BYT Interviews: Jackson Scott
phil runco | Jul 29, 2013 | 1:00PM |

In most ways, Jackson Scott comes off like a run-of-the-mill 20 year old – the prototypical genial slacker-stoner.  This is not to suggest that he’s necessarily either of those things – though he very well may be – but projects an unshakably easygoing, carefree vibe in conversation, which coupled with a voice that’s a pinch nasally, a habit of emphasizing and stretching certain vowels at random, and the liberal usage of “whatever” and “and stuff”, makes him sound a little like he just wandered off the set of “Dazed and Confused”.

This attitude appears to be keeping Scott grounded as a lot swirls around him, though.  Five months ago, he was largely unknown outside of Asheville, North Carolina, where he enrolled in college, dropped out of college, and began recording slightly askew psych-pop on a 4-track.  Last week, heavy-hitting indie Fat Possum released Melbourne,  thirty minutes of that material stretched over twelve songs.  He’s recently toured with Deerhunter – whose lead singer, Bradford Cox, is often a point of comparison – and he’ll support Gauntlet Hair and Unknown Mortal Orchestra in the months to come.  The quick ascension – propelled largely by an early Pitchfork co-sign – has spurred some griping from certain enclaves of the Internet, but that isn’t getting Scott down.  “I can see where some people are coming from in that regard,” he told BYT last week.  “But, likewise, I don’t really give a shit.”

When I reach Scott, he’s “hanging out in Pennsylvania on a nice, sunny, bright day.”  He’s been back in the suburb of Pittsburgh where he grew up, having moved into his parent’s house after the expatriation of his Asheville abode’s lease a few months ago.  With the rest of the summer and fall booked with concerts across the U.S. and Europe, it doesn’t make sense to paying rent somewhere he won’t be resting his head.  Plus, his parents are currently living elsewhere, so he has the company of some buddies shacking up with him:  “It’s been a lot of fun.  We’re just kind of hanging out and playing music and hanging out with friends.”

Jackson Scott plays the Black Cat’s Backstage on Tuesday and Brooklyn’s Glasslands on Friday.

Jackson Scott Live

 How does it feel to have Melbourne out?

It’s been kind of a funny process, because, obviously, I initially released it [online] in February.  Random people would find it and talk about it,  but I ended up taking it down, because the ultimate goal was just to get it on vinyl. It feel fucking great to do that, for sure.  I’ve been obsessing over the concept of the album as a piece of art for a good while now.

What’s the appeal of a vinyl release?

I got into the idea a few years ago.  There’s something about vinyl.  It’s kind of the really true, classic form.  If you’re putting out music, you put it on vinyl, you put it on wax, and it’s like you’re really releasing a piece of music.  It’s not just throwing it up on iTunes.  As a physical object, it’s really cool to me.  I also just think that vinyl fits [Melbourne] itself.  People can listen to it however they want, for sure, but I think it does go good as one cohesive experience – you know, sitting down and listening to the whole thing.

Is that how you listen to music?

The funny thing is that I’ve spent pretty much my whole life downloading music for free and stuff, so that was part of the initial reasoning behind putting it up [for free online] as well.  It was like, “Alright, I’ve downloaded a ton of albums throughout the years, I might as well give one back to the world.”

I go both ways:  I like the abstract quality of mp3s and digital files, and how they exist forever in this eternal space, but I’ve also recently been getting into analog recording and analog equipment and all of that stuff, so having [Melbourne] released as something that you can actually hold in your hand and look at is a really cool idea to me.

How did you connect with Fat Possum?

I made the album and put it up, and then I started trying to get as many people as I could to listen to it.  I started to get kind of ruthless with it.  Then people started to talk about it.  Pitchfork wrote about it.  Some other people wrote about it.  It just kind of started to take off. Then a bunch of labels pretty much started talking to me, which I found kind of funny, because if I were to have sent it unsolicited to any labels, it’s pretty questionable that they would have been interested.  Obviously, people are more prone to wanting to put something out if people already know about it and are talking about it or whatever.  Either way, I picked Fat Possum because I thought that they were really cool guys.  They seemed like they were all about the music.

Did it feel like it happened quickly?  Does it still feel that way?

Yeah, it definitely does, for sure.  Likewise, it’s kind of funny – I’ve been working on music stuff pretty seriously for a good while.  I’d say that when I got to college, I really snapped into the mentality of “I really want to try and put out some music.”  I made it something that I truly wanted to devote all my time to.  But I’d say that the scale to which everything has been happening is pretty crazy and awesome, for sure, because I just wanted to get the album out on vinyl – I didn’t really care if it was through a huge label or some random little label.  I just wanted it on vinyl in any form.  I definitely feel very grateful for the rather large amount of attention and all of the stuff that it’s been getting.

Have you picked up any backlash online to how quickly things have happened for you?

