It is particularly intriguing within an interview context to sit down with someone I have been fortunate enough to consider a close friend for years now - someone whose story I know to a degree, but in a sense have much to learn about. Many of the drummers featured in this project (including myself) were once burgeoning young players at Belmont University that quickly formed into a nurturing, loyal band of brothers that I sincerely hope is made stronger through this series, along with the hope that this community will become even larger and more interconnected.
One of the individuals within this community happens to be Richard Scott. It is remarkable for me to see Richard’s growth and maturation as a musician and a person in the years that I have known him, so to hear it in his words was quite an honor. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to hear his wisdom and insight in this setting, and I hope you do too.
DR: Tell me about your upbringing, and more specifically, your exposure to music growing up and any early musical inspirations you had. What caught your ear then?
RS: This will probably be the most embarrassing question of the day. I didn’t really come from a musical family – one of my sisters was in choir in high school or something like that, but that was about it. There was always music in the car, and in the house somewhere, but it was always my mom’s cheesy music, like Twila Paris records. It wasn’t anything cool. It wasn’t until I got into high school that I found Led Zeppelin, Journey, Steve Miller Band – all these old bands that were incredible. I had gone through my Metallica phase in middle school, and tried to be cool, but it just felt kind of lame. Going into high school I began figure out that I could explore music on my own, and I wasn’t necessarily bound to what was in the house. All through college, I started discovering jazz – guys like Michel Camilo – people that were just blowing my mind in realizing that there was more to life than Twila Paris and Amy Grant (laughs).
DR: Was there sort of a “light bulb” moment, where you thought, “Oh my gosh, what have I been missing this whole time?”
RS: Yeah! There were a few “light bulb” moments, but I’d say [a big one] was when I first got into Ben Folds Five. It was not only his song craftsmanship, it was finding music I could identify with, and that got me excited about music itself as well. That started a whole new listening experience for me. I remember the year I got Whatever And Ever Amen, and within three weeks I discovered Ben Folds Five, Bela Fleck, Michel Camilo – all of a sudden I went from listening to classic rock to listening to everything. All in this one month. It was weird, and somehow it started with Ben Folds Five. So thanks, Ben.
DR: This may have been something you were aware of, at least subconsciously, but were there things about the drummers of the bands you mentioned – Darren Jessee with Ben Folds Five, John Bonham with Led Zeppelin, Steve Smith with Journey, and Gary Mallaber with Steve Miller – that stuck out to you? Was it more of a big picture kind of listening?
RS: For the most part it was a big picture, but with Zeppelin and the Folds Five stuff – even The Who – there’s a raw energy that comes through on the drums, and you can’t help but notice it, whether you’re a drummer or not. For those few bands, it was “Holy cow. This drummer is awesome.” But overall, it was a big picture thing – “Listen to what these guys are doing. This is not the same cookie cutter stuff that I grew up with in my house. This is incredible what they’re doing.” Even today, I’m going back and listening to those bands and finding new little things that I didn’t notice when I first started listening to them. I think that’s the big thing – finding something new every time you listen to them. That’s what got me.
DR: How did you end up making your way to Nashville, and how did you start to get work once you got here?
RS: Kids, don’t follow this advice. I was almost done with a degree in industrial design at Auburn, but the whole time I was a music fan. That was all I did in my free time – listening to music, watching live DVDs, and going to shows whenever I could. I just made the crazy decision to buy a drum set and drop out of college.
Troy Breaux, the percussion instructor at Auburn, had gone to LSU with Dr. Chris Norton, [who teaches] at Belmont, which is how I found out about Belmont. For some reason I just got it in my head that I had to be there. I had to be studying music at Belmont. I had to dive in and submerse myself in music than more than I ever had before.
I went to Troy and said, “Hey man, I need some lessons.”
He said, “Okay, for what?”
I said, “I’m auditioning for Belmont.”
“When’s your audition?”
“Oh, it’s at the end of February or something like that.” (This was in November.)
“Okay. Play me a half-time shuffle. Play me something with swing,” and all I could do was play the groove from “Walk This Way.” (sings groove)
He said, “Well, what about a half-time shuffle?”
