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Feature Interview – Red Wanting Blue’s Scott Terry

Illustration by Kathleen Fulton
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I’ve had the pleasure of booking Red Wanting Blue for a number of shows over the last couple of years, and I can vouch for the fact that they put on a kick-ass live show.  So it was fun for me to get together with lead singer Scott Terry and discuss thrift shops, life on the road, and the malleable definition of success.

 

Me:  Hey Scott, what’s been going on since I last saw you?

 

Scott:  I’ve been back in Columbus [Ohio].  I’ve had two weeks off.  I can count the times I’ve had two weeks off in the last ten years on one hand.  So it’s been pretty great.  I got to hang with my lady who lives out in New York City.  I was bummed, though, that I didn’t make it out to see my family on Cape Cod.  But I thought, all I do is drive my whole life, I’m just going to be in New York for a while.  My mom and dad were bummed about it, but they got over it.  But now we’re back in action and everything is running around.  And up until this two week break, the band has been so busy.  It’s been a blur.  Even my trip to New York was commandeered by our label and we had a lot of meetings and whatnot with the new album coming out at the beginning of next year.

 

Me:  It’s not coming out until 2012?  I had thought it was coming out this fall.

 

Scott:  Yeah, I’m kind of bummed.  I had been pushing for that.  We had tentatively said the record would be out at the end of the summer or early fall.  But this is our first record with a label [Fanatic Records].  And we’d never had to deal with the lead time they need for promoting, radio campaigning, and everything else.

 

Me:  Not to mention scheduling the release in relation to the other albums they are releasing.

 

 

Scott:  The nice thing is that Fanatic only has a few artists and we’re very important to them; it’s like a partnership.  We’re all working really hard to help see this thing fly and succeed.  But they’re governed by EMI, who owns them.  So it’s tough.  We love our fans and we’ve been independent for so long that we want to get the record out to them immediately.  I even had our label head at Fanatic go plead to EMI to see if we could release it to our fans three months earlier than the national release date.  They didn’t go for it, but I have a whole newfound respect for the head of my label who, even though he was probably thinking “this is a dumb idea,” was willing to go to them on our behalf, which said to us, “I believe in you and I love you.”  EMI didn’t go for it, obviously, but they are going to allow our fans to start pre-ordering the album in October so that they can have a hard copy of the album before Christmas, even though the official release date won’t be until January.  I was happy that they were able to do that.  Our fans have been super loyal to us and we want to make sure that they know we care, that we’re trying to get the album to them and not just asking them to shine things on.

 

Me:  Well, the theme this month at Mule Variations is “Nostalgia” and I’m bringing this up because it seems like Red Wanting Blue is into nostalgia – for instance, your stage setup is decorated kind of like a cluttered 1970s Midwestern living room.  What are you guys going for with that?

 

Scott:  It started just from travelling for so long.  I mean the knick-knacks and stuff, we found ourselves going to thrift stores in all these towns and picking stuff up.  That’s where we shop a lot of times – none of us have ever really had much money.  So we go to a thrift store in, like, LaGrange, Georgia, in hopes of finding a good shirt.  You know, something like “Public Athletic League - LaGrange, Georgia.”  But even if we don’t find shirts, we always seem to walk out with something.  Even if it’s some cheesy bobblehead, I’ll see it and know I got that bobblehead in LaGrange, Georgia.  And some of those things just found their way on stage, you know?  One time in Marquette, Michigan we found some cool, old, ugly-ass lamps.  And later that night there were some power and lighting issues at the gig, and we were like, hey, we’ve got those lamps.  Let’s get those lamps out there.  And then slowly, we kinda started going nuts with the knick-knacks.  When I quit smoking I went into overdrive, just because before shows I was dying to have something to do.  You know, so I wouldn’t want to smoke.  So I started orchestrating.  Running this power cable to that power strip in order to attach some old Christmas bubble-lights, or some old keyboard.

 

Me:  Or the Lite-Brite.

 

Scott:  The Lite-Brite was a huge one.  And so we just started getting excited about finding that kind of kitschy shit because it reminded us of being kids.  And now we’re at the point where our fans will show up and say, “I got you this.  I found it in my grandmother’s basement and thought of you guys.”  Which is cool, but unless something is seriously awesome, we kind of like to find it ourselves because that was sort of the reason for doing it in the first place.  It needs to be sentimental to us.

 

Me:  It creates a cool feel at the live shows.  It’s comfortable.  Like being in your parents’ living room, but not your parents’ living room now, more like it was when you were a little kid.

 

 

