Tuning Out the Fake Ideas

How Hurry's Matt Scottoline shook off self doubt, and summoned confidence to try new things (and embrace old things) on his new album "Fake Ideas"

My first exposure to “Hurry” was arriving midway through their set when they opened for Yuck at Johnny Brenda’s in (I think) 2013. They were doing a cover of Guided by Voices’ “Teenage FBI,” a song that I love, and I thought, “This band is cool. I’ll have to find out who they are.”

It didn’t take long for my second and all subsequent exposures to Hurry, since they became one of the most consistent and present bands in Philly. What Matt Scottoline has pulled off in making his band such a flexible act, able to share bills with bands all over the indie/emo/whatever rock music spectrum without ever feeling out of place, is impressive. I’ve seen them open for punk bands at the Church, I’ve seen them play outside of City Hall for an Oktoberfest beer garden while children danced. They’re one of those bands that I’ve always been excited to see, and was never disappointed by either live or through new music.

Every two years for the last almost-decade, there was new Hurry music, and it was always good. Each album had its own distinct identity and personality, but it never strayed far from frontman Matt Scottoline’s planted flag in jangly, bait-shop-hook-inventory-status power pop. This last year derailed that consistency, and Scottoline was half forced/half decided to wait on releasing new music until the world was a little more stable.

Now (sort of) out of the woods, Scottoline and Hurry are releasing “Fake Ideas” tomorrow on Lame-O Records. In addition to the album, the special edition of the record comes with a special writing project Scottoline put together where he interviewed everyone involved with the album – his bandmates, the guys who engineered and mastered the album, cover artist Frances Quinlan (of Hop Along fame), and more. It adds such a new dimension of personal connection, and sort of pulls the curtain back on what goes into making an album from writing to recording to packaging to release. In a world of instant gratification, it’s a nice reminder of the people who make listening to music possible.

As an album, “Fake Ideas” delves into Scottoline’s personal anxieties and his reckoning with the fact that the doubts and insecurities that pop into your head are, ultimately, not real. They’re fake ideas. You can choose to believe them and give them power, or you can recognize that those roadblocks we create for ourselves aren’t really there and push through.

It’s something he’s worked on in therapy over time. Now with a better understanding of his brain’s combat maneuvers, he’s able to grapple with it a little better in life and in his music, and even use it to an extent as a tool for growth both artistically and personally. That liberated him to a degree, and allowed him not only to try something new with writing a book, but ultimately making what he feels is his most confident album to date.

It’s hard to disagree with him, and it might just be Scottoline and Hurry’s best work.

On “Fake Ideas,” Scottoline shows off his power-pop songwriting expertise as he always has, but shows he and the band still have surprises up their sleeves. Occasionally channeling his emo past in Everyone Everywhere as much as his Oasis affection, “Fake Ideas” is an endearing, relatable and extremely fun to listen to record that, along with the book, show the personalities of the band and everyone involved from start to finish.

Brendan: First, congratulations on the new album. It’s really great.

Matt Scottoline: Thank you!

Also, I do owe you an apology.

Oh, no. What did you do?

Well I try to start every interview like that.

Yeah, you should always start by apologizing.

I did an interview with you before for something I was working on for this newsletter that never came to fruition. So…

Oh yeah!

I know you were probably holding your breath waiting for it to come out.

Well, you know I love any kind of press. So I was really counting on it.

So, let’s talk about the album. You said before that this album sort of sat on the shelf for a year. You’ve been pretty much on a consistent two-year release schedule for your entire Hurry career before this. What was it like having to sit on this while it was, I’m assuming, pretty ready to go in 2020?

I was finished tracking by mid-February of 2020. So, yeah, there wasn’t a whole lot of time from when I finished recording it until the pandemic kind of kicked in. You know, like everybody else, I think it was hard to really know how long any of it was going to last, and I was so in my head. I’m someone who has a lot of anxiety. So when the pandemic hit, to be honest, I didn’t care about the album anymore. I was freaking out. I was the person who wouldn’t leave the house. I was on the extreme end of being scared of COVID-19.

