photo by Russell Covini
Since the release of The Clean's first single "Tally Ho" in 1981, Robert Scott has been a stalwart of the Flying Nun label. Releasing records with The Clean, The Bats, The Magick Heads, Electric Blood and now a solo album, Scott seems to have found an easy chemistry with his bands and music.
Robert Scott interview by Mark Williams
Characterized by his unique voice and deceptively simple melodies, Scott's most prolific project The Bats are about to celebrate almost 20 years together with a Greatest Hits album and tour, while The Clean have recently reconvened to make their now regular 3 yearly record.
The Creeping Unknown is the title of his solo album, a large part of which is built around moody instrumentals using studio toys. Faced with having to tour to promote The Creeping Unknown, Scott realized he couldn't reproduce as lot of the record live, so he wrote some more songs, put a band together and pushed the records release that way. As Scott tells it himself, it's a pretty simple process ...
PSF: The early process of songwriting with the Bats - you sent a lot of cassettes between cities? (Dunedin and Christchurch)
We started at the end of '82. I was living in Christchurch Ďtil mid '84 so we were writing stuff together then. I'd come up with chord patterns and a melody and we'd arrange them with the band in the practice room. When (I) moved back to Dunedin... I 'd come up with idea's and half finished songs and send them up to the others. They'd work out parts and next time we were playing we'd work them out more.
PSF: Was that conducive to a longer band relationship?
I think thats why the band has survived as long as it has. We have a lot of time off. I know bands that work really hard together all the time (and) end up not surviving.
PSF: How do you approach writing your lyrics?
Usually I've got the chords and the melody and I fit the lyrics around the music. I donít usually start with a lyric. Although the melody will start with a lyric. That' ll usually be the main idea for a song. If its not going to be recorded for a while then I'll just sit on a whole lot of lyrics and choose a final set closer to recording time. I find it pretty easy to write lyrics, I've never found it hard. Later on down the line you find out if they've stood the test of time, if critics like them, if friends like them ...
PSF: What do you think are the best set you've ever written?
I couldn't say ... no idea. I think it all works. From time to time something will pop into your head when you're singing that (makes) you think 'thatís a good line.'
PSF: With The Creeping Unknown you've got a lot of vignettes on it - was it a process of time, of experimentation?
Experimentation. I wanted to charge into this studio that had a lot of toys in it, produce a lot of sound and see which of it worked. I recorded 2 or 3 times as much as what's on there. Any new toy or sound makes it easier to come up with new ideas. Whenever I play a new instrument I always come up with stuff straight away.
PSF: There's a folky influence running through the music and through the artwork as well with the Bats.
Yeah. I've been painting for quite a long time. I painted some of the covers on the Bats albums. The rest of the Bats have quite a big input as well. (The new record) is pictures from old science magazines. The cover is a pollen grain ... the back is pollen spores, inside is test tubes ... I found them all in one go in one magazine. I thought there's my album art - done!
PSF: Your voice has got more refined over time, early on it was kind of like early Neil Young.
I like him. Early on I found it difficult to sing consistently in tune and find my pitch. I find it a lot easier now. That's just something that comes with time. I've enjoyed singing a lot more over the last few years than early on, for sure.
PSF: You're back working with The Clean which seems to be something that happens easily for you guys, what sort of working process do you go through now to write songs?
We get in the rehearsal room, someone will have an idea, we'll go from there. We'll try and have it half written within the hour so we've got something to come back to and finish off properly for recording. This time we had a couple of weeks in the rehearsal rooms writing then we started recording.
PSF: Has it changed much from the early days?
Not the way we work. Probably the only different is I'm playing a bit of guitar on this new Clean stuff.
PSF: The early Bats records sound quite lo-fi even though they were done at Nightshift Studio. You ended up in America working with Lou Giordano, how did you find working with a producer?
It was really good. Through all the albums we stepped up a notch each time. The first one was 8-track, then 16. We did Law of Things with Brent from Bailter Space, that was a really good sound. Fear of God, an American guy came over, he was quite hard to work with and the studio broke down and we had to come down and finish it in Wellington. Silverbeet was 24 track in America, he was very in tune with what we were doing so it was a good natural process. For the last one we came back to Nightshift to spend less money and basically did it ourselves because we know the studio really well.
PSF: Have the producers tampered with songs much?
The first American guy tampered with them quite a bit and he also finished it in America because we couldn't get over to finish it money wise. He put some funny overdubs on it which was pretty bad form ... he tampered quite a bit.
PSF: The Bats are back together to (tour) the greatest hits record, are there going to be more Bats records?
We will do another one at some stage. It's a case of finding the time. I'm going overseas for a solo tour in March. There's the Flying Nun 20th birthday next year. I'll be playing at that with the Bats and possibly the Clean as well. This year's booked up.
PSF: Are you still with Flying Nun?
The Bats are. The Clean are inbetween labels. We've got a US release for the Clean album we're working on now (with) Merge.
PSF: KJFC, a San francisco radio station went down to Dunedin for the Otago festival of the arts (featuring many classic Dunedin bands reuniting) while there was very little (interest) happening at home.
It's always been like that, that there's more interest shown by people elsewhere. It's hard to make things happen in New Zealand. Getting radio airplay or getting on TV has been difficult. It's a case of hanging in there, make a bit of money off it or find some money to get overseas every now and then to keep your profile up.
PSF: So you imagine selling records overseas rather than in New Zealand? Do you even think about the concept of selling records?
You donít really think about it. You just make the CD as best you can and leave it up to the people selling it. There's bits you can do like promotional stuff, touring, but apart from that ... if it gets played it gets played, that'll help sales, otherwise there's not much you can do.
See some of Robert Scott's favorite music
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