For every Taylor Swift bubblegum breakup song exploding out of posh Nashville studios there’s also a melody of broken whiskey bottles and hearts fading into darkness escaping the city limits, only to shoot across the midnight skies like a wayward star.
Real country isn’t dead, though one might think otherwise with the likes of Luke Bryan, Miranda Lambert or Florida Georgia Line. Real country stills resides where it was birthed from — honkytonks with sticky bar room floors, sunset porch pickin’ sessions and along the silent highways of this great rolling land that we stand atop of or look toward from afar.
Country music is about honest wordplay and guitar notes that ride the rhythms of your heart, for good or ill. And where that lonesome sound stills exists, and thrives, is within the Americana community currently overtaking East Nashville, Athens, Asheville and beyond. It’s a group a musicians who got tired of waiting for a record executive to “get it” and just brought their music and message to the people themselves — gig after shitty gig, mile after tiring mile, dollar after hard-earned dollar.
It’s now household names like Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton. Up-and-coming names like Nikki Lane, Joe Fletcher, J.P. Harris, Aaron Lee Tasjan, John Moreland and Caleb Caudle to name a few. It’s also the likes of Scott Low. Based out of Clayton, Georgia by way of Athens, Low is steadily carving out his own path along the unforgiving road that is being an independent musician, one bearing the fruits of his labor as a guy simply pursuing the destiny of his heroes.
Smoky Mountain News: There’s a huge underground explosion of songwriters and great bands emerging from East Nashville, Athens, etcetera. What do you see looking at that scene?
Scott Low: Most of East Nashville or Athens doesn’t want that pop mainstream success, and I don’t think society is intellectual enough or willing to broaden their boundaries. Look at most of the top tracks on Spotify or Billboard. The content is almost a negative number. I mean how is Stapleton not on the pop radio after sweeping the Country Music Awards? But, we’re the songwriters and performers that grind the road and the studios, and are the children of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and Jerry Garcia. We’re pushing our boundaries and are fine with struggling to find a song or art. We all fight for real original music that we wrote, produced, performed, and bled.
SMN: What’s the place of the singer-songwriter in a modern world, one filled with instant gratification, distraction and a lot of bland offerings in terms of pop music and radio hits?
SL: I sit here in a warm, beautiful house with a stunning wife, but yet I know the world outside is a shit show of greed, cheating and killing. When we look back on decades past, the pop stars fade unless they are the cream of the crop. But, I think about the struggling songwriter like Townes Van Zant or Guy Clarke who stand more important than the average pop diva Donna Summers or Tom Jones. I’m not young, dumb or willing to play Luke Bryan slop. I live gig-to-gig, child support to rent, and I sit here proud of the thousands of shows and eight albums I’ve created. I’m fine with it.
SMN: You recently got married, and also took a road trip of performances and such to celebrate. What has getting married, and also that trip itself, proved to you in terms of what it is you want out of your life, emotionally and professionally?
SL: I want to love. I want to sing my songs for you so you can see things differently. I want to play that same song for you a few months from now and play it differently so you feel something completely different. I want to be there for my comrades and begin to find issues that my music can help mend. I want every song to mean something different to everyone.
SMN: When you’re onstage, what goes through your head? What are you thinking?
SL: I’m thinking, “Drunk girl, please do not come up here and request ‘Wagon Wheel’ because you are cute and I don’t want to have to be offended that my songs aren’t good enough, and silently judge you.” Just kidding. Well, kind of. I’m going to push the boundaries of my skill and luck with every set. I try to create a jazz sense of folk music where the cadence and melodies wander and find new homes nightly. Sometimes I fail, and that can lead to a slump for a song or two or just feed the fight, or conversely it will be a “nailed it” moment and will lead to euphoric free explorations or just a spotless rendition.
SMN: What has a life in and around music taught you about what it means to be a human being?
SL: I want to write songs that change your perspective for a second or a lifetime, to create something original, and make a small corner of the world better. Often we forget that we can be as happy and as in love as we want to be. Sad songs remind us or drag us down — it’s really a choice.
Editor’s Note: Scott Low will be performing at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 15 at Tipping Point Brewing in Waynesville and at 10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 16 at The Lost Hiker in Highlands. He will also hit the stage at 8 p.m. Friday, Jan. 29 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva. Though his latest release “The New Vintage” (10 Foot Woody Records) is slated for release this spring, you can stream several of his latest melodies at scottlow.bandcamp.com.