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! 

Why I Like the EP Format

I released an EP yesterday. It’s called There Is No Down.

I feel like the EP is the ideal kind of musical project for me both in terms of recording and what I’m asking of listeners.

For one thing, I lack the attention span to record a full-length album. Even if I start with a concept or style or approach to recording that I think sounds great, I’m often distracted by another idea shortly thereafter. With an EP, I can record a few songs that sound pretty decent together and then move on to a new project.

As far as the listener goes — and hopefully you’re one of them — I feel like four songs is a good number. It’s more than one, so if you like what you hear, there are a few more. But it’s less than ten or twelve, so it’s not like I’m asking you to sit down and listen to a half-hour to forty-five minutes of music I’ve recorded.

I mean, I love albums, but I rarely sit down and listen to one in its entirety. At best, I’ll have one on in the background or I’ll make a playlist based on my favorite songs from a particular artist, but — and again, it’s the attention span issue — I can’t sit through a whole album. It’s probably just me, but as a “do unto others” kind of guy, I know I can’t ask you to do something I’m not able to do myself.

Which doesn’t mean that I’ll never record an album. Just that I really like the EP format.

Training Yourself to Finish: An Interview with Eric Linden

The first time I heard Eric Linden’s “Chasing You,” I was immediately struck by the song’s energy. The David Johansen swagger of Linden’s vocal delivery left me with a distinct impression of the New York Dolls, and it also held echoes of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, and a little bit of Peter Murphy. More recently, his single “3,000 Pieces of Me” revealed an incredibly sensitive approach to songwriting and an eye for telling detail. Curious about what makes the burgeoning singer-songwriter tick, I dropped him a line…

You’ve moved around a bit, living in North Dakota and Colorado before settling in Minnesota. Has all of that moving informed your songwriting? What have you taken from each of the places you’ve lived? Or, to put it another way, what kind of impression did each place leave on you as a songwriter? 

Growing up in North Dakota meant that my band really had to embrace a DIY approach to doing shows and recording.  Also, we were sharing shows with bands who had wildly different sounds so we had to write enough songs that we had options when we put our sets together.  

I moved to Colorado right after college and that was a pretty exciting and adventurous time for me.  There’s a lot of great eclectic venues in the Denver/Boulder area. Red Rocks is one of my favorite places on Earth.  And then you have places like the Mercury Cafe just teeming with creativity.  I was into the Spoken Word scene there, and there was also some really great Americana music bubbling up in the area.  The Lumineers and Nathanial Rateliff, for example, have hit it big. 

Coming back to the Midwest was a bit of a homecoming for me. Minneapolis has such a great music tradition and scene. Of course, Prince was a powerhouse, and the Replacements have been incredibly influential. I’ve been really into Semisonic and Dan Wilson’s songwriting. And there’s always really exciting bands stepping up like Hippo Camus and Durry. It’s a really creative city that supports its musicians.  

In 2020, you formed a virtual songwriters’ circle and started working on material for your first album, which will be titled Burning up the Marquee. How did you get the circle going, and how often did you meet? What were the logistics like? What did you learn from that experience?

At the start of COVID I split with a band I’d been playing with for a while. Tommy from The Negatrons suggested that we start a song-writing circle where every week we’d write and record a demo.  We’d share the songs and our feedback every week in a chatroom.  

Everyone in the group was people we knew from North Dakota’s DIY scene.  There was a really wide variety of genres represented.  Other guys were working with blues, metal, rap, pop-punk, and country.  Check out the music from The Negatrons, Clint Morgenstern, and Moutkeevin to get a sense of the wide range of this group.  

And then each of us were pushing our genre boundaries just to keep it interesting.  Every song on Burning up the Marquee was written while I was  in this group. It’s the strongest ten songs from that time.  I cut another 10-15 songs. 

The most valuable thing I learned was how to consistently start and finish songs. I’ve heard a Dan Wilson interview where he talked about the importance of finishing songs and training yourself to finish. I think I trained myself to finish songs rather than training myself to abandon songs. 

The title Burning up the Marquee is extremely evocative. Where did it come from, and how’s the album coming along?

The album title is  a line from my next single “Walk You Home” which will be out February 8th.  

It’s a song about finding connection even when the world has put you through the wringer. The lyrics are pulling details from a really cold night in my neighborhood in Northeast Minneapolis: “Streets are uneven, sidewalks are heaving, lights burning up the marquee.” There’s a little theater a few streets down from my house.  

