Interviews VH

Published on August 8th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann


Vertical Horizon’s Matt Scannell: Happiness ‘Under the Sun’

When singer/guitarist Matt Scannell formed Vertical Horizon in 1991 in Washington, D.C., he figured he become a pro songwriter and collaborator who could make a sturdy career out of studio work, bar gigs, and songcraft. He never counted on becoming the frontman for an internationally-famous, chart-topping pop-rock band. He also never figured on having pure fun on a nostalgic throw-back tour with a handful of comrades from his heyday.

While based in Boston, Vertical Horizon’s 1999 album Everything You Want went on to sell more than two million copies based on a splash of carefully arranged, guitar-driven, melody-heavy hits like “Everything You Want,” “You’re a God,” and “Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning).”

This week, Vertical Horizon will finish up a string of dates as part of a showcase of ’90s-era alternative rock and pop billed as The Under the Sun 2013 Tour. The roster also features Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, Gin Blossoms, and Fastball. They’re solid for a concert on Fri. Aug. 9 at the North Charleston Coliseum.

Metronome Charleston caught up with Scannell this week:

Metronome Charleston: So you’re out on the road with a bunch of old pals. How’s everyone holding up so far?

Matt Scannell: Things might have been a little bit crazier when we younger, but we’re holding up well. We have a job to do, and we’re getting it done, The shows are going over great. For me, it’s been good. This kind of thing could have been a two-month slog, but we’re all having fun and getting along.

Metronome Charleston: All of the bands on the Under the Sun Tour were at least pretty well acquainted before this tour was booked, right?

Matt Scannell: I go way back with these bands. We’ve been friends for a really long time. It is kind of like a high school reunion — except for the fact that most everyone looks great and in shape. There’s a lot of interpersonal dynamics, and there’s a lot of mutual support. This is probably way better than if we tried to do this in the late ’90s.


Vertical Horizon circa 2000 (provided)

Metronome Charleston: Have you noticed a mix of old fans and newcomers at the shows? Or have you seen any older fans bringing their kids and younger friends along?

Matt Scannell: There are times that we see fans there at shows with their kids, and they’re singing along with us, and it’s clearly part of their family history. The only thing that’s strange about it is that it kind of makes us feel old. But for me, the incredible thing about it is that we are older and still able to play well. It’s so easy for a band to fall off the rails or not be able to make it happen in the right way. It’s a privilege for us to see parents bringing their families to the show because we’ve been able to keep at it for a long time.

Metronome Charleston: You probably didn’t expect to experience anything like that now back in 1999

Matt Scannell: We all play short sets, and I think these kind of show are better for it. All of the bands love playing their own headlining shows, and that’s what we’re all about, but these are big-money shows. We want people to come out and get their money’s worth. They’ll hear so many hit songs. I’m stunned by the songs that these other bands have written. Each band is surrounded by colleagues who regularly lift them up. It’s so fun, and we’re just glad to be a part of it.

Artistically, the bands on the Under the Sun bill have some things that are similar and different. Commercially, you all shared similar experiences.

When we were in the thick of it, around 2000-2001, we really didn’t have any time to stop and smell the roses. We were just so full-on. I almost kind of lost myself — not in terms of believing hype or thinking I was something I wasn’t, but it was just literally the amount of time that I didn’t have for me for a normal life. It’s not a complaint, but I look back on that time, and it’s really a blur, It was fantastic, but it was demanding, and it took its toll.

Metronome Charleston: Do you personally feel more balanced and happy now, all these year later.

Matt Scannell: Yes. I’m a far happier person now. My life is so much more full and realized, so much more well-rounded. I’m more peaceful than I was back then. Some of that might be a function of growing older, put it’s not just a matter of time passing. It’s a matter of perspective and achieving an awareness of the important things in life. I look back as a musician, and I’m truly humbled by the fact that I’m still able to sing songs that I’ve written 20 years after the band formed. Some of the my incredibly talented friends don’t have this kind of outlet and opportunity. So, it’s a privilege to be able to do this. I wouldn’t change a thing. The dream and goal of being a professional musician has driven me since I was around seven years old. It’s real.

Metronome Charleston: When the big hits off of Everything You Want hit the charts in 1999 and 2000, some critics dismissed Vertical Horizon as just another major label alternative band doing formulaic guitar pop-rock. Do you still catch that sort of thing 12 years later?

Matt Scannell: Sure, I know that people need categorize to conveniently place things and wrap them up with an easy, quick sentence. I don’t mind that. People say it all the time: “Oh, y’all are just a typical ’90s band or 2000s band.” What’s funny is that during most of the ’90s, we’re just slogging it out in basement bars and clubs in front of like five people, you know? I don’t mind any of it. I have a thick skin at this point. Also … it’s 2013. We’ve been playing music since 1991, so come on.

Metronome Charleston: What have you heard most from some of the die-hard Vertical Horizon fans this summer?

Matt Scannell: To this day, people approach me and say, “Oh, I really like the old stuff,” which means the songs on There and Back Again, Running on Ice, and Live Stages — the albums we made before we signed with RCA Records. And they’re always a little bit suspicious of the hand RCA had on our music when we came in.

Metronome Charleston: You have a new studio album titled Echoes From the Underground due this fall. Is there a headlining tour of your own on the horizon?

Matt Scannell: I think so. This Under the Sun Tour has been a real blessing for us because to circle the country and play on our own would be a much bigger challenge. But based upon playing on the backs of our brothers, we’re able to connect the dots, play markets we haven’t played in a long time, and reenergize some of our fan base. We’ve been around for a long time now, and I don’t want us to make a misstep and tour in a haphazard way. I want it to work, and I want it to make sense. It is still very important for us to get back to places and tour around.

Metronome Charleston: It’s like you have to be smart in a different way that you did 10 or 12 years ago.

Matt Scannell: That’s right, and part of the goal is maintaining longevity and weighing all of the options.

Metronome Charleston: Musically, how does this version of the band compare with the late-’90s version?

Matt Scannell: With the original lineup, the influences and styles were very varied, Now, it’s more cohesive, and there’s more of a central ethic. Ron Lavella’s favorite drummer is John Bonham. Donovan White is such a great rock fan and a really great rock guitarist. Jeff Jarvis can handle jazz and other styles, and he’s reverential to [original bassist] Sean Hurley’s bass parts. He loves and respects Sean as a player. The band holds together well. It hangs together better than a well-tailored suit.

Metronome Charleston: How would you describe your own performance these days? How have you advanced or adjusted as a player and singer?

Matt Scannell: I’m absolutely more comfortable in my bones and in my skin on stage. Back in the day, it was a new experience for me in a lot of ways. I just wanted to be a guitar player when I was growing up. I didn’t want to be a singer or front a band. I wanted to be the guy who soloed and then stared at the girls in the front row while I just played my guitar. Now, I feel like I’ve inhabited this role that I play within this music. It feels like the calling. Vocally, I’m a much better singer than I used to be, and the singing I did on the new record is leaps and bounds better than what I did in my early career.

The Under the Sun 2013 Tour featuring Sugar Ray, Smash Mouth, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon, and Fastball hits the North Charleston Coliseum at 7:30 p.m. on Fri. Aug. 9. Tickets are available for $59.50 and $39.50 (plus fees) at the Coliseum box office, by phone at (800) 745-3000, and online at Check out for more.

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      1. Broken Over You – Vertical Horizon



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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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