Published on July 27th, 2015 | by LiYang0
“I personally believe very strongly that music is influenced by a person’s experiences, beliefs, socialisation, environment, and so on, and therefore in the improvised context what comes out is a spontaneous expression of all of these things.” – Adam, The Scrapes
I was lucky enough to meet The Scrapes guys on my band’s [Scattered Purgatory] Australian tour in June 2015.
It’s sometimes lonely to grow and thrive in the world of abstract music, and The Scrapes are simply simple and simply amazing.
Imagine the lonely poet at the edge of the world, expressing music mainly with violin and guitar, with a sense of all kinds of ethnic music – Appalachian, Indian, Australian — perfect for meditation, and perfect for the far-out.
I asked Adam and Ryan about the motivations behind creating the band’s unique brand of drone and the nature of improvisational music.
BNU: There isn’t that many instrumental drone bands around the world, and your music reminds me a lot of classic minimalist music in ’70s, but in a even more pleasant way. Can you tell us a bit of the story of The Scrapes? And how did two of you meet?
ADAM: I’m glad it reminds you of that ’70s minimalist stuff, man. I’m definitely influenced by that music and that era, in particular Tony Conrad, Henry Flynt and La Monte Young, but also plenty of Terry Riley gets in there, not to mention all the amazing krautrock stuff that went on… I could go on for a long time about this.
The Scrapes started early in 2009, but it did start a little earlier in its essence when I recorded some music myself in 2008 that I gave to friends and to Ryan when we first met. That formed the basis for some of the material on our first demo which you can now buy over at our bandcamp page.
The story of our meeting is fairly run-of-the-mill and very small-town to be honest [laughs], so it’s probably not worth re-telling. We had our first jam in a shitty share-house I lived in and we’ve basically kept meeting every week to jam in various houses ever since.
That was January 2009 or so. By the middle of the year we’d recorded our first demo and by early 2010 had our first record out.
We were even more minimal in the start. I think we even shared a couple of pedals. That’s partially because I couldn’t afford the gear
RYAN: When we first started we played some songs Adam already had ideas for and some chord progressions and riffs that I had. For the first couple of years we played “songs” with structures and parts but over time it became much more improvisational and now we don’t really plan anything before a set. Usually it’s just one continuous piece of music.
BNU: I’m lucky to have shared the stage with you guys twice, on the second time, I thought, “They’re Dirty Three + Tony Conrad!” What motivates you to form The Scrapes? Did any musician or life experience lead you into this kind of spiritually reflective music?
ADAM: And we’re lucky to have shared the stage with Scattered Purgatory. Hurry up and come back!
As I said, I’d had some ideas for a little while personally that had been influenced by minimalist music like Tony Conrad in particular, and John Cale, Velvet Underground, and a lot of black metal stuff, actually. At some point it just had to come out and after meeting Ryan it all seemed to come together as it is now.
The Dirty Three are a massive inspiration but believe it or not I wasn’t much interested in them until around about the time I met Ryan
The Dirty Three are a massive inspiration but believe it or not I wasn’t much interested in them until around about the time I met Ryan. Their music made me realise that it was ok to play dirty fiddle and that you can maybe even be successful doing it. For me personally there’s no particular single life event but a series of different things. I’ve had teachers and so on that have sort of imbued in me a sense that there is something spiritual and philosophical about making music. I have some very particular political and so on concepts that go into my approach to the violin, but for Ryan it’s a totally different kettle of fish.
But at the end of the day, in all seriousness, The Scrapes’ music is literally just what comes out when Ryan and I get together and play. Simple as that.
RYAN: I was a big fan of the Dirty Three before Adam and I met and learnt a lot from their music, especially the guitar playing and the rhythms. I like music with a sense of longing and I think that could come across as spiritually reflective.
There aren’t any particular musicians or life experiences that led to me playing this music, but I always keep an open mind and look for new things I can incorporate.
BNU: Gear talk time, contrary to most of the amp-worshipping drone bands, I’ve noticed that you guys are plugging into the same amp. This is really unusual, can you explain your gear rundown and why do you do this?
we realised we could make the amp just another instrument in our arsenal
ADAM: We were even more minimal in the start. I think we even shared a couple of pedals. That’s partially because I couldn’t afford the gear… same with the amp really. That’s how the plugging into the one amp started.
Fairly soon, after beginning to do that, we realised we could make the amp just another instrument in our arsenal and so both being plugged into it, we can manipulate the whole mix from the amp… but we can’t give away all of our magic.
