As part of the release of Digcast VI which focuses on NYC music, we are posting on each band in the podcast over the next five weekdays.
Follow the link above to listen to the Ashen of Scout discuss her track "So Close," trusting your gut, and some sources of inspiration she derives from the city's creative energy.
Scout is the music project of Ashen Keilyn and collaborators including Steve Schiltz of Longwave and Hurricane Bells. Earlier this spring, she released the album All Those Relays, her first full length album since 2003. As she discusses below, the songwriting process for her has to be lived and felt, regardless of how long that might take. The personal nature of these songs makes for a very compelling listen and one to which you can't help easily finding emotional connections. I think I related so much to it because over the past year since I moved, I've been in the midst of a very transitional time full of change, challenge, and self-discovery. Over and over again I heard words that hit close to home, like for trying to accept the uncertainty of the future and believe in your ability to handle it on "Hawthorne," for instance. Check out the podcast above and interview below for much more on these topics.
Musically, Ashen's voice is very prominent. It's on the lower end of the register, which she says gives it a melancholic shade, but it definitely has an alluring warmth too. Some of the tracks are more rocking and uptempo like the first two, "So Close" and "Please Excuse Me." There are slower, spare acoustic songs "Tongue Tied," "Wrong From Right," and album closer "The House We Used To Live In." Both styles sound good. There are other stops in between, like the bouncy keyboard of "Hawthorne" and "Best for Last" where the piano is more haunting. Though it's understandable, hopefully it won't be quite so long before we hear from Scout. All Those Relays will hold up as a great listen for quite some time at least.
The album is available here through label Invisible Brigades. Scout will be playing some dates in the area this week, including a gig May 31st and the Bowery Electric and one June 2nd at Full Cup on Staten Island. The Bowery Electric show is $8, 21+, and doors at 7:30. Info here. The Full Cup show is $5, 21+, doors at 8:00. Info here. Here's Scout's website once again and here's the Facebook page.
Ashen called me from her vacation at a family lake house on Lake Huron in Michigan. We briefly discussed the amazingness of the Great Lakes and a lot of aspects life in New York before delving into a lot of the personal themes of the album. It was a very interesting and enjoyable discussion.
TWD – The recent album was All Those Relays, which along with your EP from last fall Pi, is your first recorded and released output in quite some time. You don't seem to hear a lot about people taking that much time off and coming back and still being able to enjoy success. It seems like your album is getting good reception. I'm sure you didn't stop making music, but how does it feel to be back with more of a concrete project?
Ashen – I'm really grateful that it's been well-received and that there's been a lot of nice things said about it. Things move so fast, and honestly I wasn't thinking about the time and how long it took between This Soft Life and Pi because I was always trying to get it together and I was always making music. I wasn't really worried about time, I just did whatever I had to do to keep making it and trying to move it ahead.
You always want people to listen to your music and hope that they will, and I'm very lucky to have a small group of people that will listen to my music and believe in me. So I try and focus on that. I'm doing what I love, that's the most important thing for me. I make music because I love making music. But it's hard. It's hard to get a record out. It takes a lot of work and it takes a lot of people and it takes a lot of connecting the dots. And for me, those things take time, a lot of time (laughs).
TWD – Sure. I saw the quote that you had, something like "It took a lot of living to get one little song." I think that's a great point because I'm sure that there's a way to crank out songs quickly if you really wanted to, but it's an art form, so it has to come from a natural place. People expect things so quickly, but it doesn't always work that way so I liked that comment.
A – Yes. I get insecure about those things. A lot of my friends are more prolific than me. I get inspired, it's the old school inspiration where it's got to come down and the only thing I can do is pick up an instrument and get it out. That's my therapy you know. I've tried to do it like people who say "Ok, today I'm going to write a song about this" and then they do it, but it just doesn't work that way for me.
I'm accepting myself for who I am and I'm just going to be one of those writers. I need to connect to people, I need experiences, I need life, and then it comes out that I need to write about it. I'm glad you said that because it's hard, things move so quickly now and people forget about you if you're not in their face all the time (laughs). But I can't worry about that.
TWD – It seems like what you're saying about those concepts appear in the songs, like on timing and the process. I feel like the song "Hawthrone" is like that to me. What I found interesting about that song are the lines like how you "run circles in your mind" and the idea of "turning it on and just believing" and how they could be addressed to another person or addressed to yourself. You can know you're supposed to believe in a result happening, like "if I do this and put this work in, this will happen," but it's not always easy to truly internalize that.
A – Right. Totally. I tell myself those things all the time. Yeah, it's hard (laughs). I guess the thing is you got to be doing what you love.
TWD – Another song like that is "Some Things Never Change." I've gone through stuff where you are affected by another person continuously doing something you wish they didn't, or not doing something you wish they were. It causes pain. But every now and then it strikes me "I can only control me." Don't you find that acceptance is freeing?
