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A Dirty Dozen with SCOTT CLAY – September 2022

| 29 September 2022 | Reply

Photo credit: Spencer Johnson

According to a recent press release: “Nashville-based Americana/roots rock singer-songwriter Scott Clay is set to release his album, Let It All Lay Bare, independently on September 23, 2022.  Recorded partially at Hall of Justice in Seattle and partially remotely, the album was produced/engineered by Mike Davis (Modest Mouse, The Head and the Heart), mixed by Steven Aguilar, and mastered by Rachel Field. Let It All Lay Bare showcases themes important to Clay: relationships, stunning displays of natural beauty, and even famous historical events. The collection of songs that comprise his fifth full-length gives listeners a multi-faceted picture of a storyteller in his element.” We get Scott to discuss new music, influences, and more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

My fifth studio album, Let It All Lay Bare, built on the studio sessions from my 2020 release, Time Will Tell. I had such a wonderful experience working with the studio crew at the Hall of Justice in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle that we literally jumped into pre-production immediately upon wrapping up our 2020 sessions. It was amazing to work with the same producer and musicians in the same studio space because we could continue to build on the creative energy from our previous project. We hit the pre-production especially hard on this album, and, for that reason, I think it will be a huge challenge for me to match the level of detail and arrangement complexity that we were able to achieve on this project.  It was by far my most relaxed, productive, and creatively independent set of studio sessions I’ve yet had. Something that is different about this album, in contrast to my previous albums, is that the producer, Mike Davis, and I really worked hard to make it a particularly friendly mix for headphones. We buried a ton of stereo synth and rhythmic elements, particularly in the last couple songs on the album, for people listening on their earbuds. It was super fun to approach this record from that perspective, and I feel it gives the album a whole new approach as you listen through a second or third time. Try blasting it in the car or on the home stereo once, and then listen through on ear buds the second time and I swear it will feel like listening to two entirely different albums. The songs with the juiciest stereo arrangements are “Open Country,” “Chief Joseph,” “Aurora,” and “Utah.” So be sure to comb through those a little more closely! My favorite little nugget that we hid on the album is at the end of the ballad “Utah.” We were tracking background vocals during the most strict part of the Covid lockdown. I had a little studio setup in my Seattle apartment, and I nerded out (very bored and alone) building little chordal vocal arrangements on the last chorus of the song, toying with singing the 3rd, or 7th, or root of each chord as it was played in the song. When the producer stacked them together, we listened through them soloed alone and were both shocked by how eerie they sounded. They sounded more like a synth or strings part then a vocal line. We both loved them soloed so much that we added them in the empty space at the end of the song. It just gives the song a little more ghostly, creepy feeling as it fades out. It’s worth cranking the outro to hear them up close and personal!

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

When I was younger, I didn’t really have much interest in music. I actually really enjoyed drawing and science fiction books. But when I turned 14, some switch flipped on in my brain. I opened the closet in my bedroom and saw my mother’s classical guitar sitting in the corner begging to be discovered. Inside the case were Mel Bay’s “Introduction to Guitar” workbooks. Within a week, I had figured out most of the “first position” chords that the book had taught. My best friend, Jeff, had also recently picked up the guitar, and his mother was a guitar and piano teacher. So he was a wealth of knowledge to me in those early years. He and I immediately got into songwriting. We would hang a small microphone in his downstairs bathroom and set up a cassette recorder in the hallway and try to capture a perfect recording. We both got involved in our youth group music team. There were some “older” musicians on that team (three years older than us) who had been playing much longer than we had. So we would annoyingly pester them for guitar advice as we struggled to learn. Soon after I got my first job at a retail guitar store, I was able to get linked in with some serious guitar players at that time because we had many guitar reps who would visit the store to promote different guitar brands, and the reps were always astonishingly good players. I knew I wanted to be a musician when I dreamt my first song. It was about three weeks after first picking up the guitar; I had absolutely no concept of music theory, but a strong melody came into my dream one night, and I woke up then and started writing my first piece of music.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

In those early youth group days, there was an “underground” band from the UK called Delirious. Our youth group leader had special-ordered some of their albums via mail (before the internet), and we would sit around and absolutely be thrilled to listen to their music. That band was very heavy into unique songwriting and production, so those early days of listening to their albums cover to cover, over and over, were monumental for me. All of us kids would grab our instruments after getting a new album of theirs and learn all the parts on drums, guitar, and bass. I was amazed at how closely we could reproduce the music on the album.

4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

I’ve always wanted to co-write with Alabama-born songwriter Peter Bradley Adams. I really like his approach to songwriting and arrangement, as well as the intimate vocal feel he’s able to achieve in his recordings and performances. His studio work is SUPER detail-oriented, and the songs build very organically, yet have an amazing through-line from beginning to end. I feel like our genres also co-habitate well, so it would be super valuable for me to integrate some of what he does so well into my future efforts. I chatted with a Nashville-based producer earlier this year who has promised he will set me up on a co-write with Peter, so, with any luck, keep your ears peeled for some upcoming recordings of our work together!

