If one thing is for certain through the months of upheaval the live music and live entertainment industries have had to endure, it’s that in spite of the biggest blockage to in-person performance in recent memory, musicians everywhere picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and found ways to keep making music and connecting with others – public venues or not. One interesting matter-of-fact detail about where classical/bluegrass violin and mandolin duo Scroggins & Rose fit into the collective rise of change and adaptation is that Tristan Scroggins and Alisa Rose were already making music from a place of literal separation, well before the arrival of COVID-19 forced the world’s hand.
Scroggins and Rose live on opposite sides of the U.S. in Nashville and the San Francisco Bay Area respectively and so the pair’s work had already been cultivated through a distanced relationship and minimal time to either write or perform together for new listeners. The two made things work by way of recurring workshop-style live shows that happened every few months when Scroggins flew into Music City. The idea at first, seems immensely challenging and like a logistical nightmare. However, the up close and personal nature of not just the performances (done in small numbers in intimate settings) but also the very interconnected way in which any audiences present for these shows would proceed to have a direct hand in the band’s projects by way of personalized feedback, makes for an unarguably atypical and, for the audiences, enlightening way of creating.
Social distancing and lack of gatherings making the duo’s clever subsidy to their own separation take a hit, Scroggins and Rose dug deep to not only keep making music during quarantine but to find yet another way to evoke their beloved up-close and personal shows. The result is new album Curios,which is due for release on June 26, 2020.
Curios is fanciful and fascinating as a creative body of work. On the one hand, there’s an applaudable amount of thought put into each of the album’s tracks, as the duo put forth their best efforts to bring out sounds and stylization beyond what the straightforward face-value of their instruments would normally offer. The grace with which spaciousness and tonal poise is applied to both parts evokes the formality of Rose’s classical training and the technical adeptness and compositional complexity evokes Scroggins propensity for bluegrass energy.
Add to that a dimension of playful narratives that give some songs a personified characterization or a narrative embodied by the literal flow of a melody, and it’s impossible to turn away from the music. But the icing on the creativity cake with Curios is the Scroggins and Rose opted to include an expanded group of tracks under a special “Living Room Edition” release of the album, where not only does the bonus music get the chance to flourish in the expansive space of Nashville’s Downtown Presbyterian Church but the duo provides commentary on the added songs – a listening experience meant to mirror the conversational situation of the pair’s pre-COVID-19 shows. Overall it’s a delightful project that offers many facets of intrigue and fun.
Ahead of the album’s official arrival, both Alisa Rose and Tristan Scroggins shared even more insight surrounding their inspirations for songwriting, their favorite tracks on Curios, and just one (of likely many) things they hope will most affect listeners when they play the record.
Tristan Scroggins: “A lot of my inspiration for rhythms, textures, and harmonic structures comes from secondary sources that I absorbed by being around them. I worked on the theatre tech crew in high school and absorbed a lot of stuff from show tunes, as well as from the music in the video games I played back then. When I revisit my favorite albums from that time in my life, I find they have subconsciously made their way into tunes. Just as often, I’ll hear something that made its way into my brain and came out later as a tune from those video games or musicals.
Tristan: [With regard to individual songs,] I really enjoyed recording “Maren’s Lullaby.” We wrote it in Alisa’s apartment and mostly did our test performances of it in people’s living rooms, which tend to be really dry, so it was satisfying to play it in an echo-y room that it was written to be played in. We recorded in the Nashville Downtown Presbyterian Church, and we really got to play with the reverb in the room. It was striking how differently I played in responding to both Alisa and the room. It made our duo into almost a trio.
Alisa Rose:Some years ago, my upstairs neighbor and I used to have drinks and compare notes on OkCupid dates. One such time, he told me of an exciting and promising first date at the Golden Gate Bridge, where they took selfies with other people taking selfies in the background, #stolenmoments. This tune, #stolenmoments, was written for their wedding processional. My friend is more of a pop music fan, so I studied and played along with some “popular wedding songs” on YouTube before writing this melody.
Alisa: Playing in a beautiful sounding room is freeing. It helps me hear the sound not just next to my head where the violin sits, but also out in the space of the room where the sound is transformed. I think recording in the beautiful acoustics in the Nashville Downtown Presbyterian Church particularly helped how “Calabacitas” turned out. The spacious church resonance seemed to inspire more ethereal and smoky improvisations and give the noble theme more grandeur.
[As far as production and sound style is concerned,] our aim when recording Curios was to capture the reverberant sound of a large concert hall while keeping the cozy intimate feeling of a house concert. To do this, we worked with amazing sound magicians, producer Wes Corbett and engineer Dave Sinko, and we recorded in the warm resonant sounding Downtown Presbyterian Church in Nashville. I hope listeners find the sound quality itself compelling and that the production helps them feel the emotional impact of our tunes.
Photo: Lenny Gonzalez