Interview with Scott Burton



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Mark Beeman

Andy McGraw

What Does Sound Say?


M: Me

S: Scott. Burton

M: Are you a vegan?

S: I was vegetarian for a little bit but it was tough. It was a fun experiment

How long did you make it?Almost a year, and it helped that I joined a band who 00:01:00at the time two were vegetarian and one was vegan. Just being in the environment where people are looking for other options, but ya like a year

Are you currently in a band?

Ya, I play in a few different projects.

So your scattered around?

I do a little bit of everything. So I play in an indi folk band called Laray. I also lead my own project which are more jazzish. Every once in a while I'll play 00:02:00other gigs to pay the bills like wedding bands.

I have been interested in music since I was a kid and considered it a career option but everyone says it's not a real job. What do you have to say to people like that?

I think it depends whatever you goal is. If your goal is to reach a lot of 00:03:00people with your music there's things you can do for that but if your goal is to explore what you're interested in then that's another thing too. And that's more of an art rout like getting grants for projects and insulations for museums, that's for if you're really into sound and exploring that whole thing. But if you're just really into writing pop songs there's ways to do that too and avenues for whatever you want to do that can definitely be sustainable.

Tell me about this experimental music

For instance Ryan Eno is a great example, he's a producer who's worked with U2 00:04:00and now I think he produces a lot of coldplay stuff. Just recently he came with an app that generates ambient sounds. So he produces all this pop stuff but also works with ambient sounds. So that's an example of someone who works with music 00:05:00but finds himself in all sorts of different situations.

How do you do music and pay the bills?

SO what I do is private music lessons in addition to all the music stuff. So 00:06:00guitar is my primary instrument I've been playing guitar for a while now. And I went to school and took jazz guitar lesson there and I just immediately started playing locally around. I just started out as random gigs here and there that, you know, jazz is something you can make a lot of money playing at weddings also play like background music at restaurants and stuff. I would use that to get better at my craft and started teaching to pay the bills. Also having writing credits on songs used in movies or TV shows. So with music it tends to be a ton of little things. So most of it is from teaching but lately I've been doing a 00:07:00lot of weddings.

I'm more interested in the emotional side of music, would you say experimental music has that?

Ya it does but it's different. It kind of depends on what your goal is. Like I do a lot of experimental and jazz stuff and there's a lot of emotion in that music but it's channeled in a different way where when you see it live you see what someone is trying to get across musically, but it's a lot more abstract cause nobody is saying any words. SO the parameters is different but the goal is 00:08:00usually the same where there's got to be some emotional content. Experimental music is more about the headspace it puts you in, almost in a meditative sort of way.

Did you always know you were going to be into music since you were a young kid?

I think I got into it young, I started playing guitar when I was in third grade and my dad played so he would show me things here and there. And I was always interested in it. I was always interested in like sound and as a kid I was obsessed with things like thriller by Michel Jackson. That album I listened to a million times. And the Saturday night fever soundtrack. I don't know why but 00:09:00those two things, I don't even know why it was probably because that's what my parents had at the time and ya just gradually started playing more and more. In elementary and middle school I started playing with some friends just a couple bands here and there. And I just got interested, I was always interested in that and movies.

I feel like those are fun careers but actually making it in it is risky

It definitely is, you never really know what's going to take off when you working on stuff. I think the most important thing for someone who picks a creative field like that is to work as much as possible on making things cause 00:10:00even the best people don't know how people are going to be into their stuff. You just have to keep making stuff and something will catch.

Was idea theft ever a concern for you?

No not as much because I grew up always into hip hop music and I got really into the whole sampling culture, and the history of music is all about people 00:11:00stealing, but it's not really theft cause you not doing it to make money really. It's not something you should worry about cause then you're worried about how good your idea which you really shouldn't be thinking about when you're working, you should really be thinking about what's the best thing I can do. And there's tons of ways to protect yourself and if anything if tons of people are stealing your stuff you should be honored.


Do you do any computer work for music?

I use garage band a lot and ableton, it's cool. There's a ton of software.

When did you start making your own stuff?

My brother and I used to jam a lot, and he's younger, but we would just make 00:13:00music and make up little songs, nothing really serious just for fun. Then probably in middle school and high school I started writing little things here and there like I would come up with my own guitar riffs and things like that. Always instrumental, I would never write lyrics. I was really into led zeppelin so I was always trying to play jimmy page.

Was there ever inspirations?


