song. So I figured, what the hell? I got some mates together in New York and had a party and we did our own. I’m viewing it as a back-catalog. I don’t really give a shit about it anymore. Except for my love of Spencer and our continued relationship. I still have that. I enjoy that this re-release is kind of paying homage to his friendship. And I am sentimental and it meant a lot to me back then. Still does. We’re still collaborators.
How did you meet Spencer?
I used to work at this cafe in the East Village and he’d come in every day and I used to think he was the surliest fucking bastard. And when you work a job like that, it can really get to you. He’d come in with his English accent, ‘give me a latte.’ No good morning, no please, no nothing. So after months of that, I had this friend who told me she knew this guy Spencer who was a musician and she thought we’d get on really well and that we ought to meet. And when I finally met him, I think it was after a show somewhere, I was like, ‘Oh god. it’s this fucking guy.’ But once we started talking I liked him immediately. And then I realized he was Spencer Cobrin and I was impressed by the fact that he worked with Morrissey for seven years.
Did you get to ever meet Morrissey through Spencer?
No, I mean, they’d been feuding for ages. Still are.
Do you have any good Morrissey stories?
(laughs) Yeah, I got one. I don’t know if I should be telling this. Well, O.K., so Spencer and I were writing together in his apartment in the East Village one afternoon–and Spencer spoke liberally to me about his experiences with Morrissey, that he’s kind of an intense, strange person, and there are rumors that he’s a racist–not that I really believe it, maybe he just uses racist remarks to shock or whatever. Or maybe I’m just still a fan and I’m creating excuses for him. Anyway, at that stage in Morrissey’s life–this was the late 90s–he was big into faxing. It’s very ominous, faxing. I mean, there’s this big, scary machine sitting there and suddenly it just beeps and the grr grr grr of the paper coming through, it’s really a little frightening! So Spencer and I are writing a song together and off goes the fax machine in the other room. And Spencer goes in there and it’s Morrissey faxing to see if he can use this song that he and Spencer wrote together. I think Morrissey owed Spencer money then and things were all out of sorts. So Spencer faxes him back and says, you know, sorry mate but I don’t think that’d be best until we’ve got all the rights sorted out, et cetera, et cetera. And he comes back into the living room and he and I are pling-plonging away on our guitars. Then, after a little while, we hear beep! grrrrr grrrrr grrrrr and we both look at each other and Spencer goes in to get the fax, and he comes back with this piece of paper in his hands and in big, black letters scrolled across the page it reads, ‘YOUR LOSS JEW BOY.’ It was like a death threat the way it looked! (laughs) Poor Spencer, he was just devastated. He’s very sensitive, too. I think after that he and I just went to a bar, did some drugs, drank beer for ten hours.
This is off subject, but I’ve always wondered why you’re so big in Japan. You were number one on Japanese iTunes for a bit, right?
Well, I’m not huge in Japan. They like me, I suppose. Europe is still really my base.
Why don’t you have that kind of success in America?
I don’t know, mate. I’m a bit disappointed by my lack of success here, but very grateful for what I have in Europe. I’ve been poor my whole life and now both my dreams have come to fruition at the same time. You know, my content is very personal, very emotional and the difference is [in America] I’m considered a ‘gay artist’ and over there I’m just considered an artist. My audience in Europe is mostly straight men (laughs) and I only got the ‘gay artist’ tag after Shortbus. And it doesn’t bother or offend me or anything, I just don’t think it describes me well. I guess I just think Europeans for some reason are more open to being emotionally available.
Perhaps because of their history. Perhaps because love is like a cultural pastime over there. You go to Spain and the passion and the–
Well, here love could be called a cultural pastime. What’s the difference?
It’s all homogenized here.
True. In a romantic comedy sort of way.
But it’s ironic because I have a lot of success in Germany and they aren’t viewed as the most emotional people. But even then, I do think the German people have a deep sensitivity to things. With any cultural clichés some things run true, but with Germans my experience has been they are a truly friendly people.
I used to work at a shop, and my boss and I would play a game called ‘gay or European?’ about swishy guys who walked in the door. We got a lot of Europeans.
Isn’t that so funny? There’s so many straight guys who come to our shows and you think they are all gay but turns out they are just sweet, loving, sensitive guys. Go to Spain, go to Mexico City, it’s even worse there.
Did you play Mexico City?
Yeah, when we screened Shortbus there. John Cameron Mitchell is a god over there. Mexico City gets a bad rap but it’s so fucking progressive. It’s like the coolest kids with zero attitude. They know all the hip, cool new things. And I slept with my driver while there which was quite nice.
Well, describe the driver!
He was Mexican, but lived in London for a while. He was cute. An aspiring filmmaker. Yeah, we had this really glamorous hotel. Apparently Paris Hilton had rented the whole thing out for her birthday or something repulsive like that. So I take him back to my room, well, it wasn’t love or anything, but it was fun.
Are you in a relationship now?
No, I’m very happy to be single. There are so many theories about how love works. Love at first sight, taking it slow, be friends first (laughs). But love is love. And the moment you step into desperation and longing, you lose. You have to be empowered to have a successful relationship. I’m plagued by insecurity. But the older I get, the less insecure I get. But now I’m the older man! And I keep dating all these 20-somethings.
Well, where are the older men? You think that makes a difference?
I don’t know. Thing is, when it comes to love, every theory is flawed. There’s no self help. It just happens, healthy or not.
That’s gorgeous.
Oh, I can see the BUTT headline now, ‘Scott Matthew Codependent Relationship Junkie Drunkenly Chats About Dating Philosophy’ or whatever. I haven’t had a relationship in three years. That’s not to say I haven’t been in love.
Oh, hell. I can’t take the train without falling in love.
Oh, that L train does it every time. Well, I just hope I don’t die before I fall in love again.
Die? Aren’t we jumping the gun?
Why do you say that?
Well, because all my subject matter is love. And it’s what I live for. I never want to be a cynic. I never want to lose hope in humanity, in people. I think love is amazing. It’s a pinnacle in people’s lives.

Published on 11 June 2010