Interview: Darrell Scott Opens Up About His ‘Outsider’ Relationship With Music
Back in the early 2000s, Darrell Scott, along with musicians Danny Thompson, Kenny Malone and Dan Dugmore, began recording several songs in his home’s living room out on a road called Couchville Pike. Now, in 2016, those songs are getting a proper release.
The captivating (and aptly-titled) Couchville Sessions hits the streets on May 13 via Full Light Records, offering fans a glimpse into Scott’s own growth over the last 15 years. Though the tracks were laid down long ago, it wasn’t until 2015 that Scott was able to finish the project and get it ready for release — but trust us when we say it’s worth the wait.
In anticipation of Couchville Sessions, Scott took some time to catch up with The Boot about the record’s history, why now is the right time to release it and what it’s like being — and why it’s important to be — an outsider in today’s music world.
How does it feel to finally unveil Couchville Sessions to your fans?
It feels great. You know, it’s funny: You work in a certain kind of seclusion. You focus, focus for a long period of time. And then, suddenly, you’ve done all you can do with it, and then it’s time to put it out to folks and travel around. I’ve had a year and a half off, and a good part of that was working on this record. Just being off the road, it’s been a good break. But I’m ready to get back out and play new music for people.
I think the story behind this album is fascinating, and in today’s musical landscape, it seems fairly unique. Is it true that you recorded these songs 15 years ago and they’re now just seeing the light of day?
Yeah, I tracked them — bass, drums, electric guitar and me on acoustic guitar — and sang them live; it was a very live thing. I recorded them 13, maybe 14-15 years ago. It was a long time ago.
What compelled you to say, “It’s 2016, now is the time to release this album”?
I’ve loved the album all along, I really have. It’s no reflection of that. What happened was, I recorded, in essence, three albums worth of songs back in 2001-2002. That’s the full picture. I released two of those albums back then, Theatre of the Unheard and The Invisible Man. Instead of releasing the third album, which is this one, I went on to other records. I probably put out another five or six albums in that time, never forgetting about this one at all. Really, what happened is I met Bill Payne — the keyboard player for Little Feat from the beginning, since he was 17 or 18 years old. When I met Bill, I realized, he’s that other member of the band, so to speak, that I would love to have on this record. It was one of those lightbulb moments: This is how I’m going to finish this record; he’s the perfect musician for it. And so a year ago is when I got Bill to come and overdub to the tracks from 14 years earlier.
So you always intended for it to be released?
Absolutely, it was always going to be coming out one of these days. I just didn’t know when. With the year and a half off from the road, meeting Bill and working with him, it suddenly all came together.
A lot of it comes down to time: If you’re running around out on the road for most of the year, there kind of isn’t time to do this. You have to figure out how you’re going to do new records when you’re on the road so much, so for one thing, this time off from the road allowed me to roll up my sleeves on that record.
When this album was announced, the first line of one of one of the press releases was a quote from you, saying it’s important to you to be an outsider. Why do you think you’re an outsider?
It’s a funny statement because “outside” or “inside” is a relative term. Some could look at me and my career and say, “Dude, the last thing you are is an outsider. Look at all the insider stuff you’ve done.”
It’s relative anyway, but I think an outsider has a different point of view or a different look at the very same thing that other folks might not see. I’m definitely in this industry, but I don’t see myself as fully integrated into it. I come in and do some things, and then I retreat back away from it all. I feel that I spend more time out of it than I do in it, but that’s a matter of perspective. Someone else could look at my career or the way I spend my time and say I’m totally an insider.
It’s a slippery slope to say that, but I still maintain that I want to be an outsider. Here’s the reason why: I think I can stay true to my own thing, to what’s important to me. It works for me to feel like I’m not completely an insider. This is how I feel.
Have you always felt this way throughout your career?
Yeah, I have. I’ve always wanted to maintain that. Again, it’s loosely based, but from my perspective, I want to be on the outside, I don’t want to be so easy with what I do that my work suffers for it, and I take everything for granted because everything I do is going to be an insider job.
It would’ve been about a year before you recorded the songs on Couchville Sessions, you released the great Real Time with Tim O’Brien. My dad actually took me to see a show with you guys in Manhattan, Kan.
