PEARL FISHING WITH DAVID SCOTT

If you are a fan of music by contemporary bands like Linus Of Hollywood, Heavy Blinkers, June And The Exit Wounds and The Cherry Orchard, then you will love The Pearlfishers as well.
The Pearlfishers are from Scotland and were founded in 1991 by David Scott and Brian McAlpine. Their first release was a folkpop record called ZA ZA'S GARDEN, but the world of pop music really got to know the band with their second release, THE STRANGE UNDERWORLD OF THE TALL POPPIES (originally out on Marina in early 1997, later re-released on Sony). In March 1999, they had their third record out, THE YOUNG PICNICKERS. Both albums gathered rave reviews and contain some great Brian Wilson-ish soft pop gems, like 'Sugar Mountain Babies', 'In The Darkest Hour', 'We're Gonna Save The Summer' and 'Stella Painted Joy'. Music with a smile, to listen to on a sunny afternoon (with your head phones on), with songs that are brilliantly arranged and have memorable melodies.
Patrick Beckers recently had an e-mail interview with David Scott, who, besides being a 'Pearlfisher' also spends time as musician in residence at East Kilbride Arts Centre, where he has produced records by Alex Chilton, BMX Bandits, Norman Blaker of Teenage Fanclub and others. He is also resident piano player on The Fred MacAuley Show, presents a television program called 'The Flyer' on BBC Digital Choice (an arts review show) and acts as a travelling musicologist giving workshops on songwriting, arrangement and production.

When and how did your love for music begin?

David Scott: Well, if you were to look at our family photo albums you'd see me as a small child invariably hammering on the piano, blowing a harmonica or dancing about while my Uncle Ian plays guitar. I think I was just drawn to music always. My family were all quite musical - my Uncle Bill played lots of instruments and taught me Clarinet when I was about 8 or 9. I used to sneak about playing Roy Wood and Wizzard songs on Eb Clarinet - just picking up the tune by ear. Later when I was about 11, I came first in a school test for musical aptitude and the prize was free music lessons on whatever instrument you wanted. I wanted piano but there wasn't a piano in our house at the time so I got stuck with the Bb Flat Coronet (somewhere between a Trumpet and a Flugel Horn). I played that for years. I was the big boss on Coronet in our school.

When did you start writing songs?

DS: You know I think it's something I always did, I can't honestly remember a time when I didn't just naturally want to pick out little chords or tunes and have fun 'making things up' almost like a game. It's always seemed a part of me. I suppose I was seriously writing songs by the time I was about 13 or 14 - some of them were quite good. I use to write with a pal at school called Paul Ambrose. It totally set us apart . We weren't the coolest kids in school, but we felt pretty artsy and as if we were doing something quite unusual.

What are your main musical influences? What did you listen to when you were younger?

DS: My Aunt had an old Dansette record player which was always hidden away in a cupboard, under bed sheets or whatever and that became quite a pursuit, to hunt the record player. She mostly had poor taste in music with novelty records like 'Zorba's Dance', 'Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White' and that sort of thing, but she had two sublime records, Millie's 'My Boy Lollipop', which still makes me feel really excited. I love the sound of quite poppy Ska and Bluebeat. That is such a totally beautiful record. The other great thing was the movie soundtrack of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, which is one of my favourite albums. I recently got the remastered CD which is very good, beautifully cut and packaged. They're just great songs, you know, very tenderly sung and quite lovingly arranged. Later of course, I heard The Beatles and life was never quite the same. I love the vocal style of bands like Harpers Bizarre  and The Sandpipers. Bob Dylan is to me the most heroic artist of his age. Marvin Gaye the most thrilling singer. Still, my one biggest influence must be Brian Wilson and not just his music but his life and personality and the humanity he stands for. Remember, when I talk about these people I never think in a million years I could approach their greatness. I truly worship people like McCartney and Bacharach.

When did you start to pursue a musical career?

DS: I got into it via a band from Falkirk called 'Second Nature'. I used to play guitar for them around about 1984 and they were the first band I ever knew who went into a studio under their own steam and actually hired a producer to help them. They were great but a bit all over the place and I think the producer (a guy called Bobby Henry) could see that I was a bit ahead of the other guys in terms of vision etc. Anyway I ended up playing him some of my Portastudio demos, he then took me into the studio to cut them properly and put the tracks on a compilation called THE SHIFT ALBUM. Pretty quickly I got signed by Phonogram and that's when it all went wrong!

What do you mean by 'that's when it all went wrong'?

DS: Well, my experience with major record companies isn't very good. you see they sign you because they get really excited by something about your demo and then spend lots of money changing your music. Then they wonder why they're not excited anymore and drop you. Well that's my experience anyway. It was my fault too. It's important to be strong about your vision and earlier in my life I wasn't strong enough.

Tell us something about the beginning of The Pearlfishers.

