Psychobilly blues Americana metal and country artist Scott H. Biram (yes, he’s all of those things) is back with Nothin’ But Blood, his impressive new album on Bloodshot Records. We asked Biram about his disdain for the term “singer-songwriter,” his approach to writing songs and more.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
At risk of me sounding like a singer-songwriter, I will tell you! Just want to be sure everyone reading this knows that just because of my answers, that I’m not really a singer-songwriter guy on a stool in the spotlight type. I’m a one man band with alot of different sides to me and alot of pretty intense sounds and quite a bit of grit! Songs with balls. Well to answer your question, I think Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan, Willie Dixon, Neil Young, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, George Jones are a good start. Like I said, I don’t really sound like these guys. I just think they’re great songwriters. I could go into some other names dealing more in metal and rock but if you want a songwriter’ songwriter kind of answer. . . them’s it! There are more. . . that’s just off the top of my head.
How would you describe Nothin’ But Blood?
Highly anticipated. Heh! I finished it in July 2013 and here we are about to put it out in Feb 2014! I’ve been wondering what people would think all these months. The doubts and excitement come and go randomly in my brain. I think this record is another testament of what I’ve been playing on stage lately. Every record I do is just that… a record; a record of what I’ve gotten myself into lately. This one, like the ones before, is a blend of blues, rock, country, metal, hard rock, and folk. It’s a little of everything. This one has quite a bit of gospel on it. Not so much Jesus freak gospel, but rejoiceful, “let’s get on down and lift your dirty spirit up” gospel.
How would you compare it to your last album?
More of the same. Heh. Like I said it’s a similar vibe to previous albums. I don’ t think that’s a bad thing. I cover so much of the spectrum of genres that it’s going to hit a different mark on everybody that listens. I’m just truckin’ along, writing and playing and recording songs. I don’t really put much thought into what all of this means really… except when I’m doing these interviews.
Do you have any tricks you like to use in the studio? Lots of reverb? Candles?
There would surely be a fire if I lit candles in my studio. Its a cluttered mess of amps and electronics and scribbles on paper.
I try all kinds of things. All kinds of different microphones and amps and mic placements. I have a hard time keeping anything really clean sounding. I think it’s because of all the old blues I’ve listened to over the years. Those old recordings are what sound right to me.
Every band is influenced by artists from the past. Are you being influenced by new musicians as well?
Hard to say. I don’t think I really pick apart new music as much as I’ve picked apart old music from the past. Honestly, I don’t listen to that much new music. The newest music I listen to is either the stuff on the radio when we’re driving (which I could give or take most of the time.) and the bands that we take on tour with us. It’s them that probably affect me the most because I’m seeing it live every night for a month at a time. Also, I don’t think a lot of people realize that just because I come across as an old time influenced musician, that I’m actually inspired by alot of music from when I was growing up in the ’80s.
And just because I’m influenced by that ’80s stuff doesn’t mean that it makes me sound like the 80s. It’s just song structures and certain little phrases that nobody paid attention to back then that got stuck in my subconscious. I may be singing a song that sounds like 1936 blues but it may have been inspired by Huey Lewis or Steely Dan or Slayer and The Butthole Surfers. Who knows? I sure as hell don’t!
How often do you play for fun, just for yourself? What sort of stuff do you play when you do?
I play a lot on the front porch swing. I play a lot walking around the house making up funny words about my friends as I go along. Nothing serious.
I try to remember songs that are slipping out of my memory and wrangle them before they slip away completely. I always go back to my old Doc Watson stuff and anything that comes to mind really. I do alot of experimental guitar playing so maybe I’ll stumble across a new guitar technique. Every once in awhile I discover something on my guitar that is so easy and was right in front of me all along. It’s exciting when that happens. It means I can put some new style into some songs. It’s these little things that make whatever the next record is going to be, have some new sounds.
How did you learn how to play guitar?
I haven’t done that yet!
I’ve been playing guitar since I was about 6 or 7. I didn’t really get into it until I was about 14. I’ll be 40 in couple months so I guess you could say I’ve been playing for 26 years. I’m self taught. Never took any lessons or anything. It’s probably for the best. I’m still learning new things. Probably will be until my dying day.
When did you start writing songs?
I’ve been making up songs since I was probably 9. I feel like my songwriting has gotten better over the last few years. It comes easier now. Well, the PIECES come easier now. The whole, completed songs seem to be harder to write now. I’m too over critical. That’s what was so good about writing when I was a teen and in my twenties. I didn’t think about it as much. I just did it. “Lost Case of Being Found,” “Wreck My Car”…those came really quickly in the 90’s. The best songs come at 5 AM when I can’t sleep or I just had a crazy dream. The best are the ones that i write in 5 or 10 minutes in one quick jot down session. No re-thinking anything on those. They’re written…they’re done. Moving on…
What was the first song you ever wrote? Tell us about it.