I play an acoustic violin with a pickup that cost me $50 or something 15 years ago… made by a Brisbane luthier called Lance Scott who calls everyone “cock” for some reason. I use a loop station… one of the little ones… a digital delay and Ryan’s old distortion pedal. I have no desire to add more and I will probably even regress and get rid of some of them one day.
I guess unlike other droney bands we’ve never been that keen on being blisteringly loud… we still seem to be too loud for most people at the end of the day.
RYAN: I think we have our own sort of amp worship. We use an old Vase stack that I’ve had for around ten years. Seeing as the amp has two separate channels and inputs and Adam didn’t have an amp it made sense to both plug in to the Vase. It’s part of our sound now and helps the instruments melt together.
I play through a bunch of pedals – loop pedal, delay, overdrive, fuzz, and reverb. Mostly they’re just to get the one guitar sound I like that doesn’t change much during a set.
The delay and loop pedal I use to build up layers and to create rhythms.
BNU: It’s always a mystery how a band composes such abstract music. How did you compose, and how did you arrange and record your album?
ADAM: Ah well the use of the word “compose” is where you’ve gone wrong there. We haven’t composed anything much since our first album Electric Mourning Blues.
We have over the years developed our own sort of language that we communicate with musically so when you come to see us you do hear recurring themes, but these are not intentional compositions per se.
Sometimes we play folk songs or covers but when we’re done with them they’re unrecognisable as their original. In much the same way we play live, when we record we simply improvise and see what comes out. What we like, we keep and then we build on it.
For The Scrapes, the live experience and the recorded document are two very different things born of the same process, which is improvisation within a shared language.
RYAN: The songs on the album are short and each song focuses on one riff or melody. Most of the time we will record the main riff/melody/rhythm – whatever is the initial focus of that song – and then we will take turns improvising along to it as overdubs. I’ll then edit through those overdubs and that’s the song finished.
When we play live, it’s basically the same process except in real-time using loops. During a set, I’ll keep throwing in the themes from previous jams or recordings – whatever comes to mind when we’re playing.
We play with a lot of different musicians and bands here in Brisbane, everything from brutal hardcore and metal to country singers.
BNU: Does your music have a theme or story behind it?
ADAM: Since our music is largely improvised, we don’t really have themes and stories and most of the time the pieces for albums are named well and truly after they’ve been recorded.
I personally believe very strongly that music is influenced by a person’s experiences, beliefs, socialisation, environment, and so on, and therefore in the improvised context what comes out is a spontaneous expression of all of these things.
When we finished the new album The Songs of Baron Samedi, I’d just returned from living in West Africa and had had some powerful experiences there that upon listening to the finished album I felt had seeped into the playing.
Each piece on The Songs of Baron Samedi has its own accompanying story that listeners will find in the liner notes to the album if they pick it up…
RYAN: We’ll start playing with nothing in mind and then something in the music will be a reminder, so a story gets attributed. The main story is creating interesting and exciting sounds and an atmosphere that will draw people in.
BNU: What is it like to be an experimental band in Australia? Is there a big minimalist sound art scene in Australia? What kind of musicians or bands do you often play with? Have you tour abroad before?
ADAM: Very up and down and at the moment, it’s not that great. There is a fairly big scene of all sorts of sound-art and so-called experimental music in Australia, and particularly there are some great groups playing a more minimal approach such as Primitive Motion, Clocked Out, and some others.
We play with a lot of different musicians and bands here in Brisbane, everything from brutal hardcore and metal to country singers. We play with a lot of psychedelic bands and that kind of thing.
No, we haven’t toured abroad but we’re certainly open to it. I’ve played abroad as a solo artist and in collaboration with poets and stuff, and I’ll be doing a bit of that later this year.
RYAN: We don’t really fit into any particular scene, which is great because we’re doing something unique, but it has its drawbacks. We end up playing with a lot of different musicians and bands, but there aren’t a heap of opportunities to be performing or touring often. I’d love the opportunity to tour abroad!
BNU: What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming releases? Any tours lined up for this year?
ADAM: We have our launch gig coming up at the Skukum Lounge here in Brisbane (the Junk Bar in Ashgrove) on 8th August (tickets on sale here) and we will be hijacking the Rusted Satellites radio show on 4ZZZ 102.1FM Brisbane on the 9th of August to present a demented radio ballad based on our new album that is out very, very soon, which as I said before is called THE SONGS OF BARON SAMEDI.
No tours as we’re busy with other things, but perhaps in the New Year. Anyway we’re dying for this new Scrapes album to come out so we can get started on the next one!