Scott:  I’ll say this, too, because I think it’s important to explain the madness behind the knick-knacks.  When I was 18 or 19, in Athens, Ohio at Ohio University, I was always driving up to Columbus and trying to play gigs.  And I got a job working as part of the crew for bigger shows that would come through.  And I worked a show for The Black Crowes in like ’98 or ’99.  And I wasn’t even a huge fan of them at the time, but I was blown away by how fucking awesome they were live.  That was the most “rock star” show I had ever seen in my life, like true bona fide, “We are Southern Rock Stars.”  But as we were setting their stuff up on stage there were these huge trunks, and I was thinking they were holding part of the lighting rig or something, but their stage manager was like, “No, these go to the dressing room.”  And when I took them back there I realized that they had some people that helped set up their dressing room.  And they bring these giant trunks in and they’re full of tapestries that they lay over couches, an old coffee table, an incense burner, some wall hangings, etc.  And it would give them this illusion that, even though it’s a different room, it’s the same room night after night.  It’s their dressing room.  It’s their little home off the stage.  And they had someone do that for them so they’d feel comfortable, like they weren’t always in a new place, even though they were.  And there was something about that that really resonated with me.  Because there’s so much schticky shit out there about how things look to the fans or how something comes off to people, but this was just for them.  And it blew me away, the trouble they went to for their own comfort and just to make themselves not feel crazy.  Laying on the same looking couch, and putting your feet up on the same coffee table night after night, and having the same comfortable pillows, and the same blanket to lie down and take a nap with, that makes you feel more at home than you otherwise are.  And that’s something fans don’t see.  They did it for their own sanity.  And I loved that.  And it’s something I’ve always wanted for myself with the band out on the road.  But, you know, we’re in the trenches out there, and we’re not in a position to even necessarily have a dressing room every night, let alone have people come in and decorate it for us.  But that makes it even more important that when it’s our show, it’s also our stage, in order to make us feel as comfortable we can.  So we surround ourselves with souvenirs we’ve collected across the country.  And because the stuff we tend to collect reminds me of being a kid, it also reminds me of having a home.  And the bus…

 

Me:  It’s a similar type of thing in there.

 

Scott:  Yeah, knick-knack land.  At the end of the day, they’re like the stamps on your passport.

 

Me:  Another thing I noticed in the music, artwork and imagery of your last album, These Magnificent Miles, is a nostalgic throwback to the days of carnivals and county fairs.  Is that also an image that you’re consciously cultivating?

 

Scott:  Yeah, because in a band is so much like being in a shitty county fair.  It’s like being in a carnival.

 

Me:  You’re like the carnies.

 

Scott:  We really are.

 

 

Me:  Take it down and set it up in a different town every night.

 

Scott:  Yeah, that’s what you do.  I draw a lot of similarities between the two.  And obviously, I’m not the first – I mean, Leon Russell had a record called Carney.  People have been aware of the similarities for a long time.  The difference is… well, when you do this for real, and I mean for real – I don’t have another job; this band is what I do – you notice that the gap is huge between being in a band that’s making lots of fucking money and being in a regular struggling band.  That gap is humongous.  If you make it big you never have to worry about money again, but for the majority of us it’s a constant struggle.  When the drinking and the partying and trying to score with chicks and thinking you look cooler because you’re in a band, once all that fades away – and it does fade away pretty quick – you realize, “Do I really want to do this?”  And it separates the people who talk the talk from the people who walk the walk.  And it’s also how long can you walk the walk.  I mean yes, U2 was together from the beginning, but they’ve also been each other’s meal tickets for thirty years.  When you’re making that kind of money, you will find a way to get along with whoever you need to get along with to keep that chain going, to keep your family making money, to keep yourself living well.  But when you don’t have that, you’ve got to really love what you do – and who you do it with – in order to stay the course.

 

Me:  Do you think that there’s a sense in which the struggle, the being in the trenches, keeps you fresh?  That it keeps you hungry, it keeps you artistically motivated because you’re always working to get somewhere?  Because when you’re in that position you don’t have that sense of self-satisfaction like, “We made it.  Let’s cruise on this for a few years.”

 

Scott:  You are right, but for me, I guess I find success in the smaller things.  Success for me might be touring with another band that draws really well so that every show is packed.  And the tour has a beginning and an end.  The kind of thing where you can go home and have a break.  Because we tour endlessly and we don’t stop.  Indie bands in our position survive like sharks.  You have to keep moving if you want to stay alive.  If you stop, you die.  And that’s why I see success, not so much in the money, but in things like the ability to do a legitimate tour.

 

Me:  Right.

 

Scott:  It’s a strange life we lead.  It’s different.  For instance, my dad was a city manager.  He did that his whole life and he’s recently retired.  And he and my mom are enjoying their 60s, going on cruise ships to Alaska or Europe with other couples and doing retirement-type things.  In the midst of that, my older brother is an artist; he doesn’t really make a lot of money, doing basically what I’m doing except in a different medium.  And my little brother is a landscaper and that’s what he does – he’s having a tough time making money, too.  And I feel bad sometimes because I can’t buy my mom and dad dinner.  I wish I could buy them a cruise or a weekend getaway somewhere.  I wish I could buy them nice things for being a great set of parents, but I’ve never been able to afford doing that.  I’ve been broke since I left to go to college, always putting whatever money I had into band equipment and that’s about it.  And it’s hard because I’m in my 30s now and I ask myself, “Why are you doing this?”  I must be an idiot.  But my dad actually said something to me that really helped me.  He said, “Your mom and I have loved helping give you the opportunity to do what you want to do, to do what you’re passionate about.”  He also said, “Wherever we are on these cruises, whether it’s the island of Capri or overlooking Cozumel, I’m thinking ‘I’m glad we’re here, but it would have been a hell of a lot better if I was young.’  And you may not be able to be doing the cruise ships when you’re my age, but are you enjoying your life now?  Are getting the most out of it?”  And I was like, “Yeah, I think I am.”

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Josh Caress
[ 10/02/11 1:42 AM ]
Great interview...

Finally got around to reading this, and found it really revelatory. Thanks, Scott, for your openness and thanks to Adam for a great interview!

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