Though typically reticent to dig deep into the meanings of his songs (he likes to retain the mystery), Scott took a break from the band's current tour to talk with us. And he told us the stories anyway.
Scott Jason: Yeah, when I was back in college, I was like 20 years old, and it was right around the time that DVD players and surround sound systems were coming out and getting popular. My roommates and I had rented the U2 DVD Live From Slane Castle, in their hometown, and I just remembered we were watching it and they played this song called "Where The Streets Have No Name." It was so touching and emotionally moving, and I just had goosebumps the whole time. And then that's when I knew this is what I want to do, I want to be able to write something that can touch other people the way that touched me and moved me, connected with me. And so that was kind of the initial trigger, and 9/11 had also occurred around the same time, so there's also references in there to that.
Songfacts: So it's not a song that is solely based on 9/11 then? There's other elements?
Scott: Yeah, there's other elements in it. There's very definitely references to 9/11 in there. The "New York City angels" part, and stuff like that.
Songfacts: I also heard that this was the first song that you guys wrote as a band?
Scott: No, that's not true. I write all the music and lyrics by myself, actually.
Songfacts: Okay. Can you just describe for me how it is when you write your songs, and then you hand over your words to another person to sing them, how do you convey what you want him to sound like?
Scott: Well, the thing with Clayton and I, we've been working together for almost a decade now. And we have our system, and it works excellent. Basically, I'll write the music and the lyrics, and then I'll be like, "Okay, Clayton, get your ass over here," and I will sing him the song and he'll sing it back, and we'll practice until he gets the melodies right. And so I just kind of teach him how it goes. And that's kind of the way that works. We've been doing it for so long with so many songs that it's just like clockwork.
Songfacts: So you guys read each other pretty well?
Scott: Yeah, we have really good chemistry working together, musically. A lot of artists have creative differences, and fighting and stuff like that. But the singer and I, we work really, really well together, so we're kind of fortunate in that respect.
Songfacts: Can you give me any examples of songs that were really tough for him to interpret the way you wanted them to sound?
Scott: Well, at first it's always difficult. I'll sing it to him and I'll be like, "No, it's like this." And then he'll try again, and I'll be like, "That was almost it." So it's always kind of difficult at first. But then once we've been going at it for about half an hour, then the lights turn on. But I wouldn't say that one song has kind of stuck out as being difficult. Because he doesn't necessarily need to interpret anything, and plus he knows my style so well at this point that it just works really well. We work really well together.
Scott: Yeah, that's the second single.
Songfacts: Can you take me through that one?
Scott: Yeah, I was living in Berkeley at the time, cooped up in this studio apartment. It was kind of a shithole. And obviously I was with a girl, the song's about a girl. But it's actually written from the guy's standpoint. And I, personally, was going through a very difficult stage in my life. That period in my life was a pretty low period, and I was so focused on that that I kind of lost sight of her, and before I knew it, she was kind of slipping away. And then I reached a point where I knew I had lost her, and then it really, really broke my heart. I had never had my heart broken so hard before. And I found out that she was with somebody else, in fact she'd gotten pregnant, and they ended up getting married. So it was a pretty dark period in my life right there, because I had a lot of other things going on at the same time, I wasn't paying attention, and before I knew it I had lost her. And that's the inspiration for that song.
Songfacts: How long ago did this happen?
Scott: I graduated in 2003, "Hey Lady" was written like 5 years ago, so 2004.
Songfacts: And does she know this song is about her?
Scott: I think she does. Yeah, I think she does.
Songfacts: Now, something that means as much to you as this song, it's obviously very personal to you, singing it night after night on stage, does that leave you drained? Or has it gotten to the point where it doesn't mean a whole lot to you anymore?
Scott: It's kind of the opposite. Playing the same songs over and over and over and over again, you start going through the motions, and you actually struggle as a musician - and all artists go through this - to try to keep the original spark alive, and make it feel like it's the first time you're playing it. So I try in my mind and in my heart to put myself back, as we're playing it, to those days when this was going on, to make me really feel the power of the song and the music. I try to put myself in those shoes.
Songfacts: That's like torture.
Scott: It's not torture. It's more just bittersweet, I guess.
Songfacts: Can you talk to me about "Secret Life"? Any secrets?
Scott: Yeah. That's funny - "Secret Life" is not necessarily a single, but when we're doing pictures and autographs after shows, we're always saying, "Okay, what's your favorite Thriving Ivory song?" Just 'cause we're curious, you know, we like to know what the fans think. And "Secret Life" is often answered as, "Yeah, 'Secret Life' is my favorite song." Which is cool, but "Secret Life," I wanted to write that song as a very literal approach, talking about a girl and her quirks, and things that have happened to her, but she still manages to shine despite everything that may have happened to her in her life. And I think a lot of women can connect with that, which is why we get a lot of good reaction from it.
Songfacts: Do you get a lot of requests for that at your shows, then?
Scott: Yeah. I just think that in general, women or men, everybody has a story. And the struggle is to still shine despite your past and not let it chase you around and haunt you and weigh down the present. That's what that song touches on. And a lot of people, women in particular, can relate to it, you know, "you dance like a queen in spite of all the things you never wanted."
Songfacts: I can relate. One of your tunes that has really intrigued me is "Light Up Mississippi." And I would really love you to take me through that one.
Scott: Okay. That one's actually an oldie. That's one of the oldest songs on the album. I was just sitting in my apartment in college and we wanted to write an upbeat kind of rocker, Black Crowes-esque kind of thing. And it has a similar narrative to "Secret Life," about a girl in a small town trying to get out of there. And then "Mississippi" is in reference to the girl in the story. I'm not really saying, "Come down Mississippi tonight," I'm not talking about the actual state, I'm talking about a girl, "come out of your shell."
