Traveling Troubadour Discusses His Humble Roots, And The Road To Where He’s Come Today.
June 26th, 2018 – Indie Dan
The first chance I got to see the travelling troubadour Scott Cook was at The Sunset Theatre, up at Arts Wells Festival of All Things Art 2017. I can still picture the show now. Many of my friends were still merrymaking in the campground outside the festival grounds, but I had headed to the Sunset to catch Scott’s set on a tip from my pal Nils Loewen. I ventured into the theatre alone, grabbed myself a beer and took a second row seat.
Scott is a pretty big guy with a wide smile and an extremely friendly state of being. He and his band The Second Chances took the stage and instantly had the audience in the palms of their hands.
I was astounded at the amount Scott has traveled, and how his stories so easily rolled off his tongue. He’s a born storyteller, and the material and themes in his music are incredibly relatable.
He’s been a long time favourite of Arts Wells Festival of All Things Art, and for good reason. I got to chat with Scott Cook last week while I was in Whitehorse and he was on his way to North Country Fair. We talked about his humble roots, intimate performances, travel, and his upcoming performance at Benvoulin Heritage Church on Friday at 7pm.
“I think there’s something to be said for an honesty box, and that sort of thing. [Laughs] People voluntarily want to support you, […] they often give you money and it’s nice to be able to give them something nice that they can take home and remember.”
Indie Dan: Thanks for having a chat with me Scott! I caught ya on the road… Where are you headed right now?
Scott Cook: I’m driving up to the North Country Fair. I just switched over with Buddy here, so I’m just chattin’.
ID: North Country Fair, that’s Northern Alberta, correct?
SC: Yeah, Driftpile, Alberta. This will be the 40th North Country Fair. It’s about my 21st or 22nd, somewhere in there. It’s my home festival.
ID: Have you always performed there?
SC: No, I didn’t perform there for many years. I’ve performed there every year since 2005, and I guess we played it in 2003 as well. Several times, but I wasn’t a folk-singer or anything when I started going to the fair. It was kind of when I started taking myself seriously, and making press kits and you know, putting together a little CD to try and represent myself professionally, at that time that was kind of as high as what I set my sights. I thought “If I could just play the North Country Fair someday, then I’ve made it.”
ID: Right on. So you’ve come from those roots, and this is your full-time gig now – travelling, and performing.
SC: Yeah. I was a kindergarten teacher in Taiwan before this, and moved from there to putting a mattress in the back of my van, just moved into the van and I’ve been doing this for 11 years now.
ID: And you’ve got a bit of American blood in you as well. Does that allow you to tour down South a bit too?
SC: Yeah, I was born in the states. I was born in a town in West Virginia, but all my family’s in Michigan. Having that citizenship is super helpful. These last few years I’ve been spending winters in Australia, but before that I would just go South where I could still live in the van. Down in Texas and California, places like that. I mean, you could only tour back and forth across Canada so many times before it starts to feel like a task y’know what I mean? [chuckles.]
ID: You’re tellin’ me! So this tour is on the road with The Second Chances, your accompanying band correct?
SC: Yeah, tour starts next Thursday! And that’ll be, [hums in thought] I guess about two – two-and-a-half weeks that we’ll do together out to BC and back. And then we’re around Alberta for most of the rest of the summer. We’re playing some big folk festivals here; we’ve got Calgary, Canmore and Edmonton, Bear Creek. So it didn’t leave a lot of room in the schedule to visit BC, but we try to do as much as we can every summer out there ‘cause it’s just great to spend summer out there.
ID: Definitely. The first (and last) time I saw you was Arts Wells Festival. Are you doing that one again this year?
SC: No, unfortunately. We’re playing Canmore Folk Fest that weekend. I love Arts Wells.
ID: It’s hard not to –
SC: It’s one of my favourite festivals in the world, but given the opportunity to play Canmore Folk Festival I kinda gotta take that one!
ID: Definitely… Do you still tour much in the winter, or do you slow down a bit?
SC: Yeah, I tour all the time! I’m on the road about ten or eleven months out of the year. Sometimes I just take a month or so in the developing world somewhere, to just travel and not play. But, I‘m touring all the time – so yeah, through this last winter I was five months in Australia, and a month in Taiwan.
ID: That sounds really nice. Could you give me your take on how the scene has changed from the past? I know you offer some pretty incredible packages when you sell your CDs with the booklets on the inside and everything… How have you been mitigating the changes we’ve witnessed in band merch, and retail music?
SC: Sure! For me, I haven’t noticed this downturn in CD sales. I know people are talking about it and I believe them, that it’s a real thing. But it hasn’t really affected me. One big part of that for me has just been trying to make something beautiful in itself that people want to own and take home and read and enjoy. So this latest album is 132 pages, I think I might have gone a bit overboard in that direction actually. [Laughs] But yeah, I feel like with the growing irrelevance of the physical medium, I still think people are gonna want something to hold in their hands, y’know? So yeah, for me I discovered a lot of music through my parents’ record collection and records that I found at garage sales. I read every bit of liner notes that there was. I was always interested in the story behind the medium, the story behind the music, and reading the words and all that. I feel like there’s a lot of that experience that was great, and is missing from the way we consume music today.
