Interview: Canadian Troubadour Scott Cook
With his latest album ‘One More Time Around’ just released, we caught up with Canadian singer-songwriter Scott Cook while he was halfway into his Australian tour. Parked on the side of the road, Scott Cook talked to me about his biggest musical influences, how he’ll spend Australia Day, and how we’re all changing the world.
So Scott Cook, first of all, congratulations on the success of your album and your worldwide tour!
Oh, thank you!
This is your second month in Australia for the ‘One More Time Around Tour’. How are you enjoying it so far?
I guess it is my second month! Hey, what day is it today?
It’s the 21st of January!
Okay yeah, almost into my second month then, yeah. Umm, it’s been great so far. I flew in on Christmas Day into Sydney and picked up my van. I bought a van last time I was here, and my friend left it for me by the Sydney Airport so I picked it up, drove right up to Woodford, and then had a week up there, and a bunch of gigs up in Queensland. Now I’m working my way back down – I’m at the Victoria border right now near Albury.
This album’s a more stripped-down sound than some of your earlier work, what made you decide to go in that direction?
I felt like that’s the way it had been moving for a while. Most of my shows I’ve been playing alone, or in Western Canada I was playing in a trio, so I just kind of felt like that could highlight the songs best and let the words come to the front.
I love the story behind Pass It Along, the borrowing and passing along the guitar and for that to then morph into a story of how we’re borrowing the Earth we live on. Are there any musical anecdotes that you’ve passed along to others through your career?
Hmmmm. Well I sure don’t know! I mean, definitely it’s a big encouragement for me when people come up and say they’ve been inspired to write a song, or keep going with whatever creative endeavour that they’re doing, on account of having seen my show. But they’d be better to talk about that than I would! I’ve sure picked up a lot from the various people I’ve met along the way.
Who would you say has been the biggest influence so far?
People that I know, for the most part. Friends of mine. Other small-timers. Before I really got started, there was a fellow named Greg Brown out of Iowa, who was a huge inspiration to me just because he was the first singer that I heard singing in something like my own voice. In a way, it sort of just gave me the confidence to feel like my own voice could work, you know? I think as a beginning songwriter, probably a lot of people fall into the same thing of trying out people’s voices and it takes a while before you find your own. I think Greg Brown really helped me to find my own. But I’ve actually never met the man!
It’s pretty clear from some of your music that you’re really interested in politics and how we can all change the world. Can you tell me more about that?
Oh, what to tell you?! Do you believe we can [change the world]?
I do, yeah! Absolutely.
Okay, then I don’t have to convince you of that! Yeah, I think we’re all changing the world whether we like it or not. I’ve felt like, just being in the position of having people sit down and listen to what I have to say, and having the microphone in front of me, is a privilege and a responsibility to try and say something about some of the challenges we face as a species. If you don’t say anything about politics, that in itself is a political act too. So I feel like I’ve gotta say something! It doesn’t seem to accomplish much to preach at people, so at the very least, if my songs can help people to get in touch with that place of love and compassion within themselves, and maybe broaden their circle of compassion, then that’s good enough I think.
Your songs are so unique in that they each tell such a strong story, so much so that UK Magazine Maverick Country named you “one of Canada’s most inspiring and imaginative storytellers”. Do your lyrics tend to draw from personal experiences?
Oh, that was nice of Maverick County! Yeah, quite a lot [comes from personal experience]. When I began, I think it was pretty much just writing from my experiences because that was what I knew about and that’s what I could tell. But as time’s gone on, I’ve started to try to tell more of other people’s stories. Some people that I know, and even some historical figures, you know. I’ve been working on a set of songs now that’s kind of inspired by various Americans, just trying to pull out some good threads in American history because it feels like the bad threads are sort of coming through a lot nowadays.
If you could have a jam session with some of your favourite musicians living or dead, who would be in it?
Oh, boy! Well, er, I would hope that my living friends would be at it, just because I love jamming with them around the fire. But of course I’d love to meet Woodie Gutthrie, I’d love to meet Greg Brown. I don’t think I’d want to have a jam session with Bob Dylan – he’s probably not very nice.
You’ve been touring the world for the last eight years, performing at festivals and concerts everywhere you go. Do you have a favourite performance from any of the places you’ve been?
It’s coming on nine years now, as a matter of fact. Um, it’s hard to say … I really enjoy festivals, obviously. That’s kind of the reason I got into this, because I wanted to spend more time at those. And I get paid to go hang out at them. Woodford is a really special one in particular, and Newstead Live that I’m headed to now, is also a very special festival in Castlemaine. People are always jamming on every corner. Back home there are a few festivals that are really close to my heart, too. I also really have a soft spot for playing in people’s living rooms, which I do a lot of. When I started out, I was playing in bars an awful lot where they kind of put you in a corner and people mostly ignore you. It was good to start with, but I found it was kind of sucking out my soul after a while, and just not really connecting with anyone. So house concerts started coming along where I play in people’s living rooms, and that’s actually become a big part of my bread and butter – you make a real connection with people.
And finally, since you’ll be in the great land Down Under for Australia Day, do you have any plans to celebrate with the locals?
I’ll be at Newstead Live Musical Festival! So I’ll have to wake up early in the morning, and there’s a very funny fellow named Martin Pearson who does Comedy Quiz with trivia questions that no-one could possibly answer. It’s called FYI and he’s got a panel of guests, and I’m one of them. So that’ll be how I start Australia Day. And it’s the last day of the festival, so I usually hang around at the end of the day and just jam with the folks who are left over. It should be a great day.
Tour dates and more information can be found on Scott Cook’s official website.