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On The Table Read Magazine, “the best creativity magazine in the UK“, musician Scott Fisher shares the creative process behind his new single, Once In A While, and what inspires him.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Scott Fisher about his life an career, what inspires him when he’s writing music, and the creative process that went into his new single, Once In A While.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Scott. I write songs, produce and mix records and generally enjoy playing a ton of music.
When did you first WANT to write songs?
I started playing music very young as my mother forced me to play classical piano. To be honest it was not something that I enjoyed for many years. I basically thought of it as more school work. My mother is French and a bit of a strict academic, so quitting the piano was not an option for me as a child.
When I was about 10 or so, I started trying to play pop songs that I heard on the radio and improvise some simple blues pentatonic stuff. That’s when I first had a spark and I started to really enjoy playing the piano on my own terms. It was around then that I started to make up some of my own melodies and songs. I wouldn’t say they were songs in the traditional sense but more linear melodic ideas.
Every spring there were the Guild piano auditions/competitions when students would play and be judged and evaluated. It was all very stuffy and strict. I certainly remember it being stressful and pressure packed which is an odd context for music. We had prepared pieces from the masters, Mozart, Chopin etc.. but I remember one year in my early teens there was an option to play an original piece. I played an original piano composition for my Guild recital that year along with my other prepared pieces. I could not remember the song or melody for the life of me today, but I do recall getting quite a bit of encouragement and positive feedback from the judges. I guess that was my first experience with creating something original for people to hear.
When did you take a step to start writing songs?
Once I hit late middle school and high school I played in bands and wrote and sang. We played cover songs and originals as well. My friends and I certainly wrote a lot of songs then, none of them very good, but it was the beginning of my songwriting in the rock/pop context. There are certainly some incriminating recordings from those days where my voice had still not changed and I sound a little like a froggy chipmunk.
What was your first song released, and what was it about?
The fist “real” song I wrote and released under my own name that got a little traction was called “couldn’t find the words.” It was a little love song about my first serious girlfriend I think. Fairly banal stuff.
It was used for an Abercrombie and Fitch commercial around 2005 or 2006 and that was the fist real money I ever made making music. I was a jazz fusion musician and a Deadhead. Why would I release a dance song that sounded like bad David Grey meets Enrique Iglesies ??? Who knows? Certainly me not having a strong sense of artistic self was the main culprit along with some bad advice.
I got some pretty bad press at the time in Portland (my home town) from the cool mags and weeklies like the Willamette Week, saying that it was pretty boy pop fluff. They weren’t wrong, but it certainly hurt my feelings in the sense that I could actually play and some of my other early songs from that era were ok and had some artistry to them. The song is up on iTunes still. I just accept it as part of my growth. Miles Davis had a quote that says “Man, sometimes It takes a long time to sound like yourself.” That’s certainly been the case for me. I think I’m finally starting to sound like myself.
What was your latest song released, and what was it about?
This new single “Once in a While” is an indie/rock leaning ditty which evokes themes of hope, learning from our own mistakes, overcoming odds and yearning for passion and sensuality, both on the artistic level and in life as a whole.
It’s a little crunchy around the edges with distorted synths and guitars popping in and out of the song.
The chordal influences lean a little towards the Beatles meets Motown structurally, but when I was writing and demoing the tune, I put a loop from a hip-hop library on the verse section as a placeholder. Funny enough that demo drum pattern stayed when we tracked it as a band. It took us a couple of takes to nail the herky-jerky back and forth that happens in the verse.
In the end it sounded fresh and interesting; so we kept it.
Focusing on your latest song. What were your biggest challenges with Once In A While?
Sometimes it really is difficult to write, record and mix a track to the final product. 2 steps forward and 3 steps back and then start anew.
This record was really unique for me in the sense there was a lot of down hill energy and flow state type energy.
The writing happened quickly and tracking it was really inspiring and a joy. We recorded the basic tracks live as a band which laid down a lovely foundation for us to build on subsequently. It didn’t hurt that Tim Lefebvre co-produced the record with me and he’s a monster musically and has wonderful taste and musical sensibilities
The most challenging part of the track was probably mixing it. I probably did 5 or 6 mixes for it and it was just about choosing what type of sound I wanted to put forward. Was it going to be hi-fi and clean or have a little extra grit and harmonic distortion around the edges? There are quit a few competing melodies and counterpoint rhythms, so mixing things in and out and deciding what to feature was probably the biggest challenge.
How many songs are you working on right now?
The new LP has 13 original tracks and that will come out in the early fall.
Of course I’ve been writing some new songs here and there but really I’m just banking new ideas and feels and I haven’t started digging in on my new songs as of late. It’s nice to come up for air after a record is completed and take a breath. I have a record that I’m producing for an Americana folk/rock artists at the moment so it’s been nice to work on other peoples songs and creations for a bit as a break. Sometimes I can get tired of hearing my own voice and I like to spend time collaborating and helping others via mixing and production. It’s also a great way to learn new tricks and skills production wise.
Do you keep to a theme with your music, or just go where the mood strikes?
I like to keep it open conceptually when writing initially, but funny enough there always seems to be a theme or unifying thread once a batch of songs are completed. Probably because I’m seeing the world from specific perspective during the writing process and that seems to come out with any group of songs written within a specific time period.
What is your favourite song you’ve recorded, and what do you love about it?
I think most artists think in terms of moving forward. If you don’t believe that your best work is your new material then you can be in trouble or maybe you’ve just peaked. I think my upcoming record is the best work I’ve ever done. Hands down.
