Al Scorch is a singer-songwriter from Chicago with some great bluesy, swampy, country songs and a new album:Tired Ghostly Town. Recently I spoke to Al just as he was about to embark on a tour. Part I of this interview can be read here.
Listening to your voice, there was a line in your bio that was talking about you being an old soul and I can certainly hear that in your voice, but there’s something else there. It’s almost coming from another place, and I was just wondering if you’ve worked on your voice or if the way you sing is really instinctual?
It’s pretty instinctual, I would say. I just kind of – I just sing the way I sing. I hurt my voice about a year and a half ago maybe, maybe two years ago now – two years ago and it was really traumatic. I could barely even sing a note in any register at any volume. It was really terrible. I could speak but I just couldn’t – my voice was cracked and breaking up and so I kind of spent the last year and a half – two years – kind of recovering from that. And luckily my older sister is a really talented singer; she’s an opera singer and a voice coach and a voice therapist. So I luckily had someone in the family that could help me, kind of, give me some tips and stuff on how to sing – keep singing the way that I sing and not hurt myself again. Sometimes I feel completely out of myself when I’m playing and singing. I feel like I’m not there and I’m someone else – you’re someone else or something. I don’t know; I don’t quite know but it – I guess it comes through in the music.
It does. There is that sense of you channelling a little bit. In my day job I work a lot with writers, and the best storytellers are always the ones who acknowledge that they’re taking stories from the ether, essentially. That they are just the channel for a story to come through to an audience, and it seems like you have that same awareness?
Oh, yeah, absolutely. Because there’s things that – like it kind of goes back to what I’m saying before about taking things that are kind of inside of yourself and connecting them to more broad kind of humanity, I guess. And maybe the stories inside of an individual have an element of that. And you kind of put it all together and you grab it out of the ether and you make it real and you think of something that people can relate to and it affects people and makes them think and makes them feel.
You’re about to head out on the road and I was wondering about that – that process of development of a song when you’re performing a lot. Do you find that some songs or all songs change character, in a way, as you take them out on the road and have different audiences listening to them and you’re having different experiences? In short, what I’m wondering is, are the songs the same at the end of a lot of gigs as they are at the start?
The songs definitely do develop and change. Some of the songs on the record I wrote almost 10 years ago and some of them I wrote just months before we recorded. And I would say that the major change in them as they develop and become what they are, when we finally sit down and record them, is changes that come naturally from playing in the group and the different voices that everyone brings to them; be it their singing voice or be it the guitar or violin or drums. Like Chris Castellan, who’s the drummer and he’s just like my brother. He has a big influence on the structure of the songs and the feel of the songs and me and him together really – I’ll bring the song in and then me and Chris will kind of figure out how to lock it all in place and what to do where and then everyone else kind of fills in and brings their own voice to the song. So that’s kind of how they develop and change and become what they are in finality. And given, even songs that we record, they become different as we play them live more and more and we give them more time and they become more powerful, all of that they just kind of keep developing.
And so sometimes after that process do you think, gee, I really wish I could go back and record that song now and now that it’s changed?
Actually, I do. And there’s a couple of songs that we’ve recorded before on some of our singles that – on our next album, which we haven’t really talked to anyone about except amongst ourselves, that we are going to re-record. And songs have changed. I don’t want to say so much that we need to record them again but they just kind of come into their own even more. And we want to reach into them and kind of bring it back out in a slightly different light, you know, how they’ve changed with playing them live over the years.
You’re not strictly country music in the way we would see American country music, which is that big commercial production that it can seem to be now. But I guess that country music as a genre is so broad that there’s room for all sorts of career paths within it. So I was wondering if you see yourself sort of in the country music genre and touring traditional venues for country music, or if you just see yourself belonging everywhere?
Well, we certainly are a little more broad and, I don’t know, less definable. I wouldn’t say that we’re undefinable – that’s just fucking pretentious, ‘undefinable’ – but … we fit in at more places than strictly country and folk kind of minded venues. We play in rock clubs and punk clubs and basements and houses, places like that as well as this kind of country and folk venues. I will say, though, that people who are accustomed to and like to come out and hear acoustic music and country music and all that kind of stuff, they definitely have an appreciation for it that in – they sometimes – I don’t know, it’s a different kind of thing. The country and folk people like different aspects of our music that when the rock, energy, and punk people who just have their clubs, you know. So I don’t know if it’s a broad appeal or if it’s just a bunch of different specific appeals or something, I don’t know.
[Laughs] Well, it sounds like different people are responding in different ways, which probably means you’re doing your job really well. I think if you’ve only got one type of audience responding to you, then you’re fairly narrowly defined. But if you’re doing your job as a storyteller and as a musician then it should be able to attract a lot of different people.
It certainly does and I love seeing that. I really like noticing what young people take away from our music and what old people take away from our music. It’s really cool to see that. We just went out for a weekend and went up, kind of to the north woods, to Minneapolis and to Duluth and Milwaukee and we played all punk things with hard-core bands and the younger people there they responded to our music in a different way than the older folk, who just kind of happen to be there. But both of them really enjoyed it. People take away different things and I’m really excited that there’s a lot of different things for people to take away from what we do.