“Pssh. What is that?”
“Dude, you’re really going to audition?”
I said, “Yeah! I’m going for it!”
“Alright man, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
I didn’t make it, obviously. So I went back to him and said, “I didn’t make it. Let’s really dig in,” and I thought that he was going to say, “Alright. Here’s everything you need to know about jazz.” Instead, he said, “Let’s work on your marimba scales, let’s go back and work on rudimental snare, and I’ll give you some drum set stuff to practice on your own time. There’s more to going to music school than that.”
So he sat me down with all these Hal Leonard and Mel Bay jazz play-along books. Really simple stuff – “Here’s the basic idea of all these different types of grooves. You need the coordination because you’re just a garage band drummer right now. That’s all you are.” It was pretty much true - I was practicing in a storage space that I got for free by fixing their computers.
So I came back a year later [to Belmont], auditioned, got in, and thought I had arrived. Meanwhile, relationships are going to crap. Man, it was a really hard transition, because people look at you like you’re crazy – “What are you thinking?” And in their minds, they’re being friends, saying “I’m not going to sit by and watch you throw your life away on a pipe dream,” you know? A lot of people had a misconception of what it was I wanted to do, but I just had to ignore them. [I had to] take everything they said with a grain of salt and realize that they were just trying to be friends.
I came up here to Nashville, had been here a day, walked into those first ensemble auditions, and just bombed. I was horrible. It was probably one of the worst things I’ve ever done in my life. It was a rude awakening to get up here and sit down in front of a bunch of college students that had been playing their instruments five, six times longer than I had. I had no idea what they were doing sometimes, saying, “How did you even come up with that? You’re incredible.”
I went to lunch with Chris Kimmerer that day during auditions, and I’m just doing good to play a five-stroke, and he’s got endorsements and he’s on the road all the time. I said, “Dude, I am in way over my head.” There was a lot of fear. I spent a lot of time in the practice rooms, and then eventually started practicing with other players, playing with other human beings. I got over my fear, and got to point where I could let them inspire me rather than intimidate me.
It was just a whirlwind because all that happened in two years, from not getting into school, to being scared of everybody, to being inspired by everybody, and just hoping that I could inspire somebody on some kind of level. That was it - just trying to step into my own and learning to work with others. As dumb as it sounds, it’s really simple. Keith Carlock talks about that a lot – “Play with other human beings.” Every time I’ve seen video clips of him doing clinics or whatever, he talks about the fact that he was always playing with other musicians, and that’s what got him where he is today.
You get to a town like this and you start to understand the importance of that. That’s the only way you’re going to become better. You can’t learn to lay back the pocket or sit on top of the beat by just sitting in your house with a metronome. I mean, you can, but you don’t really learn it until you’ve got a bass player that can lay it back a day and a half behind the beat, or you play with a guitar player that’s a mile ahead. It has to become more of a feeling than a scientific placement.
That’s where coming to Nashville has led me to be, learning those lessons. I’ve come a long way from the green Pearl Export that sat in a storage unit. I came up here with the wrong idea of what Nashville is, and what it was going to mean to be in music. But slowly, you kind of start to settle in. I can’t imagine a better place to be making music, so I stayed. Literally by the grace of God, I’ve started getting work.
I never thought in my wildest dreams I would have made it as far as I have. Nashville has been awesome, and [was] totally worth it just to go for something and be excited about it all the time, whether it’s music, engineering, whatever. [It’s] just ignoring everything else that’s going on around you - what you feel like you should be doing - and doing what you really want to be doing. It’s been really cool.
DR: Tell me about your concepts and philosophies on things such as groove, time, pocket, and coming up with parts in the studio or in a live situation. How do you feel that the music you grew up with and the drummers you idolized ended up becoming integrated into your own playing?
RS: Let me start with being in the studio and coming up with parts. One thing I’ve learned about groove, about the pocket, is that it’s dictated by what’s going on around me. I could come up with the most funky groove ever, but if the rest of the music’s not funky or as funky, then it’s just going to sound horrible. It’s just going to sound out of place and dumb. To me, there’s almost a logical sense of pocket, where it fits and it makes sense. It’s almost like a puzzle.
