Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Scott H. Biram Interview

This interview is week 1 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

Scott H. Biram + Bad Ingredients = Great Music
Bringing his Dirty ‘ol One Man Show to Red Eyed Fly

By Sean Claes

It was 2006 when I first saw an anomaly of a performance at Stubb’s BBQ. I went there to see Hank Williams III (a musical anomaly himself), but the opener was just as interesting as the headliner that night. There sat Scott H. Biram, a dude that looked like he just stepped out of a semi-truck after dropping a load of BBQ sauce to the adjoining restaurant. His trucker-hat-wearing-Motörhead mustache sporting self got up on stage and sat down with a harmonica strapped around his neck, an acoustic guitar, a stomp box and an old-school Ribbon microphone.

Then he began playing a dirty blues riff, stomping his feet to create the beat, and growling through his set. He played like a man possessed, singing about “chickens,” death, whiskey, and.. yes.. truck driving. His style was raw, like punk-meets-metal through an acoustic guitar.

I got hold of his 2003 release Lo-Fi Mojo and it quickly became one of my favorite releases. Actually, when asked by Texas Music Magazine for my top 10 Texas releases for the last decade, I included Lo-Fi Mojo among them.

An interesting story about Biram is that in March of 2003 he was hit head-on at 75mph by an 18-wheeler. He suffered 2 broken legs, broken foot, a broken arm, and lost some of his lower intestine. There are photos posted (somewhat graphic, so you are warned) on his Forum.
In May 2003 he played a legendary set at Austin's Continental Club, still attached to an IV.

Fast forward to 2012. Biram is now signed to Bloodshot Records, has put out three albums for the label (in addition to his four previous self-releases) and has been a touring workhorse. His latest release is 2011’s Bad Ingredients. He’s playing a hometown show on January 20, 2012 at Austin’s Red Eyed Fly.

Sean Claes: When describing you to people, I usually fall back on the “If James Hetfield was raised on Merle Haggard” description. Is that a fair assessment? –
Scott H. Biram: Ha! Well, yeah maybe. I DID learn how to play guitar from listening to old Metallica records. Underline the OLD in Metallica because honestly I think they really suck now. I also grew up listening to Merle Haggard so… yeah… that's a decent assessment.

But, I've got to tell you, what I usually tell people is that I'm a one man band and if you mixed Muddy Waters, Bill Monroe, Jerry Reed, and Black Flag then you'd have a pretty good idea of what I sound like. It's punk blues...It's country...It's metal...It's bluegrass...It's dirty.

Claes: It seems like you’ve become just as confident in “real country” blues as the stomp-and-scream of your early years.

Biram: I had all that old country stuff in me all along. My solo music career started out on that stuff and on country blues. If you listen to my KnuckleSandwich Records self-releases from before I signed with Bloodshot you'll see that I was bangin' out all that old stuff for years before I was screaming.

Well… even THEN I was screamin' a little...then if you look back further to my older bands... I used to play punk rock and metal.

It's really been a big circle of styles. I'll go bluesy and country for a while then I'll start gettin' that metal itch again. I was in a few bluegrass bands before I went solo too.

Claes: Who are some of your influences?
Biram: I'm a huge fan of old style blues: Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, Leadbelly, Mance Lipscomb, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams...on and on and on...

I also am a huge fan of old country and bluegrass music...Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Merle Haggard, Woody Guthrie, George Jones, Gary Stewart...even some more mainstream stuff like John Anderson and Dwight Yoakum.

People would probably get a good laugh and maybe an "ugh" if they knew how much Bob Seger and Steely Dan I listen to.

Claes: Tell me a little about your songwriting process; are you a lyrics-first or melody-first man?
Biram: It just depends on my mood I guess. Some songs take forever to write. I'll have some little catchy guitar part that I've been jamming on during sound checks for years and then I'm like "Shit, I should use this for something!"