As an album title it takes on a couple of different meanings.  And I like that.  It’s a nod to the civil unrest in the city. It’s a nod to Chuck Berry’s line “Maybe someday your name will be in lights.”  My dad was a big Chuck Berry fan, and Johnny B. Goode is one of my go-to karaoke songs. There’s also quite a bit of fire imagery throughout the album, so it’s a good fit. 

Your song “3,000 Pieces of Me” depicts a breakup in intimate detail. How much of your personal life shows up in your songs? Are they autobiographical, or are you inventing characters? Or is it a combination of the two?

The song is about a fictional breakup. The narrator of that song is a persona, who is very much “not me.”    

Writing that song was kind of like writing a monolog for a character in a  play.  The first line I had was “I’m not understanding why you’re out standing in the rain.” So I knew she was incredibly upset and he couldn’t understand why she was seething. The rest of the song has a lot of telling details about how petty and materialistic he is.  

As I was writing it I thought it was a pretty funny song.  But I wrote it from his perspective and it’s true to his emotions during the breakup.  And that resonates with people too. 

I like that song has a couple of levels.  One radio DJ told me she took  the narrator’s side because she would be “pissed if someone was taking her records during a breakup.” And she has a point. Breakups have a way of bringing out the worst in people. 

I love the verse about the record collection: “But my record collection/ Is looking awfully sparse/ Don’t take my Elton Johns/ Please don’t go breaking my heart.” Is Elton John an influence on your songwriting?

One of the members of the songwriting group told me I had to cut that line.  I’m glad I didn’t.  I think that little pun/allusion points to some of the humor in the song.  Also, Max Collins from Eve 6 recently tweeted about how it’s good for songs to have a line or two that make you cringe.  I have no idea if he was being serious, but I agree with it.  The line feels pretty cringe. 

As for Elton John, I do  really like songs like “Rocketman” and “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.”  But “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” worked for this line and this character.   It was one of the details that felt distinctly “not me.” 

I don’t know that Sir Elton was influencing this record that much.  I think I hear influences from Tom Petty, Dan Wilson, and the Rolling Stones at various points of the album. 

I also love the line in that song about the suitcase purchased for a trip to Belize. It’s so telling—a suitcase purchased but never used for its intended purpose, like a detail in an Ernest Hemingway story. What’s going on there?

I’ve never been there, but in the moment it sounded like an exotic and showy vacation destination. He’s more interested in the show than the experience with her. He’s more interested in the suitcase than memories he had with her. If they did go on the trip, she’s taking those memories with her too. 

After a breakup sweet memories turn sour. You can’t listen to some of your favorite songs anymore.  You might lose some of your friends. You have to buy a new suitcase. It’s a whole thing.

If you don’t mind me geeking out a little bit, what’s your recording process? What do software do you use to record? Hardware? Microphones? Interfaces? Do you have a favorite guitar? (Feel free to comment on any combination these topics!)

A lot of this album was written and recorded on a Fender Telecaster with a maple neck. It’s an American Professional model in black with a white pickguard.  It’s the first Telecaster I’ve ever owned, and I think it had a big influence during the writing process as well as the final sound of the album. I play various other guitars on the album, but that’s the one that stands out right now.  

As far as recording goes It’s all pretty standard stuff: Focusrite, Shure, Pro Tools. I just think it’s incredible that home recording is so accessible these days. 

Just to geek out a little more, have you picked up any tips or tricks with respect to recording? Are there any techniques that really work for you?

I wanted to be able to use my full pedal board, but micing a real amp wasn’t going to be ideal. So I settled on using the Strymon Iridium as the amp and cab. It’s a great piece of gear that allows me to switch between voicings for Fender, Marshall, and Vox amps quickly. I really value “convenient versatility” in the home studio. I choose pedals that give me a lot of options without diving deep into menus. 

You mention on your website that you’re open to collaboration with other musicians and songwriters. Beyond your writing circle, have you had an opportunity to work with anyone else? What’s your process for working with other musicians? What do you like about creative collaboration?

I’ve played in a number of bands, and I miss the spark of collaboration when everyone is contributing new ideas to a song. I’ve been an actor and director in theater too, and I love working with other people to create a performance.  

YouTuber Kristers Hartmanis played drums on the album, and that was a great experience. As was working with Tyler Pilot from Red Dot Recording. 

There’s a lot of great musicians on Twitter I’d be interested in co-writing with or creating a collaboration track in the future. I’ve also had people start to inquire about bringing me in as a lyricist.  I’m open to all of the above.

What’s next?

I’ve got a new single “Walk You Home” coming on February 8th. And the full album Burning up the Marquee will be out this spring.  

I’m looking forward to it! Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, Eric! 

Absolutely.  Thank you for the thoughtful questions.