Scrapomatic: All Ideas Welcome at Mike and Paul’s Dojo
In terms of the latest Scrapomatic album, was there a precipitating factor or moment that led you to decide it was time to record again?
You know it’s been four years since the last album and we’ve been demoing. Paul and I live in different cities. I’m in Atlanta; he’s up in New York. He’d been coming down and after tours we’d get together and demo all this stuff, getting stuff ready for an album, and finally we were like “What are we waiting for? Let’s just knock this out, this is ridiculous, we’re taking too much time.” I think just life got hold of us but we realized we needed to kick this back into gear. We’ve been stockpiling so many songs, literally we could put out a triple album of quality material, not even our b-list stuff. So we were like “we just have to get this going” and hopefully after New Years we’re going to go in and start recording another record.
What about the challenge of maintaining Scrapomatic as an entity, with both of you having other gigs and responsibilities?
It is a challenge. I think what we’re learning though, is that because we’re both so busy maintaining and doing other things, the amount of time we can actually put into Scrapomatic is actually working out perfectly. If we were given the gift of all the time in the world, I don’t know if we could even do it full time, knowing the responsibilities we have. It’s kind of a decade-long conversation Paul and I have been having together and it’s not one that we want to stop, but it’s just good to keep it going. It’s going to keep going.
The two of you founded the band but Scrapomatic is now officially a trio?
Yeah, we have Dave Yoke playing with us, pretty much constantly now. So that’s been a real gift. Especially for Paul who otherwise had to be all of the music: you know, the rhythm section, the back up singer, and the guitarist. So Dave really frees up Paul and adds this extraordinary, improvisatory thing that he does to what we do. The guy’s just a masterful musician. Usually when we go out now it’s Dave, Paul and I, and then when we’re lucky enough to have Ted [Pecchio] on bass or Tyler [Greenwell] on the drums we’ll do it. But it’s not always financially feasible, or feasible in terms of scheduling. So it’s really Dave, Paul and me who are out there doing it.
I haven’t seen you as a trio yet. I always imagine Scrapomatic as a duo or more recently as a quintet…
You know it’s interesting, you don’t usually see two guitar players and a guy yelling on stage. There are some interesting challenges. People are not used to seeing or hearing this, so it’s kind of fun to just play with it. We’re always talking about how we can make it better, how we can make it different. Musically, it’s an interesting conundrum that we’re dealing with and it’s really fun to do. Obviously, we’re all really well matched, we’re all really good friends and share the same sensibilities, so we have a great time.
In terms of your new album, you are the lone credited producer. Can you talk about how that came about. Sidewalk Caesars you co-produced with Jeff Bakos.
Well, one person has to take the blame, and I’m the guy on this record. Sidewalk Caesars was kind of a different process, we really worked with Jeff Bakos very closely and he was really a big part of how we got the sounds that we did and how we made the record that we did. This time someone really needed to take the reins in terms of choosing the material, rehearsing it, and sort of figuring out the microscopic stuff that needs getting done. So I said, “I’ll claim this one, for better or worse.” But you know, we had wonderful engineers, in Bobby Tis and Marty Wall and we recorded mostly down at Derek Trucks’ studio in Jacksonville. so there are a lot of people who made it happen. I was the producer in the sense of the movies where they call it the line producer. I was the organizational guy behind it, that’s why I’ll take that title.
I think people would be interested to hear what it’s like recording at Derek’s studio. Would Derek and Susan come in with a sandwich, check out the sessions and maybe give advice? Or perhaps did they make a point to leave you on your own?
Well it’s at their home, it’s on their property and it was very kind of them to open that up to us. It’s not a commercial studio, it’s their space, so they were very nice to let us come over there every day for a week and let us wreak havoc in their place. They were kind of in and out of town while we were doing it. The way we looked at it was “Please come, and participate, and give your input.”
Derek would come in and listen and see what we were doing and try to be encouraging, and not direct how things were going. But they were interested in what we were doing and we certainly appreciated their input. Bobby Tis of course was instrumental in building the facility, and his father as well, Robert Tis, senior. So he really knows how it works from a technical aspect. He really just got us set up, got us going, and Marty, who was the DTB’s former front of house guy kind of kept it going in terms of engineering. So Marty and Bobby collaborated well, and it was just really fun. It’s really unusual that people have a studio and it’s unusual that they’ll let outside people come in and use it and say “Hey, have free rein, this is your time to get your vision accomplished.” It was very generous and we’re still grateful for it. It was just a wonderful experience.
So there are 12 tracks on the album, just in terms of the flow of the record, I’m curious about the thoughts that went into that. I would think that in 99% of the cases such an album would end with “The Party’s Over,” which is the second-to-last track. What was your thinking there?
You know, at that point in the process I’d checked out a little bit. I used to be a big purveyor of mix tapes, way back in the day, and it was all about the placement of songs within songs and I’ve kind of given up on that. As long as the songs are on there, people will find them. I’m not against the concept of an album—in fact I’m very pro-album and how things flow and how things fit together. But when you start doing track listings, it really becomes a group effort, and not just the musicians but also other people around it. People have very strong opinions, and that’s where I’m just kind of like, “As long as they’re on there I’m okay with it. That’s all I want.”
As it turns out, the album ends with one of my favorite songs. I’m not going to have you dissect every song, but can you talk a bit about “Gentrification Blues”?
You know, that was a song in the works for years and years actually. I wanted to write about leaving Brooklyn, where I lived for eight or nine years but also something I thought about as I lived there, you know a kid from the Midwest who moved out to New York as people do—they gravitate towards big cities, want to make a name for themselves or prove themselves, something like that.
Well I was interested in people’s stories. Like, what are we doing here? Why do we deserve to be here? What about the people that have been here? And isn’t it nice that the government and people are recognizing that people are coming back again, but what happened in the decades when they weren’t coming back and people’s college-educated children weren’t sowing their twenty something roots there? Years and years of people lamenting the fact that they can’t afford to be in these places, living amongst people who kept these cities alive. It’s a complicated subject, but it ends up being about people’s nostalgia for cities. And how you can’t just maintain the city nostalgia, I guess.
I started writing it about five years ago and another thing that really prompted it was something that happened when Paul and I first moved to New York. We were living in Fort Greene right next to Myrtle Avenue, which at the time was still called “Murder Avenue” and we thought we were such bohemian warriors being there. We thought we were so terrific. I remember, we were walking down the street one of the first days we’d moved in there and this woman opened her window to really do a public service to Paul, not me so much, and said “Hey white boy!” And he’s like, “Yes? You talking to me?” And she said, “Are you okay, are you lost?” And he said, “Yeah, I live here.” And she looked at him like he was a Martian, and said, “You live here?” And to me, that was the seed where that song came from.