5. What is your favorite activity when out of the studio and/or not on tour?  What do you like to do to unwind?

I love to backpack overnight in the mountains. I grew up hiking with my family, and as an adult I try to get out under the stars for at least a few weekends per summer. It’s growing increasingly hard as the tour schedule ramps up each summer, but it is so rewarding to unwind and connect with nature. It’s amazing how quickly your cares and concerns melt away when you get disconnected from your phone and the rest of civilization.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

My music (and myself) started in a rural setting, so there is no question that Americana/roots and country that have found their way into my sound. I am also very drawn to melodic themes, so vocally and with my guitar solos, things are built around strong melodic phrasing. Acoustic guitar is my main instrument for songwriting, so no matter how the song ends up, there is going to be an acoustic basis for anything that I’ve written. I grew up in the ’90s and have some bands from that era that I do love, but for the most part I don’t consider myself a “’90s artist,” so any time reviewers make that analogy, I cringe a bit!

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

I recently performed with my Seattle band, and when we’re all hanging out together the drummer, Chris, will be kicked back listening to podcasts on his earbuds, with an old-fashioned in his hand. If you’re down to get philosophical, he will pull out his earbuds and talk about anything from spirituality to history. Sean the bass player will be down to crack a joke, or FaceTime his 1-year-old, Owen. He’s big into soccer, so if you’ve got the latest stats, he will talk your ear off about the Sounders with a whiskey in hand. He’s the most likely to bust out a ukulele or guitar and pick out a tune for everyone. Shawn, on keys, is always calm and collected. He will likely be working out some amazing jazz parts on his Nord, or be chilling backstage with a coffee in hand. I’m either on a food run grabbing burritos or sub sandwiches to keep my endless appetite appeased or working out some new cover tunes with Shawn for our next set.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

On a recent stopover in Nashville, I got the chance to see The Band of Heathens at the Basement East. I had heard their most famous single, “Hurricane,” but I had NO IDEA what kind of treat I was in for seeing their live set. It was a Sunday evening show, so there was a good sized crowd, but it was by no means overly packed. Their live set was absolutely incredible, and I walked away feeling like I saw musical royalty. Ed and Gordy (the frontmen) are such incredible songwriters, singers, and guitarists! I’ve been jamming to their studio album, “Remote Transmissions,” ever since!

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

As a musician, I love those small moments of realizing, “I did this thing!” Whether it’s walking up to a venue before anyone is there and looking at an empty stage ready to be arranged for the evening, or seeing a poster around town for a show that you organized and put together, or having a moment where someone pulls you aside and tells you that the song you wrote and published helped them through the week of their grandmother’s funeral, those little moments remind you, “I’m here, doing what I love, and it makes an impact on others, whether small or large.” I also love those moments of being “good tired,” where you’ve just finished a long set on stage, have sweated your ass off, just finished tearing down your merch table, and are loading all the equipment into the car on a rainy night at 2:30 a.m. It’s the kind of exhaustion that only comes after you’ve given all you can and know that it was worth every minute. My dream job is to go back and be a pizza delivery driver. I worked at Papa John’s when I was 20 and absolutely loved it. It was the era before streaming music, and I had a very fancy subscription to the BMI music warehouse, where you could get an ENTIRE FIVE CDs a month. So I’d just jam out hard to my five albums and drive around town until 3:30 a.m., making tip money, getting free weed, and speeding through red lights.

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

I always prefer to go a little in the metaphysical/spiritual direction when talking, so a question along the lines of, “How has meditation played a role in your songwriting?” would be preferable!  The short answer to that question would be that meditation has helped me step away from the “me” or the capital “I,” as they say, and focus instead on the “us” or the greater humanity. It’s given me a perspective of what is “good for all” rather than what is “good for just me.” The question I always get asked about is food on the road. I have a love/hate relationship with Wendy’s, and oftentimes that is the only option when I’m driving across the country.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

This is an easy question to answer! LOL. My second studio album, Price of a Life, was self-produced and recorded. I jumped into that project having ZERO idea about the level of complexity that goes into tracking and arranging an album, and for that reason I slogged away on that project for over three years. The album survived a divorce, job transition, move, and many other obstacles. It was a process filled with so much heartache, tears, and frustration. I worked with no deadline or oversight, and, for that reason, it almost entirely got shelved forever. If it weren’t for Jordan Borders taking on the immense task of organizing and mixing the years’ worth of audio files that had been collected, there is no way it would have ever been completed! That man is an angel! I’m so happy with the final product, but I would 100% never self-produce another project! It was simply too much for this poor man to take on.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Hands down, I’d love to be involved with the Tell Mama Etta James’ Muscle Shoals recording sessions. It would be pure magic to watch The Swampers and (producer) work their magic. The clouds of cigarette smoke in that room alone would make you croon out some relaxed and vibey melodies. To me, the record is the pinnacle of analog recording. The warmth of the tape and the rock solid connection of those studio musicians locking in like blood brothers is something that absolutely cannot be fabricated. It just takes days in a room together to develop the kind of instinct that those players had in the studio.






Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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