So you were smart, is what you could say.

I appreciate that. So, I didn’t care for a while. In a way, I got away easy, because for the first, like, four months or whatever of the pandemic, music was the last thing on my mind. And then around last summer when people started going outside, I feel like that’s when artists started releasing music again. Maybe it was in the spring still. But there was some stuff happening, and even Lame-O was kind of starting to plan some of the releases for the year. A conversation came up about when to put it out, and I guess why I’m saying this is that I kind of made a conscious decision with Lame-O to wait until 2021 for a couple of reasons. For one, hoping that by the time it came out maybe shows were a little closer to happening, and also more pragmatic stuff, like record stores being more open for people to go buy records and things like that. But I guess the short answer to your question is it definitely was frustrating at times, especially when the world started reactivating a little bit, and I was still waiting. It’s easy to get FOMO and just feel sort of stifled and stuck, so I’m really relieved that it’s happening now. It’s a strange time! To your point about the two-year cycles, those two year-cycles are usually a year of writing, a month or two of recording, and then it’s ready to go. But usually, because of the label’s schedule, you still have to wait, on average, like six to nine months before your record comes out. So, this wait was long. This one was whatever. It was … I’m terrible at math … maybe it was like 15 or 16 months or something, as opposed to like nine months. So, I guess I had been prepped a little bit for it. It didn’t hit quite as hard, but it’s always tough when you have to wait that long.

Industry and business-end things aside, what was it like emotionally for you, just sitting on these songs that you knew were ready but couldn’t even do a soft opening with a show?

It was frustrating at times. Sometimes it was comforting. I think sometimes I tend to feel … like if I don’t have anything written or ready to go, sometimes I feel like, ‘Oh my god, I need to make something,’ or ‘I need to start creating again.’ So, in a way, it’s nice because that feeling doesn’t exist when you’re sitting on a record, because you have this sort of stockpile. But it’s just weird. The other thing is, usually when you make a record, whether you have or haven’t recorded it yet, you’re still playing shows and you’re probably integrating some of the songs into your set and getting a feel for them, and they’re kind of staying present with you. In this scenario, that didn’t happen. So I think for me the weirdest thing was trying to maintain a connection to the music—or now trying to re-establish that connection to the music. Because now when I listen to it it sounds like it was from another lifetime, you know? 

When the pandemic really kicked in, since you weren’t really leaving the house, like most people, were you getting a kick on the next record and writing? Or were you taking that as an opportunity to relax a little bit?

None of the above. I wasn’t writing—I definitely have a hangup creatively where I sort of can’t start the next thing until the last thing is out the door. I don’t know why. It’s like I don’t get the right motivation if my plate isn’t cleared. There was that end of it, where I just wasn’t feeling inspired from that angle. I wasn’t even really playing music. I was so caught up in my own anxiety through the first half of the pandemic that I wasn’t playing guitar or even thinking about that stuff. I wouldn’t say I was relaxing. I was definitely caught up in other stuff. And I was working, too. I had a day job working for a coffee roaster, and that job sort of never stopped. That was part of it, too – being in that quote-unquote “essential worker” category and feeling freaked out about everything. Things weren’t normal enough for me to even be thinking about music in a certain way, you know?

It was a weird time, because on paper we finally have that time that we’ve said, ‘Oh, if I just had this free time I’d do this.’ But you’re not relaxed, because the world is falling apart.

Right, right. Yeah, it’s weird. My priorities were just in a funny place. And there were people who were hitting me up last year about doing streams or pieces, people were writing about things, and I was just saying no to everything. It just didn’t feel important to me. For as much as I love music and as much as creating is a natural part of who I am, stuff was so weird I just didn’t care.

I want to start by getting into the book you have accompanying the record, which I thought was really cool. Tell me a little bit about that process from your perspective.

