October 9, 2011

Recording my EP "Still," (to be officially released 11/1/11) with my new band - Hilary Scott and The New County Line - was a fantastic, frenetic experience. We chose the oft-praised Sawhorse Studios in St. Louis with engineer Jason MacEntire. (Recently voted Best Recording Studio by the Riverfront Times). Every good thing I had heard or read about Jason and his studio was proven true a hundred times over.

On this EP, I play a lot more piano than on previous records, where I mainly composed and performed on acoustic guitar. To have access to the same Baldwin baby grand that Ike and Tina recorded their first hit on was fabulous - it has a sharp, cut-through, driving sound that is perfect for the indie-folk direction my music has taken in its newest incarnation with my fellow musicians AJ Gennaro and Josh Schilling. I also had the chance to record organ tracks on Jason's studio Hammond - could there be a cooler sound on earth?

We booked two back-to-back days in the studio and managed to get all bass, drum, piano, and acoustic guitar tracks in one day, and all electric guitar, organ, main vocals, harmony vocals and additional "sounds" on day 2. Spending ten hours in the studio at a stretch is like being in purgatory and heaven at the same time. Recording is one of my favorite things to do - songs take shape, sometimes get pushed in an entirely different direction, and pull you to your limits in the studio. You hear everything through the best microphones and speakers, you use the best equipment. That is the heaven...But having a strict time limit makes you ever-conscious of the deadline, a pressure that adds increasing weight to your shoulders as each minute ticks by. Will we get everything done we planned and wanted to? That is the purgatory...

But the answer to that question is we accomplished all we wanted, and more, due in large part to Jason MacEntire's professionalism and speed. Some of the "additional sounds" on the record were incredibly fun to perform. After getting large chunks of main tracks laid down, we'd break for pizza or cheap mexican food, shovel it in, then play around with hand claps, stomping on a piece of wood, and even using the sound of an anvil being dropped.

Side note now that I typed the word pizza: the pizza delivery guy, wondering what kind of place it was when I opened the door to him, was a bit awestruck when I told him it was a recording studio. He started nervously rambling about how he did some graphic work if the owner ever needed help with anything like that. I responded I wasn't too sure, but... I handed him the money for the pizzas, and he laughed nervously and turned to go. He was still holding all three of our pizzas. I had to ask him if I could maybe keep the pizza in exchange for the cash. Poor guy...

In a future blog I will relate the story of our photography session with Corey Woodruff - replete with mosquitoes, sandy lake bottoms and rock climbing, but for now, suffice it to say once we got the graphics and mastering done, we were excited to see the finished product, which just shipped a few days ago. I am so proud of this project I am bursting at the seams for everyone to hear it!

We are pre-releasing "Still" in Columbia, Missouri on Friday October 14th at The Bridge, for the special fans who have been with me since the beginning of my journey in 2001. Then, in November, we will start the first leg of our US tour, beginning in Seattle and heading back down through Colorado. We have many great shows planned, including a couple of performances with Darren Smith, a show with CA's Megan Slankard, and one with Seattle's Altin Jimbiz. We will even hit up my hometown, Pullman, WA, for a show we will hopefully share with Charlie Sutton, who has been featured on NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion". Please join us somewhere along the road if you can - dates are on the website and more are possibly being added so do check back.

See you out there - bring some noisemakers - we need your help on Labor of Love, it's a crowd-participation type of song!!

February 3, 2011

Goodbye France - it's been a wonderful two weeks! I want to use this entry to thank all my friends here, and the new fans I met at shows. It was really a cool surprise to have someone come up to me at the merch table and point to a disc here and there and say "I already have this one, so...." and choose another title. It's great when you're in another part of the world and someone has already discovered your music.

After a change in recording plans in Italy to health issues of one of the parties involved, I'm flying home tomorrow. I wrote extensively about the Cock Robin shows, and wanted to elaborate briefly on the show at La Bamboche. The venue was quite full, and I played two long sets, with my friend and agent Agnes translating for me so that I could communicate the meaning of the songs to the audience. I even spent some time telling jokes at the beginning of the show and was pleased when the humor translated. A couple of days after the show, my friend Sophie forwarded me a message her friend Said had posted on his Facebook page after seeing me perform that night. Here is the translation of what he said:

"A marvellous voice and a few guitar notes played in a remarkable way can make you forget all the rough things in life for a while. Music brings sweetness to your mind, but the talent of an artist brings you much greater happiness. I experienced some wonderful moments last night."

Well, France, I experienced some wonderful moments with you as well. I look forward to the next adventure. (Thanks Agnes, Sophie, Claude and Lisa, my family in France!)

