How DAVID SCOTT, a guy from Glasgow Scotland, pursued (and won!) fame and fortune… then ended up winning so much more.
“I love hearing great new music and seeing people develop. It’s easy to come off dewy-eyed about that, but it’s true nonetheless. When you see a student coming in the front door and you’re not quite sure who or what they are, then fast forward four years and they’ve produced a beautiful, creative project or an amazing dissertation. It really is awe inspiring.”-David Scott
David Scott has come a long way since he was a teenager in Glasgow, writing songs and dreaming of a successful career in music. Born in Falkirk (pronounced/ˈfɔːlkʌrk/; Scottish Gaelic: An Eaglais Bhreac ), Scotland in 1964, he is without a doubt that city’s greatest export since its demise as Scotland’s center of the iron and steel industry in the 18th-19th centuries.
Says David: “Falkirk is slap between Glasgow and Edinburgh. Many will have passed through on their way from one city to the other.”
Since forming the Pearlfishers in 1989, he has refined and broadened the band’s sound, while gaining a cult following in his native Scotland for his work in both the Pearlfishers and later in BMX Bandits.
Renown for their luscious mix of acoustic-driven soft pop and subtle orchestral flourishes, the Pearlfishers have remained hugely successful in their native country, influencing a number of bands there. As the band’s only constant member, David Scott has served as its guiding light since 1989, constantly refreshing and revitalizing the band’s sound to the appreciation of their devoted fans.
Besides his role as the band’s principal songwriter, producer and vocalist, David Scott has produced a number of recordings with other artists (most notably Amy Allison) and has played with an impressive array of high profile artists, among them Alex Chilton, Yeon Gene Wang, Ricky Ross, Maher Shalal, Hash Baz and Bill Wells.
Since 1999, Scott has also worked as a broadcaster on BBC Radio (fronting music documentaries) as well as contributed music to many theatre productions in Scotland. Furthermore, Scott has won praise as the co-organizer of several all star tribute shows to artists such as Brian Wilson and Ennio Morricone.
David is now a lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland,where he teaches an advanced course in commercial music.
While enjoying a fun tour of historic downtown Hollywood on a warm June afternoon (see the photo gallery) David talked with The Los Angeles Beat about his long, successful and amazingly diverse career in music, and of the joy he now has in helping students to achieve the same.
David, one is hard-pressed to name another current artist in Popular music who has worn so many ‘creative hats’ as yourself: singer/songwriter; band leader; producer; event organizer; broadcaster on BBC Radio. Of all the various creative outlets that you put your hand to, which has provided you with the greatest amount of overall satisfaction, and why?
The greatest satisfaction in my creative life has always been writing songs. I really love the process of writing, pulling little strands of ideas and inspirations together to make something that never existed before. The experience of recording and listening back to something you like is a joy you want to experience over and over. One particular thing I love is when you can take an unusual idea or title and give it some intrigue or meaning, even just for yourself. I guess something like Eco Schools or Sky Meadows is an example of that.
How did you come to form your band The Pearlfishers?
I had a group called Hearts and Minds and we had a deal with CBS back in the late 80’s. When that came to an end we continued playing shows in Glasgow trying to develop new songs and audiences. Around that time someone said, ‘oh there’s a group in America just got a deal called hearts and minds’. Rather than get in a fight over it I regarded this as a sign from a higher power and we ‘rebranded’. That also coincided with, I think, some other approaches to making work and a new freshness in the band. The Pearlfishers is not really a band as such – there are some core members, myself, Jim Gash, Gabriel Telerman and Dee Bahl but others come and go, lots of string players and horn players. It’s nice to bring in new faces and new sensibilities. Recently Stuart Kidd has been a wonderful addition and has brought the collective age down about 20 years.
How did you come to be a member of the band BMX Bandits?
Duglas Stewart is one of my best friends; he and I share a love of a lot of the same music (Brian Wilson, Morricone, Serge Gainsbourg and many others) and just gravitated towards each other over the years. There have been TONS of members of the Bandits. My involvement has been as co-writer, co-producer and, I guess a kind of musical director alongside Duglas for the past 2 or 3 albums, less so on the soon to be released and excellent BMX Bandits In Space. It’s very much Duglas’s vision, and I love being his interpreter when he’s pacing up and down the room trying to explain new music ideas. Duglas is not really a traditional ‘musician’ as such. He and I have also written a number of songs for The Pearlfishers, including one of my very favourites: You Justify My Life.
Your work as a producer is highly lauded by both your peers and critics; in the USA you’re likely best known for your production of Amy Allison (No Frills Friend; Everything and Nothing, Too). How did you and Amy decide to come together to co-write and record your latest album (Turn Like the World Does) and did it seem like a natural progression from producer to songwriting partner?
I was shopping with my wife and I was saying how restless I was and anxious to do something new and untested. We were talking about Amy and how much she and I click musically and we just ended up having this conversation about a collaborative album. As soon as I got home, I emailed Amy about it and she said yes! I sent 5 or 6 sketches, she sent 5 or 6 follow up sketches, and within a few weeks we had things like When You Know That It’s Over, The Maiden in the Trees, Coming Up the River etc. When Amy came over, we recorded unbelievably quickly and really simply with vocals cut live together at times. There’s a freshness about it that comes through because of that. I think because Amy and I have recorded and toured together quite a bit we’ve developed a kind of music and lyrical language that just works for us. Amy is a really brilliant and nuanced lyricist – she does that simple but complex thing that the best of the Brill building writers did, and it’s a real experience writing songs with her. We wrote one together for the new Pearlfishers record too.
Do you and Amy have plans to record more albums together as a duo, or is Turn Like the World Does a creative one-off?
