Joseph Scott comes home this weekend. Not that he’s lived here, per se, in a long while, but we’ll still be damn glad to see (and hear) him. The singer/songwriter is still fondly remembered around these parts for his resplendent folk ruminations in groups like Canada and White Pines.
White Pines performs Friday at Crossroads (info)
I recall seeing him perform at a handful of Mittenfests with White Pines and it was always a strange magic, the kind of gossamer curtaining of cool timbres, hushed vocals and rustling acoustics that stops time in the room. Scott’s voice is like a late summer sunset, something vibrant and yet dimming, this rusted thrum and quaver seemingly weighed down by the dark skies above it but luminescent nonetheless as it spans across the horizon.
Scott’s White Pines songs are the kind that make you take deep sighs; straightforward arrangements of acoustic guitar, piano, strings and a few other baroque/earthy elements, and keen sensibilities for space in the composition for that heart-heavy voice to resonate and flourish.
Scott relocated to Brooklyn back around 2008, just as his main band, a collective of super-creative folk known as Canada, was starting to fade. While he was east, he set up a home studio and fostered the first White Pines recordings. And, while Scott would return on occasion to perform in his home state, the project that charmed me so much at those prior Mittenfest sets hasn’t released new music in about four years. This was due to the recent birth of his son.
Let’s listen back… Scott and his band, White Pines, could also get quite intense with some of their storming catharses and ambient swells… Take a listen:
White Pines is named for an early 1900’s copper mine in Northern Michigan; this was suitable to the convergence of themes and vibes in his music, old-world-sounding, rustic, ghostly… He released the folk-centric A Face Made of Wood in 2009, followed by a proper full-length, The Falls, in 2010. That’s when he relocated to his current home Akron, OH. The subtly tremulous ambient folk-rock EP Plume of Ash came out in 2012. At the end of our interview, Scott revealed that White Pines, with its new members, plan on writing and recording throughout the autumn and early winter. Expect new material sometime in 2017.
When I reached out to Scott, he was understandably focused on Relaxer’s upcoming release, but he was still undeniably excited to be coming to his old stamping grounds with White Pines. Little did I know, I contacted him just as he was getting back into a groove with White Pines.
Let’s get into it…
Tell us about developing as a musician here in Michigan, about what this scene meant to you; take us back to those Mittenfest performances. Are there traits about your music you feel are inextricably connected to and influenced by Michigan?
Mittenfest is always a great thing, and there have been a few of them that really stick out in my mind as very very special times. Especially since I moved away in 2008, Mittenfest was and continues to be a way for me to re-connect with my friends in Michigan. Michigan does play a vital role in my music. When I started playing seriously around 2004, in bands such as Canada, the SE Michigan music scene informed a lot of what we did. Friends like Chris Bathgate, Fred Thomas, Matt Jones, Javelins, and Frontier Ruckus (and about a million other bands) were, and still are, very influential to me. The vibe of the Detroit/Ypsi/Ann Arbor music scene was very tangible and frenetic ten years ago, and It was impossible not to be affected by the level of songwriting taking place. The records released by my friends always influence me, because I tend to internalize the music more when I know the person who made it.
I also tend to invent this sort of idealized version of what Michigan is as I live in other places. For instance, the longer I stay away, the more I tend to think about my family’s home in Muskegon, and about what growing up with that level of nature around means to me. It’s not something that always directly finds its way into my songs, but it gives me a feeling that I carry around with me.
Talk about carrying it around. Talk about the ways in which location, environment, cities, rural spaces, how their changing energies blend into your creative process. Can your songs sometimes be a response to your surroundings?
My experience in New York was largely Michigan-centric, too, actually. It’s odd, but I moved to Brooklyn and almost exclusively associated with Michigander ex-pats. So, while that was the place i started White Pines, it definitely still had the feeling of a lot of Michigan artists in it. Since moving to Akron, I’ve been doing a lot more experimentation and expansion of the sounds I use. I’ve met a lot of musicians here who have very different backgrounds than mine, and the music has started to shift accordingly. My other band, Relaxer, is basically a protometal/prog band at this point, and I have been noticing a lot more psychedelic influences getting into my writing with White Pines too.
Well, in terms of White Pines, what’s new? Or, what else, in general, is new? How’s life been?
What’s new…. I mean, I’ve got a 3-year-old boy at home, so everything is new all the time! (laughs) I kind of put White Pines on the back burner when he was born, and now I’m getting back into it. I also ended a 10-year-long relationship last year, so that’s definitely been a big life-shift. It’s interesting to develop a strategy to accomplish what I want out of my life now. I have to figure out how to be a good father, figure out what my life looks like outside of the relationship that defined it for a decade, and make the time to be creative, heal, work, etc.
I have to be careful because I can’t get lost in the writing the way I used to. I have to be present and available for my son, so spending all day working on a song isn’t really possible. It’s the kind of thing where I have consciously decided to take the pressure off of myself with regard to songwriting, because I can’t commit to making records in a timely way anymore, so I’ve just got to let that process slow down. If I’m working and something gets done, cool. If it doesn’t, also cool. Its becoming more about the process of writing than the result, and finding a balance with it in my life.
Vague as this is, I’m jumping in: what does songwriting and performing this music do for you? What do you hope it does for others… I’m wondering about the lyrics, the mood of the tones you employ, the emotion of the words you sing…
In terms of lyrics, I typically take a lot from dreams and journals, and I tend to be relatively cryptic in the way I word things. Lots of the White Pines songs are intensely personal, but I don’t feel as though I’m really a storyteller. I like to make imagery and places where people can feel something, but I don’t like telling them what they ought to be feeling.
With regard to sounds, Plume of Ash definitely ended where the rest of the stuff is picking back up; lots of layers, lots of drones and weird ambient noises that fade in and out. I’ve been using a lot of guitar effects for the last few years, and the tones I have been finding, I feel they have some merit, or at the very least are pretty unique.
Michigan’s excited to see you come back for this weekend’s show… But, what happens after? What’s the future hold?
It’s hard for me to say what I’m most looking forward to. I try to not pressure myself or worry about what’s going to happen too much, so I can fully enjoy what’s happening in the moment. I’m definitely looking forward to more songs, and getting as weird as possible with music.
The last year or so has been very trying for me emotionally, so I’m working through those feelings, I’m trying to meditate on them and acknowledge them. I can feel a lot of new material that’s going to be coming. It’s building, and I’m trying to let it tell me when it’s ready. More immediately, I’m looking forward to having some drinks, playing a bit, and seeing old friends in Ypsi. It’s been too long, and I can’t wait to hang out with everyone.
at Crossroads Bar & Grill
with Best Exes, Any Palmer and Cash Harrison
More music from Joseph Scott on Facebook via Relaxer