Just Kind of the Way I Write: An Interview with Scoopski

I’ve been meaning to interview the artist known as Scoopski for a while now. Recording with his wife (Mrs. Scoopski) in their eponymous band, his music strikes a delicate balance between poignance and humor. Take, for example, their latest album, See You Soon, whose cover depicts a fetus making a set of devil horns with his fingers and whose lyrics raise a wide range of existential questions like how did we get here, where are we going, and what exactly does one wear when it’s too warm for a hoodie yet too cold for a tee shirt? Though we didn’t get to tackle these questions when I caught up with Scoopski recently, we did get a chance to talk a bit about the peculiarities of our hometown as well has the latest endeavor that he and Mrs. Scoopski have embarked upon…

What part of Philadelphia are you from? Do you find that it influences the way you look at life in general and songwriting in particular?

Hey Marc! Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me! I’m from the Northeast part of Philadelphia. I actually grew up in the Philly suburbs, but I’ve been a Philly resident for 6+ years now.

That’s funny! I grew up in Northeast Philly and live in the suburbs now.

I think the place you live definitely influences your songwriting in some way or form. Anything and everything that inspires me is in-bounds for a song topic, and Philly/PA is directly mentioned in a number of Scoopski songs, most notably “Emergency Joyride,” “The Philly Monk,” and most recently, “Pennsylvania.” If I didn’t live where I lived, I could’ve never written those songs. Maybe I’m secretly trying to become to PA what the Chili Peppers are to Cali… Who knows!

Well, we do have plenty of bridges you can write about being under! The title of your 2020 album Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia echoes a certain politician’s comment about the City of Brotherly Love. What were your thoughts when you heard that comment? 

The funny thing about that is that the first time I heard that phrase, all I could think was “Man, that’s an excellent album title!” and almost immediately, that album cover of our cats shooting lasers out of their eyes towards the Philly skyline popped in my head. I’m aware that people flipped that phrase around and claimed it as a Philly pride thing, and that’s cool, too, but my interpretation of it was quite literal and just silly!

One thing I like about your music is that it’s funny without being jokey, if that distinction makes sense. Why is humor so essential to your music? 

Thank you! I like to think of it that way as well. I think the weirdest thing is I don’t usually write songs with the intention of being funny… It’s just kind of the way I write! I’ve always liked artists who use lots of pop culture references, and I think when a reference to a videogame or a movie is dropped in the middle of a somewhat serious song, it almost immediately brings some levity. I also think some of the songs may seem silly on their face, but are actually a little darker than they let off, such as “Clark Griswold,” which is a song about feeling like a total failure.

Definitely… Does the humorous nature of your songs ever influence your musical decisions, particularly with respect to arrangements, instrumentation, and style? 

I would say sometimes, for sure. For example, on the first album “Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia,” the track “Miles” which is about a character from Sonic the Hedgehog, starts off with one of the iconic sounds from the videogames.

Sometimes, on the flip side, the music can actually dictate the topic of the song. The track “Mr. Spyder” from that same album was a co-write between Mrs. Scoopski and I, but it started with that piano intro she came up with. All we could think of was that it sounded like a spider, so we came up with the lyrical content around that.

Visually, your album covers employ a lot of ironic juxtaposition. The cover of 2020’s Things Are Fine evokes the Jet Star rollercoaster that washed out to sea in 2012, and the cover of the “Joy to the World” single that your released this past November features a handful of goth kids seated around a fairly chipper Santa Claus. How does that sense of irony translate to your music? Or is it actually ambivalence?

In the case of the cover of “Things are Fine,” that cover was pretty intentional. There was a lot of really bad, negative things going on in our lives from the time that album was recorded (May 2020 to February 2021). I always loved that image of the Star Jet in the ocean, the two of us actually drove down to Seaside to see it ourselves in 2012, shortly after it occurred. When I was thinking of album covers for “Things are Fine,” that image really stood out to me. A rollercoaster that was separated from where it originally stood when the boardwalk beneath it collapsed, beaten and worn down by chaotic storms. Yet it still remained, and still stood tall. I think there’s an odd message of hope in that image. 

Absolutely! I was entranced by that image as well!

