I suppose the easiest way to get to know a man is to fish with him. Being waist deep in a river and stalking a hole that you know has rainbows hiding in it has a way of distracting a man enough to cause him to cut the bull shit. This is how I came to meet Scott Low.
I had heard about Scott from a shared friend of ours and realized he might be one of the few full time residents that lived in my entire county under the age of 50. So after spam liking a dozen or so of his fish photos on Facebook, I finally worked up enough courage to ask him on an old fashioned fishing date as one is prone to do these days.
Scott has a new album coming out June 17th entitled The New Vintage. Scott’s music has a grit and big old southern drawl to it which you might think was forced if you didn’t know Scott and hear him rattle off all the streams, valleys, and gaps on your way down to the river. He’s the kind of guy who keeps multiple fishing rods in his car year round and old cigarette butts in a little bag in the front pocket of his fishing waders. And while he’s tying a fly or some tippet on, you can expect to see him talking about how he’s going to catch the next one while a cigarette that desperately needs to ash dangles from his mouth.
His music can best be described as alt-country or Americana. No Depression said it “is too country for folk, and too folk for country” which seems about right. It’s what country music on the radio should sound like today if it had any honesty left. But that’s where Scott’s songwriting shines through. Whereas most songs on country radio today are written in an office, sold to a singer, and pushed out as products, Scott is writing and singing about real experiences by a real man. Divorce. Love. Fear. Taking chances. It’s all there. A far cry from today’s second-rate country where the goal is more product placement and a soundtrack for a beer or whiskey commercial than real life. I’m looking at you Florida Georgia Line.
When Scott gets going on some of the more upbeat songs like Mr. Gold & The Jesters and Body Bag, he reminds me lyrically and vocally of The White Buffalo. But then songs like Angel in White, my personal favorite, are quiet and soft and have enough lap steel and longing wrapped up in it to remind you of a country love song in the 70s.
Scott and I met up recently, headed down to the river, and caught some fish while talking about his new album The New Vintage, fishing, and North Georgia.
Wander North Georgia: Let’s start with the fact that you moved from Athens, a place known as a musical hotbed and incubator for emerging talent for decades, to North Georgia . . . a place that is known more for banjos on the front porch than new music releases. How much of your album was written before you moved to the mountains and how much of it was shaped by being up here?
Scott Low: I love Athens, the diversity and the history of culture and originality. I love the mountains of North Georgia, nature, fishing, and my beautiful wife. But (the album) was shaped more by all the time I spent on the road touring and chasing this woman who is now my wife. I would say a third was written while still in Athens, a third here in North Georgia and a third while out troubadour-ing. These tunes were definitely polished sitting at my back doors overlooking the Persimmon Valley in Rabun County. The peace and hermit like solitude hopefully gave me some clarity and direction to make an album folks will love.
WNG: Are there differences to how each place has shaped your writing?
Scott: Well, as most know, Athens is a town fueled by football, drinking, and music. I was really good at the drinking part, but decided to quit drinking 8 months before I left Athens . . . bringing us back to my wife and clarity. There is still that life of bourbon and dive bars woven into these songs, but also a peace and patience in my writing that came with no booze and also sitting on this mountain. Athens shaped what I am. From a fresh out of school jazz guitarist to a road worn songwriter. But also all the great folks I met in Athens and watched and played with thru the years shaped it too. One of my first quotes in the local Athens music paper was something about “to make it in Athens you have tour out of Athens for the majority of your performances”. Athens has plenty of stages but the demand is inconsistent. Clayton is small town in Rabun County but has a history of juke joints and Appalachian music. And the natural beauty I believe crept into this record. At least I hope!
WNG: The new album is emphatically not pop-country. Less Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line and more Haggard and Kristofferson. There has always been a divide in country music between the commercialization of it and the “outlaw” movement or other non-commercialized streams. But today the gap seems bigger than ever before. Why did you decide to make the music you did and go with one tradition over the other?
Scott: I am not sure its a continuation of outlaw country, but more Americana. I have this foundation of blues, jazz, bluegrass and rock. I really didn’t start diving into country music til about 5 years ago. A good friend once told me that my music is more like how the Grateful Dead approached country music and I am fine with that. I do think that Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Chris Stapleton are paving the way for new artists like me that aren’t really country but more a blend of rock, outlaw, bluegrass, classic country, and most importantly songwriting (a skill that mainstream radio pop has lost). I don’t think this is really a country album, but a mash up of all I have learned and played. Maybe that’s what Americana is . . . kind of like the United States is a huge melting pot of culture, flavors, and pioneering new lands. ‘Merica.
WNG: What is one thing you want people to know about this album that they may not pick up on from listening to it?
Scott: The opening and closing tracks Back to River and Get A Little Higher are what I hope folks take away. Back to the River is about the voluntary or forced change of perspective. Someone stuck in their path or limited to their abilities being able to see the world of possibilities as endless options for progressing. The line “She says she can’t paint in color . . . ” is a good example. But that’s just assuming the boundaries of her own making. As a jazz musician, it is about pushing the walls of the box you are given. I hope to take that to the folk country music I create. Sometime it moves me and the audience and sometimes it fails.
Get a Little Higher is about finding the best possible spot to get to where you/we could go. “If we get a little higher we can see a little further” may be a double entedre, but it really has the hope of folks disregarding the walls put around them by others or themselves and pushing to find a better outcome.
WNG: What artist that is on your iPhone would you be embarrassed by if people found out – your guilty pleasure music?
Scott: Rick Ross. Or just rap and hip hop. I have had a love for these genres for my whole life and even had a hip hop band for a while. I didn’t rap, don’t worry. But from Tribe Called Quest to Outkast. I don’t think I am really embarrassed by that or really any music as it all has its place and time.
WNG: What are you listening to right now?
Scott: Well due to circumstances, Merle and Guy Clark have been getting alot of play because of their recent passing. I also listen to a lot of folks in my field and search to find the new waves of sounds. The new albums by Caleb Caudle, Aaron Lee Tasjan, The Hard Working Americans, John Moreland, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson all have been getting regular spins. I have a pretty healthy vinyl collection too, so those old country, RnB, jazz and rock records get lots of rotation too.
WNG: When are we going fishing again?
Scott: What are you doing for the next 6 hours?
WNG: We both know it’ll be 10 hours without blinking an eye.