Sparking Your Creative Zone – Scott Blasey of The Clarks
Have you ever wondered what goes into writing a song? From the inspiration to the creation to the way it’s received by others, writing a song can be just as therapeutic for the writer as it can be for the listener.
Scott Blasey is the lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist for Pittsburgh-based rock band The Clarks. In addition to his success with the band, Scott has found an audience as a solo artist.
He’s released three solo albums and has opened shows for rock icons Neil Young, and the Beach Boys! And he’s the proud father of 3 beautiful girls.
He and the band have played thousands of shows throughout the US, including an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman….
They also had the pleasure of recording the classic song “What a Wonderful World” and having it appear on the Season 27 Premiere show of The Simpsons!
7:38 Scott Blasey on the beginning of the Clarks
8:30 Scott Blasey on hearing a Clark’s song on the radio for the first time
9:07 What sparked you to write you first song? On Being a late bloomer
10:22 Scott Blasey on his songwriting process
13:32 Scott Blasey on Finding your voice, “Born Too Late by The Clarks”
13:56 Scott Blasey on creating a body of work and creative zone
26:10 Scott Blasey on the period in his life he didn’t know what to write about, 3rd person character driven writing.
28:36 Scott Blasey on using songwriting to process death and loss, and therapeutic value of songwriting.
31:20 Scott Blasey on staying balanced while singing while IN the emotion, trusting the people around you to “hold the space” during vulnerability, The risk of authenticity
35:37 The chemical thing that happens in Scott’s brain when he sings, The times where the performance isn’t “on”.
37:48 Jim Donovan on how the singing and the vagus nerve causes the feel good chemicals to occur
40:37 Scott Blasey on warming up the voice, using vocal warm ups to prepare your well-being for what’s next
43:21 Scott Blasey on how he learned “storytelling” over 10 years as part of musical performance, finding ways to bring the audience into a story.
51:24 Scott Blasey on tips on songwriting, the ultimate source of creative inspiration
56:24 Show Up, Don’t judge, How to accumulate ideas
57:09 Scott Blasey on his newest project, music for a new Indie film called “Ticks”
60:29 How to connect with Scott Blasey
Jim Donovan: Today on the Sound Health podcast.
Scott Blasey: Song writing has been very therapeutic, very cathartic for me. I never expected that going in. I got a real rush playing live, and that’s where it all started, and that’s why I wanted to do it. But then as I got more into writing, I realized, well, this is really the best part about it.
Scott Blasey: I’m getting so much out of being able to write and getting out my emotions and my feelings and being able to express that and having people respond to that and say, “Boy, that song really touched me,” or “That helped me through a certain time in my life,” or this or that. That part of it’s been amazing, and I didn’t really foresee that when I started.
Scott Blasey: (singing)
Jim Donovan: Hey there, it’s Jim Donovan. Welcome to the show. I’m glad you’re here. Our guest today is a dear friend of mine, Mr. Scott Blasey. Scott is the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist for the Pittsburgh-based rock band, The Clarks.
Jim Donovan: In addition to his success with the band, Scott has found an audience as a solo artist. He’s released three solo albums and has opened shows for rock icons like Neil Young and The Beach Boys. He’s also a proud father of three beautiful girls. He and the band have played thousands of shows throughout the US, including an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.
Jim Donovan: They also had the pleasure of recording the classic song, What A Wonderful World, and having it appear on the season 27 premiere of the show, The Simpsons.
Jim Donovan: Scott, I just want to welcome to the show. I’m so glad that you’re here. I wanted to just tell you back in 19, I think was ’87 or ’88. I remember I was at University of Pittsburgh, a dweeby music major walking around near The Decade and I remember seeing your black and white posters up on the phone pole and I’m just mesmerized by this, I’m going, “Who the heck are The Clarks? They look so freaking cool.” And I just can’t wait till I can afford a staple gun so I can go put my own posters on these telephone poles. That was my thought process.
