For our newest NoiseTrade One-on-One, we went off shore with rowdy one-man-band Scott H. Biram as he graced us with an interview from the high seas of the XM Outlaw Country Cruise. During our chat, Biram gave us the lowdown on his new Bloodshot Records album The Bad Testament, the inspiration he gains from the “Depression Era Metal” of iconic bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell and Leadbelly, and he even recommends some of his favorite instrumentals from Metallica to Bill Monroe. All aboard and anchors aweigh!
NoiseTrade: Your new album The Bad Testament has been described as “landing somewhere west of the Old Testament and south of an AA handbook.” Describe that dichotomy for new listeners who may be hearing you for the first time.
Scott H. Biram: I just thought it was funny. I guess it kind of catches the underlying theme of the record pretty good though. A lot of my records teeter between being gospel-themed and alcohol-ridden. “West” of the Old Testament because it’s not exactly religious, but it’s not exactly south of heaven either. “South” of an AA handbook because we have arrived in a place much darker than an AA meeting.
NT: You’re offering new songs “Set Me Free,” “Long Old Time,” and “Red Wine” on your NoiseTrade sampler. What can you tell us about the inspirations and themes of this trio of The Bad Testament song?
Biram: “Set Me Free” was just one of those that fell in to place. Not a lot of deep meaning to this one. It’s just fun and kind of has an anthem feel towards the end. I almost called it “BAD” because the chords are B-A-D. Some real intricate shit. “Long Old Time” is one of the first I tracked for the new record. I had the idea of stretching out vocal notes to sing “loooong ooooold tiiiiime”. It was mostly an experiment. For “Red Wine”… I think it’s pretty obvious that it was inspired by George Jones. I had a picture in my head of a honky tonk band in a smokey bar. It’s been called “bluesy” but to me it’s straight up honky tonk, Gary Stewart kind of stuff.
NT: Your sound embodies a lot of rustic, rootsy elements of the American music tradition. What are some of your main sonic influences and some of your earliest memories of encountering these early Americana styles?
Biram: I was lucky enough to be raised in a family that had pretty good taste in music. I grew up on classic rock with some Leadbelly and Doc Watson thrown in, some Lightnin’ Hopkins, and some Merle Haggard. My dad listened to a lot of John Prine and CSN when I was growing up. My first arena concert was Charlie Daniels with Bonnie Raitt opening in 1982. My influences come from all sides: chain gang songs, old school acoustic country blues including Delta, Hillcountry, South Texas and anywhere I could get it. Also, folkier stuff like Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly, Doc Watson, Townes Van Zandt. Old country stuff like Merle and Waylon, bluegrass Bill Monroe and Jimmy Martin. I listen to a lot of ’80’s metal and punk too though. Throw in all that ’80’s Men at Work and Huey Lewis shit, a little Slayer, and its not really clear how we arrived at this place is it?
I saw Doc Watson about four times before he passed. I saw him in an intimate guitar clinic in a tent at a festival once. That was awesome. I saw him in 1979 live at The Armadillo World Headquarters when his son Merle was still alive. All the hippies dancing on the quilts while he played, wafting pot smoke, what a great memory. I caught Townes the last two times he played at The Cactus Cafe in Austin. Glad that happened.
NT: You count iconic bluesmen like Leadbelly and Mississippi Fred McDowell among your personal musical heroes. What is it about these two men that strikes you so deeply?
Biram: Grit. True grit. Fred said “This ain’t rock n roll” but that’s a lie, it’s so rockin’! To me, Fred is heavy. I call it “Depression Era Metal.” Huddie Ledbetter was always putting those loud talking rants and explanations and back stories in the middle of songs. That really speaks to me.
NT: While crafting your songs within the one-man band vein, do you ever feel limited or like you can’t get to a certain place you’re looking to hit or is it more unencumbered freedom for you?
Biram: That depends on if I’m working things up for stage or studio. I can overdub like a mother in the studio. I can pretty much make whatever happen in there. I have a little trouble getting all my studio songs turned into manageable live songs sometimes. I’ve only had to forsake two or three songs over the years that I just couldn’t make sound right for the stage. The live and studio versions of my songs definitely have different personalities. As far as freedom, yeah I can do whatever I want which is nice. I can play a song within a song and never have to plan it out with the band.
NT: Finally, your new slide guitar instrumental “Hit the River” is an incredibly raucous romp that’s an amazingly fun listen. Do you have any favorite instrumentals from other artists that you recommend fans check out?
Biram: Thanks! Yeah, those last 3 songs on the record are some I wrote and recorded for a Yeti Coolers documentary about The Texas Water Sarai canoe race. They ended up using some previously recorded songs I did instead. I just thought we should get them out there. So we tacked them on the end of the CD. As far as instrumentals that I like… “Orion” and “Call of Ktulu,”any of those old Metallica instrumentals, any Black Sabbath instrumental, all the stuff Doc Watson and Bill Monroe did together, all the Jerry Reed instrumentals, Zeppelin stuff, I could go on and on.