Coming up with a design background, I listen for negative space, the same way an artist does with a canvas. You listen for the empty spaces that you can either fill or not fill. Listening to Zeppelin, a lot of those spaces got left open, whereas listening to Rush, a lot of those spaces got filled. I always found what made me move more was people leaving that space open. There’s a lot to be said for “dead air,” where there’s not anything happening, and it just leaves you hanging on. You want to know what’s next, and you can’t wait. It’s almost like you’re holding your breath in those moments.
DR: I think one of the strongest parts of your playing is that you have a way of combining very tasteful restraint with these subtleties that you kind of have to go back and listen to a few times to catch, things that you don’t notice the first time. The thing is that if you took those parts out, or just left them in, it’s not going to detract from the song. The nuances are there and are working, but the song could work without them just as well. You also have a way of being able to lay back in a pocket, yet still drive it, which is a rare thing. It’s hard to sit back yet still have an energy that pushes something forward. It’s just interesting to me that you would talk about space, because I feel it’s a very, very strong point of your playing.
RS: Thanks, I appreciate that. One thing that I think [influenced] that was studying with Zoro. He offered up that most encouraging thing I’d ever heard a teacher say, because he listened to me rehearse with one of the big bands at school. He said, “Even when you hit stuff wrong, you did it with attitude.” He stressed a lot of that attitude. When I go into a situation, and it needs to drive, I guess I just make a frowny face and drive it (not literally, but you get what I’m saying). That’s the coolest thing about drums, and music in general, in that there’s a lot that has to do with the attitude behind the playing. It comes out whether you realize it or not.
DR: Is there any particular experience, either in the studio or in a live setting that you can look back and consider your favorite? Or even something that made you say, “This is it, this is worth it, and this is why I love doing what I do”?
RS: I can come up with two, right off the bat. I was playing for this guy Gabe Vitek, and we did a short tour, like twelve days, out on the road with Steve Moakler and his guys. None of us had any money, we were in a caravan of Honda Elements, and that’s how we toured for almost two weeks. We were sleeping on floors and air mattresses, but it didn’t matter. That’s when I first got that sense of camaraderie like I’d never gotten before. It was the most incredible experience. Out of all my tours, that’s it – the one where we had no money, and where we were in cars where gear is in your face the whole time you’re driving.
[The other experience was when] I was in the studio, setting up, and the engineer was like, “Dude, I’ve got to warn you. This may not be your favorite session.” Basically what he was saying was, “I don’t like the music very much.” I kind of got that sense from the band as well, that “This is going to be a rough one.” So we heard the scratch track, made our charts, and the bass player and I were just like, “Hey, let’s try this idea.” It was weird, we didn’t even stick with that idea, but somehow the whole attitude changed, and the whole band actually got excited about the song. The lyrics may have still been bad, but it didn’t matter. We had taken the chance to really push something to be better, and we did. You realize there’s a lot of power in that kind of creativity. You walk away amazed that it could happen, and amazed that you got to work with that kind of musicianship around you. It just gets you excited. You can’t help but be excited about it.
DR: There’s something very invigorating working around creative minds, where you walk in with the mindset of having to “polish a turd,” but if you’ve got guys there that know how to polish turds, then you’re going to come out of there thinking, “We’ve done it!” That being said, how do you go about creatively feeding off of other people? In so many things I’ve heard you do, you find a way to come up with something that’s very unique and inspiring, not so much that it’s off in left field, but in taking very straight-ahead stuff and tweaking it just a little bit to make it your own. Do you feel like that tends to be something reactive, or is it something where you say, “I think this particular thing will work for this song or section”?
RS: It actually depends on the situation. I did a session for this one artist who had no idea what she wanted, and so I was working with an empty canvas. The drums were the first thing that got laid down, and it was just me and a scratch track. I was like, “I want to be the one that gets reacted to.” You don’t really sit there and think that out mentally. You just kind of have this attitude of, “I’ve got to start this off right. I have to deliver.” You get excited, and you come up with all these little things, and you’re telling the producer, “I want to take this one section again, I have something different that I can do. I just want to see what you think.” And it’s really fun to listen to their reaction – “Yeah! If you do that, when the bass player comes in, he’s totally going to feel that.”