Songfacts: Cool. "Were you born from the seed of disguise? Do you pray to become undone?" Can you elaborate on that?
Scott: Yeah. "Were you born from the seed of disguise," it's like this girl's upbringing. Was this what caused her to remain in her shell? While at the same time she wishes that she could come out of it. David Carradine, before he died, he had a quote, "I've always had to fight my genes to achieve my dreams." And that reminded me of "Mississippi," that this girl's got these big dreams, but she has to fight everything that she's gone through in her life; the way she's been brought up, and her circumstances living in a small town. She should really come out of her shell and light up.
Songfacts: I'm curious, why the small town girl? Is this somebody that you know? Is this maybe your ex-girlfriend that came from a small town?
Scott: No, this is just a story. A fiction story. A lot of my songs are personal and real, but this one in particular is not about anyone, not about a girl that I dated or anything like that. But regardless, I still think that when you're writing fiction, it still comes from your own experiences.
Songfacts: Right. A fan favorite is "Overrated." A lot of people really love that.
Scott: You know, you actually have asked me the three songs on the record that are written as literal interpretations of a woman's life, "Secret Life," "Mississippi" and "Overrated." Like the three. And "Overrated" stands out because it's kind of inspired by "Meet Virginia" by Train. I thought that was cool, because it was like talking about a woman and her quirks, and the things she goes for, like "she calls herself Maria because she likes the name, not for any other reason." And I always think, when I think of that song, kind of like a waitress who's dying to get out of there, who has grown to have some sort of pessimistic view, or some cynicism there. And "she swears this life is often overrated." The song's got a good southern groove to it, and I think people like it because it tells a story about a woman, or a girl, who's not fake. Who's sincere and is not afraid to be real, and doesn't force a smile on her face just so other people can think that she's having a grand old time. I think people like that song because it's real, and it talks about a real person.
Songfacts: Strips away the facade. Very good. I know that you guys are writing songs for a new album.
Scott: Yeah, actually the second album is pretty much done. It's not been recorded yet in the studio, but it's written and done.
Songfacts: Really? I'd be happy to listen to any stories that you want to tell me about any songs on that.
Scott: Well, I write every day. In fact, I'm writing right this very second. Not this second - I'm just taking a break here. But I write every day. But I really, really think - not to pat myself on the back - but I really think I've stepped it up even more. And I think - I'm positive, I'm hopeful, I really think our fans are going to be blown away by the second album. Because a lot of times what happens is with a band's first album they have their whole lives to write it. They haven't been signed, they've been together for six years so they have all these songs, they have a million to choose from, so they have their life's work for the first album. But then the second album comes around, and a lot of times if the writer hasn't been writing every day, it's like the record company says, "Okay, we need another album in six months," and then trying to force yourself to write 12 songs in 6 months, it's not gonna happen. It's not gonna happen good, anyways. And so that's why I write every day, other than the fact that I enjoy it. For me writing is very, very challenging, and it's also very, very satisfying when you can honestly look back and say, "Okay, that was good." But the second album, I'm very, very happy about it. I'm really looking forward to getting into the studio and recording everything that's been written. And I think our fans are going to be more than blown away.
Songfacts: Excellent. You said it's really nice to be able to put it down and say "that was good." Is there any song on there that you feel particularly strong about in that respect?
Scott: Yeah, I'll probably get in trouble if I say the names of any records, but I can just tell you that the album, as a whole, I'm very proud of and really, really cannot wait to get in there and record it.
Songfacts: Do you have a projected date for the next album?
Scott: You know, I don't, but see, what happens is, when a band comes out with an album, if the next album comes out really quick, that means the singles on the first album didn't do very good. But if it takes a while we did "Angels on the Moon" for almost a year, and that's because it was really successful. And we were really grinding out that single. So the longer it takes in between albums usually is a good sign, meaning that there were three or four singles on it that they were working on radio that did really well. So I'm not sure, it's tough to say. We just went to radio with the second single. It's kind of just now coming out. So it's really tough to say when the second record's going to get started in the studio.
Songfacts: On the first album, is there any song like that that you're particularly proud of that I didn't mention already?
Scott: Yeah, a song called "Alien," which is the most personal song to me on the record. That song is about my brother. And my brother, he's a brilliant, brilliant, brilliant kid, a full scholarship to Berkeley, and he's gone through some pretty heavy stuff. So that song is really personal.
Songfacts: Could you tell me any examples of the stuff that he's gone through?
Scott: I can't.
Songfacts: Did you feel a whole lot better, though, after you had written the song?
Scott: Yeah, it makes me sad when I listen back to it, but it also makes me proud. And it's just very emotional, that song. And people that know me knew when I wrote that what it was about. My friends, they knew in one second what it was about.
Songfacts: So obviously your brother knows, as well?
Songfacts: Okay. Any others that you want to tell me about? Anything else you want to relay?
Scott: I just would like to say that, for all the writers out there writing music, there's two hardest parts about writing a song. One is getting started, and two is finishing. And the best way to write is to never give up, keep at it every day and work really hard, and you will see results, and you'll see yourself grow. And you really just have to take an honest, objective look at what you're writing and what you've done, and be honest with yourself. Is this magic? Do I have goosebumps? Or am I just doing this to get it done?
Songfacts: And you go with the goosebumps every time?
Scott: That's what I strive for.
Scott was standing in the parking lot of their latest hotel-on-the-road when we talked to him on July 16, 2009, fighting the noise of the passing semi trucks the whole time.
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