There’s something about Alison Scott's rough and ready, cut and paste, chop and change pop that is deeply satisfying, deeply jarring, and deeply un-now. In evoking all those things, her new album, Stone Cold Love, is also 100 percent now, and yet it sounds like daring music of the past. There’s something in the attitude, the delivery, the lyrics and the snarl that drags her songs straight up to the edge.
It’s so odd to hear something even slightly out of step with the banality of most new "edgy" pop music, that her record makes you sit up in your seat. Scott, along with her bandmate/producer Kevin Bowe [The Replacements, Communist Daughter] poured countless hours into her latest project, and what came out in the end fills the space that pop music has been missing.
City Pages: What have you been up to since your last album release?
Alison Scott: Since I released Chinese Whispers five years ago, my band and I put out my second record of covers. Some of the material on Stone Cold Love is five years old, but we've been playing it at live shows, and the fans have been asking. There are several songs that nobody has heard of until today.
Kevin [Bowe] and I have written half the record in the last six months. We had this meeting of the minds, which was a surprise, because neither of us has really been into pop music — especially in the last ten years. I haven't been impressed with what's been going on in that world. Pop music is the frosting; there's no cake.
That's why I had written it off for a long time. All of a sudden, I started to respect people in that genre — more so because of artists like Sia — I respect her as a songwriter, plus she's a really good singer. Kevin and I began listening to pop music again, and we fully embraced certain parts of the pop world. There's a much heavier pop influence on this new album than we've ever had before.
CP: How do you make pop music not so fluffy?
AS: It's hard. Part of it is I'm a chordy writer, Some of my songs have 25 chords in them. It's really hard for me to reign that in. Even some of these tracks that I brought to Kevin, he would say, "I'm gonna take one note out of every one of these chords." He would do it, I'd be skeptical then realize he was totally right. Less is more.
I'm a songwriter who likes a lot of sections in songs — prechoruses and bridges. That's not always necessary. It's hard to say something important with less. To get your point across, that was a challenge for us. We both fell in love with pop music through this process; we plan on doing more.
CP: You've been working on these songs for a while; why did you feel now was the right time to release this album?
AS: My band [Kevin Bowe, guitar, vocals; Justin Rieken, bass, vocals; Peter Anderson, drums; Charlie Peterson , keys, vocals] and I don't function like a normal band. We don't go in a studio for two weeks and finish. Because Kevin owns his own studio in his home and he works at the Institute of Production and Recording, we're always in the studio. When we have enough material, we put out a record.
I think it lends to us having a lot of variety on our albums. Labels might say it's a fault. I'd get bored if I made whole records that sound the same. I'd run out of cool ways to do that "one thing." This record, as usual, is all over the place. You can tell the difference between the songs I wrote alone and the songs I wrote with Kevin. The uptempo ones are with Kevin, and when I'm alone, I tend to go more towards the jazzy route.
CP: How did you come up with the concept for the song and video for "Go Out Swingin"?
AS: I knew I specifically wanted it to sound like a Sia track. She's so anthemic. The message was anti-domestic violence; I wanted it to be powerful. I wrote most of it myself and needed help with the ending. The song came out of me when I was at home. It was spurred by a whole bunch of current events that focused on domestic violence — the drama with the NFL, and I had dinner with a friend who had a friend that was in a violent situation.
My friend was explaining the situation to me and telling me this girl had no interest in getting of that relationship. I couldn't get over it for days; I can understand how you can get stuck in a situation like that, but making the conscious decision to stay and be okay with that. It was hard for me to relate to and a foreign concept to me. I lived in this world for a week, then when I sat down at the piano, the song fell out. Because the writing was so outside of the box for me, I needed help making it what's in my head, so I took it to Kevin.
CP: What is it about Kevin that makes you enjoy working with him so much when it comes to writing and producing?
AS: We almost always have the same vision for where the music should go. I'm very technology inept, and it can be hard for me to articulate what I want. He seems to know where I'm going. I don't know if I can have that confidence with anyone else. It helps me be better. As a songwriter, he rounds me out. Everything we write together is slightly outside of my wheelhouse. When he comes to me with a song, he usually says, "I wrote this song as if I was you."
CP: Tell me more about this whole Debbie Gibson and Carnie Wilson thing.
AS: There's certain people who come to shows enough where you recognize them, and one of those was Tamara. She's so sweet and supportive, and throughout my PledgeMusic campaign and the release of my music video, she's been a Twitter maniac. She tweeted to Debbie and Carnie and kept in touch with them and was very diligent in asking them to take a peek at my stuff. One day they both did; Debbie retweeted it to her fans, and Carnie Wilson said some really kind words about my voice and how much she loved it.
That's such a surreal thing. I've met celebrities before, but I've never had people I listened to growing up compliment my music and tell the masses they like it. Wilson Phillips was huge staple in my house growing up. Even if something never comes of it, I still have the screenshots of Carnie Wilson retweeting my tweet. My kids will probably be like, "What's Twitter?" It doesn't matter; it will be important to me. There's something wonderful about women supporting women in the industry.
CP: You have a 2-year-old daughter and a new baby on the way. Why do you think you are just now coming into the artist you want to be?
AS: Because there's so many other things in my life that make me happy outside of music. It's not the only thing to bring me joy and so many musicians live and breathe music all of the time. I wanted a family and home; I love my odd little domestic life.
As a woman, no one over 28 is going to break out in the music business, but I'm a better version of myself. I'm a way better musician now than I was at 24. We're ten years into the project. I had no idea what I was doing then. I wasn't a confident performer. I think I'm a late bloomer in a lot of ways. I didn't start gigging until I was 22.
The music business is such a trip, and if you don't break out nationally, it's a roller coaster of emotions. I definitely have days where I think we're equally as good as some of the people making their break, but you can't live in that mentality. It's not maintainable with a happy lifestyle. You have to make your peace with it.
Alison Scott will release Stone Cold Love at the Dakota Jazz Club on August 21 and 22.
18+. $15, 8 p.m. Purchase tickets here.