But then other times when you’re in a situation where you’re tracking live, or you’re just in a rehearsal space, it’s a lot like a relationship to me. I’m feeding off other people’s commitment level. If they’re in the song, and they’re totally committed to what they’re doing, whether it’s strumming on two and four or coming up with the sickest delay part you could ever think of – whatever they’re doing, if they’re feeling it because they know that’s what’s right, then I can’t help but feed off that, react to it, and do little things. It’s really fun to sit in a drum booth when you have windows and you can see everybody else, and you do this one little ghost note thing that you didn’t do in the rest of song, and you get this eyebrow raise from the guitar player. Or a bass player does a lick coming out of a chorus that just makes you smile.
I’d say it’s both. It just depends on what I’ve walked into, but either way, I want there to be something to feed off of, whether it’s me or whether I’m reacting to somebody.
DR: What do you feel is most gratifying to you as a player when you’re asked to come into so many different situations? What do you feel you take away most from those situations?
RS: This might sound weird at first, but the thing I take away the most is what not to play. I think as drummers, we watch all these Drummerworld videos of guys just playing these crazy “drum-nastic” things, and you feel like you have to live up to that, because they’re at [one] level, and you still feel like you’re way down here [at another]. But then you walk into a situation, you’re playing the song, and you realize, “I don’t need to play here. I’m going to let this part over here take care of it. I’m going to let the guitarist do his thing,” or, “We’re about to have a sweet organ fill the space and create the mood,” or whatever. You learn where not to be, and that’s how you fit in the song. The only way I can think to really put that into words that makes sense is if you’re on a baseball team, you learn really quick that if you’re playing left field, you stay out of center field. You cover your area. That’s what makes the whole machine work.
That’s what I take away the most is learning how to be a part of something that’s much bigger than me, by not getting in everybody’s space. I think that’s more valuable than any crazy 64th note lick that I can do coming out of the bridge or something. That kind of stuff to me can be a dime a dozen. Everybody can do at least one or two fast licks, and you can place it just right and everybody will be like, “That’s cool.” But that’s one moment in the song. You’re learning to see something much bigger.
DR: It’s interesting to me that you have that perspective, because earlier when we were talking about the way you heard music growing up, it wasn’t this thing where you focused so much on one aspect of it. You heard the big picture. Do you feel that’s the natural way you hear things in a studio situation, where you’re creating as opposed to ingesting music?
RS: Yeah! When I first got here, it wasn’t. When I got in the studio, all I could hear was the drums. I’m still guilty of that sometimes. I have a lot of growing to do and I always will. But yeah, it’s gotten back to that point where you walk into the control room and you’re listening to playback, and you’re all nudging each other like, “I really like this, I really like this,” but what I’ve found I’m listening for is “Is the music really pushing that melody?” You know, “This melody is hitting this really cool point coming out of the chorus. Did we really support it?” So you kind of hear this big picture – “Am I getting in the way of this guy? Did he get in my way?” or whatever.
You’re listening to everything. It’s something that came from growing up just listening to that big picture of music, and enjoying all those parts – going nuts over a cool guitar riff, that’s being driven by an awesome bassline, that’s got this crazy cool melody on top of it. There are so many things that just drove me nuts about music in a good way.
Now that’s what I’m listening for in the studio. I learned the hard way. I did a session once and all I heard was the drums. That’s all I heard. We did playback, and I was like, “Awesome. Drum solo with some words over it. Man, I’ve got to get back to where I was.”
But yeah, that’s what I listen for in the studio is a big picture, and that’s probably why my parts come out somewhat simple a lot. You know, little accents here, little ghost notes there, but for the most part they come out pretty simple. It’s really fun when you sit down behind the drums - and you pray: “Let me do my thing. Let my ego just stay outside,” and it works, but then, “Let me have the guts to take advantage of the big moment when I can.”
DR: From your own experience here in Nashville, doing a sort of retrospective of all the things you’ve been a part of, what advice would you give to somebody who wants to be in the position you’re in, where you’re in demand as both a studio and live player?
