Little Orange Room Sessions is a one-take, one-shot, “living-room”-style performance video series recorded in Eugene, Oregon. Each two-song session is recorded in the 125 square feet that I use for mixing, producing, and sometimes even recording entire albums. Little Orange Room Sessions grew out of my crazy love of music and mixing, a growing curiosity about film and cameras, and a deep-seated passion for performance and the art of song.
Session #12: Scott Austin
Scott Austin is a Eugene, Oregon based pop, Americana and soul singer/songwriter and crooner. His Little Orange Room Session features a soon to be released single, “Try Some Love” and “Torture Town” from his 2013 album Complicated Heart. Scott recently took the time to answer a few questions via email.
LORS: What is more fun for you…writing, performing, or recording?
SA: I enjoy them all. When I am in the “zone” while writing, I do feel connected to something a bit beyond myself. That “sweet spot” is where most of my material has emerged but I don’t find that place nearly as much as I would like currently. After many years, I’m still flexing that “sit down and write no matter what” muscle. “You’re a songwriter, so write.” It’s a bit frustrating sometimes. But I am making progress.
Performing has been my most steady activity of the three in recent years. I have fronted bands in the past. That connection with bandmates and the audience have been some of the best “peak states” in my life. Feeling awake and present with amazing people and sharing an unrepeatable experience. I love that. Ultimately, I have been a solo acoustic artist more than anything in terms of performance where I am pounding the pavement and sharing songs in a plethora of environments, often partially background. But even then, in loud rooms with people chatting about their lives over libations with friends, I am usually able to connect with the audience. It might take a cover song to get their attention, but, when we get on the same page, that is a great feeling. I love how music can help one access a range of emotion. And I feel lucky to be able to help induce that smile, that pause for reflection, or heck maybe help soothe a broken heart for a little while. I am sure the wine, brew, or cocktails help make it all come together but that connection is a huge reason why get I get out there and sing.
In regards to recording, I love seeing the song come to life in the studio. I would say that my favorite thing in the studio is tracking vocals. Getting into the state necessary to make the words being sung be believable. That is essential. Witnessing the song take shape with full instrumentation, hearing the added magic from incredibly talented artists is an awesome thing to experience.
LORS: How do you approach a song, either in writing an original or making another artists song your own? I know you have a wide range of songs you perform live and your delivery and voice is always so distinctive. Is there a kind of learning and then deconstructing that takes place for you when you’re taking a song and making it unique to your style?
SA: My general approach when writing a song involves a quiet place, coffee and my guitar. I usually mess round on the guitar and find some pretty sounding chords. It might just be a simple two chord progression to start with. Next, I am just making sounds with my voice that resonate and playing with melody. I might have a line I’ve been carrying in my pocket to get rolling and I just keep singing. Thought flows will bubble to the surface and from there I find a rhyme scheme and let the words sprinkle in from that unconscious place. There is a lot of nonsense words of course. Once I have a few “strong” lines, and a theme, I can then keep coming back over time and do the same process with the idea of that song in mind. Then I just sit and write without the guitar. And finally I spruce it all up, by solidifying melody, verse, chorus, and the bridge if there is one.
As far as covers go, I choose songs which I feel can be sung in my vocal range gracefully and performed stripped down to just voice and guitar. I learn the chords and arrangement and play with the strumming pattern and tempo. I might try a jazzy Bossa Nova style finger picking pattern. I will experiment a lot before I lock it in and perform it live. Ultimately what “makes it my own” is the years of practice and performing music. In that time, I “found my voice,” realizing what I can do with it such as when to embellish, when to go heavy on the vibrato, when to realize that sometimes less is more and subtlety can be powerful. Essentially running the song through the filter of just being myself, singing from the heart and then acknowledging I have something unique to share.
LORS: Guy Clark sings, “Some days you write the song / some days the song writes you.” Which line best describes you?
SA: I think the latter is more true for me. The bulk of my writing has been less deliberate and more of an unfolding, being there with my instrument and allowing the lines to flow through me. I don’t specifically remember writing each song for the most part. There is a magic that happens when you make yourself available and allow the creativity to flow through you, not judging it, but rather rolling with the process. As I alluded to earlier, I definitely see the merit in being a craftsman, hunkering down and saying to myself “I am writing a song today” and meticulously hammering it out and piecing it together and being prolific about it. This has not always been an easy thing for me to do, however it is a worthy path that I am continually focusing on.
LORS: Any music you’re listening to (old or new) that I should put in my ear holes? Or any good books you’re currently reading or just finished?
SA: I have been rocking Jeff Buckley’s Grace album lately. It is timeless. I imagine you are already familiar with that one. On a more random note, through the magic of an internet rabbit hole, I discovered a cool band from Scotland called The Trashcan Sinatras by going to bandcamp and typing in “weightlifting music.” I was looking for some new workout music. They have an album called Weightlifting. It has catchy tunes, not necessarily for working out to, but rather for just enjoying. I find it somewhat Beatlesque, which is more than okay with me. Check them out if you have not already.
Recently, I have been reading Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen. He tells his tales vividly and with raw honesty, depth, and humor. I have found wisdom in this book. It is a great read. I highly recommend it.