I'm constantly making up lyrics in my head though. I come up with ideas all the time. Alot of them start as little joke songs then I tweek the lyrics a little and they become "real" songs.

Claes: Where do you prefer to do your writing?
Biram: Anywhere. I make a lot of stuff up when I'm joking with my friends. I also write a lot in the van and my truck by myself...the shower...the toilet...ehhhh… wherever the words come in.

I do a lot of writing while sitting on my great-grandmother's old porch swing on my front porch.

I've also found that right when I get up and I'm half way in a dream state that things come to me pretty good. I've written some great songs in the middle of the night when I wake up and can't sleep. I just start writing lyrics and let them simmer over night.

Claes: You do a cover of Lightin’ Hopkins’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” for Bad Ingredients.
Biram: I recorded that song a year or so before I started working on the album. Lightnin' to me is the coolest man who ever lived.

I was just kinda screwing around in the studio one day and pushed record. That's what came out. Love Lightnin'.

Claes: You filmed a video for “I Want My Mojo Back” recently. Where is that car graveyard?
Biram: Well, I've been going over to that junkyard to get parts for my '65 Ford Falcon Ranchero for the last several years but I also have gone out there with other folks since I was a kid. It's just a cool place.

It's over near where I grew up but I don't really want to give away its location because it's a real treasure and I'd like to keep it on the low-down. Sorry. Any hot-rod mechanic within 100 miles probably knows exactly which place it is from the very first couple scenes.

Claes: The 13 songs on Bad Ingredients make up a well-rounded album, but I saw you’ve got several additional songs in the can that didn’t make the album, what’s happening with them?
Biram: I finished Bad Ingredients a month early, kinda unexpectedly. I had recorded about 6 songs between Nov. 2010 and March 2011.

Basically, went in the studio any chance I got between tours. I came home from Europe in May 2011 and went straight into the studio the next morning. I recorded a 7th song then started looking through some old files on my studio computer.

I started mixing down some experimental projects from the year before. After a few hours of mixing...I suddenly had 23 tracks! Well anybody who's ever dealt with a record label knows that they will most likely not want to put out a 23 song album.

My management and I picked out the ones we thought went best with the overall feel of the album.

Claes: Any plans for the ones you didn’t use?
Biram: We decided that the others would be best used for bonus tracks.

A lot of them were kinda weird and out there, so they couldn't just be pushed off to be used on a later record. I like to release stuff when it's still pretty fresh. So we put out a 7" single from Bad Ingredients and used one of the left over tracks as a B side.

Then we offered 5 of the other bonus tracks to people who pre-ordered the record before it came out. After a while a lot of people were sending emails about them even after the pre-order offer had expired.

Now, I think they're pretty easy to get ahold of if you join my newsletter-email list thingy. I've been on the road pretty hard for the last few months and I've actually lost track of what the deal is with those now.

Claes: In the last 10 years you’ve continued to hone your craft and, listening to Bad Ingredients, I would probably describe it as polished rawness. How do you feel your progression has advanced since Lo-Fi Mojo?
Biram: Part of that is due to the fact that I've been reading and studying about recording and production since I was 14. I've only had my hands on a full recording set up for about 6 or 7 years now. Before that I was using cassette 8 track recorders and 24 track HD recorders.

That old Lo-fi Mojo record was actually recorded live on an Austin Radio station. I learn a little more with each album so the production has been getting a little better each time. I have a thing I've been trying to achieve for a while that I call "overproduced lo-fi." It's kind of an oxymoron I suppose, but that's what makes it so cool.

I once bought an $8 microphone from radio shack and fed it through a $2000 pre-amp... It still sounded like shit though. I couldn't make that work. (laughs) I thought for sure I was on to something with that experiment but turns out....not so much.

