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The second release from their first album, Vertical Horizon tore up the Billboard turf with this song, which occupied space at the top of the charts for several weeks in 2000. Popular speculation about the inspiration of the song has ranged from God to love triangles, and sometimes a combination of the two. Here is the real story, as told to us by songwriter Matt Scannell: "I was basically in love with this beautifully complex and crazy person who could see everything around her except for the thing that could actually help her. And I just thought of a sort of tormented, glasses-half-empty person who was in pain about a bunch of things that had happened to her in her life, and always wound up looking to the wrong places to find solace and to find help. And then when that was over, she would just be emptier than she was before. And I could just see her kind of sinking. And it was written out of frustration, it was written out of sadness, and from my perspective, a sense of wishing that she would turn to me, and to realize that I wanted to help her in ways that maybe she couldn't see as it being what she really needed. And she never did. So in the last chorus is really that chance that I had to say, 'Hey, look – enough. I love you. I can help you, but I don't mean anything to you at all. I've always tried to steer clear of nailing the meaning of the song too far on the head. But if you're asking me directly, that's really where it came from. Yeah."
"One of the things I love about that song is it's almost like a pastiche, all these different photographs," says the lead singer. "It's almost more like you're looking at a photo album, and in between the pictures you have to connect the dots." Scannell would later write with Nashville songwriters, which differed from what he's always known, he says, because they "prefer very strong throughlines, and they don't want to make many leaps." He makes clear that's not a slight against that style of writing; it's just not what he was used to. "A finely crafted story that is easy to follow is incredibly difficult to, if not more difficult to do, than what I did with 'Everything You Want.' But I think there's a real beauty to it. I think it can feel very artistically freeing to just change pictures."
Matt describes a "throughline" as "I opened this door, and I went into this room, and I opened that chest, and in that chest was this thing. And then here the thing is the chorus, and the thing about the thing, and there's a whole instructional manual that goes along with the song."
He also loves that there are so many ways to interpret his songs; that's how he planned it. "I love the mystery of those lines, and I know where I was when I was writing them. So I almost kind of embrace the fact that someone could hear it about one thing that's totally different than the thing that I heard it about. I think the thing that rings true is that sense of absolute sort of desperation, there is a kind of jeopardy to that song. And I don't think any interpretation is more or less valid. In fact, it's one of the reasons I hesitate, honestly, to wrap it up too neatly in one particular meaning. But that's where I was when I wrote it."
It seems that Rock stars are always posturing for photos, trying to convey aloofness and attitude becoming of their stature. In many cases, the real story is simply that they hate photo shoots. Matt laughs about it and confesses, "I think there's two sides to the music. Part of it is that people who are making big smiles and pictures sometimes look dorky. And during performances it's probably half smiles and half 'we're playing rock right now, so it's appropriate to have a rock face.'"
"People have come up to me and said, 'I thought you were really scary, but you're actually really nice.' And then I say, 'Thank you…?' But I think all I can really say is there are two facets to my relationship with the music that are both true and real. And one is that I love what I do, and I am completely honored and have a blast doing it, and when we play live and when I'm singing in a live situation, I look out in the audience and it's like they're all singing along and having fun, it's like, Man, that's an incredible honor. So I tend to just get happy and smiley. But then there's also a side of me that's like, Man, this music really comes from a place inside of me that's so real
for me, I guess I probably tap into that more when we're doing things like photo shoots and stuff like that." (Check out the full interview with Matt Scannell
In his book The Billboard Book of Number 1 Hits, Fred Bronson writes, "Scannell was living in Greenwich Village when he wrote 'Everything You Want.' He remembers, 'I was lying in bed and I heard a chord progression in my head. I keep a microcassette recorder on the side of the bed and sang what I heard to be a bass line. And then I realized I had this idea buzzing through me. It's very much a buzzing sensation when a song is ready to come. You have to be receptive to music.' Scannell got out of bed and completed the song quickly. Soon after, he demoed the song on the four-track recorder his parents had given him."
Scannell teamed with producer Ben Grosse who remembers the first time he heard the demo: "'Matt had that great chorus. I took that opening guitar and flipped it around, so there's a backward one and a forward one.'"
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