There would definitely be things that would happen that would inspire me to write stuff or like I would just get an idea for a melody and try to figure out what it was. Like I would hear a melody in my head and try to figure out how to play it on guitar. And nothing too complicated just simple stuff. I would just get an idea in my head and would be like I'll try that when I get home from school. And by the time I got home it might have been completely different.


Does music move you?

I defiantly would listen to music and get really into it. And on long car rides 00:16:00with the family I would just be listening to music zoning out for a really long time. And I would definitely be moved and really into it. I'm trying to think lyrically stuff that was really moving. I think a lot of that for me came later like in late high school early college I started getting more into or seeking out well written lyrics, which I wasn't' really into before.

Have you ever been moved by your own music?

Ya definitely, I defiantly written stuff that I thought sounded really good and 00:17:00stuff that I written and I got inspired and wrote really quickly that was trying to communicate whatever feeling I had in that moment. That doesn't happen all that often but when it does it's really cool and it's defiantly and emotional thing.

How do you think drugs influence music?

I'm a weird example because I have experimented some but not that much. I 00:18:00remember my senior year of high school and then in college I was really into the band Phish and I went to go see them a bunch and my brother and I both never smoked marijuana there at all, we were defiantly the outliers. But we were so into the music so we always felt like fish out of water. But to answer the original question, I think that stuff can help because I've seen it help some people but I mostly think just experimenting on your own and allowing yourself to get to a creative space without the aid of something else.

How do you get yourself in that zone?


One thing that I do is ill try to have a time in the day that I set aside to make stuff. The only thing I have to do Is be ready to go to my music room and be ready to play and having whatever you use to create right there in front of you so you don't have to unpack anything and just allowing yourself the time to do it without being like "I have to write a cool song" and if you do that two or three days in a row it really helps me a lot. You can just mess around a lot without any goal. A lot of people think they have to sound good all the time 00:20:00especially if you're learning an instrument haha, I still don't sound good all the time. I don't know anyone that does.

Because you are scattered around here in Richmond, that must mean you exposed to a lot of different stuff in this one area. I'm curious if there are any new genres coming out of this place.

There's a lot of great music here and a lot of great musicians. Actually one of 00:21:00the guys who got me into Mac Demarco who goes by the name DJ Harrison, recently the last wedding gig I did he was the drummer, but he just came out with an album under the label Stones Thrown, an underground hip hop label, all instrumental beats but in addition to that he just makes a lot of amazing music and he has a home studio. But he's always doing different things and plays in a lot of other people's bands that are like different genres. But his main thing is hip hop and jazz. Him, uh ya there's a lot of great people. There's Space 00:22:00Bomb, which is a record label here and they have a lot a great musicians working with them. I guess like indie rock sort of stuff. Obviously the band I'm in, Laray, I'm really excited for our new record, and everyone in that band plays in a lot of different projects too. That the thing about Richmond, it's like not that big, but everyone plays in everyone else's bands.

How do you become part of this?

I would say whatever type of music you're into start seeing bands in that genre locally, definitely I know a bunch so I can give you some suggestions, but you'll start meeting people really quick here. And don't be afraid to introduce 00:23:00yourself but ya you'd be surprised how quickly you'll be able to meet some people, see 5 or 6 bands you really dug, and then see how often they play in town because a lot of the time people play here a lot, it's cool.

Do these people also teach on the side and do those little things to pay the bills?

A lot of people do, they ether teach, another big one for musicians is working in restaurants, that's a really big one. Part of the thing about being a musician that's tough is having this sort of lack of ego to be ok with working at a restaurant or something and being in a band. Because a lot of the times as an artist, it can be tough because you think, "I just want to work on my music" 00:24:00but it is important to know how to pay the bills and that's just part of it that everyone has to figure out. There are those people who become famous and that's awesome but those people still have things. It's kind of the sliding scale of wealth were a lot of times with people, the more they make, the more they think 00:25:00they need.

Do you think a lot of people suffer in that regard, because I heard of things like the starving artist.There are defiantly people like that but I think increasingly that behavior is begin frowned upon. Like I think that the classic 00:26:00trope of an artist being a tortured soul and is an asshole to everyone but its ok because he's a genius, I think that is on its way out. Which I really like because it doesn't have to be that way and everyone I've met that's really successful in music has been really nice and freakishly cool.

