For 20 years, Scott Terry and the members of Red Wanting Blue (also known as RWB) have been writing and recording their music, touring the nation over, headlining concerts, and joining other impressive acts on numerous music festivals. I caught up with Scott after his performance at PromoWest Fest in July, and we openly and candidly talked about being a tourist, totems on stage, claiming your roots, ideals and musical news, while noting how cool it was that this particular festival just happened to be in RWB’s back yard:
Michelle: Hey Scott
Scott: Hey! How’s it goin’? Are you (still) in Columbus?
Michelle: No, I’m back in West Virginia.
Scott: What part?
Scott: Oh, I know Parkersburg. Yeah! I went to college at Ohio University. I grew up in New Jersey. So the drive…I’d go down to Baltimore and I’d Drive through Maryland until I got into West Virginia…when you got to Parkersburg you were always like, “Okay. That was the final leg of the drive.”
(We then got sidetracked and started comparing notes on where to buy the best heirloom tomatoes in WV and OH…and started talking about Amish country and produce auctions and such.)
I know I’ve driven through Canton, the Amish country area up there – that’s like, the Shawshank Redemption land. That’s where they filmed all those farms and stuff (for the movie).
Michelle: I grew up in Akron, and I didn’t know this. (**Edit: I must have known this, and it somehow slipped my mind…because I went to their website, and I absolutely know this).
Scott: You should know this (he’s getting excited now…I come to find out, one of Scott’s favorite things is taking the band on tourist excursions). Mansfield, Ohio…Mansfield State Prison is Shawshank. That’s where they filmed it. I remember years ago (it was all closed…but I think it’s open again for tours), at that time it was gated, but you could drive up to a certain part of it. And I remembered hearing they’d filmed it in Ohio (and I thought it was just the prison, though). And then I found out later that some of the shots they were trying to go for outside (when Morgan Freeman leaves and tries to get out, when they’re talking about the tree, with the rock wall…that whole thing is somewhere in Ohio, in Amish country). The tree was hit by lightning a coupla years ago, and had to be removed, but the rock wall is still there.
**So back on track (Note by Michelle: I’m loving this conversation, by the way), the band started in Athens, Ohio (where Scott went to college), and that was “super-incubator period”. And we decided we were really going to do this, and we moved to Columbus, and we were there, ever since. And I met my soon-to-be wife at that time (together for 16 years) and she’s from New York. So I’ve always been living in between New York and Ohio, going back and forth. So for a guy who travels back and forth that much…I was driving on some of these roads, way too much.
So I’m the guy that goes “if you’re going that way, you should stop off at exit 174, that’s a really good gas station, they have cool stuff there”.
This last trip, my guitar player (who grew up in Columbus)…he just got married to one of our very dear friends, and now (and she was part of our NYC crew), they now live in New Jersey. So it’s awesome for us, because I’m no longer the odd man out. Now Eric and I can share rides going back and forth. We were driving back on Interstate 80 in PA, and there’s some construction where the entire highway is shutting down. We caught wind of this, so we said “screw this, we’ll take the back roads and go this other way”…so there’s a town called “Jersey Shore”, Pennsylvania. We drove, Michelle…if there was a commercial for “Visit Pennsylvania/ Come experience Pennsylvania”, it was the route we just took around. It was SO beautiful. And all Amish Country-we passed so many Amish carts…it’s a little Northeast of the Penn State area. I knew there was Amish country in PA…but I felt like I went to the mecca. And now we know we need to take that route again/more often.
Michelle: So you’re still technically based in Columbus, though…
Scott: Yeah, we have a warehouse facility in Columbus, and that’s where our studio is. So we have a hub. RWB’s home base is Columbus, Ohio, and we probably always will be in Columbus, Ohio. Two of our members live (full time) in Columbus, and another lives in Youngstown, Ohio. And then (Mark and I live in) Hoboken and Brooklyn.
We have a management company out of New York that represents us, and our booking agency is out of New York, so it’s nice to be able to have lunch (with our team), when we’re in town, as opposed to being a client that they talk with every now and then. And you know, growing up in New Jersey, the New Jersey part of me has always loved New York.