January 29, 2011

I seem to be in some sort of waking dream. I flew to Europe last Sunday not sure what this experience would be like. My French agent had earlier planned a longer tour for me, but due to visa restrictions we were limited on performances this time. I was very excited about opening for the legendary American band Cock Robin, but could not have imagined, in my wildest hopes, all the wonderful experiences I would have, and all the possiblities this short trip would open for me. I am not even sure where to begin, as the last two days have been an endless string of fabulous anecdotes and amazing surprises.

I was very nervous for my first performance of the two openers I would do for Cock Robin at La 2Deuche, a very nice theater venue in the Auvergne region of France. Agnes (my agent) and I drove to the venue with plenty of time to spare and I waited anxiously to meet Peter and Anna of Cock Robin. I could hear their sound check reverberating through the venue. I started recognizing some of the songs Agnes and I had been listening to during the day. Not only are Peter and Anna (the two founding members of Cock Robin) amazingly talented, but the French musicians they are touring with to promote their new album are also some of the finest I've heard. Their performances left me with goosebumps, and tons of energy - those two things do not always go hand in hand, but with this band, it does. I would be thrilled to see them live again and again. Their songs are different each night, oozing with creativity and complexity. I was so honored to share the stage with them these two nights. Peter Kingsberry has written some of the best songs I've ever heard - and even with the fame Cock Robin has achieved, more people need to hear these songs! Everyone needs to hear these songs!

As for my performances, I was nervous on a number of levels. I always am more nervous for solo shows than I am for shows with a full band, or even just one other musician supporting me. Carrying the entire show by yourself makes you hyper-aware of every note, every sound, every whisper, every breath. You can't escape the sensations your mind is throwing at you even while you try to focus on the music. I was also nervous because it would be only my third time presenting to the French audience, an audience that had come there for the main act, a band that has been famous in Europe (Agnes compared their fame in Europe to that of Elvis Costello, or Sheryl Crow to give just a couple of examples from the French perspective) for about thirty years. And I was to be the unknown quantity, not speaking their language, and hoping they would accept my orginal music, which they had never heard before. With all of these things working on my nerves, I came out onstage and in my limited French was able to say "Good evening La2Deuche, how's it going? My name is Hilary Scott! Let's go!" Their positive response gave me a second's thrill, and then I immediately plunged into my song And Just which won the international division of the Festival Degli Autori songwriting competition in Sanremo, Italy this past June. (I will be heading to Rome on Tuesday to record the album I was awarded for my win with producer Euro Ferrari). The audience response was incredible. Not only were they paying absolute attention but they were laughing at my lame attempts at humor with a bastardized mix of English and French, and whistling and applauding and motivating me more and more with each song. The set list was: 1. And Just 2. Help (brand new song!) 3. Loser Blues 4. My Friend 5. Calls From Springfield 6. People on a Train

After the set, I was flooded by kind words from so many people working on the technical side of things, from the stage manager to the tour manager for Cock Robin, to the sound technicians, to the proprietors of the venue. Some of the truly kind things they said were, "your voice is incredible, so warm," and "you are superb, just voice and guitar, absolutely stunning," and receiving comparisons to Rickie Lee Jones, Emmylou Harris, and Joan Baez certainly didn't hurt my feelings at all. :) (I hope it doesn't sound incredibly snobbish to write those compliments down here, but I'm afraid I will forget them if I don't record them, and they really meant so much to me). I also couldn't believe how many people, while purchasing CDs and asking for autographs came forward to offer contact names to my agent Agnes for press, TV, etc. The proprietor was so pleased with how things went, he wants to bring me back to La 2Deuche in the future, perhaps for a double-headlining show with another singer-songwriter. I am very excited about that.

I've played some big shows and had some amazing experiences, even been treated a little like a rock star before, but this venue really has it together! Nice rooms and great spread for the artists, which was full of fruit, wine, chocolate, cookies, and more! (If this was Cock Robin's rider, I give them massive cred for the Twix and the peanut M&M's, right on!) I also thank CR for the pre-show-calm-your-jitters-sip of whiskey, and the venue for the amazing catered dinners we ate two nights in a row. Woo! Good stuff. I also send a special thank you to Cock Robin's crew, their stage manager treated me like I was one of them, although he had no obligation to even say hello to me - he could have just made sure I didn't step on any of the band's cables! :) He actually took care of placing and removing my guitar, un-plugging and plugging it, and tuning it right before my set. I enjoyed not having to worry about the technicalities so I was free to think about the music I was about to present. Made my job a lot easier! Most of all though I must thank Cock Robin, Peter and Anna, and all the musicians for embracing me (literally and figuratively) and my music. I know we will have more adventures in the future, and the experiences with this band created memories I will carry with me forever. And the sound tech offered to record my show the second night so I will have recorded memories to share with all of you, as well!!