I don't necessarily mean asshole artists, I mean the ones who try to fallow their dreams but in that they are failing a lot and they're just struggling to make ends meet

That's definitely a thing that exists too, but a lot of times, you'd be 00:27:00surprised by just having the right attitude about it and realizing that no one owes you anything and a lot of times someone that is a starving artist gets that way by thinking that they're owed stuff because they're really cool at music. And that belief can create that concept, where someone who's just a working musician, part of that job is taking care of the financial aspect of it. As tough as it can seem to have to work at barns and noble for two days a week on an artist's ego, if you're trying to set yourself up for success you got to make sure your bills are payed for. A lot of times the starving artist is someone who isn't confronting that reality.


Is not playing an instrument a setback?

It wasn't over night that I understood music. Like when I took guitar lessons at 00:29:00VCU I didn't go through the music program so I learned by just playing a lot and putting myself in situations where I was way over my head and failing a lot. I got good that way and gradually learned what I needed to read. But I think that knowledge helps to be flexible so you can communicate with other people. For instance a lot of fil score composers, the director will try to tell them what 00:30:00they want but they don't know how to because they don't know the terms or anything. So I don't think reading music is necessary, I think you can do great at music without being able to read it all but it definitely helps so that it's easier to communicate your ideas to others.

How did you get into your first bands and join the music scene?

So what I did was I met some people, actually the first jazz thing I put together was a jazz quartet, I just made flyers that said looking for musicians 00:31:00and here are my influences and just put them around VCU campus and one person responded and he was an awesome drummer. So we started playing together, he had some friends. Another thing I did was I went to these weekly jam sessions in a place called Richie's, and I met people that way and one person responding to 00:32:00the flyers. So I met this drummer because he was the only person that responded and I met his friends because he had also responded to another add. So he was the only person to respond to two ads and he connected us that way, and I'm still friends with them. In fact one of the guys just built my new guitar, he builds guitars in New York now, you never know where things will go.


What movies have you scored for?

I've done some short films, I used to make music with one of my friends that 00:34:00made some short films at VCU just like student films, but then I did music for a documentary called Euro Crime, about 1970's Italian crime movies and I wrote a bunch of music for that that we recorded here with a band that a lead called Glow in the Dark. I did a couple of years ago a short film for one of my friends who's a comedy writer and he writes for a few different sitcoms. But he did a short film and then did a web series and actually used the music from the short 00:35:00film I scored so I wrote one piece of music that got used in two different things. The web series made a couple lists like Buzzfeed. Then I did some podcast themes and stuff like that.

What did you study in college?

In college I took guitar lessons, I studied mass communications, and when graduated I worked at channel 12 as a video editor for three years and I edited the 5 o'clock news program and while I was doing that I started my own projects 00:36:00because that was right out of college. That's the same time I started putting up flyers and I just started meeting people. And it all started happening pretty quickly. Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations is good, and I'm glad I did that early on, and I did it a lot more freely when I was younger because I didn't have as many responsibilities.

Did your dream to pursue music versus getting a "real job" ever conflict?

Definitely, I think that's something as I've gotten older I've gotten more comfortable with. Especially now I know successful musicians and I can see how that stuff works and what you see is that it is like what I was saying about thinking of income and stuff like that, that stuff in important and there is a way to do that still write your music and be successful. I definitely struggled with that. When I started teaching lessons that definitely helped a lot because I was very much like I couldn't believe I was getting paid for teaching people how to play guitar. Because it was pretty fun. I didn't know how to teach, I never done that before but you learn really quickly and it's like a one on one thing so it was really developing that. But I think as a creative person that's something you always struggle with like the passion vs hat you need to make a living because both are very important


And you still struggle with that today?

Oh ya, totally

And you ask yourself "why am I doing this?"

It's not why am I doing this, it's more like I wish I could take a week and just record 8 hours a day on music. But at the same time I get a lot out of teaching. Especially showing kids how to make music and inspiring people to make their own stuff. That is awesome that sort of transfer of energy is really positive and enriching to both sides. But it's definitely a continuing struggle because it's never going to be perfect for anyone so it's all about trying to find that balance and constantly checking in is this cool. I used to do a lot more random 00:38:00gigs as background music at restaurants because as a jazz musician you can play a ton of gigs at a restaurant just playing music, no one's listening to you but it pays pretty well. And I started doing a lot less of that a few years ago because I was like this isn't cool. When I became a musician it wasn't to play as a background musician at a restaurant. But I do some of that here and there still to pay the bills and I found a way to enjoy that stuff but I had to take a step back from it and ask myself how can I enjoy it. Because I love the people I'm playing with I just don't like that we're in that background and no one 00:39:00cares what where playing, people are eating steak while we're playing. I think it's a constant checking in like where am I at with the things I want to accomplish, the goals vs paying bills

Looking back was it a good idea?

