Interview with Joseph Scott
Contributing Writer : Garret K. Woodward
It was during a rainstorm, when I first met Joseph Scott.
Plump, bone-chilling raindrops fell from the infamous western skies of Wyoming. The mystical Grand Teton Range hovered over Jackson Hole. A misty cloud cover surrounded the peaks like a halo from the heavens above. It was a crisp evening as I found myself at the weekly hootenanny at Dornan’s, a wine bistro north of the town, far from the neon lights and expensive endeavors of the summer rodeo/winter ski destination.
As streams of water collected and trickled off the outdoor pavilion, legendary skier Bill Briggs (the first to ski down the 13,370 foot Grand Teton decades earlier, now an elderly man) hosted and introduced any who signed up to perform. Locals, faraway tourists and seasonal transients sauntered onstage, collaborated and echoed off nearby ancient rock. Passing through town between gigs as a member of psychedelic rock troubadours Cotton Jones, Joseph Scott was the next name called up.
It was his quivering voice and honest lyrics, which perked my attention. With an “aw, shucks” stage presence and raw melodic aptitude, Scott, backed up by the Jones’ vocal duo of Michael Nau and Whitney McGraw, shared secrets, triumphs and insecurities through his spontaneous vagabond ensemble that is White Pines.
I was immediately awestruck by the power and simplicity he was able to distill from his own personal experiences. It is a tone of chaotic beauty, one, with the right kind of ear, can truly appreciate in this all together sterile world.
Garret K. Woodward: What is White Pines?
Joseph Scott: White Pines, as a name, is a reference to the White Pines Mine, a copper mine in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the early 1900s. I love that I’m from Michigan and I thought that would be a way to tie myself into the history of my home state.
GKW: What do you love about Michigan?
JS: It’s where I grew up. Even though I’ve been living elsewhere for a while, I’ll always consider Michigan my home. That’s really about it. No matter where I am, it is always my home, which means I love it unconditionally.
GKW: What do you think about its music scene? What do you love about it?
JS: The music scene is amazing. Southeastern Michigan, Detroit, Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are home to, in my opinion, some of the most talented musicians on the planet. Artists like Matt Jones, Chris Bathgate, Frontier Ruckus, Misty Lynn, Jim Roll, and many, many more are what make it so great. I started playing in that area about six years ago and being surrounded by so much talent has really pushed me to write better songs.
GKW: How would you describe the sound? Who are the influences?
JS: I try not to describe the sound too much, because it’s there in the recordings and live performances already, so I try to let the sound describe itself. If I had to pick some influences, they’d be mostly within my circle of friends. Guys like Mike Nau, Chris Bathgate, Matt Jones, Fred Thomas, David Martin, and Frontier Ruckus. These are the people closest to me, and I think they affect my songwriting more than listening to records by people I’ve never met.
GKW: What does improvisational music mean to you? How does it affect your approach to the band?
JS: I’ve never really thought about it much, truthfully. I guess that every time I play live it’s a form of improvisation. Songs are never quite the same twice, and I’m glad for it. Especially when I play solo. I’m free to embellish parts and discard others, depending on how I’m feeling right at the moment. I feel like everything is improvisational. Even if it’s planned out ahead of time, the sound always takes on an identity of its own, unique to that moment in time.
GKW: How did the group come about? When? Where? Why?
JS: White Pines started as a side project. I was originally in a band called Canada, which went on hiatus last year. Once that happened, I started recording some songs I’d been saving, which turned into the EP. Now it’s my full-time thing.
GKW: What are you thoughts on the current music industry? How do you want to be different, or contribute to the evolution?
JS: I think the music industry is in a period of extreme and rapid change. The digital recording revolution has forced things to get a lot smaller. It’s more about kids recording in their bedrooms now, but they’re using the same equipment that only used to be available in expensive studios. I feel like this is a great thing for someone like me, because it means that I can operate outside of the larger music industry, but still have an audience. The money is less than what it would have been 10 years ago, but the inherent freedom is worth the financial woes.
GKW: How receptive have audiences been to your creation onstage?
JS: I’ve really been blown away by how supportive most audiences are. Especially when I play solo, it can be hard to expect people to sit and listen to just one guy and a guitar, but audiences have really been great so far.
GKW: What do you like or dislike about being the road? What’s your dream venue to play?
JS: I love touring. I used to get stressed about it when I first started, but in recent years it has become like a release for me. It was, and still is, hard to be away from my home, and my girlfriend, and our dogs, but it really is worth it to have the experiences I’ve had. Being bombarded with a new scene every second used to really freak me out, and I’d get mild panic attacks about it, but I’ve grown to love the hectic nature of touring. I tend to go through withdrawals now when I’m stationary for too long. I actually played my dream venue this summer, not as White Pines, but as a member of Cotton Jones. We played at Red Rocks, in Morrison, Colorado [Monolith Festival]. It was probably the most beautiful venue I’d ever seen.
GKW: What do you want the listener to ultimately witness or walk away with when they see you perform?
JS: Hopefully they feel like they just made a new friend. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it’s the truth. I tend to talk a lot and tell stories between songs, and my songs are really autobiographical to begin with, so I would hope that people come away with a sense of who I am. I’ve had strangers come up to me after shows, give me a hug, and immediately jump into a conversation like we were old friends, which is really what I want. I want people to feel comfortable when they watch me. I want it to be conversational.
GKW: What’s on the horizon? One year from now?
JS: Currently, Jumberlack Media is putting out a White Pines 7″, and I’m recording the LP, which should be out by June. I’m also doing three weeks with Strand of Oaks in February and working on a solo tour for 2 weeks or so in April. Keeping busy.
GKW: Thoughts on your next performance?
JS: I tend to think of tours as performances, so I’m thinking a lot about the next tour. Lots of good shows in there, and I get to spend time with my friend Tim Showalter, who is in Strand of Oaks, so I’m really excited for it. I’ve been playing with more and more effects when I perform, so I’m excited about taking that a step further as well.