How I wrote ‘Elusive’ by Scott Matthews
The Wolverhampton singer-songwriter reveals how his debut single earned him a tour with Foo Fighters and an Ivor Novello award
Obsessed with prog rock and guitar theory from an early age, self-confessed shredder-turned-folkster Scott Matthews found his voice relatively late in life, but soon made up for lost time. Supported by several key Radio 1 DJs, his debut album Passing Stranger would propel the Wolverhampton- born singer-songwriter into mainstream consciousness and garner critical acclaim courtesy of his very first single, Elusive, which went on to win the coveted Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically & Lyrically in 2007.
Over a decade later, Scott can reflect on the song that swept him from unknown musician to touring with the Foo Fighters a few months later… and explains how it was all down to buying a cheap secondhand guitar.
“It’s an interesting story: a kid from the Black Country who 12 months prior to recording his album was just kicking at stones and not really having any focus at all. I’d been doing the ‘one man and his dog’ circuit for 18 months, playing clubs to a couple of old rocker boys who weren’t really getting where I was coming from and vice versa. “But it was a great time, as I’d amassed all this experience as a guitar player and just started to write songs. The demos for Passing Stranger were happening around April 2004, then I met my manager and his friend who set up a label for me, and the next thing I know we’re putting plans in place to record my debut album.
“With the original demo of Elusive, I just programmed a drum machine and started doing this sort of Julian Casablancas thing – just really mechanical strumming on an acoustic. The actual progression and chord pattern happened pretty quickly, almost spontaneously, where my fingers were just moving. It’s quite a simple progression if you break down the chords of it, but I hastily started throwing my hands around and the song just came together.
“I wrote two verses within a couple of hours, then I started singing and it stuck as a melody, and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ I think at some point the original demo will surface, and what it’ll highlight is just how quickly you can grab a feeling of something and commit it. Suddenly it’s locked and you’ve captured something. That’s rarely happened – maybe a handful of times in the 12 years since!
“It’s a song that has such immediacy, but when I went into the studio to record it, with the same kind of tempo and frantic nature, it just didn’t work at all. It was a complete car-crash! So we moved on with the record and tracked the rest of the album, then we revisited Elusive. Everyone was like, ‘You should try and do something with that song, it could be half-decent.’
“I didn’t know what to do, but I’d just bought an old guitar – a 1961 Harmony Sovereign that was only cheap, about £45 or something from a guy in the local paper! I’d taken this guitar home and restrung it, and I started playing the chords of Elusive again. And at that point, with that version, the song was born, which was the summer of 2005, I guess.
“With my different approach and a different guitar, I suddenly expressed the song in a different way. That’s always stuck with me, that approach, thinking, ‘Well, that guitar doesn’t really work for the mood of the song and the sentiment.’ So I’ve always been quite selective about which guitar actually suits what you’re talking about. It’s a fascinating process.
“I finished the album in October 2005, with an April 2006 release. We built up some momentum and got a few DJs on my side – Janice Long was a big player, and Mark Radcliffe early on. Then in 2006, Jo Whiley picked up on it and Zane Lowe was the first one to play it on Radio 1. I didn’t know what to expect – it was such a crazy ride for 18 months. I’d just finished the record and I got a call from my new booking agent saying, ‘All right mate, fancy a little gig with the Foo Fighters?’ Then it snowballed from there.
“It was such a ridiculously busy time. I was almost unrecognisable, like I could look back and go, ‘Was that you?’. I can listen back to that first album and not really connect with the singer I was then.”
EXPERT OPINION by James Linderman
“We’ve all heard expressions like ‘Put your best foot forward’ or ‘Always leave a good first impression’. The songwriting version of that is to have a great opening line, like ‘Lay a whisper on my pillow’.”