Everyone’s musical crush: Southern Culture on the Skids
Photos by Kevin McGee
The road to the at Cat’s Cradle was quite the journey according to guitarist Rick Miller. SCOTS recently finished up a cross-country tour to promote their latest release, The Electric Pinecones.
The tour started in the Tarheel state and made its way through the West Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky, and slowed down by scaling up the California coast before finishing up Arizona. Over the course of visiting in unfamiliar cities with a brand new record on their shoulders, SCOTS found a home in the many venues they played this fall.
“There were a lot of hidden Southerners out west,” recalled Miller. The record’s many influences came in handy as the Americana-drenched surf rock appealed to listeners from all over the country. The Electric Pinecones’ groundwork was built from a side project of the band called The Pinecones. Long-time fans might remember when The Pinecones opened up for SCOTS! That’s right, the band basically opened up for themselves. I don’t know about you, but I’ve think we need more of that in the music industry.
According to the album’s press release, Rick Miller calls The Pinecones “our ‘country pysch garage band,’ or our excuse to indulge our musical crush on everything from the Seeds and the Byrds to Buck Owens and Ricky Nelson.” And what a musical crush The Electric Pinecones is. “Grey Skies,” the album’s first single, is an ode to that Americana-drenched surf rock I spoke of earlier; if the sounds of California and Carolina were ever to be mashed together in one song, it’d be “Grey Skies.” Add in a pinch of heartbreak and chilling vocals and you’ve got yourself a single.
One of the most interesting aspects of the new album is the remake a song that appeared on their 2004 release, Mojo Box, known as “Swamp Fox – The Original” on The Electric Pinecones. The 2004 version of “Swamp Fox” was initially written the way it can now be heard on 2016 version. Confused? Let me break it down a bit.
Miller wrote “Swamp Fox” for Mojo Box but the band collectively decided to tweak it a bit so it would fit the darker vibe of the record. Ten plus years later, Miller acted on his urge to revisit the song and tweak it once again back to it’s original sound.
“In Mojo Box, we changed the key and made it heavier for the record, more ominous,” said Miller. “The one on this record is how I originally envisioned the song.”
“Swamp Fox – The Original” fits snugly on this record as it explores a variety of genres Miller grew up with. Miller resided in two different states when he was young, the musician was introduced a plethora of sounds, each more different than the other.
“Growing up in North Carolina and California, I listened to a lot of different things,” recalled Miller. “Rhythm and blues, soul music, pop music, rock and roll, country, all on the same radio station.
From Buck Owens to the Beatles to Aretha Franklin, nothing was out of the ordinary for Miller.
“I learned to appreciate musical genres and where they overlapped,” said Miller. “While living in California, I got into punk rock and surf music, but found a deeper appreciation of blues and folk music. I think it shows in the records I make.”
It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact genre for The Electric Pinecones to reside in because of this and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps the writing process for this record is another reason it’s found a home in several genres.
“[The writing process] was different, just the nature of the songs lent itself to me and me working more or less by myself on a lot of them,” stated Miller. After crafting lyrics and melodies, Miller brought in bassist and vocalist Mary Huff to work on vocals, and it was only after the two came together that the drums for the record were introduced with drummer Dave Hartman.
“It all started off acoustic,” Miller went on to say. “It was a little backwards, arrangement first and then lyrics, and then we’d bang it out; Mary and I, acoustic guitar and her bass.”
Miller continued on to say that working on the intricate melodies heard in The Electric Pinecones was “easier to do without drums this time around.”
Regardless of the method, it’s safe to that The Electric Pinecones has landed a spot on many year-end lists. When asked what Miller’s favorite record of 2016 was, the long-time musician found himself tongue-tied, replying with, “Oh golly…” Who can blame him! Music in 2016 was unreal in the best way, but then again old favorites make comebacks too.
“What I listened to a lot this year, although they might not be from 2016,” said Miller, “ was Ty Segall’s Manipulator, The Black Angels, and Françoise Hardy.”
Other images of the night:
See full gallery of the night.