I know it sounds like I’m going to contradict myself now, but as things got normal, like towards the end of last year into the fall, I feel like a lot of us, or me at least, were getting used to the new normal of things. That’s when I started feeling a little stifled creatively, and I was like, ‘I want to do something. I don’t want to make new music yet.’ Something that’s not in the book that was the initial spark of inspiration was this magazine that I used to read in like the late aughts/early ‘10s. It was called Wooooo Magazine. That was this interview magazine that this dude Jason Crombie, who’s a writer in New York, put together. He would do these really off the cuff, weird, kind of chaotic interviews with people, and it was a really wide range of people. He would have, like, professional skateboarders, but then he’d have James Franco and Parker Posey all in the same issue. It was just kind of wild and artistic. And he would publish them in these little books, like little pocket books, and I always thought they were so cool and so fun to read. I had been thinking, I’ve always enjoyed writing, and I used to write a lot more when I was younger before music became my primary outlet, and I wanted to get back into it, but … it’s weird to write. You know. 

I do know.

When you’re not in school or a part of something, to just write and put your stuff out there, it’s hard and it feels weird. So I was trying to think of what I could do, and my thought was that I know all of these musicians and artists just from people I’ve met and worked with or whatever. So, maybe I could do a Wooooo-style thing where I just have conversations with people, transcribe them, put them together, hopefully they’re kind of interesting, and I could just make some copies and put them online, and that could just be a thing. I reached out to some friends for the initial batch, and then it just kind of fizzled. I talked myself out of it. Classic stuff. You know. And then I read the A.J. Jacobs book [“Thanks A Thousand”] that I talk about in the book, which is more gratitude-focused as a project. And I think around this same time there was some discourse happening on Twitter or whatever about credits to producers and engineers and songwriters in the streaming age. And I think maybe—I could be wrong—but Ryan Schwabe, who mastered my records and is in the book, I think he was saying stuff online, and it got me thinking about that element of things. Somehow in my brain I started meshing the two ideas together, where I was like, ‘Oh, what if I did a companion to the record that was in the style of Wooooo Magazine, but I used that framing of gratitude from the Jacobs book,’ and it became the story of how [the record] came to be.

That’s valuable right now. Even someone who pays attention to who produces albums, and knows … I don’t know, Will Yip made this album, for example – they don’t think about how there were other people doing this and people doing that on the record. Even someone who is paying attention to who produced a record, they don’t know exactly how the sausage is made.

Or even further than that. For your example of Will Yip, it’s like, OK, you read the name if you buy the record, you read the name once, and you’re like, ‘OK, that says Will Yip.’ But there’s no humanity there. I think that was what was almost more fascinating to me—kind of humanizing the names. I think the book, in a way, is just supercharged liner notes, if you really want to boil it down. I guess, in a way, I wanted to try to bring those names to life a little bit more, almost like if it was a Harry Potter album, and instead of names it was the little pictures that wave to you. 

Even if you’re reading the liner notes, it can seem very transactional, like, ‘Produced by so-and-so, mixed by so-and-so, mastered by so-and-so.’ You did a good job with just introductions like, ‘I’ve known this person for X amount of years, we were friends at Drexel,’ and you see how they grew along with you, and that adds another layer of the music. You see it how it all comes together as more than just the four people who played instruments.

Totally. That’s what I wanted. I think a lot of producers or engineers or whatever, I don’t think they care that much about the spotlight, or they care about people knowing more about them. I think a lot of them are content to just do their jobs and have a good time, have their work in their catalog. But I think, to your point, my hope is that anyone who gets the book and reads it has a better experience with the record, because you’re putting all of these faces and stories and ideas into it on this subatomic level. 

So there’s that phrase where writers say they hate writing but love having written. How do you feel now that you’re done and it’s out, since you had that sort of mental block of getting past it at first.