Scott Blasey: I’m sure we were the ones with the staple gun walking around Oakland because that was it, the four of us.
Jim Donovan: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Scott Blasey: It started just very small like that.
Jim Donovan: I saw the posters everywhere. And I remember… I wasn’t old enough to get into The Decade, which was a club in Pittsburgh, but I would stand outside and just listen, you could sort of hear the vibration of the bass, the drums. I just was remembering that on the way over to the podcast today, and I’m just really glad that you’re here today.
Scott Blasey: Thanks, Jim. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Jim Donovan: I was wondering if we could just start back at the beginning, and if you can remember when you got excited about music?
Scott Blasey: Well, I’ve been a music lover as far back as I can remember. A small child. My earliest memory was my grandmother walking me in Connersville to the record store in downtown called Atkins music. I had wanted the 45 of Crystal Blue Persuasion by Tommy James and the Shondells, and this was probably 1969. I was four, maybe five years old, and it’s my first memory and it’s vivid and I’ve remembered it since I was a little kid.
Scott Blasey: She walked me to the store and we bought the 45 and we got ice cream on the way back. We went back to her house and I had a little record player that was like a little plastic suitcase that you opened up. I put that record on and just played that over and over and then it turned into K-Tel, had the 33 and a third albums with all the hits of the day. And I really grew up on 70s radio music.
Scott Blasey: I just loved music. My dad was a music lover so there was always Al Green playing around the house. He loved a lot of different styles of music, everything from Al Green, to Frank Sinatra, to Buddy Rich.
Jim Donovan: Oh, yeah. Ray Charles.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, Ray Charles, Everly Brothers. And then I’d Eddie Rabbitt or Charlie Rich, like these sort of more obscure country things, so I just fell in love with all different styles of music.
Jim Donovan: A lot of good R&B in there too.
Scott Blasey: Oh, there was a lot of… Yeah, he loved soul music and Gladys Knight & The Pips was one of his favorites. And Dinah Washington. He exposed me to really good music. And then I’d hear songs on the radio. I remember hearing The Beatles firsthand. I remember getting up and eating toast before school first and second grade and hearing something by The Beatles on the radio. Knowing early on what was good music, I felt like I had a really good idea of what was good and what maybe was not so good.
Scott Blasey: And then that continued all through my teenage years, grew up on rock and roll. Never played any instruments, never really sang, but grew up on 70s Rock and Roll, fell in love with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and AC/DC and Prince. Loved a lot of R&B. I was the guy who would listen to WAMO late 70s, early 80s and loved-
Jim Donovan: I miss that station.
Scott Blasey: Oh, yeah, great stuff. Lakeside, Fantastic Voyage. When I was in high school, we listened to that as much as we listened to AC/DC or The Who. But I remember specifically, I think, really to narrow into your question here, it was about 1987. I had graduated from IUP in the spring, did not have a job, moved back to Connellsville and moved back into my parents house. And it was the fall of ’87, and I had gone out with some friends, and the band was still, the band was playing, but not a lot.
Scott Blasey: I went out and had some beers and came back. At the time, MTV was still playing music videos late at night and I was just sitting in the living room. There was a band called The Church had an album called Starfish, with Under The Milky Way and just a terrific album. And there was a song called North, South, East and West. They played the video for it and I had never seen the video for it, but it was one of my favorite songs on the album. And I just sat there kind of spellbound and half drunk and it just at that moment, I said to myself, I’m going to move to Pittsburgh. I’m going to pursue music as a career. This is what I want to do.
Scott Blasey: It was that defining moment where I was still unsure what path I was going to go down. Am I going to get a job and pursue that? And I had to do that to move to Pittsburgh so I could pay the rent. But I knew in my heart that from that moment, I was like, I’m going to immerse myself in the Pittsburgh music scene.