Oh yeah, the Birdhouse, right?
Yeah, the Birdhouse Concert Series. It’s hard to believe it’s been 16 years since Real Time came out. Are you one to look back on your accomplishments, on your career, and reflect? Or do you generally like to look ahead?
It’s a little of both. For instance, as a silly thing perhaps, when I took this year and a half off, somehow that was a really important thing to do because one of the things I wanted to do was get all the CDs I’ve made and just do something with them — put them on a plaque or something like that so I can see them all and be like, “Look, man. This is what you’ve put out.”
I’m so forward-looking — it’s always my next CD or my next show, it’s never my last CD or my last show — and yet, I need to look back, if for nothing else, to get some kind of gratefulness about life and my career. In essence, this is important so I can say, “You’ve done just fine.” If it all stops right now, I’ve done better than I could’ve ever imagined. I see great writers who, in my estimation, should be way further ahead on the ladder, and so I know I’m a lucky one that I’ve been able to do what I’ve wanted to do with my records. I have complete artistic freedom, which is extremely important to me. I’d rather have that artistic freedom than huge success any day; artistic freedom is its own success to me.
Since Real Time, you’ve released several albums, including a couple more with Tim. For you as a singer, songwriter, musician, has your creative process changed much over the last couple of decades?
I’ve always worked toward a kind of relaxed and casual approach to music, whether it was recorded or live. And yet, I also recognize a huge intensity in what I do. It’s funny how intensity can sit with a relaxed thing, but I think that’s how it works for me.
When I play music, I can’t help but be intense through the music; the music is the intense thing. I can’t help but be intense when I play music. My attitude prior to playing music, when I head to the stage, is very casual, and that’s what I want, because I know it’s going to be a certain kind of fire and expression when I get that instrument in my hand. I try not to be worried beforehand; I prefer the intensity through the music and not backstage, kicking chairs around or getting mad at the stage manager. That silly kind of stuff is of no interest to me. I’m intense through the music and hopefully not so intense offstage, so to speak.
I put the same thing in my recordings: I want to be casual and relaxed during the process, but when we’re playing the songs, I’m giving it all I got every time, and I want to play with people who do the same thing.
Though I’ve been listening to Couchville Sessions digitally, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the vinyl release. Is vinyl something that’s important to you as a music fan, or is it just part of the overall process when putting out a record?
I come from vinyl — well, from owning vinyl. I probably have 2,000 LPs at home. I have record players, and I still have every record I’ve ever had. I carry them wherever I move. I also know there was a time when vinyl wasn’t available to us for a while, and now it is. To me, depending on the record, it’s the perfect and preferred way to hear the music.
I understand there’s a sort of “modern times” that says there are some people who want vinyl and nothing else, and I’m cool with that. I really appreciate that it’s more available now, and we can actually get vinyl releases. Ten years ago, it had to be a special situation to even talk about making vinyl. I’m really glad to have vinyl as part of releases these days. The older-sounding music, to me, it’s a hand in the glove; it’s the perfect way to hear it.
My dad has always been a big fan of yours, and because of that, so have I — he did a good job of raising me! I love revisiting albums like Real Time, and I’ve really enjoyed Couchville Sessions, too. I’m excited for what the future holds … What’s on the horizon for you?
There is a ton of travel. It’s pretty solid from now until the end of September. After a year and a half off, there is a lot of “on” coming up for the next few months. Then I plan to unplug again and work on a new project and see what happens from there. To me, right now is the time to work hard for this record and then kind of retreat again. That’s that insider-outsider situation; that just seems to be what I do as opposed to the endless travel, the endless road, that has zero interest to me. That sounds like the exact way to kill yourself and be unhealthy, eternally. The road, to me, has to be put in a place that agrees with someone my age now, you know?
I like to spend more time at home, I cook more … we’ve moved to a farm, we’re growing food, we have goats and hogs for the first time; those things are very important to me. That’s the balance of the insider-outsider situation, to retreat back to things like that, work on another project, and then come back out again.
Listen to Darrell Scott’s “Waiting for the Clothes to Get Clean”