He stomps. He hollers. He yodels and howls. Scott H. Biram also plays guitar, shakes tambourines and basically, utilizing various effects, makes more of a racket on stage then one man should be allowed the pleasure. But it is a pleasure for Biram, whose music has been featured on FX's Sons of Anarchy, and who recently released "Bad Ingredients," his eighth album (many self-released).
Unlike his wild stage act, Biram's studio work is more formulaic and features added instrumentation. "Whatever it takes to make a song sound full," he says. On stage, where Biram has cemented his reputation as dynamic performer with a primal energy (and scream), he is able to reproduce, through the magic of electronics and creative passion, most of those songs without backing musicians -- and he likes it that way.
Up On The Sun caught up with Biram in West Palm Beach, Fla. where he was nursing a cold and prepping for his upcoming tour. Biram, however, was jovial enough, even with a nasally southern drawl, to talk about his new album, the expectations of being a one-man band, and how faith sort of plays into his music.
Scott H. Biram is scheduled to perform Friday, February 17 at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale.
Up on the Sun: What are the roots of your music? To say it's the blues seem an obvious but easy way out.
Scott H. Biram: The foundation of my music is the blues. That's what I lean into more than anything else. But I've got country and bluegrass, hillbilly music, rock, punk rock and metal mixed in there. Sometimes I do all of one thing, and sometimes I do all those things mixed together. I've got multiple personalities I suppose.
Based on your press release, I'd say your publicists are hard-pressed to figure it out as well.
The easy way to describe it is to take Muddy Waters, Bill Monroe, Jerry Reed and Black Flag and mix them all together and you're going to get close to what I'm doing.
Bad Ingredients is your new album. Critics have called it more "mature." How is this one different from previous works?
Honestly, I don't see it as that much different. It's not quite the same as the others -- every record is a little different then the next because I'm going through different things in my life. As far as my songwriting goes I think for the last couple records I've been writing similar songs. I think "Born in Jail" is a standard blues thing. I don't know, maybe (critics) are saying it's more mature because the first song on the record, "Just Another River," is an acoustic only country song. But go one more song to "Dontcha Lie To Me Baby" and it's completely rocked out, almost metal. I've got songs I guess can be considered mature, like "Open Road," but further down the record you hear some pretty heavy-duty rock. Maybe it's the production? I'm getting better at my recording techniques. [Laughs] I don't know.
One song is called "I Want My Mojo Back." Did you lose it?
Not really. I'm not sure I ever had it. (Laughs)
There are two aspects to your music: the studio work that features you on multiple instruments with overdubs, and the live one-man band. How do you make one work with the other?
In the studio I do whatever it takes to make a song sound full and make a good song. I'm not thinking about whether it's possible to play all that stuff live. I just try to make good songs that are quality enough to get radio play. When it comes down to playing all these songs on stage, the answer is I can't. Sometimes I have to change the songs a little bit to play them on stage. But for the most part I can pull it off. I'm not doing anything too crazy in recording. I've got a couple songs that don't work too well on stage so I don't play them, but for the most part I can play almost every song that I have and make it sound whole.
You've created quite a reputation as a solo performer, but have you considered bringing a band along with you, or perhaps a single musician to fill in some of the gaps?
I've been playing in bands for 25 years, man. This is working for me, just doing it for myself. This makes it a little more unique actually. I have friends that I bring in the studio, and I've considered putting a band together, but right now this is working out the best. And I'm not your typical one-man band, you know?
The average one-man band for many people is a guy with an acoustic guitar. As a live one-man band do people have certain expectations?
First of all, you said the average one-man band is a guy with an acoustic guitar. That is a singer-songwriter. There's no part of that that's a band. With me, I'm stomping my foot on this thing I've made that goes through effects and comes out this wall of speakers. I'm not really a one-man band; I've got too many speakers [laughs]. But I'm doing the percussion myself. I've changed my voice over the years too, so it sounds like an instrument as well. As far as a one-man band some people think I've got a big bass drum on my back and cymbals between my knees, but there are a lot of different things you can do. Basically, I'm doing it for myself, and all myself. I've got a tambourine, a stomp board, a harmonica and I can switch between slide guitar, baritone guitar and electric guitar. I can yodel, I can even hambone... there's a lot I can do as a one-man band. I try to have a lot of things I can do so it's not a guy with a guitar singing songs. That's boring.
You sing about dark places and gritty subject matter, but also about Jesus setting you free. Where does your faith lie and does it tie into your music?
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My faith lies in the ever unfolding story of the universe. I pray but I can't put a finger on who I pray to -- the open-minded (one) and the one with the cosmic flow, but I don't get too serious when it comes to religion. I don't believe in organized religion; it's just something to dump your money into. But I do have a lot of respect for old gospel music. I grew up in the country and went to church and I've seen a lot of gospel choirs. I've read a lot about old time gospel music. Muddy Waters, Son House, they started this way. ... I like the early recordings by John and Alan Lomax ... those old chain gang holler songs, that's basic emotions being belted out.
You think then the faith you have put in the universe has got you where you are now?
I was just filming a PBS special at Sun Studios in Memphis and didn't like all the cameras around, playing for just four people watching me. I can play fine to a whole bunch of people, but four people is a little strange. While I was in there I started telling myself to open my heart and mind to all that history that happened there with Johnny Cash and Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and all the greats that recorded there. The first rock and roll ever recorded was recorded there, "Rocket 88." I just opened my heart to that and made myself a vessel for this energy to flow through rather than let my mind take over. I think that has helped me over the years, opening myself up to energy like that instead of the same old human bullshit.
Scott H. Biram is scheduled to perform Friday, Febuary 17 at Martini Ranch in Scottsdale.