Ha! I don’t know. I remember one from when I was like 14 called “Red World.” It was horrible. I was watching the news. I think it was an apocalyptic kind of song about the aftermath. Something about “Red world seems there’s no more fear. It looks like life had ended here.” ha! Horrible shit.
What’s the last song you wrote or started?
I wrote a song last week about a girl who slipped on the rocks by the river. I don’t want to tell you too much about what I’m working on… That’s for the next record.
How do you go about writing songs?
I have a lot of different processes. One is lay in bed in the middle of the night and hope I can remember it in the morning. One is get up in the middle of the night and write it down quickly without worrying about it too much. Another is to get up and record it on my phone real quick like. Either with a quick guitar part thrown together to carry the words or maybe just the words and the melody. Sometimes just the melody and hardly any words..just some humming in the phone so I don’t forget it. I make up stuff when I’m driving, in the shower, on the pot, in the kitchen, stoned, drunk, sober.. you name it.. I kinda improv stuff alot until I find something that I absolutely have to write down. I have files and files of half written songs and verses that I may or may not use someday. I also make up songs from pieces of joke songs my friends and I made up. I just tweak the words a little so they”re not so funny anymore. I really don’t like joke songs for anything but personal at home stuff. People who record funny songs get on my nerves. They’re usually not as funny as they think they are. Comedians with guitars are the worst.
What is your approach to writing lyrics?
I just do it. I honestly don’t sit and think.. “You know I should write a song about ___.” It doesn’t work like that for me. If I’m actually sitting down to write something, it just starts with random phrases and then I build the song from there. There’s more interesting content from my subconscious then there is in contrived, well thought out stuff. I would rather write it down quick and then tweak the words and lines after I get most of it down. Scrap a verse.. add a verse. . . add a bridge if it’s too boring.
What sort of things inspire you to write?
My childhood in the country and the times spent running around in the woods by the river are probably the most go-to thing in my brain.
Those memories in that small town are faded and blurry like my dreams. They seem very dreamlike and mysterious. Also actual dreams. I’ve got some bizarre dreams! The other inspiration is the road. Being on the road all the time does something to you. I have alot of loneliness and depression to describe. People seem to like that for some reason. I dunno.
What’s a song on your album you’re particularly proud of and why?
“When I Die” is one of the gospel bonus tracks on the record. It came to me in the middle of the night right around the same time my grandmother had passed away the year before. It was a very traditional sounding gospel song. I’m not super religious in a traditional sense so it was strange.
I feel like she gave me that song. I dedicated it to her when I put out the single about a month later.
What’s a lyric or verse from the album you’re a fan of?
I really like in “Slow & Easy” when I say “I hope you feel it in your heart when I tell ya ‘Baby, come back home…Awww baby, take me home.'”
The chord change right there and the lyrics are pretty powerful, I think.
Is it easier, or harder to write songs, the more you write?
Both. The more I write, the easier it is to come up with interesting phrases and cross rhymes etc. But it’s gotten harder over the years to finish the songs. My songs are getting longer and longer too. I’m not sure why.
Are there any words you love or hate?
I don’t hate any words really . . . only phrases. “Cool beans”.. I hate that one. Saying “vacay” instead of “vacation.” It’ a sign of the times. Laziness. “Okee dokie Doggie Daddy.” This one must die.
The most annoying thing about songwriting is . . .
Being labeled a singer/songwriter. I don’t consider myself one in the sense that most people use it. Yes, I sing. Yes, I write songs . . . I’m not a singer/songwriter. Also, it gets old hearing, “You should make a song out of that.” I don’t know. . . maybe I should. bleh.
What’s a song of yours that’s really touched people?
I get a lot of people telling me how much “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” has got them through some hard times. I get a lot of guys telling me that “Plow You Under” got them through their divorce. Heh.
Do you ever do any other kinds of writing?
I do all kinds of writing. I won’t even start to tell you the horrible gangster rap songs I want to record someday.
If you could co-write with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
It would be awesome to write with Townes but he would blow me out of the water. Maybe Guy Clark and I could come up with a good one. That would be awesome. I would have loved to collaborate with Willie Dixon.
Who do you consider an underrated songwriter?
Townes Van Zandt has gotten a lot of acclaim since he passed away but he should have got it when he was alive to appreciate it. I hate how people don’t get recognition until they die. I know Bruce Springsteen is famous with the mainstream crowd but I think because of that mainstream aspect and the overproduction of his musical delivery that alot of more underground, punk kind of people don’t give him a chance. I guess he’s done just fine with the mainstream though. Not sure why I’m throwing a millionaire a bone.
What do you consider to be the perfect song, and why?
I don’t consider any song perfect. A bird, a stream…insert flowery contrived lyrics here……