I feel good. I think the mental block I had was the self-defeating thing when I didn’t have a super clear direction and it was like, ‘Are you really going to entertain this project of interviewing other musicians and friends? How are you going to market it? What’s going to happen?’ All that stuff where you can talk yourself out of good ideas – or bad ideas, but ideas in general. It was easier for me to do this when it was framed around the album, because at least I knew what was going to happen with it. And I really enjoyed it. I had a good time talking to people. I like talking to people, especially talking to Mike Bardzik, who recorded almost every record I’ve ever made in Hurry or Everyone Everywhere. I’ve known him since I was like 15 years old. But for as much time as we’ve spent together, we’ve never, like, had a half-hour phone talk. So even then it’s different and it’s exciting and it’s fun. I just really enjoyed it. I enjoyed transcribing it. It was monotonous, but it was, like, fun to recreate the conversations through writing, and super satisfying to see the book. I’m more excited about the book than the record. I love the record, but at this point, I’m spoiled. Holding a vinyl record in my hands is like, ‘This is cool, but I’ve done this before.’ Holding a little book is like, ‘Whoa, this is something new.’

Well if you want to transcribe this for me, that’s my least favorite task ever.

I’d love to. I’ll make myself sound very good.

You kind of got into something I wanted to talk about here, too. Those tricks our brains play to convince us that something is bad or pointless. That seems like sort of an ongoing theme on the record, especially in the track “A Fake Idea,” the ways we psyche ourselves out and then sort of manifest that into “reality.” Am I correct with that?

You’re absolutely on with that.

Was it sort of cathartic to do this thing you’ve never done before with the book, and work through that self doubt about it, while it was framed around an album about that working through that specific mindset?

I don’t think I made that connection before. That’s astute for sure. I don’t think I thought about it that way. The stuff on the album gets a little more specific and dialed into … it’s like the songs are so tied to specific experience for me that it’s hard for me to even relate it in a broader sense the way you’re doing, even though you’re not wrong to do that, if that makes sense.

Totally. I know the song is not about writing a book. But from my outside perspective, reading it and talking to you now, where you kind of had to push through to that finish line for yourself, it’s kind of a victory in spite of what your brain is saying about you or to you in the song.

Yeah. I appreciate that, and I think you’re right. The thing I’m expressing on the record, and it runs through it in a lot of ways, is the ways that … I remember when I started with my current therapist. One of the first things they said to me through having conversations and everything, they said, ‘Your thoughts aren’t real.’ And I was just like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ It just did not compute. It took me so long to kind of understand that thoughts and those things are truly just things that pop into your brain, and you either convince yourself that they’re true or you convince yourself that they’re not true. But neither one is necessarily right. They’re just ideas that pop into your head. I think the trap that a lot of people fall into—and specifically here, me—is believing those things or thinking they are true. And yeah, with creating anything, and anyone who is a creative person, whether they write or paint or make music, whatever it is, everyone’s done that thing where you have an idea, maybe you even start it, but you get discouraged. And you’re like, ‘This is stupid. This isn’t gonna work.’ It’s hard. I still do that all the time. I’ve probably written like 200 songs that are 40 seconds long on my computer that I did the same thing with – I started it, I spent hours on it, and I was like, ‘This is stupid. I’m not going to finish this song.’ Everybody does it. And it’s hard to overcome that. And I think you need supportive people around you or a supportive framework to really make ideas happen. Or you just really need to be a superhero self-starter, driven person who doesn’t care what happens.

Some people have that, but that is a real superpower.

Most people aren’t like that, and those people…

They’re freaks.

They’re freaks. Yeah. We’ll say it.

Correct me if I’m wrong here, but this was the first Hurry album where you had a second guitarist, right?

Yeah, it is.

Did that require any new ways of thinking in this creative process for you? You, [drummer] Rob [DeCarolis] and [bassist] Joe [DeCarolis] had your system, and now there’s a new kid.

