I'd like to think I'm a good music fan. When I see a band I don't know opening a show I'm attending I try to familiarize myself with said band. Sometimes it's just another band, but in the case of G.Love & Special Sauce's show in Vancouver in March of 2012 the opener was Scott H. Biram. It was love at first hear. His music is genre-blending madness, crushing boundary lines all over the place. it was with furious energy that I started to devour his catalogue and in late 2012 I tracked him down somewhere outside of Phoenix for a chat about being a one-man band, religious imagery and his general bad-assery for one of my weekly columns. Finally the whole thing sees the light of day. I hope you enjoy it and find it as interesting as I did. Welcome to the First Church of the Ultimate Fantacism!
Rags Music: Hey, Mr. Biram, how you doing, man?
Scott H. Biram: Pretty good. Just travelling towards Phoenix. Going to open up for Social Distortion in LA in a couple days, should be fun.
RM: Wow, what a show that’s going to be! First thing I have to ask…On the G.Love tour you were scheduled as the headliner in Vancouver, what happened?
SHB: I was scheduled as the headliner for the G. Love show?!
RM: The opener! Sorry about that.
SHB: Ah okay. I was going to say the headliner, somebody must have fucked up! <laughs> We got caught in a bunch of weather in the mountains in Oregon and we weren’t going to make it. It was going to be something like a 12 hour drive for us and we were stuck in the mountains, there was no way we going to make it. I figured that we just wouldn’t make it. We’d end up getting there an hour after I was supposed to play. But I’ll be back.
RM: I look forward to that. What was that tour like, touring with such a different artist?
SHB: It was interesting. You’re right about it being pretty different artists. A lot of their crowd didn’t really understand me <laughs> but a lot of them did at the same time. G.Love, Garrett, had me up on stage to play harmonica on stage every night for a couple songs. The root of it, it’s roots music, I know he raps and all that but he’s got a lot of blues roots and so do I. So we had that in common. Everyone got along really well, they’re nice guys. The idea behind me going on tour with them was that most of their fans will never have heard of me before so it allows me to be in front of a new audience.
RM: Was it positive being in front of those new people?
SHB: Yeah. Anytime I’m in front of a thousand people it’s a good night for me.
RM: Do you find you meet much resistance when people see you for the first time?
SHB: Not at all. Most of my shows I have more people every time I play and they’re all like really into it and if they weren’t when they got there they are when they leave.
RM: That’s the mark of a great.
SHB: I’m great at winning them over, converting them to the First Church of the Ultimate Fanatacism.
RM: Where does music start for you? How’d you get into it?
SHB: I don’t know. Back when I was 10 years old or so I started screwing around with keyboards and stuff. Then when I was 13 I was in a band, we were playing Misfits covers. And then when I was 16 I was in another punk/metal band. We played a lot of shows. In my 20s I was playing in bluegrass bands, touring all over the States. All along I was doing little solo shows, singer-songwriter things, before I became a one-man band. It’s just grown from there.
RM: So why the one man band?
SHB: It’s just the way it happened, the way it evolved. It’s just the way I started writing songs and playing. When I was in bands after a while they all broke up and I just kept playing. I wanted to keep touring. It’s just the way it happened. My bands broke up - I kept playing, kept touring. Then I didn’t want to be a singer-songwriter, playing in coffeeshops and shit like that so I had to step it up and make it a little louder. I started playing a little more rock inside there and everything. Then I started to build this wall of amplifiers behind me and making it to where I could do as much as I could to make it sound like a real band. I could play in rock clubs. That’s where I was raised was in rock clubs and stuff, so that’s what I wanted to stick with.
RM: Your music has so many elements, obviously you personally have to be a fan of these things, Do you ever find that people want you to stick more one way or the other? Like with the ballads or the rockers, or the bluegrass-ier stuff?
SHB: There are people that heard of me when I was playing more folky music, like more Woody Guthrie and stuff. And I still play Guthrie songs and Leadbelly songs and all that stuff, throughout my whole set, but the thing is now I play rock too and metal and punk, country and blues and everything in between. There are people who wish I would just be “folk” again but folk music doesn’t pay the bills. And it doesn’t let me get this stuff of my chest. Rock music allows me to…I can’t be doing any rocking solos in folk songs. I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years now, there’s things I gotta play.
RM: That’s more than fair. I read somewhere that you had a lot of extra songs from Bad Ingredients and that you and the label were thinking about releasing some 7 inches or an EP or something…Did anything happen with those?