Yeah, I can sense that to a degree.  I don’t totally blame anybody – I can see where some people are coming from in that regard, but, likewise, I don’t really give a shit, because, like I said, I just wanted to start releasing music and putting it out on vinyl.  I had a feeling that maybe it could get to a certain level, but I didn’t really care what level – I just want to put out music in general.  People can take the album as they will.  It kind of surprises when random people are like, “I like this song” or “I like that song” or whatever – I never really know what to expect in so far people saying whether they like or don’t like it.  I don’t know – I just made [Melbourne] with the goal of making a metaphysical piece of art that is full of imperfections and flaws, in the same way that a human being is.  People can say what they want.  Hopefully some people can enjoy it.

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What was the recording process like?

It took about five months.  I had been working pretty intensely on album with this band in Ashville that I was in.  Different kinds of band tension and dumb whatever music stuff kept getting in the way, and I was – and still am – in kind of a hyperactive, obsessive music-making mode.  Stuff was taking too long with that band, and I was like, “Ok, I’m going to mess around with some music, just for fun.  I have a bunch of songs – I’ll just record them.”  I started messing around with the 4-track and recording stuff.  At a certain point, I was like, “I do like the sound of this recording set-up.”  Pretty quickly, I got devoted to it.

It’s funny for me, because whenever I finished it, I kinda knew that I had just finished a big project or whatever, but it didn’t feel like it didn’t quite strike me like, “Oh wow, I really did just finish an album and I’m gonna try to put it out.”  It was more like, “This is just another music thing.”

Where did you get the idea to manipulate your vocals?

When I first started recording, I was working on songs like “In the Sun” and “That Awful Sound”, and I was like, “I’m going to try to record this very straightforward – like, genuine.  I’m not going to try to do for a certain style.  I just want to record them straight.”  And I liked those.  And then I was talking a friend who was like, “I think I know of some bands who do four track stuff.  You ever mess around with the pitch effect?”  I thought, “Oh, wow, that’s right.  Maybe that could be cool.”  I ended up first doing it with “Sandy”, and I just really dug the sound.  I think it’s got a cool aura about it.  And it was just fun.  I was making the album and I thought, “I like these songs, but I want to throw something off in them a little more too.”

I saw an interview where you mentioned that you were nostalgic for band from 90s, and specifically mentioned Nirvana and the Pixies.  Given that both the Pixies had broken up and Kurt Cobain was dead before you were two years-old, how would you describe that nostalgia? 

It wasn’t necessarily the Pixies as much.  I mean, I definitely really love the Pixies, but I got into them probably when I was a teenager.  My mom was never really too up to date with the current music, but back in the day, she got the Nevermind cassette tape.  Some of my earliest, very vague music memories are just riding in the car with Nevermind on the stereo.  I didn’t even quite realize it until middle school, when I got into a heavy Nirvana phase.  When I first really started getting into the band, I remember listening to “Lithium” and feeling the most bizarre, odd, nostalgic feeling, relative to me probably hearing it when I was three or four and subconsciously taking it in.  It was really weird – I haven’t had a feeling like that in a while, but it was one of those kind of déjà vu things.  It was odd feeling this weird nostalgia a pretty raw, grungy band.

What do your parent think of the music that you’re making?

I think they dig it.  It’s not as if my parents are rocking Nirvana every day.  My mom was probably more into 60s music – like, she’d always be playing Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix and the Stones.  I’d say those band are pretty big for me too.  As a kid, I had a pretty haphazard collection of whatever CDs my brother would buy – Beastie Boys and Spice Girls and whatever in 90s – mixed with random rock songs from throughout the ages, like T-Rex’s “Bang a Gong” or Jimi Hendriz’s “Voodoo Child”.  It was when I was close to being a teenager that I began to develop my own taste, like getting into the Beatles in a serious way.

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You sound fairly invested in the physical manifestation of the record.  How involved were you with the design?

I pretty much did literally all of the artwork.  That was one thing that I was pretty adamant about when I signed the deal [with Fat Possum].  I just wanted complete creative control over pretty much everything, because I care about that more than bullshit fucking music industry label shit or whatever.  The artwork is all stuff that I did.  The designs are mostly drawings layered over tie-dyed t-shirts.  That’s actually what all of it is.

What’s the story behind the cover image?

It’s an old photo that I found while I was looking through some old family photo books.  It’s a really great photo.  It was originally black and white, but I put a filter on it.  The more that I look at it, the allegorical elements of it hit me pretty hard, but I’ll just leave that up to anyone who wants to  look at it.  They can interpret it for themselves.

You’ve said material for a second record is already in the works.  How far along are you? 

I have about five or six songs that I’ve been recording.  I’d say that only one of them is fully finished.  We’ll see how it goes.  I’m going to be touring for a while, so maybe I’ll come back and be like, “These songs are shit.  I don’t want to use them.”  I think for the most part, I like them.  It’s going get a little heavier and psychedelic.  I want it to be pretty dark too.

With the album release out of the way, is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to?

I’m excited for all the touring.  I’m definitely excited to get over to Europe, because I’ve wanted to go since I was kid, and I’ve never been outside of America before.  I’m definitely excited to play festivals, because those are always fun.  I’d say, in general, that I’m excited to meet new people and play some music and hang out.

Jackson Scott singer