My lo-fi sound is also probably due to the fact that I listen to mostly old blues and folk records and chain gang field recordings. I think my studio ear is conditioned to try to emulate that kind of thing. Add all the old classic metal and rock that I listen to and I think you get some kind of classic rock/folk/depression-era goo. I hear a lot of bands trying to sound like the Black Keys these days with their distorted vocals etc.

I been doin' that kinda shit for the last 15 years without any influence from anyone but the old dead guys.

Claes: Who are some of the bands/musicians you have shared a bill with that you recommend for those who are looking to advance their musical horizons?
Biram: I'm not so sure they're still together anymore but my old buddies, The Black Diamond Heavies on Alive Records have a great sound. You can still get their stuff. Also my friends, Left Lane Cruiser, Chili Cold Blood, and The Moonhangers are great bands.

I've spent quite a bit of time on the road with Th' Legendary Shack Shakers and The Dirt Daubers. That's always a pretty good fit and alot of fun! Turns out that alot of the stuff that comes up on the Scott H. Biram Pandora station is pretty good stuff. Not that I go around listening to my own Pandora station all day or anything but sometimes out of curiosity to see what pops up on there. Check it out!

Claes: You’re four albums deep working with Bloodshot Records. Seems like a good fit. What makes it work?
Biram: Most of the stuff on Bloodshot is a little more mature sounding than my stuff. I'm pretty sure I was the first band to record for Bloodshot that leaned toward any hardcore type music.

It works for me because it allows me to be the punk on the label. Not to say all my music is hardcore. In fact, most of it's very rootsy and blues oriented, but I do like to throw a little of that harder stuff on each record.

My stage persona is pretty raunchy. I mean I guess it's a persona. I'm pretty raunchy in general. I owe Bloodshot one more record on our contract, but I'm sure we'll work together on more. I get along with all those folks over there and it's pretty much a no-bullshit operation. Not nearly as much of the corporate pull on things at an independently owned label like Bloodshot. They've been real good to me.

Claes: You’ve got the reputation of being a no bullshit, slightly cocky performer who lives the songs he sings.
Biram: Hey if you're gonna sing...sing loud...sing it like you mean it...walk the walk. I was a punker for years. I learned my stage ethics from bands like Black Flag and Fear....and local Austin bands we looked up to like Crust and Ed Hall. I think I learned to spit and punch before I learned to play guitar. ha ha...

Claes: Jesus Loves Scott H. Biram.. it’s more than just a great t-shirt. It’s a proven fact. For all intents and purposes, you should have not survived the head-on collision with the semi in 2003. I saw the photos and it looks like you’re sitting inside a crumpled up piece of black paper. Has the fact that you were tapped to live fueled your passion for music and life?
Biram: I'm thankful every day that I survived. I already had a lot of fuel in me before the wreck ever happened. When I was laid up for 7 months recovering; I felt like I was falling behind. I've been trying to make up for it ever since. I think I probably caught up a long time ago but the momentum won't let me go. It's head-on forever now. Nose to the grindstone.

Claes: You’re going to play the Red Eyed Fly on Friday, January 20. Pulling anything special out for the night?
Biram: No, I'll be keeping my pants on (laughs)...

Actually, I've taken a little bit of a break for December and January. Been playing limited shows. So the show at The Fly will be more of a chance for me to get back into the swing of things.

Usually when I take a break for this long, the first few shows have longer sets so I can get back into it. I've got something like 400 songs so I don't think there will be a problem. Also, all the shows I play at Red Eyed Fly end up with good turnouts and just a great time in general.

Claes: Just for grins... what are your three predictions for 2012?
Biram: I predict I will keep on keepin' on. I predict we are going to have a blast on the road and get bigger crowds than ever. I predict I'll eat a shit-ton of beef jerky on the road.

Claes: There is no question 17. Use this as free space to write anything you want… or add anything you feel I missed.
Biram: Stay in school. Don't do drugs.

Catch Scott H. Biram at Austin’s Red Eyed Fly on January 20. Find out more about him at

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