SHB: I released a 7 inch when we put that record out. The song…shit, what was it called? I don’t remember right now. I had something like 23 songs but soon as I realized I had so many songs I also realized that no record label is going to want to put out a record with 23 songs on it. They want you to put out a neat little package with 10 songs on it. So I had to decide which ones I was going to take out. Some of them we didn’t release at all. We released some downloadable ones, extras, and if you bought the record early you could download the extras. Some of them we didn’t release because they were songs in the making. I’ll probably come back to them on the next record, re-record them, add more parts to them. It’s always good to have extra shit.
RM: Speaking of recording, you seem to record at a pretty amazing rate. Why do you record so much? What do you enjoy about the process?
SHB: I honestly think I don’t record so fast. I put a record out about year and half, two years.
RM: That seems so quick compared to a lot of the artists I listen to.
SHB: Well, tell my label and my management that! <laughs> Because they’re always like “We really need to put something out! When are you going to get this record out?” I’m trying to get this new record out but I have to wait for the songs to grow on me and wait to make sure they’re ready to be put out and that they’ve evolved into what they need to evolve to. They come when they come and then I take them into the studio and try to record as much as I can….Sorry man, I keep getting distracted. There’s lots of shit going on around here. I just sit in the studio and I try to get them down. A lot of the songs, I have the basic foundations for them and then when I’m in the studio I just start building on them, around them and adding extra parts to them. I love the times I’ll be working on a record and I think I have a couple months left on it still and then I’ll just be like, “Whoa shit! I just finished recording that song.” Then I’ll listen back to them all and be like, “I think I just finished my record!” It’ll be a really big surprise to me and it’ll be a really big surprise to the label. <laughs> As far as putting out records really fast, I don’t know that I do.
RM: Your production seems to get better, just a bit more clean with each record. Do you ever worry that it’ll get too good, clean and sand away some of those edges?
SHB: No. There’s a reason that happens. Part of it is I slowly built up my studio. When I first started recording these records we were recording on a four-track in my bedroom and things. Then we moved on to a little equipment, then it turned into me having a recording studio. I’ve also been studying recording since I was 14 years old or so, reading about it and stuff, so it’s party my recording experience and what I’ve learned and partly it’s that I know I’ve been putting out kind of gritty records for awhile so sometimes you gotta change up the sound and give them something a little more clear. Part of it is me having a little more confidence in my voice than I used to, I felt like I had to cover it up sometime. But also it’s just I’m going for a certain sound. Sometimes I’m going for a CV sound, sometimes I like the clear acoustic singer-songwriter sound. I just like to do what I can.
RM: What are some of your most memorable shows, either really great or really terrible?
SHB: I don’t think the terrible ones are worth talking about, there’s been a lot of those over the years. The great ones…One that sticks out in my mind is this one I played in New York city at the Mercury Lounge in New York. I just felt like I didn’t screw up at all and my sound was perfect and I was really stoked about that. I’ve had a lot of good times. I opened up for Clutch one time in New Jersey. That was a lot of fun. I played right after Kris Kristofferson one time, that was a lot of fun. The G. Love tour, while G Love was playing I was goofing off in my dressing room and Billy Gibbons, and I got to meet Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. All this kind of stuff is always fun. I’ve had a lot of great shows and few stinkers, it is what it is.
RM: Do you have any favourite songs you play live? Something you love to play everytime?
SHB: They come and go. There’s some I really dig on for a year or so then I’ll kind forget about them or they get moved off the setlist and I forget about them for awhile then they get me excited again. I always like playing this old blues song called “Blues in a Bottle”, that’s cool. I don’t know, as far as my own songs, I don’t know man, I don’t really have any favourite songs. I like ‘em all. They come and go, which ones are my favourites. I’ve been digging playing “Just Another River” off my record even though it’s stripped down, just me and the guitar on that one. But I like playing it a lot too. I got another song that’s a couple of years old that’ll be on the next record that’s called “Come Around the Bend/Weekend To Party” it’s kind of heavy metal…a cross between bluegrass, blues and death metal, all put together with slide guitar. It’s pretty cool.
RM: That sounds awesome. You don’t strike me as a particularly religious guy but there’s a lot of Jesus imagery going on in your music, what’s going on with that?
