Vertical Horizon on Defying Music Execs & Why ‘Everything You Want’ Still Hurts 20 Years Later
Don’t be a snob, you know there is no denying the staying power of these hard rock chart toppers
Matt Scannell was just a kid when he turned up to Madison Square Garden in New York to see Billy Joel in concert. The experience would have a profound and lasting effect on the Vertical Horizon frontman, but at the time he never imagined that his own music would on day have an equally- powerful impact fans.
“I went to see Billy Joel and when it was time for him to play ‘Piano Man,’ we sang it so loud in the audience that he couldn’t even sing himself. So, he just played it through,” Scannell reflects. “I still get goosebumps thinking about it. That’s probably the highest compliment a songwriter can receive – for people to sing their song with such conviction that you can back off the microphone and be drowned out – and I experience that almost every time we play ‘Everything You Want.’”
The second single from the group’s album of the same name, “Everything You Want,” spent 41 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number one in July 2000. The hit was followed up by “You’re a God” and the beautiful ballad, “Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)” and, through band shakeups and a hiatus, Scannell has kept the music coming, most recently with 2018’s The Lost Mile.
“It was just me wanting to make new songs and not really thinking about other stuff,” Scannell says of the 10-track album. “At this point of my career, it’s an extremely selfish process and if I’m not inspired, I’m not going to try to force or fake it. But I’m really welcoming of [inspiration] when it comes and make every effort to harness, nourish and grow it into something. So, this record for me was the most selfish – made without any exterior motivations and concerns. I just sat down and wrote a record of music that inspired me.”
As Everything You Want turns 20 on June 15, Scannell reflected on the key hits which shot the band to global success two decades ago.
EVERYTHING YOU WANT
It became the fifth most played song on the radio in 2000, but 20 years since Scannell penned “Everything You Want,” he admits that thoughts of the girl who inspired the number one hit still make it hurt to perform live.
“I still think of her when I sing it, but less so,” says the musician, who wrote the track about desperately wanting to help a woman he was in love with, only to be constantly turned away. “But I think that’s part of the healing process. Music can be such a cathartic, healing medium and as a songwriter the goal is to walk away from a song being more whole. I’m so much more whole than I was when I wrote it and sometimes now, I can almost sing it and not feel the pain… almost!”
Scannell’s quick to point out that despite the pain, he loves the award-winning track and will happily perform it “as long as anybody wants to hear it.” Having belted out the chart-topper all over the world, he remains in awe of the track’s reception and says it has taken on new meaning over the years.
VIDEO: Vertical Horizon – Everything You Want
“Over time the meaning has absolutely changed because we’ve played it in India, Malaysia, Europe and so many places, not just outside of the United States, but outside of my apartment in New York City where I wrote it – and outside of my family’s basement in Massachusetts, where I demoed the song so many years ago,” he says. “It’s a part of so many people’s lives, so every time I sing it now I’m aware it doesn’t just belong to me. It belongs to many people.”https://youtu.be/rZoD8JEFjAE
The extent to which fans still hold the hit so dear is evident at the band’s live gigs, where each pause between songs seems to hold a palpable anticipation for the track’s iconic opening chords.
Scannell proud to recall how despite such riffs often birthing during studio sessions with producers, he recorded the catchy hook on the track’s earliest demo, after it came to him in the middle of the night.
However, the lyrical reveal – in which he switches from “He’s everything you want” to “I’m everything you want,” – was the result of ongoing experimentation. “I wasn’t sure about the pronoun to use in the chorus, so when I demoed the song I went through ‘He’ and ‘She.’ In the final song we do, ‘He,’ and ‘I’ and that’s the great big reveal and defining moment of the song: that’s it’s not about him and that I f***n love you! But when I wrote the song I hadn’t realized we could even do a reveal, so I remember purposefully singing each chorus with a different pronoun to hear what they sounded like.”
As for whether the woman at the center of his hit lyrics has ever turned up to a show, Scannell cringes slightly. “Maybe. I don’t know!”
YOU’RE A GOD
For Scannell, the group’s second biggest hit and third single from Everything You Want sparks a reminder of the band’s international success, something he was somewhat oblivious to while distracted by the U.S. market as the band rocketed to success. “One of the most profound moments was the first time we went to the Philippines and played ‘You’re a God,’” he recalls of the track, which starred Tiffani Thiessen in its video and also featured in the movie Bruce Almighty. “In the States, ‘Everything You Want,’ was our big hit, but in the Philippines, ‘You’re a God’ is our biggest song, so when we played it, the place went crazy. I wasn’t prepared for that huge outpouring and it felt not dissimilar to the way I imagined Billy Joel might have felt during [‘Piano Man’]. It blew my mind because we spent so much time in the U.S. pounding on doors for years and years and everyone saying, ‘Nah.’ Then going back the next week until someone said, ‘Fine, come on.’”
“Going to places like the Philippines and Jakarta and playing for 16,000 people who know the words is dumbfounding because we didn’t pound on doors over there,” he adds. “Our music preceded us and was part of their daily lives before we got there and there’s something extra sweet about that.”
BEST I EVER HAD (GREY SKY MORNING)
While the pain of “Everything You Want,” lessens with time, Scannell admits the hurt is still raw when it comes to the stunning ballad, which was later remade by country artist Gary Allan, who climbed the country music charts with the track in 2005.
“That song still hurts. I think part of it is because it was so matter-of-fact,” he says. “We both knew we weren’t forever, so it was about enjoying the moments we had until they were gone. It was one of those experiences where you go in with a mutual understanding that you’re going to walk away with pain, but those moments of beauty are going to be worth it. That song for me is the definition of bittersweet. It would never have worked out for us, but I wouldn’t change things.”
I’M STILL HERE
Following the success of Everything You Want, the group recorded Go, but Scannell says RCA Records head Clive Davis wasn’t too impressed and asked that he write a new, single-worthy track. Ill at the time, Scannell remained holed up in New York on a tight deadline, determined not to let Davis’ doubts spell doomsday for the band.
“I was staying in the most incredible apartment with exquisite, humongous windows looking out onto snow falling on the park below,” he recalls. “It was completely dreamy and I was so feverish and sick that I felt dreamy too. But I also felt really defiant, like, ‘I’m going to make it through this. These people are saying we’re not good enough, but I’m going to make it through.’ Even though it felt like the whole world was falling down around us, I wrote that song absolutely convinced that we would make it through. And ultimately, we did.”
VIDEO: Vertical Horizon – Everything You Want (Full Album w/ Bonus Track)
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