“I discovered a lot of music through my parents’ record collection and records that I found at garage sales. […] I was always interested in the story behind the medium, the story behind the music, and reading the words.”
– Scott Cook
ID: Definitely –
SC: Even the idea of an album as a set of songs that hang together, that was recorded in a time and a place and those songs are chosen for inclusion because they speak to some common subject matter, or they tell some common story and that there’s some kind of dramatic arc to the whole thing in the order in which [the songs] are put. I feel like all that is kind of lost when you put it in shuffle with everything else.
So yeah, as far as digital availability, I have a couple tunes available on Spotify and all those platforms. I have two single tracks for those platforms, just so there’s something in case a festival booker wants to build a playlist. But I don’t really participate in that model. I don’t think streaming is, you know, the way forward for the music business. I do have downloads on Bandcamp and CD Baby, they give us a better deal. For the most part I’ve always operated under the assumption that if people want to steal the music, they can. I wouldn’t even call it stealing ‘cause it’s not like if they take it I don’t have a copy. But, y’know if people want to get the music for free they can. But I think there’s something to be said for an honesty box, and that sort of thing. [Laughs] People voluntarily want to support you, wanna see what you’re doing, they often give you money and it’s nice to be able to give them something nice that they can take home, and remember it.
I feel like that’s still going to be a thing… That there’s still going to be a way that albums and recorded music are going to continue to remain relevant regardless of what happens.
ID: Speaking of albums, what album are you currently touring with right now?
Editor’s Note: The cell-service during this period of the conversation began to deteriorate, as Scott was in Northern Alberta and Indie Dan was in Whitehorse. The comments in the interview have been truncated during those periods.
SC: Further Down The Line is our newest, and in March of 2019 I’ll be in Australia and we’re gonna cut another record then. But I’m still not even finished doing all the writing for that, so yeah, and those songs probably won’t even come out until winter 2019 or something like that.
ID: So does that mean you’re a deadline-based musician? You set March 2019 as a date, and then you write toward that?
SC: [Chuckles Heartily.] Totally. Totally. And I think that was the way I was in school as well. I’m just a procrastinator by nature. [Laughs.] And uh, even with this last record Further Down The Line I was tweaking lyrics that weekend – the weekend we were recording. I found myself asking people in the band “Dude, should I say this, or this?” And we couldn’t change it because we’re all in the same room, and I’m singing live with the vocals bleeding into the mics of all the other instruments, so there’s no going back on that. We kinda had to make plans then and there, but it was right down to the wire.
ID: Definitely down to the wire. Are we gonna hear any of your new material on June 29th at Benvoulin Heritage Church?
SC: Yeah, we’ve been working on some string band stuff, some higher energy stuff. We’ll definitely be bringing some of that.
“I think some really profound things can happen in a house concert setting that would never happen in a bar.”
– Scott Cook
ID: Do you mind speaking a bit on house concerts, and listening-environment concerts? In Kelowna the scene is starting to warm up to these intimate concerts, but I think all in all most of the concert-goers in Kelowna are pretty new to the house-concert style performance. Could you speak toward why they’re so intimate, and why they’re so special?
SC: Sure, yeah. Just rewinding, I used to play in bars a lot – that was kind of my bread and butter when I got started. Those were the only kind of gigs I could get; bars and cafes. I would play a mix of originals and covers, but it began to feel more and more like I was wasting my time because people weren’t paying attention. And somebody eventually asked me to come play in their garage. When he proposed it to me he said “I know this is gonna sound weird…” y’know, but I said “No, this sounds awesome – these people are just there to see music? To listen?” I went and played that gig, and I sold more CDs than I had ever sold at a gig, and I just thought that this is the best. House concerts have been what’s kept me on the road actually, I think I probably would have quit if I had to keep playing in bars.
It’s just a weird feeling when you have so many people in the room with music going, but it’s not really what they’re there to do, y’know? And that’s fair enough, but I’m lucky enough that I don’t have to do that anymore. I’m really glad about that, because I think some really profound things can happen in a house concert kind of setting that would never happen in a bar. Because you have peoples’ full attention, and there’s no separation between the art and the audience. You aren’t up on a stage, there’s no lights, there’s no sound system – all those things tend to be walls that separate the performer from the audience and if you can have a more direct experience like that, it’s way more real and more things can happen.
When it feels like a conversation between me and the audience, I feel like I get more out of it and I know the audience does too.
Editor’s Note: It was about here where the conversation broke apart and was lost to the ether somewhere between Northern Alberta, and Southern Yukon Territory…
Scott Cook & The Second Chances will be performing at Benvoulin Heritage Church on Friday, June 29th at 7pm. Scott’s band consists of Melissa Walker on upright bass and vocals, as well as Bramwell Park on banjo, mandolin and vocals. Local singer-songwriter Nils Loewen will be sharing the stage.
This is a show you don’t want to miss! It will be a great opportunity to catch some meaningful and profound music from one of the most traveled musicians in our humble Canadian scene. Tickets are available at HeartInTheHouse.Ca, and is being co-produced by Heart In The House and Kelowna Arts Council.
Tickets are being presold at $25 each, or two for $40! They will be $30 at the door.