SHB: I really like old gospel music, like old Black Baptist church gospel music, you know? The old-time chain gang prison songs which a lot of the time have old gospel music in them. I have my own religious beliefs, but they’re more personal, inside religious beliefs. I don’t go to church or anything like that. I don’t consider myself to be any certain denomination or anything like that. With me it’s more the Law of the Universe and all that stuff. I got an open mind so I’ll listen other people’s bullshit. <laughs>
RM: It’s one of the first things that really caught me about your music. I’m not a religious guy either but I’ve always been fascinated by the imagery and stuff. So that hooked me.
SHB: I really like the idea of rejoicing and the idea of being stuck by some kind of power or some kind of feeling and being, not possessed, but overtaken by a power or a feeling. I try to do that with my music, I want people to struck with it by lightning. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it so far.
RM: It comes across on your records. But I still gotta see you live.
SHB: People say my live show is a lot better than my records.
RM: Okay, I’ll take their word for it. Is there a live album in the works?
SHB: We tried to record one awhile ago. I think I got too excited. I feel like I tried to play everything too fast. That’s the kind of thing I might need to go back and listen to after it’s been a while. Just step away from it and listen to it. I just haven’t had that perfect formula when all the ingredients fall together perfectly and you get that really great live record. I really want my first live record to be really good. I don’t want to put out a live record just to put out a live record and have it be kind of half-assed.
RM: I can dig that. So what’s on the horizon for the new year?
SHB: I’m going to continue working on this new record with this new material and try to get it out sometime in the New Year. I just got back from a five-week tour in Europe and I’m already on the road again right now, heading towards the Social Distortion show, just a little week run. And then in Feb. we’ll be across the South of the US and then going up to UK and Ireland in April. They got a big festival in Chicago in April with my friend Shooter Jennings. I don’t know what the name of the festival is right now. And then I’ll hopefully take a little time for myself in May and June. That time for myself will also be recording in the studio, but also stepping away from the stage for a couple of months to hopefully get some more inspiration and stuff like that. I don’t want to start writing songs about being mad at my booking agent or songs about management and stuff <laughs>. Nobody wants to hear that shit. But I still got plenty of heartfelt things to say, observations to make. It’ll be great.
RM: So you’ve played music for a long time, made a career out of it. You had your big accident, which I won’t ask you about, do you have any words of wisdom for the readers?
SHB: I don’t really feel like someone who should be giving advice but just do something every day towards your career or what you want to do in life. Do something every day towards your love in life, towards your dream. After a while, from my experience, if you do one thing every day for your dream, after a while it gets to be a lot of things you’re doing for your dream and it just comes naturally. This guy gave me some advice a long time ago and he said “Do something every day for your music.” I took that advice to heart and I’ve been doing something every day for my music for a long time now. Now I do hundreds of things a day for my music. Take time for yourself because I haven’t been taking time for myself and it’s kind of wearing me out.
RM: Yeah, sounds like you’re really looking forward to those couple months off you have planned.
SHB: Around the holidays I don’t have a lot of shows but unfortunately everyone I know is having some kind of party around Christmas and New Years. I don’t know if counts that much as a break, really.
RM: Yeah, that’s fair. It’s usually fun for the first couple of gatherings, then it gets a little tedious, eh? I’m actually writing this column because you’re the best thing I discovered this year. I’m a little behind the clock on that, but fuck man, so good.
SHB: Cool. Thanks man.
RM: I think everyone at work is getting pretty annoyed with me playing Bad Ingredients over and over and over.
SHB: <laughs> Hopefully I’ll get you a new one out soon and you can play the hell out of that one.
RM: I look forward to it. Hopefully you get up to Vancouver so I can see you.
SHB: We’ll see what happens in the new year. I’ll probably be on the West Coast in July. We’ll see if I get across the border or not. It’s such a pain in the ass to cross the border with all work permits and they tax you and all your merch, even if you’re not selling it all. If I have a whole tour worth of T-shirts and CDs with me they’re going to tax it all. So I have to find a place to stash it in Washington and then pick it back up again.
RM: I’d come down to Seattle to see you but your country won’t let me in! I got busted for grass. Fucking grass, man.
SHB: Damn. It’s happened to me before too. <laughs> I just got a slap on the wrist.
RM: I appreciate your time. I know you’ve got stuff going on and I appreciate you taking time to talk some bullshit with me, man.
SHB: Ah, on the contrary. I appreciate you taking your time.
RM: Much respect. Take it easy and get that new record out for me!