October 29, 2009

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Vertical Horizon on tour
Matt Scannell talks about Burning the Days and befriending Neal Peart
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Five years have passed since the last Vertical Horizon studio album. Though the band, best known for its hits “Everything You Want” and “You’re a God,” has technically been on hiatus, lyricist and singer Matt Scannell says he wasn’t taking time off.

“Hiatus implies vacation. I’ve been working so hard,” Scannell said recently from his Los Angeles home. “It’s almost like I’ve gone to grad school for songwriting.”

In addition to writing material for Vertical Horizon’s new album, Burning the Days, Scannell collaborated with Richard Marx, touring and releasing last year’s all-acoustic Duo. The pair also taped a live performance with a string quartet for a future release.

The shows with Marx (including one at Tupelo Music Hall last year) “started off as a way for the two of us to hang out,” Scannell said. “He lives in Chicago, I live in L.A. — never the two shall meet.”

Scannell also worked with Neil Peart, a personal hero since high school. “I can’t recount for you how many times I would listen to Rush records with my best friend late at night and try to analyze what they were doing,” he said. His first meeting with the Rush drummer, arranged through friends, was a memorable and unexpected experience.

“I was trying to search for the words to say, how much his music has meant to me over the years, and I was kind of wanting to play it right — don’t want to come off as a crazy fan but I was a real fan,” recalls Scannell. “As I was trying to think of the words to say, he reached out his hand and said, ‘I’m a huge fan of your work.’ My jaw hit the floor.”

He now calls Peart his “closest friend in the world,” a bond that was put to the test when one night at dinner Peart asked Scannell to look at a poem he was working on.

“I was honored that he was sharing this with me before it was finished, but I also realized there was a bit of responsibility there,” Scannell said. He could choose to be honest or fawning — a friend or a fan. “I knew I was going to tell him what I thought. That was a defining moment in our friendship.” Scannell said he liked the poem but told Peart, “one line stuck out for me as something that he might be able to beat.”

“He said, ‘you know what? I think you’re right.’ A week later he showed me another version, and he nailed it, crushed it,” Scannell said. “For me that was the beginning of a working friendship. I know that’s true because later that night we wrote a song together.”

“Even Now,” co-written by Peart and Scannell, is the final track on Burning the Days, a richly textured work that rivals anything form Vertical Horizon’s late ’90s heyday. Clever wordplay propels the standout tracks “Carrying On” and “The Middle Ground,” while “Save Me from Myself” has a gloomy edge found in many of Scannell’s songs. It’s about averting disaster, yet it ends with the line, “happy endings all around/and still they haunt me.”

“It’s not that I’m a very dark person. It has more to do with my relationship to creating music,” Scannell said. “I don’t want to be a glass half empty guy, and I’m not, but there’s a very strong — there’s a darkness inside of me and I guess I always try to get it out through music.”

With the new record complete, Vertical Horizon is hitting the road, including a stop Thursday, Oct. 29, at Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry. 

“Touring is … very single-minded,” Scannell said. “All you really need to worry about is taking care of yourself, getting sleep and doing a good show. I have been … juggling a whole bunch of different things, so it’s going to be interesting. For the next month, I’m only going to have one ball in the air.”


Vertical Horizon. Photo by Marjorie Salvate.

Vertical Horizon
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
When: Thursday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $45 & $50
Info:: www.tupelohalllondonderry.com