Ya I think so, I really like putting myself in uncomfortable situations or situations where your in over your head and I think im glad that I did that early on because I did it a lot more freely when I was younger just because I didn't have as many responsibilities as I do now but I still really like that. Like I recently started a project called the Kassel Quartet, and we play music 00:40:00with an old guitar player name Barney Kessel, he's one of my favorite jazz guitarists, and the way I put together the music is guitar saxophone bass and drums. It's definitely experimental but it's like, we'll play the melody and there will be solo sections, like sections where one person takes a solo and another takes a solo and to figure out what the rest of the band is going to do in those situations I wrote down all of these arrangement ideas that I love and I wrote each down on a separate card and ill shuffle this deck of cards and figure out ways to, so like this song we'll play this melody, then we'll do the sax solo, while that's happening the rest will be totally different then it will 00:41:00be the guitar solo, while that's happening maybe this case guitar solos the drums cue random musical hits with the base player, basically a ton of ideas and talk about uncomfortable situations, the first rehearsal we had when I was trying to explain that idea to others in the band, first of all I felt lucky that they were even agreeing to meet me, like what's this weird music your trying to get me to play you know? That like type of thing is really valuable, putting yourself in that situation, and that project turned out great. We play a few shows now and the project just keeps growing. And the process is nothing I would tell the audience because I think as an audience member your just watching 00:42:00music and you just don't know what to expect. So it starts off sound like traditional jazz but then I veers into other things and hopefully its interesting, but ya, when I first came up with that idea I was like how the hell am I going to explain this to anyone and I figured out how to by just putting together a rehearsal, we are going to meet at this time and here's what we're gonna do. And everyone thought it was cool but I didn't know that until I did it so I was super nervous the first rehearsal. I think that anything that's worth doing is gonna have that fear. And that's something that you can use to guide you, you have that fear but it's something you really want to do, you gotta do it that's the coolest stuff. So I definitely learned a lot by putting myself in 00:43:00those situations for sure.

You probably grow as a person and gain confidence and stuff like that too?

One thing that really helps I used to do this booking thing with Matt white the guy I was telling you about from spacebomb we ran this thing called patchwork collective which is an idea we came up with where we would book shows and every concert would have three different genres of music and we would get a bunch of people together that wouldn't necessarily see the other music so we used it to book a lot of experimental bands and inevitably we would play in the pans and then we would have an experimental fan and inevitably all the people that came to see the indie band would also Love the experimental band and that was just an idea that we had and are used to do shows every two weeks and it was good we 00:44:00would sell out a bunch of sodas and stuff but it was a really great experiment and exposing people to music that weren't necessarily or didn't know even know what to like and that was really cool and it gave me a lot of confidence to try more experimental music because I saw that there was a way for people to appreciate that and it was something that I was I was really interested in so that was cool how that stuff worksAre you making money out of your musicYeah yeah I'm making not really much but I don't make money here and there on the shows that I play I make money but live shows but it's more about like the meaning meeting the people so like the castle quartet would not normally make 00:45:00money but we just did a show with this amazing Chicago player and it was really cool to hang out with him and now if you go to Chicago we can play with them but meeting those people is important because you never know the band that we played with the leader of that then Jason stein his younger sister is Amy Schumer and he went on tour with her like opening for her the last couple years and it was all playing experimental jazz in these giant coliseums and you know The audience would see experimental jazz music and then see her to reset and he said that one great but anyway it's weird that I know that dude but it's great because the 00:46:00music is what brought us together and like I sai that's more of the payoff for that kind of stuff I do make money teaching I do make money from Music here in there like I got stuff on iTunes and they definitely too OK nothing amazing but it's like there is consistent interest which is cool like people streaming itI like how music and influence how other people feel that is my favorite part about itYa the number one comment that I always get from shows is people will be 00:47:00like I don't usually like music like that but I really liked it which is weird in a way because why don't you normally like it but in a way it's cool because you showed someone something they didn't appreciate before and now they do appreciate it and that does not just happen in experimental kinds of music that happens at all styles of music like Kendrick Lamar is a great example just putting stuff in hip-hop that is not normally there and you know you hear it and you were like that's cool and it leads you to investigate further into things and I don't know it's cool spreading creativity like that is awesome