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Published: 2004/03/30
by Ken Robbins

Scott Murawski: Never Out of His Depth

On the night before spring, prior to a particularly solid Max Creek show in Portland, Maine, I was able to take a few minutes and talk with one of the most talented guitar players on the scene today, Scott Murawski. Scott spoke candidly about his band, Max Creek, as well as his other expansive musical pursuits. He began playing with Max Creek when he was fifteen years old and has played with an impressive list of other talented musicians along the way. It was an enlightening and honest look into a life of a gifted veteran musician who participates in many unique side projects in addition to Max Creek. He spoke freely about these projects as well as some very interesting collaborations and relationships that he has developed over the years.

KR: Let’s get right into it. I want to talk to you mainly about your side projects and one of your main side projects right now, the Depth Quartet. Who is in the band and what is it all about.

SM: The Depth Quartet was comprised with Mark Mercier on keyboard, Justin Kolack [Vykki Vox band] on bass and Greg Vasso {former drummer for Max Creek and now with Jiggle the Handle] on drums. However, Mark Mercier [keyboard player for Max Creek] has decided for personal reasons to discontinue his role on the keys at this time.

KR: Do you have anyone filling his spot yet?

SM: We've been thinking about it, but for now we are going to be playing as a trio and focusing on that.

KR: How would you compare your experience playing with the DQ as opposed to Max Creek?

SM: Playing with Max Creek is very easy. I don't have to think about anything at this point. The DQ started out as a free form release where we could play anything that we wanted. Even when we play Max Creek songs, they are played in an entirely different style. It is very enjoyable and allows me to expand into different areas as a musician. Some the instrumental tunes that I bring in and also the Jazz standards that we do have a lot more structure to it so it makes me think more playing with Depth Quartet.

KR: Also some straight out funk tunes such as "Funky Miracle," the Meters tune that you guys play?

SM: Yeah, that's one of my favorites. But actually that is less taxing on my brain than some of the more straight ahead Jazz tunes like the Monk tune that we do which is very complex and the solos that I have to take over, I can't breeze through them like I can with the Creek material.

KR: Besides your own songs, Depth Quartet plays some fun and unique covers such "Where It’s At" by Beck and "Whip it" by Devo. How do you see the repertoire eventually leveling out?

SM: Well the band is going through some changes with Mark leaving and all, but we are going to keep progressing and see where it takes us.

KR: Your solo record, Scottness, is a big favorite of your fans. Can you tell me about the album and how it came about?

SM: The album was kind of a fluke actually. A really good friend of mine Pete Wroblewski decided he wanted to promote a solo album after he heard the tapes that I would use to write music and he financed the whole thing and we actually went down to his house and built a studio in his house and recorded the whole album in three days. We kind of sat on it for awhile and once we decided that we going to start mixing and mastering it, we gave the tapes to Scott Allshouse, the drummer of Max Creek and the drummer on the album, because he was going to convert everything over to Pro Tools. Well, Scott A's house burned down on Christmas Eve and took all the masters with it. It was a chimney fire and he was in a duplex with his landlord and his landlord's house actually caught fire so by the time Scott A. noticed it on his side of the house, half the house was already in flames and he lost everything except his drums.

KR: That’s interesting that the only thing that wasn’t lost was his drums. And you played every instrument on Scottness except for the drums?

SM: Yeah, except for the drums I played everything else. Scott A. is great. He's got great energy, great enthusiasm, he's a masterful drummer with unbelievable chops. A lot of people don't know this about him, but he a masterful audio engineer. He used to be the house guy at Great Woods and he is very a very talented and energetic dude I love working with him.

KR: Speaking of Great Woods, you came out with Phish in July of 1999 and sat in on "Possum" and "Tuesday’s Gone" by Lynyrd Skynyrd. How did you and Mike Gordon first hook up.

SM: Mike actually started seeing Max Creek, probably twenty years ago before Phish was even in existence. We used to play up in Burlington and he was going to UVM. My first memory of him is that he came in and brought a transcription of one my guitar solos. He had written out the whole thing and at the same time he had brought me a tape of that song with him playing bass on one of the channels. That was my first memory of Mike.

KR: What tune was that?

SM: "Emotional Railroad." Ever since then we've been friends and have jammed together a lot.

KR: And recently you criss-crossed the country with Mike and his band which was comprised of a very eclectic group of musicians such as Gordon Stone, James Harvey and Russ Lawton. What was your favorite venue on that tour?

SM: That's tough. I don't know, we really enjoyed playing the Fillmore in San Francisco because there's so much history there. It was very cool. There wasn't a bad room on that tour. The Vic Theater in Chicago was very nice; every venue actually was really nice.

KR: You also played with a gig with Mike Gordon and El Buho a while back in Austin. Who exactly is El Buho and how did that collaboration come about?