Upon our arrival for the second night of opening for Cock Robin, the proprietor of La2Deuche gave us a copy of a newspaper article that was released that day, reviewing the show the night before. We had never spoken to a journalist, never sought out any press, and yet there was this brief, but incredible quote: "after an astounding opening performance by Hilary Scott - (what a voice!!!!)" and then the continuation of the review of Cock Robin's show. Agnes was thrilled since opening acts usually don't get press and often not positive press, so it was really a boost. After the show, I had the chance to talk with Anna and Peter and the other musicians and crew - and everyone was absolutely wonderful. I especially appreciated the fact that Anna and Peter have an incredible wealth of experience and have had the kind of heady success that might turn many people into divas, but are two of the kindest and most grounded people I've met. I felt a kinship with them in terms of how they are approaching their music now - touring a new album, which was produced independently, and mixing up the performances each night with the sort of attitude that "we can't rest on our laurels - there is always more to discover!" I was inspired.

A fun story from the second night is that when Peter thanked me for my opening set from the stage, he also noticed one empty seat in the front row, and asked what that was about. The man sitting beside the empty seat yelled out, "this is for Hilary!" The entire crowd laughed and applauded and I stood up and walked across the front row to the open seat. This kind of bantering continued throughout the show, and the crowd warmed up and became more and more enthusiastic. About halfway through the show, Agnes and I got up to dance right in front of the stage. When performers see people dancing, their energy increases, and the audience feels this. When the audience sees that people are not shy and are getting up, they follow, and the reciprocal energy in the room is increased exponentially. It was just a fabulous experience. It was also Anna's birthday and they gave her a cake onstage, and afterwards we celebrated with some champagne Agnes brought. All in all, two truly fabulous shows, and the kind of experiences that were even better than I could have wished for.

This blog has grown very long, so I will write about La Bamboche in my next installment. Thanks for reading!

January 2, 2011

When it rains it pours....this is true on a number of levels. On a quite literal level, the weather here in Fukuoka this winter has been Seattle-like: lots of rain. But today I felt the sun on my face for a few minutes when it broke through the clouds.

On a metaphorical level, good fortune has rained down on me for my last week here. I've recently been featured on BARKS, a popular Japanese entertainment website. Apparently my artist page will remain there and be udpated with a news feed from time to time. I also am fortunate to have an interview lined up for January 7th, at Japan's LOVE FM, on a show called Natural Woman. I find this fortuitous not only because it's international radio and that is ALWAYS a good thing, but also because the show is named after a Carol King song, and one of the biggest compliments I've ever received was to be compared to her by a Chicago DJ. I also am fortunate enough to get to meet a new friend of mine, a Japanese woman who has been in PR and worked in conjunction with some VERY famous artists in the past. She is coming to my last two performances here, and hopefully we will discuss a direction for furthering my original music career here in Japan.

On the European front, I'm going to be the solo opener for two Cock Robin shows in late January in France, which is a very cool thing as they have had hit songs in Europe and been popular there for several decades. I then head down to Italy for 7 intense days of recording, a possible meeting with a professional photographer for an album shoot, and to meet up with publicists and managers with the goal of finding representation for Italy and beyond.

Heading back to the US in only 6 days, I look forward to a midwestern show or two with my new band, The New County Line. I'm excited about this band because it's a fusion of different styles based on the musical backgrounds of its members. We have a drummer who comes from a punk background, a bassist who's heavily influenced by jazz and soul, and a guitarist who loves classic rock. We morph this into our alt-country-pop-folk sound, and we're going to start experimenting with changing up instruments between members since we're multi-instrumentalists. I also plan on re-uniting with the Hilary Scott Band for some shows - the feeling when we play together is unparalleled as it can only be with a band that's been together as long as we have (nearly 10 years!) and we anticipate each other's moves and balance each other so well.

I'm missing everyone back home so much, and grateful for the short stop I'm making in Seattle on the way back to St. Louis. I will go wedding dress shopping with my mom, see some family members I haven't seen in quite a while, and celebrate a late Christmas. Then, when I get to St. Louis, my fiance and I plan another late Christmas with family on his side. I have a lot of catching up to do, and many friends to see in the short 10 days I am there before heading to France. The first half of 2011 is going to be busy with travel and wedding plans. And I do mean it when I say I hope I see you all at shows this year. Many of my closest friends started out as fans who came to shows....and so I count myself blessed to have friends all over the US, and now scattered all over the world as well.

Happy New Year to you all!!!!!!