That being said I was recently listening to a song I released in 2017 called “Who Will Save Us” that I co-wrote with grammy winner Jesus “Chuy” Flores. In terms of classic writing that builds with a nice bridge and a big chorus, it’s a pretty cool song. I like it because it’s straight forward in a classic way and it’s not like anything I would do today. I also like it because of the collaborative element and the timely lyric.
Do you find other people’s music inspires you? Who do you listen to most?
Absolutely. I’m always inspired by other musicians and artists.
I really do love so many styles of music.
Lately, there’s been a lot of Elliot Smith that I’ve been revisiting. He’s truly brilliant and heartbreaking. Being from Portland he was a big influence on me. Of course I love my Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk and jazz piano in general. Also lately I’ve been listening to a good amount of Kurt Vile who I like a lot. In terms of constant staples there’s always some JJ Cale, Jerry Garcia Band and Chopin’s nocturnes on my playlists.
Do you write your own music, or do you have musicians you work with?
I write my own music most often. The upcoming LP is all original new songs from me. I really do love collaborating more and more though and that’s certainly something I will be seeking out more moving forward. Co-writing and co-producing is something I’ve fallen in love with when the right people are involved. That creative interplay with other artists when there’s shared mutual respect is really priceless and helps me get out of my comfort zone.
Do you play any instruments?
Yep, I play piano and guitar primarily and I can dabble and fake it on the drums and bass if needed. Guitar and piano are my main instruments though.
Do you like performing live, or does it scare you? Where can people watch you?
I love performing live and yes, it can also be terrifying. The best music is when the artist is open and vulnerable and willing to take risks on stage. That’s not an easy thing to do and you really need to be in performance shape to do it at a high level. Certainly it’s much easier to be a sideman than to front a band with your own music and ideas being put forward. I’ve done both, but the later it more more pressure packed and terrifying, no doubt.
I’ll be playing some shows here in LA where I currently live in the fall when the record comes out. Perhaps we’ll tour a little bit more extensively as well. I do want to get back on the road a little. We’ll see how things come together.
Is your music available online, and where can people listen to it?
Yep, All the streaming platforms under my name Scott Fisher.
Are you able to make music full time, or do you have day job?
Yep, I’ve been blessed and lucky to have had many of my songs licensed or commissioned for television in the past which has allowed me to support myself. I also do a lot of mixing, editing and production for other projects and artists which helps pay the bills and it’s something I love to do as well.
Are your friends and family supportive of your music career?
Certainly my friends have been supportive. My family has been as well, although understandably they were initially concerned. I did get a “normal” degree in Political Science and Philosophy initially, just in case I needed to support myself in some way beyond music.
What’s something you never expected about being a songwriter? What have you learned that surprised you?
First off when I was younger I needed to accept the fact that it’s a lot of work and that sometimes it’s not about the muse and the passion. Also, when working and producing with other people I’ve really had to understand that my personal taste and sensibilities are not important. It’s about making a record that is best and authentic to the person I’ve been hired to help. I produced EP for a Broadway artist some years ago and looking back on it I realize that I was inserting my own taste and vision too much into the process. She didn’t want a hip indie record. She needed a singsongy musical theater type record. To be honest I’ve realized it’s best to work on projects that I’m passionate about and that need my particular skill set. When it comes to my own music and records I certainly want and need a strong artistic perspective for it to be good. Ideally those are the type of records I want to do moving forward.
Have you had any experiences that really stand out because of your songs?
Of coarse there are some fun experiences and opportunities that have arisen throughout the years from being a musician. Partying up at Marvin Gaye Jr’s house in Hollywood with some of the Berry Gordy clan was surreal and stands out. Marvin was married to Berry Gordy’s sister for a while and they had a compound up in the Hollywood hills where numerous of them lived. That’s some serious American cultural royalty. I just remember sitting around drinking and playing Marvin Gaye’s piano with everyone singing along and hanging out, too naive and drunk to put things in any real perspective. Thankfully.
I went to Sundance a few times and got to see some fun premieres and go to the cool parties because of my songs. I’ve never lived in that “cool” world, I’ve just had a chance to dip my toe into those places on occasion. I’m more of a music guy than an entertainment business guy, so for me playing with masterful musicians is one of the true perks of my work. Playing music with artistic people is my favorite thing.
Hearing a song of mine that I wrote, produced or mixed on the radio or a television show is certainly a satisfying feeling that never gets old.
Do you have any important events coming up we should know about?
Yes. I have several singles coming out this summer and my LP will be out in the fall. I’m certainly excited about all of the content and performances that will come along with the release.
What is the first piece of advice you would give to anyone inspired to write songs?
Don’t think. Write. Try the melodies and the lyrics and the weird chord progressions and try to find out who you sound like and if you have the talent and desire to get better. Of coarse hard work, technique and practice are foundational, but you should always try to return to a place of playfulness, passion and sensuality. To me those are the elements that make the feelings and evoke the emotions that make something have meaning and artistry.
If you’re going to try to be a professional musician or songwriter in this era you better love it like nothing else in your life. It has to be something you have to do. Not only does it make very little economic sense these days, let’s be honest, it’s a bit of a narcissistic leaning nihilistic career path. You better embrace the meaninglessness of life because do we really need another indie rock song, jazz exploration or CSI television composer ? Probably not. But at its best, in the right context, music can touch and move the soul and I guess that’s what I value and seek out.
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
I’m proud of my small victories here and there whatever they may be at a given time, but I’m certainly not in a position to be proud of my career. Maybe someday if I’m lucky.
I will say creating a record from nothing and bringing to to life is always a process I’m proud to be a part of. I’m proud of the work and my dedication to becoming a better piano player, guitarist, mixer and music producer. That’s a life long process that I’m whole heartedly committed to.
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