DS: The Pearlfishers really grew out of a band called 'Hearts And Minds' which was my group from 1986-ish to 1990-ish. We'd had a deal with CBS and released a record called TURNING TURTLE which was one of those 'should have been' records. Even when we lost the CBS deal we could really pull crowds and were sort of a 'hit' band here in Scotland. I guess because I'd already lost two record deals, major labels were a bit reluctant to get into bed with me again, so I started 'My Dark Star' to release my own records. I think at the time there was an American band called 'Hearts And Minds' doing the rounds and we just decided to change our name and have a totally fresh start. The first release was a 12" E.P. called 'Sacred' - quite a good record.

What's the story behind the name of the band?

DS: I don't know. I could say that I was thinking about glittery sparkly names that might make you think that the music was glittery and sparkly too. That's probably true now that I think about it. You can imagine diving into the ocean and reaching for something magical. At the time we'd exhausted all the routes to getting any kind of major industry action but we were still pretty passionate about what we had and I think we wanted to express a very deep artistry. Maybe the name reflects that. I'm actually very fond of the name.

How do you approach writing songs? What comes first, melody or lyrics?

DS: Usually it's a chord sequence. Something that feels magical on a harmonic level. That's the first point of emotional reference in any song, the harmony of the chords. That usually leads to the invention of a melody. Sometimes I reserve judgement of what the melody should be almost until the track is done (e.g. 'Stella Painted Joy', the final melody bears no resemblance to the demo). When I start thinking about words, I almost always discover what I was unconsciously thinking about in the chord arrangement, do you know what I mean? God knows the secrets of your heart and tells them to you while you're asleep. One other thing I would say is that I try to use production and arrangement as an almost equal part of the writing process.

Someone called THE STRANGE UNDERWORLD OF THE TALL POPPIES  "The greatest lost album that Brian Wilson, Roger McGuinn, The Left Banke and The Beatles never quite got round to recording together one sugar-spun Summer's afternoon in 1966".  That's quite a compliment! Do these kind of compliments mean anything to you? how do reviews in general affect you, as a person and a musician?

DS: That is a quote from a journalist called David Belcher. He was one of several people who had never liked the group before, but TALL POPPIES really turned them on. That was very, very important to me at the time because I truly felt that the album was a big leap for me and it was lovely to hear people speak from the heart in that way. People are lying if they say they don't care about reviews. We've all got an ego and we all want to make people feel good, so you get affected by any reaction. I've been lucky in that I've had lots of good reviews. They are flattering but by the same token bad reviews hurt. At the end of the day, nobody dies.

How do you look upon the Pearlfishers legacy so far?

DS: Is it a legacy? To me, I've been lucky to be spared releasing lots of bad records because I got dropped twice by major labels. The result is that almost every record I've put out is entirely what I wanted at the time, so for me the 'legacy' is some kind of honesty or musical integrity, from ZA ZA'S GARDEN to THE YOUNG PICNICKERS. I feel they are good records.

It's almost 18 months since your last album. Any chance for Pearlfishers fans of a new record? What have you been doing musically lately?

DS: Well remember that THE YOUNG PICNICKERS has only just been released in Canada and The Philippines, so it's still quite a new record for us. I've been doing lots of things. I have just produced a compilation of Brain Wilson covers called CAROLINE NOW!. I've just done some stuff with Bill Wells and Isobel Campbell from Belle And Sebastian. I have written music for a play- various stuff. I also present an arts program on BBC TV.. just work.. but I am currently recording a new Pearlfishers album and I feel very good about it.

The CAROLINE NOW! compilation sounds interesting. Can you tell us more about it?

DS: Have you got five years? Douglas T Stewart is one of my very best friends. I love him. He and I are Brian Wilson Disciples together and have always wanted to do an album of unusual and underrated Brian songs. Frank and Stefan from Marina had a similiar idea and over three years we made it happen. You'll hear Brian songs that you didn't even know existed, sung with love and reverence by artists from all over the globe. (The soon to be released CD includes songs by, The Pearlfishers, Norman Blake(Teenage Fanclub), Alex Chilton, St. Etienne, Kim Fowley, June & The Exit Wounds, Eric Matthews, The Free Design, The High Llamas and Chip Taylor & Evie Sands, among others.)

What is your opinion of the current music scene? Do you have any contemporary favourite artists?

DS: I like what I guess you'd think I like.. Sterolab, Teenage Fanclub, Bill Wells, Belle And Sebastian, The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev etc. I honestly have no opinion of any music scene. I'm just not interested

What can we expect from The Pearlfishers in the near future? Are you still signed to Marina/Sony records? Any chances of a worldwide release?

DS: Well,Marina are my label and I have to say that it is amazing to have a record label who honestly love music. You can't believe how unusual that is. Hopefully the next record should be out in the New Year and I think you'll be able to buy it anywhere.

Thanks to David Scott.
Patrick Beckers. July 2000

    Za Za's Garden

The Strange Underworld Of The
Tall Poppies

The Young Picnickers

Available from:
www.pearlfishers.com/
www.marina.com/index.html

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