Michelle: So what keeps calling you back? Why is your home
base in Columbus?
Scott: I think there’s some things that bands are in control of…and maybe I’m old fashioned… but a good band will be…wherever they started is where (I think) they should claim home. That’s where you were all drinking the same water. That was where it happened. I’ve felt that from people who’ve said “your band started in Athens”…but the way I look at that, the inception of the band (in 1996, in college)…we all made our records when we were there…but it wasn’t until we moved to Columbus, when we graduated, (was) when we said we really wanted to do this. At that point, we’d been playing in Columbus as much as we’d been playing in Athens…because at the time, we didn’t have enough (places to play) in Athens. So I think for me, we’re an Ohio band. Yeah, if someone wanted to call us on it, we could say we formed in Athens. But there were only two of us from OU, that went (moved) to Columbus. I always get bummed when I hear bands say they’re from Nashville, Tennessee. And I think “No way-you guys were from Michigan”…
But I think it’s cool to hail from somewhere that’s important. At the end of the day, the music industry is in 3 major cities: It’s in LA, it’s in New York and it’s in Nashville. And then there are smaller pockets like Seattle, Austin…but I think it’s cool that the Flaming Lips are from Oklahoma City. It makes it more interesting, and makes the whole industry more colorful. You’re teaching…that at the end of the day, music only comes from three cities. If you want to take it seriously, music only comes from these places, and I think that’s sh**ty. Music can come from anywhere.
You can go to Brooklyn and hear the most “granola bluegrass band” that you’ve ever heard. Usually places have a sound to them…when I say “New Jersey”, most people associate Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi from there…or Jersey Shore. And they have a mental image, where they think they know what people are listening to there, or the vibe they have. (You mention a town, and) It just kind of casts a veil over (what’s expected there).
We played Mountain Stage a while back. They run such a cool ship, I love that, so much. The day we were on, we’re such fans of Dr. Dog, those guys, we got to play with them. But then also on the bill was another band our management represents, called Spirit Family Reunion, based out of Brooklyn, New York. And if you watched them, you’d be like, “Those guys look like they belong with Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes”…they looked like cool pioneers, and they played with a bluegrass-y vibe…and I remember (Larry Groce) saying “it’s so funny, being in Appalachia, home of bluegrass and folk, and we’re reaching all the way to Brooklyn New York to have ‘our music’ brought back to us”…and here is a band that’s so good at what they’re doing, all the way out in New York. Which means if they’re out there, this music is reaching out and coming around. It’s not hokey, it’s making an impact. It’s relevant in the musical landscape…and (by) living here our entire lives, we take it for granted, a bit.
And you know, despite not being born wealthy, we have worked really hard, taking the long road to play music, because it’s the only thing we knew…and I’m not saying we deserved any accolades at all, because we we’re young, and we didn’t know what the f**k we were doing…but we always took all of our money and put it back in the community pot to get us to the next state (the next show)…we’ve always been passionate about seeing America, and really getting to know it.
I guess my mission statement for being in a band (from when we were kids) was: “We selfishly want to see the world through the eyes of being a rock and roll band”. And I also like songwriting and I love everything about music…but my biggest thing is having the power to relate to people. That’s what music is-it’s finding a way to relate to people…and I know we like to embrace the odd, the unique, “how unique you are”…but it doesn’t make you relatable. I’ve always been fond of the idea that like, I’m not a genius. My hope is that I can be normal enough that I can relate. I’m hoping that me at my sincerest, most relatable self, I might be able to write a song that will resonate with most everyone. That’s the greatest thing, ever. I feel like no one talks about that. I want to be average enough, normal enough, to write something that the average, normal person can say “I love that”.
My daughter, Parker, then entered the room and started a tiny conversation with me, and said “Hello” to Scott.
