The Best Deal In Indie Rock: An Interview with Matt Scottoline
An interview with Hurry's Matt Scottoline about creativity, his new album, buying fireworks in Pennsylvania, and all the auxilary garbage that comes with being a musician.
When I first moved to Philadelphia I had an idea for a zine where I interviewed a bunch of people– musicians, industry folks, photographers, music writers, designers– about how the pandemic has impacted them. Like a lot of things, it was an interesting idea that never resulted in a finished product. What it did do was give me an excuse to learn the landscape of Philadelphia through a bunch of nice people who agreed to meet me at a park or in their backyard to talk about how stressed they were. Matt was one of those nice people.
In August, Matt's band, Hurry, didn't know when they'd be able to release their long finished record, Fake Ideas. He'd only recently been able to pick up a guitar again and, like a lot of men in their 30s last year it seems, was trying to relearn how to skateboard. Uncertainty hangs heavily over all those August interviews so it was nice to be able to go back to Penn Treaty Park nine months later to talk about his album and how he was feeling about all the things that come with being a musician in a world that was starting to open back up again.
I know the album has been done for a long time, does sitting on a finished record for that long have an impact on your creativity?
It sucks for that. I typically can’t move on until it’s released so I usually don’t start writing until it’s like the cache has cleared out. I wasn’t feeling particularly inspired anyway during the pandemic. It took me until the summer to even start playing guitar again just because I was so in my head about everything, but I’ve always waited a while. I think the last album I waited like a year just because lame-o’s schedule was so busy. With this one it was good and bad. Waiting is hard, but the pandemic actually made it a little easier. I think a lot of times you get a sort of FOMO thing when you’re waiting because you see all this other shit happening and you’re like oh my god I should be doing things but I can’t because the record’s not out and I’m stuck. But with the pandemic..
Everyone was stuck?
Everyone was stuck so it didn’t weigh on me as much because there was no—there is no FOMO which is kind of relaxing. But on a basic level it’s still, like—when any artist makes anything they want it to get out there. It is frustrating. And now it’s weird because my relationship with all of the songs has changed so much. So it’s sort of like—I was gonna use a metaphor that doesn’t make any sense. I was gonna say it’s kinda like having a kid and not seeing them for a year.
I don’t know what that’s like and I also don’t think that’s a thing that happens. At least shouldn’t happen.
I imagine that would damage your relationship with your kid?
Yeah I don’t know if it’s damaged, but it is weird. I only like recently started playing these songs again and relearning everything. Usually you’d be playing them live like even if the record wasn’t out—building familiarity. Now it’s like building from square one. Which is alright. I don’t know.
The short answer to your question is that it has its ups and downs. It has good things and bad things. But it is nice that it’s finally happening. There were so many times during the pandemic when I was like, “I’m just gonna leak a song” I talked myself out of it but I would like—you just wanna unleash it. Like, the whole thing was done. I had the whole package so I was frustrated sometimes, but it didn’t get the best of me.
How did you come to decide to do a book of interviews? I feel like more typically a record will come with a lyric zine or a tour diary type thing.
It was kind of a product of sitting on [the record]. I was feeling stifled a little bit so I was trying to think of something I could do to be creative.
It wasn’t like when I made the record this was an idea I had. It was totally a product of the pandemic and just having time and frustration and wanting to do something. A lot of times when you make a record you get so exhausted by the end of it that I don’t have the energy to cook up ideas like this so the nature of the pandemic allowed for it to happen.
I think one of the positive things that has come out of the pandemic has just been seeing the interesting things that musicians have started to do—be it physical stuff or online, there seems to be a lot more writing and interviewing other people—I think that has been really cool. I’m stoked to see more zines and auxiliary stuff included in records lately. Your book is coming in every pre-order now, right?