SM: El Buho is like a special trumpet player. He used to play with Joe Cocker and he lived in Brazil for awhile and studied Brazilian Jazz and now he's got his own thing that he does. I think he lives in Arkansas and he does his own thing mainly in the Midwest. He's a great player and gets great people to play with him- he's played with tons of people. That was a real challenge to play with him. Mike Gordon and I went to Austin and I never really heard the material before and we went down and rehearsed that afternoon and played that night. It was amazing, we had Jeff Sipe on drums and it was a lot of fun.

KR: You practiced for one day?

SM: Yeah, we practiced for only like two hours.

KR: Also, you have a long-standing relationship with Jeff Pevar [CPR, Jazz is Dead, Phil and Friends] and your respective playing complements each other very well especially when you play together with yet another one of your side projects, Guitarness. How did you hook up with Jeff?

SM: He grew up in Connecticut and that is where Creek kind of grew up too and we ended up knowing each other because we were hanging out in the same circles. My girlfriend at the time worked at this club in Hartford called Shenanigans and he used to play in this band, which everybody has played in, called "Street Temperature."

KR: What year was that?

SM: 1980. And he would always ask me to come up and play and sit in but I always refused.

KR: Why was that?

SM: Because I never sat in with people until the 90's. I don't know, I was intimidated, and having played with one band since I was fifteen years old, I really didn't feel comfortable playing other people's material. That's my earliest memory of him and we have been friends and especially over the last fifteen years we've done a lot of shows together.

KR: Do you guys have any future plans together?

SM: Well, we've talked about actually doing an album together, and we have somebody who wants to back it, but Jeff and I are both so busy that it's very hard to coordinate that stuff. But we do plan on playing Guitarness shows together again.

KR: Last year you played a jazz gig at Ryles in Cambridge, Mass with Dave Ossof, Gary Backstrom [Jiggle the Handle] and other great players. Do you plan on doing something like again?

SM: Eventually yeah. I recently retained custody of my daughter and Ossof's stuff is almost always on a weeknight so its very hard for me to fit that in my schedule, so I am kind of taking a break from doing that for now. But it's very enjoyable and I do plan on doing it again.

KR: For people who don’t know, who is Dave Ossof?

SM: He's a keyboard player who used to play with Jiggle the Handle, and he also played with the Vykki Vox for a number of years. Now he's doing his own thing and promoting his own music and getting pretty far with it actually.

KR: I’d like to closeout with a few questions concerning your career and your future. Are you satisfied with the level of success and recognition that you have attained in your lifetime as a musician.

SM: That's a loaded question, but I can say that if I've moved one person with my music then I'm satisfied with what I have done with my music; if I've made one person cry with my music, then I feel successful. At the same time, I think the music industry is in some ways corrupt and quite unjust that certain talentless fucks make it massively and are set up for the rest of their lives while some really, really good people suffer their entire lives. Like the big picture, there are jazz musicians who study their whole lives and they starve their whole life because the industry is not based on talent. It's based on corporate bullshit. As for the level of recognition, a lot of people know who I am, I have a lot of respect from a lot of musicians from all across the country, so in that light, I am very much satisfied with that. On the other hand, I would love to not program computers during the day. I would love to be able to do just do something musical and have that be able to support me and my family and provide health insurance and security and retirement. It just doesn't work that way.

KR: Creek packs bars and small theaters all across the Northeast and other places like Colorado. I assume you would be happy to take it to the next level and play arenas and the like?

SM: Sure, yes.

KR: Is there anything that you think you could have done differently to have attained that goal.

SM: That's a tough question. We turned down the first H.O.R.D.E tour and I think if we had taken that, it may have made somewhat of a difference, but it wasn't financially practical for us to do that at the time.

KR: Yeah, so that would have put you on the same bill as Phish, Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue unit and the Spin Doctors. So why did you turn it down?

SM: It just wasn't practical financially. At that time, we were playing full time, we were living off of it, and everybody had rent to pay and they weren't paying anybody anything to do that tour. And before that tour, I don't think anybody really knew the impact that H.O.R.D.E would have on everyone that was a part of it. So at time, it seemed like a waste…it might have been good exposure possibility but it didn't seem like anything that worth sacrificing that much money to do. But in retrospect, we probably should have done that.

KR: My last question might be a scary one for all the "Creek Freaks," out there, but do you ever see yourself not playing with Max Creek and just pursuing all the other projects that we’ve talked about tonight?

SM: Um…I don't know…not playing with Max Creek? I mean Max Creek is like that dysfunctional family that you can never get rid of because you were born into it. That's what Max Creek is kind of like for everybody in the band. It's not about being a band; it's about being a family so picturing myself without it that will never happen. I mean if we stop playing that might be the case but it is what it is. There's no escape, there no getting away from it. It's ingrained and it's family.

KR: I know that many are happy to hear that, including me, but I must admit that I have also felt for years, that if you weren’t tied down to Max Creek, your own profile and reputation as a guitarist would have risen. Do you think anything has held you back in that regard?

SM: My own fear. I have to accept responsibility…I mean if you achieve success then what are you going to learn- so all the setbacks through the years have been educational. You know, I've grown as a human being as a result and I've learned things that I never would have learned had I'd been more successful. Everything happens for a reason…I'm not bitching.

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