As for the “Joy To The World” cover art, that one is totally ambivalent. That image was an old internet meme, taken at a nearby mall in the Philly suburbs. Our cover is very poppy and not gothic or heavy in any way, so I suppose it’s more of an ironic cover!

And speaking of covers, you recently released a pop-punk cover of Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” What was behind that decision, and why that song? Also, just out of curiosity, what’s involved in getting permission to record someone else’s music?

10/10 segue there!

Thanks! I try!

As for that cover, I’ve always liked that song, and really enjoy a handful of CCR songs as a whole. One day Mrs Scoopski had that song playing while we were cleaning, and immediately the sound of a pop-punk cover of it popped in my head. The original really already has the tempo of a punk song, so it was actually a very natural transition. 

As for permissions, that song and the other covers we’ve done as Scoopski are only on YouTube, and not on any streaming services (aside from BandCamp, where I have payments disabled for that song). The reason being is I’m actually not quite sure how it works, myself! The only reason our cover of “Joy To The World” is on streaming services is because I do know that song is so old that it is part of public domain, so anyone can do their own version of it without worrying about copyrights. This is definitely a topic I need to learn more about, myself!

You and me both! Now, Scoopski, the band, is a family act. You play guitar and bass and handle production, while Mrs. Scoopski plays piano and synth. And you both sing and write songs. What’s that dynamic like? 

It’s really amazing to have a life partner who is as into music as I am, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. We were bandmates first, we played together in a band where she played keys and I was the lead singer for about a year before we began dating. 

I think we both made each other better songwriters in a lot of ways, too. I knew virtually nothing about music theory before knowing her, and she says I helped her come out of her shell more with songwriting.

I’m very happy that recently Mrs. Scoopski has become more and more prominent in our songs, especially on the album “See You Soon,” where she wrote and sang lead on 3 of the tracks. (On “Things are Fine”, she played lots of piano/synth and sang lots of backup vocals, but only sang lead on the closing track).

I get just as psyched when she shows me a song she came up with as I do when I come up with a song. I remember when she first showed me the song “While We Wait” and how excited I was to record it, it’s still a favorite of mine.

Scoopski usually tends to have more songs where I’m the lead singer, just because I usually write songs really quickly and pump them out, and she usually is more measured and gets moments of inspiration. But I always go to her for input on my songs, especially during the editing process. There’s been lots of instances where a part of a song had a bad musical decision on my part, and she steered me in a much better direction.

Do you ever get to play live? If so, is it just the two of you, or do you fill out the band with additional musicians? Also, do you need a bass player? 

Unfortunately, there is yet to be a Scoopski live show!

We have played live before in the past, but not as Scoopski. As I mentioned previously, the two of us were in a band together, and we’ve also performed acoustically at open mic nights a couple times, but it’s been many years since we both played out together. 

This is something I’ve thought about a lot in the past year or so though, as you’re now on a growing list of people who have asked us about performing live!

The public demands it!

I really like the way my friend Modern Amusement (who can be heard featured on the song “RIDING THE WAVES” on our new album) performs live. His music is upbeat and energetic, sort of like how ours is, and he performs solo. But, instead of performing acoustic, he actually plays an electric guitar with distortion and all along to a backing track with the drums, synth, bass, etc. It sounds really great, and I’ve totally envisioned us playing live shows this way eventually! 

There’s something really magical about being in a full band, when everything clicks as a unit, you feel like a family. But, it’s also a lot of work and comes with a lot of emotional baggage… and at this point in time I’m not sure it’s something the two of us would be completely committed to, especially since we actually have our own little family now! So this is another reason why the option I mentioned previously may work best for us.

But hey, if we do decide to go the full band route, I will certainly hit you up for your bass skills! 😉

Nice! Your latest album is dedicated to your newborn son. How has becoming a father influenced your outlook or changed the way you think about making music? 

Absolutely! Becoming a father is very new to me, but it’s already the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

It’s extra special to us, given the journey we went on to bring our son into this world, which is documented and summed up in the YouTube video for the title track “See You Soon.”

The thing about this album is, to us the vibe of it feels very celebratory and triumphant. A lot of the songs feel like they’re sung with a big smile. It’s especially a stark contrast to us when compared to our last album, and hopefully those good vibes shine through to the listener as well.

 What’s on the horizon?