RS: Don’t be afraid to leave the practice room every once in a while. That was something I wish somebody would have explained to me. I got here, went to Belmont, and spent all my time in a practice room. Buddies and I were coming up with systems – “If I sign up in this practice room and you sign up the hour after me, and then we flip-flop in the other practice room, we could just stay there, and we get an hour extra of practice.” Then I would go home practice on the practice pad, or I would switch to the marimba room, whatever. It just consumed me.
Meanwhile, most of the other people were going to parties, going to shows, or just little hangouts, and I wish somebody would have said, “You’ve got to find the balance.” I feel like I came in behind, so it was almost obsessive to practice like that. But it doesn’t do you any good to practice, practice, practice and never meet a soul that might want to play music with you. Otherwise, if you just sit in a practice room all the time, you’re counting on some random vocalist walking past and going, “Hey, I’d like to hear that guy.” It’s just not realistic. You have to find that midpoint between hanging out just enough to make friends and enjoy your life really, and practicing. When you come here, it’s all about the hang, it really is.
DR: Tell me the story about everything that led up to you getting the gig with Addison Road.
RS: It was kind of a crazy story because we knew so many of the same people. They’re in Dallas, I’m living in Nashville. Before I came to Nashville, I worked at a summer camp – they worked at a different site of the same camp. They kind of knew Jacob Schrodt, and a lot of Brandon Heath’s guys, who were all from Dallas. The bass player from Addison Road, Travis – his roommate is a producer, so he’s used a lot of those guys. So we had all these weird connections, and it was actually Jake Goss and Jacob Schrodt that finally connected the dots for me, because they said, “You need to call this guy.”
I still had a day job at the time, and they were like, “We just need you to fill in for us.” They were in town finishing up an album, I went to dinner with them, and we hit it off – from liking Mexican food, to certain bands that we liked – it was kind of a big deal. We all had our different things. Luckily, going back to that time when all of sudden my mind just blew up with music, it played out well at that dinner. I was talking with one guitarist about these bands that I love, then I could switch over to the bass player and talk about this bluegrass band that I knew about, or whatever. You could always find common links, so I had a good feeling about it.
I did the tour with them. It was a disaster. The first two weeks of that tour were an absolute disaster. The weird thing is they had launched this YouTube search for a new drummer. They weren’t sure if they wanted a full-time band member or just a full-time player. They didn’t know what they wanted or who they were going to find, so they started this huge search. It was almost like “Addison Road Idol” or something. They said, “We’re going to have this guy fill in while you all submit all of your videos,” and after those first two weeks I thought for sure they were going to tell me, “We found somebody on YouTube. See ya.”
Oddly enough, they ended up saying, “We’re going to shut down the search. We’d rather you just stay with us. We like what you’re doing, we like having you out on the road, and it was a no-brainer.” I was thinking, “Okay. Go back to my day job? Or keep hanging out on the road with people that I love hanging out with and playing music? Heck yeah, I’m going to do that.”
It wasn’t how I imagined that transition to be. I thought, “I’m going to go in, kill it, and [this tour’s] going to be the most awesome thing ever.” Instead, we had computer crashes – they had asked me to run tracks and I said, “Sure, I can do that,” but the triggering system was slowly going out at the time I started. Crazy things were happening. The stage would vibrate [a certain way] and something else would trigger. It was nuts. All that on top of the fact that their RV and trailer had blown up. I say “blown up” and everybody kind of goes, “Oh okay, yeah, the engine caught on fire.” It literally blew up – there were explosions happening. That was my third day with them. I was thinking, “Man, all of this in two weeks. Loops are crashing, RVs are blowing up, ‘our pets’ heads are falling off!’” (laughs)
But somehow it kept going. They had been out on the road long enough to know that sometimes that’s just the way it goes, and were able to teach me a lot of lessons that way. Somehow, we came out of those two weeks excited and moving ahead. We got new transportation, some new gear, a new trailer, and we just went back into it.
It actually ended up being a really cool story. It was a lot of fun to be a part of their record release - doing CD release tours and getting to see how all of that plays out for them. It was just an exciting time to start making music with them. It’s been really cool.
