What do Faith Hill, Jennifer Love Hewitt and, bizarrely enough, Joey McIntyre of New Kids On The Block all have in common? The answer is, their careers have all benefited thanks to the songwriting skills of LA tunesmith, Scot Sax. In fact, his co-write, with John Rich & Vicky McGheey, “Like We Never Loved At All” is Faith Hill’s next single, from her new album, Fireflies.
But there’s much more to Sax than his stint as former in-house songwriter at Warner/Chappell: his band Feel was responsible for one of THE essential pop-rock records of recent memory with 2002’s Feel and the four-piece recently issued a more laid back follow-up, Invisible Train. Plus, his own self-titled solo album spawned the memorable hit “I Am The Summertime” (as featured in the film American Pie) and his first band, Wanderlust, seemed destined for greatness until record company politics intervened.
When “Like We Never Loved At All” inevitably becomes Hill’s next smash hit, Sax’s career will undoubtedly take another interesting twist, but Andrew Ellis recently got the low-down on all aspects of the affable songwriter’s music industry experiences so far.
You have had such a wide-ranging career in music, tell me how you first got into songwriting and performing…
I started playing drums when I was about five years old. Mostly, I played drums in my bedroom and imagined music in my head. I used to sing and play drums at the same time with no other actual music… which in my head was great, because I filled in the imaginary music. One day I was doing this and a bunch of kids from the neighborhood were outside my window kind of laughing. I didn’t see them, because my eyes were shut. It was pretty embarrassing.
Eventually I figured out how to play guitar and then piano. It came very quickly to me and I wrote my first song when I was 13 and haven’t stopped since. My inspiration to write was from Bob Dylan.
What were your musical/songwriting influences growing up?
Beatles, Bowie, Dylan, Queen, Fleetwood Mac (Lindsey in particular) were the main ones.
The new Feel CD, Invisible Train is something of a departure from the debut. Would you agree with that, and if so, was it a conscious decision to record an album that had evolved from the original Feel sound?
Feel actually recorded a second album that was much like the first album energy-wise but the label just wasn’t a good fit for us ultimately, so we asked to be let go. Unfortunately, they kept those masters.
Invisible Train is an album I wrote and we recorded at my home studio after leaving the label and it was a rainy time mood-wise. The songs on the album reflect that. I don’t make songs up, they are more like an unplanned way of expressing whatever’s going on. Things were a bit heavier this time in my life and so the songs are as well. Not all, but most of the tracks. My favorite artists are three-dimensional in that they are real. This is one of the rare times I’ve released anything this personal. Some people have commented that it’s mellow and slow-tempoed as if there’s something wrong with that! Isn’t Pet Sounds slow and mid-tempoed? Or Beck’s Mutations? Or Dylan’s Blood on The Tracks?
What are your highlights from Invisible Train and why?
The title track is unlike any vocal I’ve done before and I consider it some of my best writing as well. I wrote “Fall” late at night after coming home from a party. That one was also very much from the heart and was written very fast. “Common” is sort of a Nick Gilder type of pop song to me. I love that track. It was recorded totally live in my living room (drums next to the TV, you get the picture). The very last song was actually written right after Wanderlust’s debut was recorded. It’s fun to sing and reminds me of simpler times. Billy [Alexander, guitarist] does a great solo on that one.
Are Feel still signed to Curb Records? It was a slightly odd union in the first place, considering Curb’s country roots and the blatant pop brilliance of the debut.
They tried promoting rock and didn’t do very well. The label doesn’t have any cred in rock and so it was tough for them to sell it and for them to understand how rock works as opposed to country. That said, the man that signed us, Bob Catania, did an amazing job promoting us. Two of the songs charted and received a lot of airplay. I don’t regret signing with them. We got to tour the country, play the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, meet lotsa girls and hear our song on the radio. The band and I shared a lot of laughs on the road as well. Some very outta control nights I won’t soon forget.
The debut Feel CD is one of those near-perfect records that gets better with every listen. You must have been proud of it, but were you disappointed that it wasn’t more of a commercial success?
Knowing what I know about the biz and having been through it with Wanderlust, I was prepared for the worst. Luckily it was much better than I expected. You need a bit of a gimmick to get major attention it seems. We can’t be what we’re not…so we just make the best music we can and whatever happens, happens. Some of the letters and e-mails I’ve received from fans honestly make me feel that we succeeded pretty well. All I’ve ever really wanted was to connect with someone with my music the way my faves have connected with me. Those letters are proof that we’ve done that to a point and they mean more to me then anything.
Your first band before Feel was Wanderlust. The band was critically acclaimed and tasted success with the single “I Walked”. What was it that led to the break-up of the band?
Just as the single was getting tons of airplay and we were selling about 3,000 albums a week the label hired a new general manager named Jack Rovner who didn’t really get that we were on the verge of breaking big time. Maybe he just didn’t get “us.” We were supposed to make a video for “I Walked” and he cancelled it. They stopped promoting the band. The label signed two other bands that were so bad, you wouldn’t believe it, and from that point on things got very difficult and the struggle to stay afloat without the label’s support became too much.
How come you decided to relocate to LA following the break-up?
I was offered a songwriting publishing deal from Warner/Chappell in Los Angeles that was too good to refuse. They needed me to relocate and I was ready for a change. I called Mark [Getten], the bassist from Wanderlust (as well as Feel) and he moved out with me and he helped me record demos for other artists as well as our own thing, Bachelor Number One.