I feel this question goes hand in hand with the last, because with our baby boy being here now, we haven’t quite figured that out!

I’m a songwriter, so there is constantly new ideas kicking around in my head, I just can’t stop them. But when I record, edit, and mix the Scoopski tracks you hear, that is very time demanding. Especially in the editing process, I am almost in another world with my studio headphones on, and that doesn’t gel very well with having a newborn baby at home.

But with the nature of our project just being the two of us, as long as we’re both alive and kicking, I see no reason to think Scoopski won’t continue to exist and thrive to some extent.

The challenge will just be figuring out how music fits into our new lives as parents. But music has always been the thing that bonded us, and so for that reason I know the music will find a place, especially because we want music to be a huge part of our little guy’s upbringing!

Maybe a children’s album would be the next logical step for Scoopski? Might be!

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Scoopski! 

The Shoot (Part Nine)

“Maybe we should just call it a day,” Mike says.

“No,” Miranda says flatly. “We need more material.”

“It’s too dark to shoot now,” Mike says, raising a hand to the sky. “The sun’s been setting for the past hour.”

“It isn’t setting,” Miranda says as if she can reverse time through sheer tyranny of will. “It’s rising. We’ll run these shots at the beginning of the video and say it’s early in the morning.”

Mike has papers to grade. Amanda wants to be an artist again. Natalie and Drago are still up for anything despite the cold and the setting sun. They all look to me, and I point to a worn-out baseball I’ve been eyeing since we reached the bottom of the hill.

“What if we play some baseball?” I say, flipping my guitar over and swinging it like a bat. “Natalie throws the ball. I knock it into the outfield. It lands at Mike’s feet. Mike picks it up, and we all become friends.”

“Perfect!” Miranda says in shades of Ed Wood. “Marc, you stand in the batting place. Drago, you get behind him, and Natalie, you take the ball to the pitching thing and get ready to throw it.”

“Mound,” I say.

“What?”

“Never mind.”

I’m not really trying to hit the ball with my guitar. Miranda will just try to perpetrate the illusion that I’ve hit the ball when she edits the video together. At least, that’s the plan as Drago and I take our places in a muddy batter’s box.

“There’s a big puddle here,” Drago says. “So don’t throw the ball directly at us. Try to throw it over that way.”

“Got it,” Natalie says, winding up for the pitch.

Then she throws it directly at us, hitting the center of the puddle with astounding accuracy.

“Can we do that again?” Miranda asks as Drago and I wipe the mud from our faces. “I wasn’t shooting.”

The second, Natalie doesn’t splash us with mud. I swing the guitar, and Drago tosses the ball into the outfield as if I’ve just hit it. When Mike picks up the ball, we all gather around him and start slapping him on the back.

With that, I imagine we’re done – and not a second too soon. It’s starting to get dark, and though it’s only in my imagination, the people who live across the street from the park are peering at us through half-parted curtains as they reach for their phones to call the police.

“Great work, guys,” I say. “I think we can call it a day!”

“Not quite.”

Curiously, it isn’t Miranda who wants to keep shooting this time around. It’s Mike. And though my instinct is remind him of the papers he has to grade, I keep my mouth shut and hear him out.

“See that tree over there?” Mike points in the direction of a fallen tree on the edge of the outfield. “It’s the perfect backdrop.”

He’s right. The branches arc up and over to form a small cave or a primitive shelter from the elements. It’s easy to imagine prehistoric hunter-gatherers finding it and setting up camp for the night – or breaking camp at dawn, however you want to look at it. In any case, if Mike’s on board, then so am I.

“Okay, team,” I say. “Let’s do it!”

But they’re already ahead of me, trudging through snow, slush, and mud to take their places in beneath the skeletal remains of the fallen tree. When I take place next to them, Miranda tells us all to start dancing. We’re having a great time, she says by way of direction before commanding each of us to strut toward the camera and look into it with our very best diva pouts.

“Keep dancing,” Miranda shouts when we’ve all finished with our close-ups. “And don’t forget—you’re all rock stars.”

In that moment, with the cars whizzing by in the distance and the good people of Henry Avenue watching us from the comfort of their homes beneath the blinking red lights of the radio towers above, I believe her. This is my band, and as the sun sets pink and orange over Roxborough, Miranda’s camera turns us all into rock stars.

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