Scott: This is awesome! We don’t have any kids in our band, but that’s because kids can change the dynamic of how we tour, we’re just not ready for that, yet. But just like with everything else, everything comes in stages. There was a time where we thought it wouldn’t work to have members of the band living in different cities. And then you get to the point where you realize you can do that, finally. And now people are getting married, and I’m sure kids are on the way. But we’ve always fancied ourselves to be a very family (oriented) band…we like it (being in a band) as a lifestyle, as an occupation. And we’ve figured out you need to live like an athlete – you need to eat healthy, and you need to be in shape-for your art, and at the same time, first and foremost, that my mother and father have always taught was “family first.” I think it’s awesome that you’ve got your daughter hanging out with you. It makes me feel like you are more human…
Once again, our conversation slightly derailed (at least away from my interview questions), and we started talking about an upcoming art show I was prepping for…to which Scott mentioned to me that his brother, a talented visual artist who lives in Athens, Ohio, has made every single one of Red Wanting Blue’s album covers for them (for the last 20 years). How cool.
And then we started talking about all of the cool artists in Athens, and Parkersburg…how Scott’s brother went to school for printmaking, and I mentioned Just a Jar, who came here from Portland, OR.
Scott: I think people are starting to realize that there are great things happening all over the place…
And then we started talking about vacation…
Scott: It’s funny, one of the guys in our band, he’s definitely the outdoorsy guy. Of the guys in the band, I’m the one who’s probably the most like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Vacation where I want everyone to go to Wally World. And I want to say “Hey, have you ever been to…look at this guys, there’s a place called Prairie Dog Town, a Pioneer Village, Ooh!”. I Iike all the Americana, tourist, truck stop stuff. And Mark…he’s the one, when we’re traveling he’ll be like “Hey everybody, if you could lift your heads up from your phones for a minute, there is a state park that’s really gorgeous, that we’re gonna be driving by, about 3 hours from now. And if we have the time, do you think we could push back our load in (for the next show), from about 3pm to 4pm, and we could maybe stop there and have lunch there and just take a walk, so we can say that we’ve been to this great state park?” Mark does that stuff. And whenever there’s a chance to take a vacation, he usually goes on hikes with his wife. And he says “Usually, when you’re hiking in these places, you’re out of cell phone service.” It’s amazing, that feeling when you look and your phone has no cell service on the mountain, there’s that feeling of relief, when you’re off the grid. I think we all secretly love that feeling of being off the grid. I (also) like that feeling of reading a book. I like the paper of a cheaply printed paperback book… I’ll throw them (the books) in my bag…but I don’t get to read them as much as I want.
Michelle: Are you usually the driver?
But I have this book, Jen (Scott’s wife) and I are tackling Steven Hawking’s “The Brief History of Time”. So we’re having fun reading that out loud. I’ve had it in my road bag with Tom Robbins’ “Another Roadside Attraction”, and I keep reading the same seven pages, over and over again…
So for this article, Mike (RWB’s manager) said you wanted to interview me after the festival. Was that your plan for the article? Was it about the experience with the festival?
Michelle: I was indifferent (as to wether we spoke before or after the fest), but I really like the way this worked out. I’m a big fan of things working out the way they’re supposed to work out. And I really enjoyed being able to see you perform (live) before talking with you. I also wanted to see how the PromoWest experience was, compared to some of your other festival experiences.
Scott: The experience was great. It was awesome to feel like I belong on the same bill as some of these other bands we know. And I think it was the best of the Ohio festivals we’ve played, it was just awesome. Just to know the lineup for the weekend, it’s pretty awesome. A lot of cities can’t pull some of that (off). It was definitely a vote of confidence to the city of Columbus. Over the years, and I’ve traveled around the country, saying “We’re from Columbus, Ohio”… and people know it as the capital of Ohio…over the years, Cleveland and Cincinnati have gotten more attention than Columbus. People don’t (always) know what to make of Columbus. But then they go there, and say “Oh my gosh, it’s like a really cool town”. We could have gone to Cleveland, to Cincinnati, but we chose Columbus because it felt like it was on the up-and-up. It felt very young-like its greatest story was yet to be written, and I really liked that. And it’s something we started to see, after traveling around the country over the last 15 years. When I was in college, I remember thinking “what the hell is in Columbus?”…but then again, I didn’t know sh**. At the same time Cleveland just had it’s first festival. There were three stages, some great acts, and a nice run for a first year festival.
