Current home: Portland, OR
Artist bio: Portland, Ore.-based singer/songwriter/guitarist/band leader Scotland Barr calls his Slow Drags "a true 21st century outfit," claiming that the group was formed entirely via craigslist. (Just how far tongue is in cheek when making that claim is open to opinion.) Maybe so, but the contents of "All the Great Aviators Agree" - Barr and company's second release - seem more grounded in the 20th century, the 1970s in particular. "Aviators" recalls a time when musical categories didn't matter as much, when your local AM station would offer a three-song run featuring hard rock, soul, and country rock. The work of Barr and the Slow Drags might be roots rock at heart, but it's a heart that's free to wander.
CST's Take: A band van's worth of sounds and styles, with what seems like stops at every honky-tonk and pub on the Americana trail from the Pacific Northwest to Austin.
Country Standard Time: For a couple almost stream-of-consciousness reasons (available upon request), the song Don't Get So Heavy - especially the first couple of lines - makes me think of both The Band's The Weight and Warren Zevon's Mohammed's Radio. Are you a fan of either of those songs? And how crazy am I for making those connections?
Scotland Barr: Thank you for even comparing Don't Get So Heavy to these great songs. I see a real conection in the type of song. All three are mid-tempo power ballads with some balls. Lyrically too, all three songs kind of stray into some random-abstract territory. I am a huge fan of both The Band and Warren Zevon, although I was not thinking of either when I wrote Don't Get So Heavy. I don't think I had even heard Mohammed's Radio at that point.
CST: In interviews, songwriters have said things like "I can only write sad songs when I'm feeling happy." On that note, when you wrote Don't Get So Heavy, were you in a carefree mood or feeling like the weight of the world was on your shoulders? What do you remember most vividly about when you started to write the song?
SB: I certainly do not fall into the category of "...only writing sad songs when I'm happy." I find that I kind of seek a chord or musical progression, or better yet a "soundtrack" that fits my mood or situation at the time. If I am lucky, I will have one of those crystallizing moments that become stuck in time. This usually happens when the perfect lyric falls from the sky at the same time and everything comes together. I find, for me, songs come in two ways: through evolution or revelation - the latter being what I described above. The revelation songs are otherworldly. They seem to come out of nowhere, usually in a complete form and really quick. It is shocking sometimes, and I feel like I can hardly take credit for writing these songs at all. It's as if they have always existed, I just happened to catch one as it flew by. I wish I could catch a few more of those. Don't Get So Heavy falls in the other category, kind of a "workbench" song. This song evolved over several years with the chorus and the second verse coming first. I don't remember where I was when it first jumped in my head, but with all my songs (at least the ones I am happy with) each line is clearly "owned" by a place, a time or an individual. These songs, to crib a line from Kurt Vonnegut, are "unstuck in time." I am a "weight of the world on my shoulders" type of guy, so it is good to remind myself to not get so heavy. I also consider it a song about the American obesity epidemic.
CST: "All the Great Aviators Agree" is a little hard to pin down and impossible to pigeonhole. If pressed, how would you describe it?
SB: Thank you. We certainly are not trying to avoid genres or being pigeonholed - we just do what we like. I would describe the CD as a singer/songwriter album amped up with a kick-ass band of great musicians from eclectic backgrounds. Be it classical to early '80s L.A punk, in some way it is represented in what we do. Our van tunes on tour skip from Henry Rollins to Merle Haggard to the Zombies without question. Honest music makes sense to us. I hope somehow "All the Great Aviators" conveys a little bit of that. If not, I'm a "lifer." I'll get it right someday.
CST: Unfair question: what's your favorite song on "All the Great Aviators Agree" and why?
SB: Mexican Blanket. I have never written one like it before and probably won't again. Not my style at all. This is a perfect example of a revelation type song. I was sitting at the edge of my bed with the TV on, and they announced Johnny Cash had died. I had my guitar right by the bed and I picked it up with the slight intention of writing a "Johnny Cash" tune. Twenty minutes later, it was done. No idea where any of it came from...save the inspiration. Thanks, Johnny. This song sat around for a long time. I had not really intended it for a/the band, maybe a solo album. But I played it for the guys, and they wanted it on the CD. Heart of Rome is probably my favorite "band" song on the album.
CST: Okay, on the album you share song titles with Gram Parsons and the Gear Daddies, name-drop Leonard Cohen, and indirectly reference a Lucinda Williams song with a recurring line ("don't change the locks"). Do those things offer any insight into some of your influences? If no, then who are some musicians you admire?
SB: All the above except the Gear Daddies (for lack of exposure) have been big influences. Besides the Leonard Cohen reference, I did not intentionally use any lines to allude to said artists. Damn I love Leonard Cohen; he is quite possibly the coolest man alive. I think if you put him and Sam Elliott in the same room it could truly trigger the apocalypse. Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Neil Young, Elvis Costello, Merle Haggard, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Townes Van Zandt, Petty, Flaming Lips, Wilco, Jayhawks, My Morning Jacket, Harlan Howard, Jimmy Webb, Steve Earle...So many!!!
Scotland Barr and the Slow Drags's MySpace page