When you got to LA, you began songwriting at Warner/Chappell, a process documented in the song, “Under The Radar”. How did you come to get involved in writing songs for other people in that environment and was it something you enjoyed?
At first, I loved it more than I could ever have imagined. They would send someone to my place almost everyday and I would write something with them, then play all the instruments at Warner’s studio. I would wake up on Saturday morning and it would dawn on me that I actually had written and recorded and album that week. In addition to that writing, I was writing for myself (and recording). I became a writing machine. It was a great time.
Eventually I realized that no one could make my stuff work better than me. So I drifted back into being a full-time artist. These days I still do a bit of writing with other artists but not to that extent. Actually, “Under the Radar” is also about my own need to write a song for myself. I sleep much better and am happier if I’ve written a song that day that I feel is good. Seems I’ve been that way forever…
Were the solo tunes you wrote under the moniker Bachelor Number One something of a release for you whilst writing to order for other artists?
Absolutely. The Bachelor Number One mini-series album was just Mark and I tripping out on cool sounds and songs when we first arrived in LA. When I would write for myself it was so easy compared to writing with others because I didn’t have to satisfy anyone but me. We probably have about 50 other songs recorded that are tucked away somewhere on the shelves. Some of it turned up on the Scot Sax album.
You toured England off the back of the “I Am The Summertime” song in 2000. Who did you tour with and did you enjoy your time in England?
We were the only band that didn’t lip-synch! I couldn’t believe that the other bands we toured with were singing to a track. I absolutely refused to do that of course. We played in front of the largest crowds I’d ever played before. Unbelievable. 50,000 people at some shows. I don’t know who the other acts were, I think they were mostly flavor-of-the-month teen acts but I do remember The Dum Dums and they were quite good.
I first came across your work after seeing your credits on Cary Pierce’s You Are Here CD. Do you prefer writing with someone like Cary or a more-up-and-coming artist like Jennifer Love Hewitt?
I prefer working with someone that is fun to hang out with and lets me do my thing. I’ve always written very, very fast. I can’t do it any other way. Cary enjoyed that energy and he pushed me harder than anyone to follow my ideas till they were as good as he felt they could be. He was very “on” and the two of us banged out lotsa songs together. He’s a great artist and a friend.
Another one of your collaborations was with former New Kid, Joey McIntyre. That must have been an interesting writing experience.
Joey McIntyre came to Warner/Chappell and wanted to make a “rock” album. One of the bigwigs at Warners grabbed me and said, “You guys should work together.” I didn’t know anything about the New Kids thing, really. All I knew was if he wanted to rock, I was ready! There is one tune from the album we made called “If I Run Into You” that really combined our senses of humor well. Joey was and is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met in my life.
Most recently, “Like We Never Loved At All” has been selected to appear on Faith Hill’s upcoming album. Is the song a typical polished new country tune or does it have the distinctive Scot Sax element to it?
When we wrote it, I was thinking it was like a Bat Out Of Hell era Meatloaf song. But the lyrics are very sad and gut-wrenching and I suppose that lends itself to country. I haven’t heard Faith’s version of it yet. I’m very curious as to how it came out. “Won’t Stand In Your Way” was actually written with a country feel to it. I never considered it for the band, but I brought it to rehearsal one day, threw it out there and we sounded pretty good doing it. Funny that it became the 1st single. Some of today’s “country” songs are not that different than late ’70s “pop”.
You also have a live album coming out, which I’m looking forward to. I don’t know how you fit it all in. What percentage of your time would you say is taken up by writing for others, Feel and your solo work?
I was hired in January 2005 to write with and produce a new, very young, artist. So I’ve been writing and recording at least two songs a week with him for the last 6 months. At the same time, I wrote the Invisible Train album and have written about 20 new songs for the 3rd album. (That’s in addition to the 300 or so songs that I’ve written that will probably never see the light of day). There’s also a side project album I wrote and recorded about 9 months ago that will be released at some point. It will be under a different name because the music has a unique identity and it’s a concept album. Very up, a bit funky, pretty fresh-sounding. Mark and I recorded it.
I made a promise to myself as a kid that no matter what, I would live this life as a full-time musician. I guess this output of material is a result of that promise. I write a lot of words down everyday — poetry, essays, stream of consciousness stuff mostly. A few things are on the scotsax.com site but there’s stacks of words. I’ve been writing pretty non-stop over the years.
I believe you have been touring recently with Alana Davis. How has that been going?
The tour with Alana was a highlight of my life. The shows in Portland and Seattle were a lot of fun and the audiences were very music-oriented people. They were very tuned in and so it was very rewarding for me. Alana is a very cool person and we got on very well. She’s an amazing performer. Very genuine… and very funny. See, if you’re not funny, I’m out.
What’s currently in your CD changer?
The new White Stripes, Ray Lamontagne, McCartney’s Ram album (as usual), Ween, Bowie’s Hunky Dory (as usual!), and the latest rough mixes of the new Feel stuff.
As a songwriter and performer, do you think the advent of the Internet and iTunes etc has changed the industry for the better or worse?
I’m not sure. All I know is that the computer in general can eat up a lot of time that might be better spent, you know, living.