Michelle: So when we’re talking about the live performances, I noticed a lot of little statues on the stage…
Scott: Oh yeah, they’re like our little totems. The shorter version of this story: When we first started, we were running around the country, and visiting all of these places, and we were looking for things, like a nicknack that says you went to Oklahoma City, or something. You know, we were young, and it’s not like (some of) these places had a tourist site, it could be any small town. So we were thrift store (shopping). Someone would find a Fireman’s Ball t-shirt, or we got this lamp that was really cool, or a statue from Carney, Nebraska, you know? Just these little things, and we started collecting them. And for a while, we kind of had a “Grandma’s Attic” look to our stage, which was fun, because everything we gathered was from the road. And then we ran with that kind of look for years. And with this next record, our look shifted a bit. So our stage looked like a campground. We travel the country, and live out of a vehicle, and by pretty much all standards, we urban campers. I love the old days of our Cub Scout stuff, and we talk about what we did as kids before women got into our lives, and we became adults…the stage started carrying (things like) Smokey the Bear. Eric always has Smokey the Bear on his stuff. Mark has Woodsy owl stuff on his, and the garden gnome that carries the RWB (letters on it)…it’s crazy because we’ve got a big deer…and if you came to a full show-this was an abbreviated show where we can’t really “bring” anything. But if you saw a full show…it basically looks like we robbed a children’s theatre. We have trees, and a little teepee that sits on stage, and I have a little campfire with a rolling fire. I love that stuff. I also think on a simple level, it calms me on stage. When you’re going to a festival, or wherever you’re going (to perform) there’s a different energy to a room, and the audience, and a lot of that, you are not in control of. So you sort of become a victim of whatever that energy is. So to me, if you can steer people, that energy, by what people see before a show. You can steer that energy by how you have someone control the lighting. You can take away the ability to use strobes and laser lights on people, and you use smooth, warm colors and moving lights, and you find people to be less frenetic, less chaotic. And you see this childhood stuff. I think you become instantly nostalgic…and I think there’s a certain lightheartedness that I find can be disarming. It’s not like “Hey! We’re a big, serious band, and check us out!”…there’s a lot of affectation and pomp in our line of work…so I try and diffuse that, and go away from that direction. And I don’t think the fans we’ve made over the years, look to us for that.
Our totems make us smile, they make us happy, and they’re something familiar, in a very unfamiliar place, when the energy can go in any direction. When you can curate the experience for your audience…why wouldn’t you? You want them to walk away with a feeling. Music is only a part of it, you’re still watching someone.
Scott: No, it’s fine. When actually getting back to PromoWest Fest, I think my only regret is that I wish we could have played for longer. And that was the one cross we had to bear with something that was so jam-packed with great stuff. What I was more shocked by was not the short (time) set. But there were so many headlining acts on this festival, I couldn’t believe they were able to get Ryan Adams to only play for an hour. I’m really excited for the future of that festival. I hope that in future years, we’ll continue to get to be a part of it in some way.
Michelle: I ran into several people that day (the day RWB performed) who said RWB was their Headliner, for the day. They joked that they could have left after RWB played, but then with such a great lineup, they decided not to leave.
Scott: It was certainly one of the highlight festivals of the summer, for me.
Michelle: And last but not least, music news. You have some festivals coming up…Any other shows, gigs, music coming up I can tell people about?
Scott: The big things are, we’re recording this August, our next record, which will be out later in the year/early 2017, and we’re really looking forward to it. It’s gonna be the biggest and best one we’ve done, yet. We’re recording it out of Nashville. And the band will be celebrating their 20th anniversary this fall. So there will be some select dates we’ll be touring for our anniversary show (also, early next year), which should be fun.
Michelle: And where can we find the tour information?
Scott: All the tour info would be on Facebook, the website, yep.
Michelle: I can’t wait to see the “whole experience,” too.
Scott: Yeah, I’m excited for you to see it.