The songwriting stayed the same. The way that it changed things is that it challenged my nature of being a control freak. And the reason I say that is that, when I write a song, I always make a very complete demo that has everything in it. It has drums, all the guitar parts are in there, the vocal melody is in there. So when we’d go to the studio previously, I’d literally only bring my computer, pull up the multitrack demo, and we’d look at everything. And for overdubbing guitar leads or whatever, I would just kind of go through it and check them all off. This time around, all of that was still the same, but I was handing over a lot of that stuff to Justin [Fox]. And it did freak me out a little, because no two guitar players play guitar the same way. And Justin, I will go on record saying, is a more skilled guitar player than I am. But it’s still friggin’ weird to experience that, where this part you wrote and you thought about a million times is being played now, and it’s being played a little different. And I think my normal nature is to try to protect every little thing and say, ‘No, play it this way.’ And I think the challenge for me was learning to let go of that and let Justin do his thing. And that was hard. And it did give me anxiety, because, you know, the songs are your babies and you want them to come out perfectly. So relinquishing any kind of control to someone is tough, and I had never really done it before. But at the end of the day, I’m glad I did, because the way he played it and the way it came out is ultimately better than if I had just done it exactly the way I wrote it.

For consistency’s sake, have you ever pressured him into changing his last name to DeCarolis?

I haven’t, but maybe there’s a way we can make some legal changes.

Yeah I think there’s time. It comes out Friday, right?

It comes out Friday. Although, the liner notes are printed. It’d be a big recall, but maybe we could do a full recall of all of the records and get them reprinted. And with the way pressing plants are right now, it’ll only be a year-and-a-half delay before we get new ones made. It’s no problem.

As for the music itself on the album, you added a more aggressive tinge on songs like “Keep Being Yourself,” and it was more reminiscent of that more punk-adjacent sound of Everyone Everywhere. What prompted that shift for you for this album?

You know, I don’t really know. From a songwriting perspective, writing songs like “Keep Being Yourself” – or “Doomsday” is another one that I think is a little more punk – some of that was just me having fun songwriting. When I was writing for this record, I probably wrote like 30 or 40 songs before I wrote the songs that ended up on the record. And I think in that batch of songs I was working on and not being super psyched about, I was kind of trying to keep pushing the ball down the same path that I had been with the last couple records. And I eventually tried something different, and I think “Doomsday” – I just kind of cranked it out real quick for fun, and I was like, ‘I’m going to write a fast, one-minute punk song, just because I need to do something different.’ And I think after I did that it kind of opened my mind up a little. It felt good. I didn’t feel as stifled. Even then I was like, ‘I don’t know if this song is really going to be on a Hurry record,’ but it just kind of reinvigorated me, and I think that just sort of carried into the songwriting, and especially into the studio. The last two records, actually even the first record – I always went into the studio with this really specific aesthetic in mind, like, ‘This is going to be a loud, fuzzy record,’ or I would say, ‘This is going to be a super clean, shiny record with like flanger all over it.’ I always had this aesthetic in mind. And I didn’t really do that this time. I was just like, ‘We’re going to play the songs. In the moment, we’re going to do whatever sounds cool, and that’s going to be that.’ And that was another thing I was kind of freaked out about, because it was the first time I didn’t have a more specific idea about aesthetics or plan for aesthetics, but again, I think it was a nice thing, where it allowed me to let go a little bit, and ultimately, I think, created a better result.

For what it’s worth, I felt that way listening to it. Guided Meditation and Every Little Thought really do have such specific aesthetics, where when I’m listening to it my mind’s eye sees the album artwork. I know that’s possibly more association from seeing it, but each one really does have that specific personality, whereas this one … it isn’t disjointed, but it sounds like you used more crayons in the artwork on this one.

I do think, personally, self-analyzing it, this record is the most confident I’ve been as a songwriter. And I think that confidence is what allowed me to do that and play with genre a little bit, and use more crayons in the box. With Hurry, it’s always been tough because it’s just me. I write all the songs. It just took me a while to feel comfortable and to feel fully confident in what I was doing. Because it’s always scarier when it’s just you. You probably feel this way with writing. If you’re not measured about it, it makes everything feel like a personal judgment on you, you know? 

