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Vertical Horizon: ‘Amazed That We’re Still Out There’

Frontman Matt Scannell on the American alt rock act sticking to their guns, their India debut, and being “slavishly beholden to the major label system”

Nabeela Shaikh Oct 19, 2016
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American alt-rock act Vertical Horizon will make their India debut at the Shillong edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Photo: Courtesy of the band.

Matt Scannell may have visited the country almost three decades ago, but the Vertical Horizon frontman still has “lingering and powerful memories” right from the time he landed in Mumbai. Says the vocalist-guitarist of the long-standing American alt rock act, whose India trip as a 17-year-old was his first outside of his hometown of Massachusetts, “The first time I smelt the air in India, there was this spice to it! There was this incredible energy and I felt alive; I felt this incredible life force.” Scannell, now 46, is anticipating a similar energy as his band makes their India debut at the Shillong edition of multi-genre music festival Bacardi NH7 Weekender this month, apart from dubbing it “one of the highlights of his career.”

It’s a debut that comes long after Scannell—then an undergraduate at Georgetown University, Washington—put together the band in 1991 with former guitarist Keith Kane, and persisted with two records and a growing lineup through the golden era of Nineties alt rock. Vertical Horizon finally got its RCA Records-facilitated commercial breakout at the turn of the millennium with 1999’s Everything You Want, which spawned road trip radio staples like “You’re a God”, and “Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning),” apart from the super hit title track. “It changed my life,” says Scannell over the phone from Massachusetts. “Without that record and that song in particular, the band doesn’t exist today.”

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Everything You Want changed things in more ways than one—shortly after the release of the now- double Platinum record, the band fell into bad times with RCA. Major restructuring at the time caused the Sony Music Entertainment-owned label to take a backseat with promotion and tour support for 2002’s Go, causing it to get lost in the mix. And while Scannell has expressed his resentment in past interviews, he now looks back on the RCA era as a “wonderful and incredible experience”: “I don’t even view that experience as a negative thing at all, in hindsight. I just view it as a story that had a beginning, a middle and an end.”

It’s also the same resilience that allowed the band to return with Burning the Days  in 2009 (after a five-year hiatus) and 2013’s Echoes From the Underground. Both albums featured drumming contributions from Scannell’s long-time friend and musical hero Neil Peart of veteran Canadian prog act Rush, were largely crowdfunded and released on Vertical Horizon’s independent label Outfall Records. “I think that major labels certainly still have a place in the world,” Scannell opines of the importance of record label giants in today’s musical landscape. “Having said that, I don’t think we as artists are as slavishly beholden to the major label system as we were back then… I think we have to view that as a good thing, with YouTube and social media being the way it is.”

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In the years that followed, Vertical Horizon largely toured the US, stepping out for the occasional one-off show in the likes of Singapore and the Philippines. More recently, they’ve been working on a new record, which Scannell reveals will build on the Depeche Mode and New Order-inspired sound of 2013’s “Lovestruck”. He says, “I think this new record may further that [influence] a little bit,  so there’s more keyboard elements, there’s possibly a little bit of rock.”

For their India show, Scannell is plotting a career-spanning setlist that will highlight their 1999 record, but also include more recent material, which he hopes will “encourage people to explore our other music as well.” He says, “Our most important message is one of gratitude. We’ve been doing this since 1991—that’s a long, long time. And I’m stunned and bewildered and amazed at the fact that we’re still out there, that people still want to hear our songs, hear new music from us and sing along with us.”

 

Vertical Horizon will perform on October 21st at the Shillong edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Click here for more details.

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