photo by Katie Kessel
Americana Highways had the distinct pleasure of interviewing songwriter Scott Sean White. If you haven’t heard of him, now’s your chance to ride the wave of the newest breakout for a career songwriter in Americana, quality, country-folk songwriting. If you know his work as a staff songwriter and member of the inner circle of Texas/Nashville musicians, you can check out some of what he had to say about his calling. Either way, you can pre-order his new album Call It Even, due out April 23.
AH: Texans love Texas! Tell us what makes you love your home state. The people, the food, the music? All of it?
SSW: One of the things I love is EXACTLY what you started with… TEXANS LOVE TEXAS haha! We have an abnormal amount of pride in our state which is both hilarious to me, AND justified! I mean… it IS pretty awesome. Another thing – and I’m going to go a little off the beaten path here – but I love the long drives to gigs. Whenever possible, I take the back roads, the country two lane highways through the little towns and through the middle of nowhere. All the different terrain from forests to deserts, plains to the hill country… all of it. It’s one of my favorite parts of the “music life” here in Texas. I also love that Texas is – in a lot of ways – its own little country, its own little world down here. Especially musically. Texas doesn’t follow trends much. It just does what it does. I love that.
AH: You’ve written with and shared songs with some of country music’s biggest songwriters—staying humble is obviously part of your ethos. Why? and how?
Well to me – it’s pretty easy to stay humble when you’re in rooms with some of the best songwriters on the planet. Constantly learning. And going to shows in Nashville and here in Texas where you hear songs that just whup your tail haha. Makes ya wanna quit AND makes ya wanna get to work all at the same time. Plus – I am fully aware that this talent was GIVEN to me. It was a GIFT. I didn’t create it. I didn’t make it. Yes, I’ve worked hard at developing it but the raw materials were written into my DNA and THAT is something far above my pay grade 🙂 I am thankful EVERY SINGLE DAY.
AH: Who is your favorite songwriter—living or dead?
That’s easy. Same answer I’ve had for about 13 years ever since I bought his CD at the Commodore in Nashville one night in 2008 and listened to it all the way back to Texas for 10 hours… Tony Lane. Folks outside of Nashville may not know the name, but everyone IN Nashville sure as heck does. He’s a writer’s writer with an iconic voice. And while there’s a bunch of folks on my “list” of favorite writers… he’s at the top simply because he literally changed the way I write. There’s no one else I can say that about.
AH: Take us into the studio with you for Call It Even. How did it feel to flush these songs out? Who was in there with you making magic happen?
SSW: That’s an interesting question because the process of recording this album was a little different than most I think. I tackled it one song at a time and there were no “full band sessions.” I would put together what I call “the bare bones” of the track with a little scratch acoustic guitar part and maybe a little percussion and a scratch vocal. Then, I would send the files over the internet to one of my trusted buddies in Nashville, or Dallas, or Austin, with a little instruction about the vibe I was looking for… and they would put their parts on it and send it back. Once I got everyone’s parts on it, I would sing it – seemingly a billion times haha – and “comp” the official lead vocal together. The measuring stick I used for keeping parts – whether it was instruments or vocals – was if it made the hairs on my arm stand up. It had to make me feel something. If it did – it made the record. If it didn’t – I tried something else. There were several songs that I started out producing one way and then reached a point where it just wasn’t working at all… so I just scrapped it all and started over with a completely different approach. And that was one of my favorite things about producing it myself and not having to rush… I had the freedom to try things and mess up.
And like I did in the liner notes for the record – I have to give an extra shout out to Justin Ostrander who played all the electrics on the record and even some of the acoustics and mandolin. In my mind – he MADE the record. I mean – he constantly sent me parts that were nothing like what I expected and they were PERFECT for the song. Several times when I trashed an arrangement and started over – HE was the one that gave me a fresh start that had that magic in it. I can’t say enough about how his vision shaped the sound of the album.
Also – all the Texas singer-songwriters who graciously agreed to sing harmony on this record. Wow. Walt and Tina Wilkins, Susan Gibson, Zane Williams, Jon Randall, Bonnie Bishop, Ryan Beaver, Will & Crystal Yates, Jason Lovell, Matthew Parrish, and Kyle Level sang their parts in some studio across Texas and Tennessee, sent their parts back, and every time had me thinking “I could not have had a more perfect human sing on this particular song.” Seriously. Amazing.
AH: Your new song “Crazy Til It Works” is great, tell us about it: the inspiration, when you wrote it, who you wrote it with.
SSW: Well thank you!! You know – I always say – because it’s true – that I “accidentally” wrote that song about my wife Brenda and me. See – the song started when the first line just popped into my head on my porch here in Poetry, Texas. “They got married by Elvis in a drive-thru chapel in Vegas.” I thought “Hmmmm… I wonder what that’s about?” They sounded like a cool couple with no chance of making it haha. So I let my mind run down that road for a little while. I had a good chunk of the first verse together by the time I walked into a writing appointment with my friend Jared Hard a few weeks later and I threw it out at him and he loved it. So we worked on it that day and one other before we finished it. And the reason I say that I “accidentally” wrote it about us is because I wasn’t CONSCIOUSLY thinking of us while we were writing the song because almost none of the fictional details about the couple in the song were true about us. But… we did start out in a way that usually NEVER works out and never turns into a long term relationship. We got pregnant while were dating. Impossible, right? Yeah usually. But here we are – by the grace of God (and my wife) – still married over 30 years later. And oh – the two details in the song that ARE true about us? 1 – I sold cars. As a matter of fact – that’s how I met Brenda. I sold her a car! 🙂 And 2 – I really WAS a loser and she really WAS a finder 🙂
AH: Your faith defines you. Tell us about the connection between faith and creativity, songwriting and the spirit.
SSW: What a great question. I think the first part of that connection that fascinates me is that the Creator made us in His image and therefore the Creator made US creators. That’s just cool to me. Creativity is at the CORE of being human – whether it’s music or theater or visual arts or athletics or running a business, or running a home – whatever. And I am SO thankful that He gave me music and song. One of the other things your question reminds me of is that I believe God gives us these gifts for a PURPOSE no doubt, BUT… He also gives us these gifts purely for the sheer JOY He knew they would give us. He KNEW how much I would LOVE writing songs and playing music. I mean – I cannot express in words the “high” I get from this craft, this life, these songs, these people. And He KNEW that and gave it to me simply because He loves me. And the same for you – whatever your gift is. That’s a beautiful, BEAUTIFUL thing to me. Thank you for reminding me of it.
AH: Where do you hope to see Americana and country music in 10 years?
SSW: I don’t mean to get cheesy but I don’t know how else to say it… I hope to see both genres get more and more authentic and true to themselves. I hope more artists throw off the need to be something they are not, to appeal to people they don’t know – and just be genuinely THEMSELVES. Warts and all. Weaknesses and all. Doubts and insecurities and all. Make music that makes people feel something. Make music that has a chance to LAST.