THE INTERVIEW: Scott Seskind
Yoga Records recently rediscovered and re-issued 15 songs called Selected Works from folk singer/songwriter Scott Seskind, who recorded music in 1985 and 1991. He was a staple of the Boulder, Colorado music scene back in the mid eighties and early nineties and put out a few great albums. Now he works as a social worker and still lives in Colorado. I recently got to talk with him about being back in the spotlight again, his music, other artistic endeavors, his influences, his thoughts on the current genres of folk, and more.
Yoga Records has just reissued 15 songs from your lo-fi albums back in 1985 and 1991 called Selected Works. How did that come about?
Douglas from Yoga Records is a record collector and i guess he came upon my music while traveling around the country looking for old records. He sent me a short movie he made which I liked and then he signed me up to his re-issue label. We also met in LA where I’m from and we walked past a driving range at night to this vegetarian place called Lucky where they sell this Asian fruit that has the consistency of meat. if it wasn’t for him, you wouldn’t be interviewing me.
The songs on your two albums were folk with a punk edge. When you originally recorded them, what was the state of mind you were in and how have you changed since then?
It’s hard to remember the state of mind I was in but I think I was more motivated than I am now. Something was coming out of me into notebooks then that I’d have to force out now. I think I was trying to do something pure that cut through something. I think I was more angry then. Now I see great things and don’t write them down. I realized that most people have great thoughts and great realizations and great feelings that they don’t write down; It doesn’t make them less great.
Two of the songs on the reissued album “I Wonder” and “Here I Am,” saw you collaborate with LA based singer/songwriter Chris Hickey. How did the two of you end up working together on those tracks?
Chris and I went to high school and college together and I know things about him that no one else knows. We recorded those two songs in his broom closet and I remember after we recorded “I Wonder” we hooked the recorder up to his stereo and I remember being surprised how good it sounded. I think Chris is one of the best song writers and my life has been better having had him as a friend all these years. He has a new impressive record out called azzmataz; I named it and took the album cover photo of roots.
How do you feel about the recent resurgence of the folk scene in music these days and all the many subgenres it has sprung up like freak folk?
I hadn’t heard there was a resurgence and haven’t heard of freak folk. I remember they were talking about a resurgence when I put these records out. There weren’t labels like emo or psych or acid folk when I made these.
It always amazes me when record companies find forgotten and unknown artists works (Example: Shuggie Otis and Rodriguez) years later, who put out astonishingly beautiful albums in their heyday, but got their due 20 to 30 years later. How do you feel about it?
I haven’t heard of Otis or Rodriguez; Do you think I’d like them? I’m glad that a small group of people kind of see things like I do; makes me feel less alone. I wonder after all this time how much I’m due.
Tell me about the film documentary you started Spiral Up. Why did you decide to focus on such a sensitive topic?
I’m a social worker at a nursing home for people who don’t have a lot of money. The movie I started but didn’t finish (let me know if you know a good editor) is about me and this young guy named Nathan who lived there (he recently passed away) who had Huntington’s disease. That’s the same terrible disease Woody Guthrie died from. Nathan was a very energetic and positive guy. He said, “I’m poor but pure.” You can see the trailer at seskind.com.
You’re also a photographer. Do you feel that photography influenced your music at the time you created it and does music influence your photography now?
I don’t remember one influencing the other but I tried to keep both simple, direct and straight forward. I used to project my photos behind me when I’d sing. My photos were influenced by Diane Arbus; too bad she killed herself. It’s been a challenge getting close to the line without crossing over it.
What was some of your favorite music growing up that influenced your sound and are there any musicians out now that you’re into?
Growing up I liked Cat Stevens and Jim Croce and Janis Ian’s song “At Seventeen.” I like Vic Chesnutt and Daniel Johnston. I listen to the college station here in Boulder and hear some songs I really like, but then the love drug electronic trance comes on and I can’t take it. I think young people are feeling the same things I was feeling when I wrote these songs. I feel good about young people.
Many musicians who look back on their early and past works talk about how they would have changed this or fixed that in their music. Listening to these songs again, is their anything about them you’d alter or do they stand the test of time?
I mostly feel ok about them. I’m glad I’m not embarrassed by them. But I was impatient then and I still am and it would have been better if I did a few more takes on some of those songs. Some are pretty pitchy and some sound unfinished.
What are you doing these days and has the resurrection of your work inspired you to keep recording and/or playing live?
I’m working thirty hours a week at the nursing home which is pretty good and I ride my bike up into the mountains almost every day and I have a canoe out on the reservoir which I like to paddle around and I like to watch news and sports on TV and I have a nice family and a few good friends. It’s fun getting some attention for these songs and I have been getting that feeling to write and record a song but I usually just go to the coffee shop and watch people. I would love to go somewhere and play these songs.
For more info on Scott Seskind visit his site seskind.com.
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