No plans at the moment, but I think Amy and I will always make music together. My current recording project is a new Pearlfishers album – the eighth – and I hope to be done later this year or early next.
In the UK, you are well known for your work as a broadcaster on BBC Radio (fronting music documentaries). How did you come to serve as a broadcaster for BBC Radio?
I think someone heard me being interviewed and thought “He can speak nonsense at the drop of a hat – hire him!” I used to be a sidekick for a morning radio presenter and do these little musical inserts where I would talk about various musicians and songwriters and maybe illustrate some little thing about how they wrote or expressed their craft. The head of the station told me one night when we are at a BBC party (and drink had been taken) that we should do a whole series of this. Like an elephant I never forget, so I rattled his cage until we got the first Silver Screen Beats series made, talking about classic film composers. Then I went on to make many other radio documentaries about songwriters and musicians. For someone of my generation getting the chance to work at the BBC is a real privilege.
In Scotland, you are well known for your musical contributions to many theatre productions. Can you tell our American readers more about that?
That’s something I haven’t done for a while, but I’d love to do more of. I made music for a number of plays by a company called Birds Of Paradise. It was really challenging to do that kind of work, and because budgets are always tight I would actually record the music in my studio and provide it as cues. Among them I worked on one called Merman which I produced using mainly monosynths and toy instruments, and another called Playing for Keeps by a famous Scottish author named Archie Hind. For that I used a small group (piano, drums, upright bass and trumpet) and recorded a bunch of things both written and improvised live in my studio. I got the start of the songs The Vampires Of Camelon, Is It Any Wonder and Pantohorse from that one short session. You always have to be ready for a good idea that could become something else again. On the other hand I did music for a pantomime one time which was strictly for the rent and strictly not to be repeated.
In the UK, you have co-organized all star tribute shows for various legendary composers/performers, among them Brian Wilson. Can you tell our readers more about that?
Rather loftily, I would prefer to think of them as theatrical performances rather than tribute shows. When we did the Brian Wilson show years ago, we performed things like his fairytale (Mount Vernon and Fairway) and Rio Grande( from the Brian Wilson album). These were things that had never been performed live before, and I think like a lot of music fans globally, Duglas and I felt really passionate that Brian’s real ‘deep cuts’ should be played and given as much life as possible. We perhaps naively hoped that by playing this music we might send a good vibration to the man himself, and that one day he would pick up the torch of deeply creative artistry again, inspired by all of us global uberfans! Now of course, for whatever reason, Brian has played music in concert that no one ever believed he would. It’s an unbelievable creative renaissance and a real joy. Recently we put together an evening of the music of Morricone for a performance at The Glasgow International Film Festival, and talk about a musical education. When you dig deep into other composers’ methods, that’s when you get the stuff you need to know.
You are currently serving as a lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, where you teach students who are seeking a degree in commercial music. Speaking as both a teacher and performer, what qualities do you feel are necessary for a successful career in commercial music?
First and always you need good songs. These days they say content. Everything is content, content, content. But there’s good and bad. One of the temptations of the internet is to put every half idea up there. We try to get our students to really carefully consider their creative work and to produce something that has meaning and technical clout. One of the things we want to do with the new MA: Songwriting & Performance (http://www.uws.ac.uk/postgraduate/songwriting_and_performance/) is to give students TIME to really develop their craft, and in doing so produce new and lasting artworks.
As a teacher, what has been your greatest challenge working in an educational establishment?
You hit it with the word ‘establishment’! Coming from a fairly loose background it is always more difficult to get with institutional structures etc. But fortunately the institution I work for (University Of The West Of Scotland) is one of the most forward thinking establishments you could hope to find. My experience has been that creativity is most highly praised within the school, and they are always looking for new and exciting ideas and directions – hence the MA Songwriting & Performance.
As a teacher, what has been the most rewarding aspect of working in an educational establishment, and why?
I love hearing great new music and seeing people develop. It’s easy to come off dewy-eyed about that, but it’s true nonetheless. When you see a student coming in the front door and you’re not quite sure who or what they are, then fast forward four years and they’ve produced a beautiful creative project or an amazing dissertation. It really is awe inspiring. We credit ourselves as educators in terms of giving guidance and space but ultimately, in a University environment, it’s down to the individual student to do the work. There is an EP about to come out by one of our ex-students, Ashley Little, called Take Me Home which I produced and I’ve got to tell you it’s something I’m hugely proud of in my career; a beautiful record that I know you will love.
What is your advice for those who seek a career in commercial music?
Work hard. Then work harder.
What do you think is the single biggest challenge in achieving a successful career in commercial music today?
I think the music industry / industries are still a bit in flux. One the one hand you have the partial democratization of digital distribution, but on the other hand artists just can’t make the same money they used to be able to. At the lower end of the scale it can be a problem in terms of actually making a living. If I was just coming up now I would be getting as smart as it’s possible to get about the internet and connecting with audiences, but also about ways of packaging physical product that is attractive to markets and sub markets.
What is your advice for those up and coming artists who are seeking the best possible sound from their instrument?
Not sure I am best placed to answer this one. Simply put: feel over-technical expertise. Listen to great musicians.
If you could go back in time, is there anything in your career that you would have done differently?
I wish I’d sold a few more records, but I don’t think I would have made the records I have made if my experience had been different. By and large, regrets are for people who have time to waste. I don’t. I just want to get on to the next exciting project.
How would you like future generations to remember you as an artist and as a man?
Gosh, that’s a bit lofty for me. I hope people will listen to the records I’ve made and think that it was an artist that made them. All I ever wanted to be in my life was an artist.