Erik Scott is a bit of a departure for us here at Foxy Digitalis. He’s an insider, but I don’t think that makes him any less a source of fascination and source of knowledge that any other artist we feature. After all, this is the man who played bass with Flo and Eddie, and, well, you can’t really get any cooler than that. But what Scott represents is so much more. He gives us a glimpse into the music industry proper and does so with a commendable humility and knowledge that few others would or could proffer.
I came across his latest solo effort via a box FD sent me and I immediately recognized the name. None other than Jonathan from Doleful Lions, who has been so enamored with Flo and Eddie as of late made the connection. Likewise, my mentor on all things Zappa and the Bizarre label was also quick to point out his name, Mike Portera in Birminham, AL.. Here we have a professional bassist who has played with Nugent, with Cooper (during those so-called down years—to which I would recommend anyone to revisit), Sonia Dada and a person who is truly dedicated to his craft. Not only is he committed to his instrument, but he’s also aware of his boundaries and understands his limitations and strengths. He’s a master of the bass and much more concerned with music and what he can and can’t do with it as well as his aesthetic preferences than so many amateurs are.
Though there is so much to discuss about his career, I decided that we should focus on his latest material; the material which mostly focuses on the bass, its limitations, but mostly on the melodic possibilities of it. Now, admittedly, for all you elitist, this may not be your cup of tea, but I have a feeling that most of you out there who are interested in music and its history will really enjoy this interview. If it goes well, Eski (as his friends refer to him) and I have agreed to a follow-up where we’ll talk about his past more. We just thought it best to focus on what it is he is doing now—as most artists don’t care to rehash, over and over again, repeating what they’ve already said in other interviews.
The following is an intro partly penned by Eski and partly penned by myself. We both hope you enjoy and we both welcome questions:
An Interview with Erik "Eski" Scott
Erik “Eski” Scott is perhaps not a name we’re all familiar with, but should be. He has a recording career which stretches back to 1969, making albums with Northern Illinois groups "Food" and "Jambalaya". It was in 1974 he met and played bass with Zappa cohorts and Turtles members Flo and Eddie, and would later record and tour with Alice Cooper. He was a founding member and worked fifteen years with Sonia Dada. He also made recordings with Pops and Mavis Staples, and many other artists over a forty year career, a love affair and devotion which spans until present day where we find him playing some truly zoned out, interstellar bass on his solo record “Other Planets,” which is as beautiful as it is technically adept. His current material is virtuosic but never ostentatious, with nods toward ambient sensibilities fleshed out through unique and often complex melodies which extend beyond the normal parameters of pop music. Scott exhibits a respect for all aspects, rhythmic and melodic, toward his instrument and his love of music—and the bass-- it's all lovingly evident on “Other Planets.”
On his latest recording, he features a really creamy tone and his work is full of languid, peaceful gestures (a plethora of fretless expertise), and the different styles to which he alludes in the music (country, for instance) are very subtly incorporated into the whole while never dominating his own musical vision or trademark style.
This interview was conducted telepathically between myself, Eski and Maui, his vocalist and pilot.
First, thanks for the kind words concerning my melodic sense. The record did have its genesis from "Sundogs," a piece that I wrote and was recorded for Sonia Dada's most recent CD "Test Pattern". The piece, a short musical interlude between Sonia songs, received some nice attention in reviews, and it sparked me to do a full length treatment as the title song "Other Planets".
As far as emphasizing my melodic sense, as the writer of these pieces, and working primarily alone in my studio, I simply played all my melodic ideas on the bass, primarily in the upper registers. I also played some rhythmic ideas that might ordinarily have been covered by guitar (" Piece On Saturn") or even banjo ("Proper Son") on the bass. I even recorded bass-generated sound effects (that might ordinarily have been done by guitars or synths) to create the other-worldly atmospheres I wanted, e.g. [like those on] "Other Planets," "Proper Son," and "Bassque Revolution.” There is a whole different soundscape vibe that happens when the melodies are performed on the upper registers of the bass. I was seduced by the warmer sound of these melodies, especially when blended with steel guitar and what I like to call the 'interstellar' keyboard drones I used.
Well, most tracks on "Other Planets" are relatively open, and I was able to bring the main melody up in the mix...plus I shelved some of the low end on the leads, so there wouldn't be too many lows.
Actually, "Sundogs" is all fretless. I used one direct line from the bass, and then split that signal into an effects box for the phased echo sound. It was one performance of a Pedulla Fretless four string. In the second bridge another effect was added to the bass to alter the sound a little for that section of the trip....a bit of an octave thing. I occasionally altered the echo setting for effect. There is multitracking on some of the other songs, but the title cut "Other Planets (Sundogs)" was actually just one bass part with effects, because that's how it sounds in space.
I never thought about making 'ambient' music....didn't occur to me once. The only pre-meditated thought about "Other Planets", was that I could make some music like the "Sundogs" piece on "Test Pattern”, and some folks might like it. So I just went where the muse took me. And then, after the music was done, I gave it a name...kinda’ like having a baby.
