March 4, 2010

A songwriting machine who fishes in Maine


— By

Staff Writer

Growing up in Worcester, Mass., Matt Scannell, guitarist and lead vocalist of Vertical Horizon, visited Maine often. As a teenager, he participated in Outward Bound on Hurricane Island, an experience he describes as intense. ''I loved it and I hated it, as all the best experiences are,'' he said from his home in Los Angeles.

Now 39, Scannell still visits Maine, sometimes to go fly fishing in the Rangeley Lakes region with his father and brother. ''There's one place we go to as much as we can,'' he said. But, he added with a laugh, ''I don't know if my dad would want to (reveal the location).''

Maybe folks attending Vertical Horizon's concert at Port City Music Hall in Portland on Friday can pry the secret from him.

Friday's show comes at the start of a new tour for Vertical Horizon. The band is on the road in support of its new album, ''Burning the Days,'' which was released last month. It's the first new studio album the band has released since ''Go'' in 2003. (''Go'' was re-issued in 2005 on a different label.)

Vertical Horizon was formed in 1991 by Scannell and guitarist Keith Kane. The duo eventually became a quartet, which released its first major-label album, ''Everything You Want,'' in 1999. The album went double platinum, due in no small part to the title track hitting No. 1. The CD also spawned the hits ''You're a God'' and ''Best I Ever Had.''

Vertical Horizon went on hiatus in 2005, but began working on ''Burning the Days'' in 2007. The new album, recorded in Scannell's studio and produced by him, features Rush drummer Neil Peart on three tracks and Richard Marx on piano on one track. (Marx also produced Scannell's lead vocals on two tracks.)

For the new album, Scannell had a boatload of songs to chose from, because he's a songwriting machine.

''It was hard with this record,'' Scannell admits. As the album's producer, he had to narrow his song selection down to a dozen from more than 50 songs. He said a conflict of interest can come into play when an artist serves as both songwriter and producer. ''You have to divorce yourself,'' he said. ''Does it work? Does it enhance the other songs? You have to be able to step back and look at things objectively.''

Achieving objectivity helps in writing songs too.

When he started writing songs, Scannell said, he felt like every song he wrote had to be great. ''Ultimately,'' he said, ''that was defeatist.'' He came to realize that some of the songs he wrote would be great, a lot wouldn't, and that was OK. Songwriting became ''OK, well, screw it,'' he said. ''I just dropped a spoon on the floor, and I'm going to write a song about it.''

No matter how open he is to whatever comes to him on the writing front, fans won't find him writing ''happy'' songs.

''I hate to even mention this,'' he said sheepishly. ''I am a huge fan of Sting.'' With a slight pause, Scannell gives in. '' 'Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot.' I was like, 'No, Sting! Let your soul be your assassin!' As a fan, I was like, 'No! You're the King of Pain, dude! You can't do that!' ''

''I try to be honest in my life. They (happy songs) come across as kind of bubbly and, you know, unhhh,'' he said. ''It has to be real.''

Staff Writer Stephanie Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

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