Yeah, well, it did better than we thought. You always want to avoid embarrassing yourself [laughs] so we undercooked the amount. We only did a hundred. I’m a pessimist so I’m like.. Your biggest fear—
At this point a man has begun to shout scripture through a speaker while standing on the bank of the river and I've been watching two groups of people– one starting a fire, the other doing bizarre couple's yoga– for a while so our conversation has to pause to discuss our surroundings.
Have you ever been here? Probably not because of how long you’ve lived here.
The last time I was here I was with you.
Oh right yeah. Well the Fourth of July here truly reminds me of a World War II movie. It’s full of people. Everyone brings their own fireworks.
Can you buy fireworks in Pennsylvania?
Yes you can buy them, but you can’t buy good ones. There’s a fireworks store down on I-95 and I—I made a music video once that used a bunch of fireworks. I realized when I got there that there’s two doors. There’s a door for Pennsylvania residents and a door for anyone with a different ID and there’s a wall. If you’re a PA resident, the door takes you to like the lame section that’s like sparklers and whatever. So you actually need to be like from out of state to get good ones.
Anyway, my greatest fear about the books. We were gonna do the first 100 preorders, but my fear that you market that you did a hundred and then if you keep marketing that it’s like clear you haven’t sold a hundred records yet. I was like, “oh my god this is gonna suck” I was fully expecting the album to come out and we still hadn’t sold them all just because I’m a pessimist, but they sold within the first two days. Then I had the opposite worry where people wanna talk to me and they’re gonna wanna talk about this book and now nobody can have it anymore. So we’re making more of them.
I think making physical, print media stuff is hard to gauge how many you should make, but’s not a separate item, right? It just comes with the preorder?
Right. And it’s a pretty good deal. The record is only like $17 or $18. I don’t know the financials here, but it seems like a good deal! If you divide that in half, great deal.
It’s a great deal!
One of the all time greatest deals. I think you should definitely put that in the interview.
One of the all time greatest deals in music or book publishing history.
Maybe that should be the headline. Just about how great this deal really is.
To pivot away from just how good of a deal this is, I know you told me you wanted to focus on more coverage in alternative outlets like newsletters as opposed to bigger blogs, what was the thought behind that?
Yeah, well, one that culture kind of feels dead and to me it’s refreshing. All of my other records the PR person the conversation would be like, “okay what blogs do you want to target? Who do you want?” and it’s awkward because like what do you say? I’m sure there are people who are more comfortable saying stuff like that, but I never was. Even when you would get placed on a blog you thought would be cool, you realize it doesn’t matter. Not to like denigrate any blogs because I think it’s cool, but as a musician—the nature of a blog is the content refreshes all day and if you’re a band and you’ve placed all this weight on a blog, you’re gonna be disappointed. It’s never gonna be what you think it’s gonna be. It’s just sort of this ephemeral thing.
But the other thing is that when Everyone Everywhere put out our first LP, which was in 2010, the dude who ran our label was also a PR guy and he had an idea that turned out to be really good which was to do a blog tour. Every week in order each of the blogs would get one of the songs from the record. So week 1, track 1 went to this blog and they’d write a thing about it and you could download the song. I think it was collaborative too so like that blog could be like, “next week track 2 is gonna be on this other blog go there!”
What I realized was that these small blogs almost have more value because, even if their audience is smaller, they care and they’re more focused and there’s more value to it. We built a modest following just because of that process. I know it’s not realistic anymore, no one would let me leak the entire album over the span of 10 weeks anymore, but I just pitched James on a version of that because I’ve discovered all these writers who are doing newsletters over the last year or two and to me, that’s sort of like, it’s like that Wayne Gretsky quote about like don’t skate where the puck is, skate where the puck is going. To me, individual publications and newsletters, that’s where the puck is going.
The look on your face right now is like, “I’m talking to an insane person.”