Your question has made me think about how this stuff got started thematically, and I think I've got to lay much of the blame on the writer with Sonia Dada, Dan Pritzker. The first tune 'Other Planets" came about because I was writing an interlude between two of his songs on the SD album "Test Pattern". And the second "Des Pues de Guerro" was inspired by another song of his, which dealt with an 18th century battle where the Spanish army put down a rebellion by the local Indians, Cajons, African slaves, and other minorities around New Orleans. I pictured the smoke blowing over the ruins
at the battle scene, and imagined a trumpet playing a Spanish sounding theme over the destruction, and started playing the thing. A third piece "Peace On Saturn", was inspired by seeing some of the movie he's making about the birth of jazz, even tho my tune is not jazz influenced.
At other times in my career, composing for Alice Cooper, Pops Staples, Ted Nugent, Sonia Dada, or whoever, I was definitely writing with the identity of the artist in mind. Here, I think the "Other Planets (Sundogs)" piece kind of set the CD's theme in large part.
I would probably put "Proper Son" and "Other Planets" first, as I think they more properly represent the spirit of the album. I would then put the more energetic "Bartalk" third.
It takes me some time to get to know and trust people, and since I had developed great working and personal relationships with the guys in Sonia Dada, it just felt natural to get them when adding the extra instrumentation I wanted. And remember I had lived in LA for twenty-five years before moving to the Chicago area in late 1997 to work almost daily on the Sonia Dada experience, and I really only knew the musicians in Sonia Dada, without traveling. Even so, only two SD musicians played substantially, Chris Cameron (piano and organ on four songs) and Hank Guaglianone on drums (on eight tracks).
When I got each composition to a place where I thought it would actually be worth completing, I brought Hank (Guaglianone) in to play some real drums. Then, to each song, I wanted to add one other melodic instrument to broaden the sonic landscape, and on four songs it was John Pirruccello and his steel guitar, as I really loved the blend of melodic bass and steel guitar. Then on four others I brought in Chris Cameron to play piano or organ, and Glen Rupp played some wonderful acoustic melodic parts on "Donnie & Sancho." I wanted to keep the music uncluttered, and this approach helped. There are only three compositions that feature more than one extra melodicist..."Other Planets," "Foggy Bridges," and "Bassque Revolution.”
When I took the songs to the other guys, they were already in a condition where I knew the guys would hear the ideas, so I didn't tell them so much what to play, I just told them where I thought they would be featured, such as, "Chris, verse two is yours".
I moved to LA in 1974 for professional reasons, and moved back to the Chicago area in '97 for the same reason, involving Sonia Dada. A move back to California might be for the same reason, professional, or it may be for the general environment, or the great Mexican food. I'm not sure right now...I hate moving.
Well, I confess there is a part of me that wanted to show what ideas I was capable of performing on the bass, but I have loved and will continue to love rock and guitars... I would have to say that it is a large part of my structural foundation.
If you are referring to the nature of the bulk of music on "Other Planets", (insert adjective here: dreamy, atmospheric, floating, cosmic, spacey), I think that was simply an expression of my mental and emotional state. After almost forty years of the record-rehearse-tour-write-record-tour cycle, and especially after the previous 15 years of almost daily working within the parameters of Sonia Dada record making and touring, I was a wee bit toasted....and I just chilled it out a bit. And also, in many previous writing and arranging situations, within a more conventional ensemble (band) environment, I naturally had to, as bassist, perform the requirements of the bass chair, in terms of groove and support. On this CD, since I was by and large the only guy here, I just let it all hang out.
But in terms of what genres of music I prefer...the music I love the most contains performances by the players, as well as the singers, and writers. Music with nuanced performances by the artists, where the emotion just leaks out all over the notes, and you can hear the passion and artistry of the musicians.
In the everlasting battle of art vs. commerce, even more than has always been the case, the 'major' labels seem to be about commerce...mass sales. The promotion of music as an artistic expression is purely coincidental. The hunters/gatherers of talented creative artists have lost all power to the accountants. Wasn't it John Hammond at Columbia who discovered and signed Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, and Bruce Springsteen, among others? And how about people like Ahmet Ertigun at Atlantic? Are people like that given any sway in today's industry?
I remember reading a book about Columbia Records and Bob Dylan in the seventies, when Dylan's contract was up. Columbia apparently had to downplay the actual sales figures internally...they wanted to keep him, wanted to be the label of Bob Dylan, but there were people at the label who figured he didn't sell enough records, so forget him. What's so 'major' about that?"
File sharing: Well, there has been more than enough talk about that, so I'll just say that I come down in the camp that knows it's theft, pure and simple. Writers and artists who make the music that supports their families better hope for something else when their income is slashed by 80%. Paradoxically, it points up some good things about the pre-internet 'major label' era...the labels served to filter out some of the bad music, and brought attention to some of the more talented writers, players, and singers. Of course, without the internet, I wouldn't be talking to you right now. Still, there are folks who figure that wouldn't be such a bad thing....ha! It's a big, multi-faceted issue.
Oh sure. The apparatus for widespread distribution and exposure is superior with a major label. If you can be on the same page as the guys at the label, and those guys stay at the label, there can be advantages.
Well, my nice dog Maui was looking at me with that 'Don't I get to be on the record?' sort of look, and what could I do? And he wanted to be the lead vocal too, no background stuff for him. Geeeze, what could I do? Besides, music should express all the emotional states: love, anger, sadness, happiness, dream-state, and all the other shades of human emotion. Humor is in there. It lightens things up, helps perspective.
Actually, it's Maui's ship, and he drives.
CDs available here:
-- P. Somniferum (2 December, 2009)