Oh yeah.

It just makes it more of a challenge than if you’re doing a collaborative project where you feel like you’re all sharing that burden together and you’re in it together.

It’s kind of ironic that your most confident you feel as a songwriter is on the album where the ongoing theme is that self-doubt that you’re pushing through.

Yeah, well I think that’s part of it, though. I don’t think you can become more confident until you fully understand what holds you back. So, I think this record, it’s obviously not about making music, but it’s all the same thing because it’s all shit that’s coming from my head. Through the work I’ve done on myself and through the time that I’ve spent in therapy, and just really analyzing and putting in the work, and starting to understand why I feel the way I feel or why I think the way I think and all that stuff, that really is empowering. Even though I’m not, like, “better,” it has helped me feel more confident in every aspect of my life. And that’s what enabled me to do it with music. One sort of feeds the other.

I thought it was cool when I was listening to the album that “Oh Whitney” was on it, because that was really the first song I heard from Hurry back in 2013. What made you want to re-record it? It made me think of how old pop punk bands did that, like Green Day re-recording “Welcome to Paradise.” 

Green Day re-recorded “Welcome to Paradise?”

Yeah, that was on Kerplunk and then they did it again for Dookie.

Oh, see I’m a bad punk. I only know it from Dookie.

It’s pretty much the exact same, except recorded better.

I see. Well, it’s funny you ask that question now, because I feel like the answer ties into everything we just talked about. “Oh Whitney” was on the first real Hurry record, which is like super loud, super fuzzy. That was the record where I went into the studio with that aesthetic in mind, and that was sort of the goal. I think part of that was fueled by my insecurity, and I felt more comfortable recording these songs if it sort of had this mask of noise over it. Over time, that song became a song people liked. We’ve basically played it at every show since that record came out. And over time I think I just started to regret that a song with that much staying power and that sort of turned out to be, in my opinion, one of the better songs I’ve written, I was always kind of bummed that it didn’t get its fair shake. Because we played it for so long over the years, it felt like a really close friend that you only have a really bad picture of to remember them by. So I toyed with the idea of re-recording, and just never found a good time to do it. And then, as the album started coming together, it just felt like it fit in with the rest of the songs. It just felt right, so we just kind of knocked it out while we were in the studio.

It’s still the same song, but it sounds like a band that’s played it much more than a handful of times, and just kind of perfected the art of the song.

When we recorded it the first time on that record, Rob and Joe had barely been playing with me at that point. None of us were that comfortable. I just wanted to get “Oh Whitney” its moment in the sun. I felt like it deserved a second chance with a better … I don’t want to denigrate the original version. It’s cool, I’m glad that record exists as what it is and sounds the way it sounds, but I think that song, for as much life as it’s had, it just needed a little makeover.

So I’m planning on putting this out Thursday, a day before release day. For when people are listening to the album on Friday, what do you hope they listen for? What’s something you come away with or something you hope they focus on while they listen to it?

That’s a good question. I just hope that some of the songs get stuck in their heads, and that maybe they want to go back to it because of that and, I don’t know, they have fun. I don’t know! I don’t know what else to say. That’s a really introspective question and I feel like I don’t have a great answer for it.

It doesn’t have to be deep! That’s a perfect answer.

At the end of the day, I’m trying to write pop songs. So if they turn into earworms for people, that’s really all I care about.

Fake Ideas is out 6/25, and you can pre-order it here.

While I have you here, thinking of power pop and all that, I wanted to link to my most recent Stereogum article, which came out yesterday. I interviewed the Philly band 2nd Grade about their “new” album Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited, which is a partial re-recording of songs frontman Peter Gill did on his own, now as a full band. You can stream the whole album there, too!

Also, if you liked this article, please consider subscribing! It’s free, it’s good for you, I don’t see any downside in it.

Finally, today’s Snakes and Sparklers musical guest is Blink 182. Get well soon, Mark Hoppus!