(Photo: MK Devo)
What do you do when the path you’ve been on for so long suddenly has an immovable block in front of it? If you told bands, and music fans, in America a year ago that they’d soon be faced with the reality of touring and live shows coming to an almost complete stop, few would believe you. Bands have been crisscrossing the country playing for crowds for as long as there have been automobiles and bands, but in 2020, they didn’t. For the entirety of the live music community, this has been unprecedented times and the future is still uncertain. While not the same as getting thousands together for a festival, or being surrounded my familiar faces in your favorite local venue, there was still a need for many that were able, to keep the creativity flowing and to stay connected. In this series of interviews we’re reaching out to artists from the region to hear about how they’ve kept the music going while we wait for the light at the end of the tunnel.
(Photo: Frankie Cavone)
is a keyboard wizard and multi-instrumentalist residing in Plattsburgh, NY. Between being a member of Mister F and lending his skills to a variety of bands from Wild Adriatic to Eastbound Jesus over the years, he’s usually always on the move. A staple in the regional jam scene as a both performer and fan, Scott’s positive energy and love of music always shines through. Over the past year, he’s been doing a steady string of Sunday brunch live streams that started with just piano, evolving into a complex set up that allows him to incorporate a variety of instruments and visuals. Early on in the pandemic he also partnered with fellow musician and video game enthusiast Jeff Bujak to do a series of classic Nintendo game playthroughs, with Jeff playing the game accompanied by Scott on keys doing the soundtrack. It seems he’s now found a balance of keeping himself busy and pushing himself as a musician, while enjoying the time to slow down and reflect too.
MF: Your Sunday Brunch Quaranstreams – what are you at, about 40 in a row now? From the beginning it was what one would expect that knows you as a musician, pretty keyboard focused. Then overtime it evolved to add in guitars, bass, visuals, all sorts of things. What was the process like in figuring out your set up on a week to week basis?
SH: It was fun doing the piano stuff at first. I was working out a lot of tunes I hadn’t really played much, just pushing myself to play. All my gigs had just vanished, it was like staring into the void as far as having things to practice goes, so I dove into my video game song repertoire and just kept trying stuff out, anything I could think of. I started really missing playing with a band, so I started putting together a setup built to be able to improvise with myself, but also to play full songs with complex arrangements, key changes on the fly, the whole nine. It really took several weeks of looking into what I could get away with in Reaper (my DAW) and introducing capabilities just a little bit at a time. I got a new interface and laptop during the summer, and finally had the CPU overhead and number of inputs to able to run all my keyboards, connect them all via MIDI, process guitar and bass effects in real-time without an amp (I can be as quiet to the outside world as the strings of my guitar if I want), and also include visuals, all while looping. This was my ultimate goal, but from week to week I had to figure out what was worth trying and what wasn’t. The format of the stream is basically together now, and the whole beast feels more like an instrument than it used to. It mostly goes off without a hitch these days, but of course there’s the occasional hang-up.
MF: After doing so many streams, did your approach to them change over time? Did you usually go in with a game plan or did you stick to mainly improvisation and the vibe you were feeling that day?
SH: The game plan has certainly changed over time as my setup has evolved. At first I was just doing the video game songs on piano. Then I started looping sometimes with a simple loop function on my DAW I found. Then I made it really really complicated, as I mentioned above. There was a time where every Sunday morning from 9am til 1pm I would basically be consumed with troubleshooting. Then, there were weeks I would spend all morning building drum parts for several songs I realized I wanted to play that day that I hadn’t even rehearsed yet. Now, I just rip apart snippets of the hours of drums I’ve programmed, build up several loops and improvise to them in a seamless set. My days of needing to troubleshoot for hours are thankfully behind me, so I get to have more fun with putting stuff together. The last couple weeks, as a matter of fact, I have been able to incorporate actually playing through a game level that I just live-looped the soundtrack from, so now I finally get to play the video games at the same time as I play the music from them. I’m definitely gonna take that specific idea to Twitch in the coming months. I think that’s the scene for that sort of thing!
The videogame playthroughs you did early on during quarantine with Jeff Bujak
were super fun to watch. What were the challenges with those and do you have a favorite looking back?
SH: The Mario 3 stream was the very first time I used the OBS streaming software! Learning how to squeeze the most out of that on an outdated laptop while learning the entire soundtrack was certainly a challenge. There was also a lingering dread that the whole stream would fail without me knowing! I think the most fun (and also difficult) of those was Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! because it had the most songs crammed into the shortest amount of time, and many of them only happened one time through! I nailed most of them. For all of them, I learned some fun secrets about the games from Jeff’s commentary!
MF: Being part of the jam scene, live music is a huge part of the community. I know without it this past year, it really hurt a lot of us. Were you able to maintain a feeling of being connected to other musicians, artists and music fans, keeping a sense of community while being apart?
SH: Despite everything, I certainly feel a lot more connected than if I hadn’t been streaming every week. I see friends and familiar faces pop in all the time. Some interact, some just hang out, but it’s great to have the interaction. That’s what helps keep the connection. Seeing someone pop in has also caused me to change course and throw in a song I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Being able to see a good friend is out there and think of them, and directly respond to their “presence”, or even a direct request, is *almost* like being there. Every little bit counts right now toward feeling connected! It’s like everyone is in their own echo chamber these days without so much casual human interaction, so it’s good to keep reaching out.
MF: The jam scene has always felt like one of the strongest around, the fans are super dedicated and I think that while the future is uncertain, when the time comes it will bounce right back. What do you think it is about this community that is so special to so many people?
SH: There is a lot of love, from the fans to the musicians, and from the musicians to the fans. Often times the musicians are also the fans! Most of the people that play this music do it from a place of love. They love the work that goes into it, and they love what they get out of it! Many of the artists in the scene are genuine, and their music also feels that way. They feel like they’re the homies because they just are. Try to not run into someone who just crushed their set hanging in the crowd for another band on another stage! …Y’know, when festivals are a safe and responsible thing to do again.
(Photo: Brady Cooling)
MF: How has the events of the past year caused you to grow as an artist and/or person?
SH: I have found a lot more appreciation for staying still, and have been really enjoying all this time at home with Caitlin. We’ve never had this much time together while also being so isolated from the world, so we’ve been finding the best in all of it together! It’s been teaching me a lot, including how to be a better partner. It’s certainly also caused me to look inward a lot more. For several years now I’ve always been on the go as far as gigging goes, being gone for a month at a time most of the time, always outward. Being home so much has sort of muted a lot of the usual outwardness and made me realize much more about the things that are important to me. I think it will reflect itself in my music sooner or later if it hasn’t already!
MF: Sharing is caring – what are some releases (or live streams/performances) you really enjoyed this past year? Anything most people slept on that you loved and we should check out?
Caitlin and I have watched Tim Palmieri
’s Lifestreams as often as we can. We spent many nights this summer with him and his guitar largely projected onto a screen on our shed. lespecial’s New Year’s Eve stream
was a unique audio/visual masterpiece all its own. We were also introduced to Marc Rebillet’
s stuff for the first time early on in the first lockdown. I had always wanted to do live looping, but seeing him have so much damn fun doing it finally ignited the fire for me to just do it already!
You can watch Scott’s Sunday Brunch Quaranstreams at his Facebook page.