No! As someone who does a newsletter, it’s interesting. I’ve never really done much big blog stuff, but I do think it translates in a different way. Creating intentional communities is something that I’m really into, like bands doing patreon stuff. Maybe it’s not free or reaching as big of a pool of people potentially compared to like twitter or Instagram and trying to connect with people there. It’s a little harder because who are you reaching and what is the value of that reach? As opposed to, like, if I send an email to however many people subscribe to my newsletter and 10 of them email me back really engaged that’s a little bit more valuable to me.
Do you have a patreon?
No, people can pay for my newsletter though.
How does that work out?
I mean, it’s fine. It makes me some money.
I think music and music writing fell behind. Like Patreon and that kind of stuff has been around for so long and no one in music would ever use it. Musicians didn’t use it, music journalism grips onto the established method so hard they wouldn’t use it. Music just likes to hold onto the traditional methods and now it’s sort of been forced to do something a little different.
I feel like the industry holds onto that stuff just because, I feel like with music, the further you look down the tunnel of time, the less money anyone is gonna make. So people do that, they get their telescopes out, and they’re like, "okay what’s going on in the future? That doesn’t look good. Let’s stay the old way." But I feel like I’ve been—if nothing else, I credit myself with self awareness. I’m just trying to do something different. I always try to bring that to music, it’s something Everyone Everywhere always used to bring to music. Like when we self released our second record. One, that was a big deal. People didn’t self release at that time. It wasn’t really a thing. And two, we made the first 100 copies of the vinyl pay what you want which was stupid, but it was born of that same self awareness. Like, we’re never gonna make money, why would we—who cares? Let’s do something interesting. So that’s sort of why I’d rather talk to you or talk to people with newsletter. Skate where the puck is going. And even if it’s not what you should do, to me, anyone who is focusing on the traditional method is skating where the puck is.
I’m not delusional. I’m delusional in my own ways, but not about this. Maybe I’m too pragmatic, like to a fault, where it can inhibit me in a certain way.
With the state of music press, how much worse could it be?
Yeah, I’m not trying to rag on it, but it is the way it is. Some people talk about it, but especially bands you feel so sort of trapped into it at times where you’re thinking how am I ever gonna be successful if I don’t play this game?
And it’s only getting worse when we get into like Spotify editorial playlists being of huge importance.
Like oh cool we got put on this playlist! Huge spike in listeners! Then we got taken off the playlist and everything crashed to the ground.
Yeah because it’s not real. And I’ve come to this, maybe it’s self-deprecating, I’m probably never gonna be truly successful from like a traditional point of view. So why waste my time going through the motions of that antiquated stuff? Let’s just do fun things instead. We’re gonna get to the same place anyway.
It’s like the point you made before about Patreon and focused audiences and talking to the right people. Anyone who has a following that is an artist, let’s say you have like 2000 followers on social media and you put something for sale, everyone has said, “man if everyone who follows me bought this thing I’d be really cookin’ right now." But they don’t do that.
A certain percentage will. There’s a reason a record label only makes a thousand copies of a record when online you’re reaching like ten times that. Only like 10% of people will. For me it’s like trying to turn away from all the commercial ends of the way—I sound like I’m trying to be a communist right now—but the sort of like structures of the industry and feeling like you have to do everything a certain way in order to make money. Which I know people do, because there are people who want it to be their career, and maybe I’m just being a negative person, but I don’t think I’ll ever be that successful. For most people it doesn’t happen! Maybe I’m realistic to a fault in that way where I don’t give myself a chance because I feel that way.
Maybe you can be happier thinking that way.
It does poison it. I had a really long conversation the other day with Jake Ewald [of Slaughter Beach, Dog] just talking about the way all the stuff can make you forget why you like to do it and I’m trying to get over that. I think I did feel trapped in that for a long time. You know, I go to therapy a lot.
Yeah. A lot. For many things, but when it comes to music sometimes my therapist will trick me into admitting I like writing songs. Like, oh yeah, I do like writing songs. It’s fun. And you forget that it’s fun. I’m sure you feel that way about writing sometimes where you get pissed off or frustrated or bummed out because whatever happened, and you forget that writing is fun. It poisons you. It all poisons you. It’s all bad.