A – Yeah, that's it. There is something so liberating about that, when you say "You know what? All I can control is me. I have to focus on me, focus on now, what's here right in front of me and have to let that other stuff go." You'd love this book called the Power of Now (laughs). Well I don't know that you actually would, but it's something that opened my eyes to that. Because it's hard, it's hard to not get wrapped up in someone else's drama. All you can ever control is yourself.
TWD – What have you found is helpful for doing that? Sometimes you just have to experience it and have it finally click in. But sometimes there are things you can do.
A – At least for me, I've found that to be accountable to myself is number one. Also, to be forgiving of myself. You have to acknowledge that you've done things before. I love to talk, I'm a talker. I love hearing stories and sharing stories, that's what helps me. And reading. I'm a sucker for one of those self-help books. Because I want to do better. So many people blame, blame, blame. I really feel like empowerment comes when you own it and own your part in it. Forgive and move on. That is constant work though. It's not like it magically happens, which frustrates people, myself included. It's a process.
TWD – Right, you can have a good day and then get set back. But each time you get there, it does get a little easier.
A – Yeah. And hopefully you learn something. I really believe that those hard things in your life, those challenging things, those really hurtful things are what builds character. You really find out who you are. It's not coasting through life, that's not what it's about. I look at my life and am really grateful. There's nothing I would change in my life. The loss, the stupid things I've done, as long as I learn from them, I wouldn't change it.
TWD – That's a good attitude to have because you can't (laughs).
A – You learn compassion for other people. It connects you more. I'm more interested in what we have in common. I think we as humans have more in common. There's always somebody out there or some group that's very divisive, but I'm more into connecting and I think we have more in common than not.
TWD – I read that "Under Attack" involved 128 tracks in the recording process. Not being a musician and not really always knowing what goes into the song that I end up hearing, I thought that was fascinating. How do you know when the song has what it needs versus when it needs to have 128 tracks.
A – Well that had nothing to do with me (laughs). That was my pal Steve Schiltz. That's where he's very, very good. He produced some of the record with Jim Eno. Steve has dog ears. He took a little demo that I had that was just a loop, a sample with a few guitars, and he wanted to recreate that. He knew what it took to make it sound that way. I'm not good like that at all. I don't like to think about that stuff. I like to sit down with my guitar or the piano and just get it out. That was his whole building.
I can't hear all that stuff either. That's when I might step out of the room because it's just too much for me. I don't know how to make those things make sense. It's good for me to know that that's not something I'm good at. I'm not good at producing myself. For me, I need to get the idea out and I don't worry so much about the production: where the mics should be positioned, for example. When I get the idea and inspiration, that's my focus. I rely upon someone else to get the sound to those places. Steve can do 128 tracks. I would get lost at ten. That's not my strength at all.
TWD – That makes a good partnership then.
A – Oh yes. I'm grateful to have friends like that. They can take my little song and make sure it sounds pretty.
TWD – I saw those videos you put out, playing in that room. There's "Under Attack" and "So Close." It's much more stripped down. Is that Steve playing with you?
A – Yes.
TWD – I think that's something so cool about music. It is nice to hear it on your album with all the tracks, with all the stuff going on. And then also it's cool to hear it with just two people and mostly just their guitars. Sometimes it's great to get lost in a bunch of sounds, and then sometimes that rawness makes it more of a direct feeling too.
A – I'm with you. I think there's room for all of it. I'm better at it now, but I used to hide behind a lot of guitars and a lot of noise, but for this record I really wanted my voice to be more on top. I just got tired of being buried underneath all that sound. It was good that way at the time, I'm happy with those records, but the vocals to be more present here. But stripped down, a bunch of noise, it's all good (laughs).
TWD – It's nice to have an album like this that captures a lot of these emotional situations and show that you're past them or moving past them.
A – I hope. I worry so much about that. I'm really optimistic but where I work a lot of stuff out is in my music. Sometimes I look at the songs and hope people get the optimism in it. It's not a "woe is me" thing. I'm happy for it all, I'm happy to be alive. But I think I have something in my voice, that melancholy feeling. I'm just trying to be who I am and not worry so much. It is a struggle.
TWD – It sounds like you're generally doing pretty well with it.
A – Well, we're talking because of this album and that's a good thing, that makes me happy. Talking about music.
TWD – Yeah. It gets back to what you said about what we have in common. I like hearing more about what goes into music because of how we relate to it, but I'm not interested in "what does this mean exactly," because you have to keep it open so people can keep relating in whatever way.
A – I'm with you. I like to keep my songs open. I'm more interested in what it means to you than what it meant to me. I always love hearing these things from people. Sometimes it's what I felt, but I like it better even when someone else thinks differently. It's great.