Richard’s Addison Road setup
DR: Besides Addison Road, what do you have in the works right now, and in a broader sense, what are you looking forward to in the future? What are some aspirations you have for yourself and your career?
RS: When you have a touring schedule like theirs, it’s tough to have stuff outside of them. I’ve been fortunate enough to get called for sessions, and they’ve just so happened to work out. I get called for a date, and it happens to be the day I’m getting back. So I’ve been able to stay in the studio, which has been huge. When you’re out on the road, you’re essentially playing the same set every night, night after night after night. It’s nice to come home and be a part of something fresh, something creative that’s totally yours to create. That, and I’ve done some programming stuff for some people, just making some drum loops. Anything from shaker and tambourine loops to entire groove loops. It’s been cool to dive into that a little bit.
As far as aspirations for the future, it feels very wide open right now. You never know what’s going to happen. With Addison, things could become unbelievably busy, but I’m still making it a point to come home and do gigs outside of them, just getting my hands on whatever I can. For one, it’s always exciting, and two, you’re constantly having to learn and adapt as you do that - keeping things fresh.
So for 2011, I’m just aiming to get even more things outside of Addison Road [in] a wider range of musical situations, just to keep learning things that I can hopefully bring back to Addison and say, “Hey, I was in this session or this gig and came up with this idea.” The guitar player, Ryan Gregg, and I have started doing stuff through email. He’ll say, “Hey, I kind of want a loop like this,” and I’ll send him a loop and he’ll work out this song idea that he has for their next album. He’ll either send it back or write back and say, “I need another loop, I need another idea.” It’s kind of cool to be in the little beginnings of that creative process, so I’m hoping by expanding my experiences outside of them, I can bring even more back to them.
Those are the short-term goals. The long-term goals are to have a thirty-piece drum set and do a clinic tour….I’m just kidding (laughs). None of that in my future.
DR: (laughs) Seriously though! Where would you like to be at a certain point? What does your dream situation look like?
RS: I don’t even know how realistic my dreams are sometimes, but I kind of don’t care, because they’re still worth pursuing. I would like to be at a point where I could mostly just work on records with people. Not like, “I just got called in for this Tim McGraw record, then I went over to play for Brooke Fraser” – not like that. While that would be cool, [I would love to] just be in that constant place of creating. I’ve never really seen myself as a producer, even though I like the big picture and all the little elements. It’s never really been my bag to sit in that seat.
I would just always like to be a part of something being created – doing little side projects here, maybe getting called for some bigger records there, and getting together with friends and going, “Hey, let’s try this in our small little home studio.” Just going from one place to another all throughout the year would be a great place to arrive at. But I also know that I have a long way to go before I get there. I still have plenty more experiences to have and plenty more people to meet. I believe that it will slowly evolve into that. I guess one of my biggest aspirations is just to be patient, be excited about where I’m at now, take it all in, experience it as much as I can, and let those experiences that I’m enjoying now and taking full advantage of help me get to that place. I’d also like to be on a clinic trail with you…
DR: (laughs) What?
RS: Yeah. (laughs) It would be kind of cool though to hopefully get the experience to the point where I can go out and teach. That’s been one of the biggest things for me – realizing the importance of mentors and teachers that have come in and out of my life. I want to be at a place where I can be that for somebody, whether it’s saying, “Hey dude, you need to watch this in your personal life,” or “Let’s go play some drums and let’s just build you up.” I’ve had teachers take me over to their house for dinner, bringing me in and letting me eat with their family, and all they want to do is spend the whole meal encouraging you to keep going for what you’re going for.
Ultimately, I think that’s even more important than being in a place of musical enlightenment – to be where you can have a very positive impact on other people’s lives. That’s more important than how much money you can make, how many records you’re on, how big the tour is that you’re on. If you’re not involved with people and wanting to make a difference in their life, to me it’s not going to mean quite as much. That’s what I’d like things to turn out to be.
Also, I’d like to have my own signature twenty-inch deep snare… (laughs) I’m just kidding.
DR: (laughs) Man, I think we’re good. It was great. Thank you very much.
RS: Yeah dude. Thanks so much for including me in this!