Like, oh yeah, I do like writing songs. It’s fun. And you forget that it’s fun.
So that’s why I like newsletters.
Because you’re poisoned and everything is bad.
Yeah. It’s the antidote. We’re all gonna be poor, but it’s the antidote.
Are you worried about anything now?
Right now I don’t think I’m worried about anything there’s just a kind of existential dread hovering around. I’m worried about the record a little bit, I hope it does okay. It’s hard not to worry about it.
I’m sure your record will do great.
[Lame-O] say it’s doing the best yet so I’ll take them at their word, but it always feels the same no matter what. It’s probably the same as putting out a zine or even a newsletter. It’s probably the same exact feeling.
If something does better or does worse it all kind of feels the same. Well doing worse feels different.
Do you ever feel like it doesn’t count if something you put out gets a lot of attention? Do you ever think that way?
For me, if people actually talk to me about it—like on Substack if you just reply to the email in your inbox it goes to the writer so if something got a lot of responses in that way it has a positive impact on how I think about it. But if something gets more traction online alone and then I’m on a few more publicists’ email lists, that doesn’t feel like anything. I try to divorce it from the social media aspect which is hard.
Totally hard. Impossible.
So much of the newsletter stuff is like, it’s this thing on a website, but a huge marker of the "success" of it is like whether people retweet it or whatever. That’s an impossible thing to separate, but I try not to think about that.
I feel the same way. The most fun I have is when people want to talk about the music which I feel like doesn’t happen as much as you hope it does. That’s the most fun. It’s one thing to look at numbers tick up like whether it’s retweets or streams or whatever, you can stare at that, but you don’t get the connection.
I think data is abundant and meaningless. I’m glad I can’t see the data on how many people read my friends’ writing or whatever. I don’t wanna know that.
It would be like if it told you how many words of a thing you wrote that people read.
I really hate when a website tells you how many minutes it’ll take to read something. [–Ed. note: 14 minutes on this one]
It’s like a disclaimer like, hey, you probably won’t get bored. It’s missing the point. Why are you reading, then? If all you care about is how much of your time it’s gonna waste—
Don’t read it.
Yeah. It’s a bad cultural shift posing as convenience or user friendliness. For Spotify [data], I think they do it to increase their own power. But all the other stuff– the Billboard charts and all that– just goes back to the antiquated nature of the industry and the way they cling to the past. That’s why Spotify’s winning. They tricked everyone into playing into the competition and feeding the beast. There’s no counter to that.
The music industry is weird because it seems like they’re always stuck in how things would be done 50 years ago and then one day it’s like one new innovation is changing the world. Like right now it’s TikTok. That’s the only way to have success.
And it’s never true. It’s a thing that works for four people and they point to it like hey you could do that. Lil Nas X. Why don’t you do that? But I did have some mild tiktok success. I have a song called "Shake It Off" that came out a month before Taylor Swift’s song "Shake It Off" and I think what was happening was kids on tiktok were searching for her song and they’d be like, “what the fuck is this” so they’d use it in their TikToks because they thought it was funny. I had a brief moment due to a clerical error so I do have advice for anyone looking for TikTok success. You should just title it the same as very popular songs in a moment and people might find it by accident and laugh at you. But you still get a stream.
And that’s what matters.
You’re still gonna make two and a half cents.
Fake Ideas is due out June 25th and available for preorder NOW via Lame-O Records. Don't miss out.
Miranda Reinert is a music adjacent writer, zine maker, and law school drop out based in Philadelphia. Follow me on Twitter to hear more about music and all the cities I think are worse than Chicago: @mirandareinert. I also have a paid tier of this newsletter for $5 a month or $45 a year! If you do that I'll give you at least one free zine if you email me an address! Wow! Might want to get in on that! You may also just send me small bits of money at @miranda-reinert on venmo if you want. But as always, thanks for reading!