Jim Donovan: What do you think it was about that song? Like it hit you in a certain way, or? Can you-
Scott Blasey: The chimey guitars. The 12 string electric guitars, just that whole album, for some reason just really hit me where it counted.
Jim Donovan: Were The Clarks playing yet?
Scott Blasey: Yeah, we were playing. We were still playing up at IUP. We were playing the occasional Pittsburgh show. We had done a rock competition. The Graffiti Rock Challenge, which you know very well.
Jim Donovan: We did that one, yep.
Scott Blasey: And we came in second place to the 11th hour but we had some name recognition and I remember we opened up for the romantics at Graffiti, in ’87 and that was the biggest gig we had done at the time. And I just thought, man, it just isn’t going to ever get any bigger than this.
Scott Blasey: But yeah, the band was playing, not a lot, and I had to get a job and so I moved to Shady side and had a day job downtown and we started playing one or two gigs on the weekends, maybe a couple weekends a month. Not a lot, and then it slowly started to build.
Scott Blasey: We made our first album that came out in June of ’88. WXXP was around at the time that was a great radio station.
Jim Donovan: I remember them, yep. Great station.
Scott Blasey: And they played Help Me Out from the first album, I’ll never forget hearing our song on the radio and that feeling…
Jim Donovan: That’s a great feeling.
Scott Blasey: And just thinking, wow, man, this is really amazing. And I can’t believe this is happening and let’s keep going.
Jim Donovan: It’s beautiful. Thank you.
Jim Donovan: Now, even though you hadn’t decided to be like a full-on musician, you were already writing songs before this time?
Scott Blasey: Right.
Jim Donovan: Do you remember what sparked you to write your first song?
Scott Blasey: I picked up a guitar very late in life relatively late, I was probably 19, maybe 20 years old before I picked up a guitar and started to learn Neil Young songs or Beatles songs, the easy stuff, the G-C-D kind of songs. I started writing my own material right away. I didn’t take long before I just thought, “I need to express my own feelings and emotions. And I think I can do this.”
Scott Blasey: I think all those years of, I will say that, I was on input for 15 years or 20 years. And then suddenly I just flicked the switch and turned it to output. I knew that I could write a song. I knew that I could write words and put my feelings and my emotions down in a coherent way, but I didn’t know how well I would be able to come up with melody. And that’s really the trick.
Jim Donovan: It really is.
Scott Blasey: It’s one thing to write sort of poetry and write down words in a notebook and make things rhyme. And that’s all good, but boy, to be able to come up with melodies that are catchy and people respond to and… I always admired Michael Kubicki for his ability to come up with melodies because I always thought to myself, if you can sing, doo doo doo doo doo and have the melody and people respond to that, that’s half the battle.
Scott Blasey: And then if you can come up with some words that have meaning and can reach people, then you’ve really got something.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, something that sticks.
Scott Blasey: Something that sticks.
Jim Donovan: When you’re writing lyrics or when you’re writing chords, do you have one that happens before the other?
Scott Blasey: I am definitely a guitar chord first kind of guy.
Scott Blasey: I will sit down with a guitar often and just play guitar, just hit chords and just try different fingerlings. And, oh, this is kind of weird or kind of different. This is kind of a G, but not really. And just come up with stuff and see what goes together and then put things together and suddenly I’ll start maybe like a melody will suddenly just pop into my head like, oh, this melody really sounds good over this chord combination.
Scott Blasey: That’s the genesis, that’s where it starts. And then maybe a couple of words will pop into my head. And that’s where, that’s the jumping off point.
Jim Donovan: What I’m hearing you say is that you have to deliberately put yourself into some unknown.
Scott Blasey: Yep.
Jim Donovan: Because if I play the D and the A and the G chord over and over again, like I’ve done 100 times, it’s hard to get anything new happening. But if I move one finger to a different fret, just to see what it does, there’s some magic in that.
Scott Blasey: Yep. And it didn’t start out that way. Initially, it was just G, A, D. In fact, the first song I really wrote called On My Way Back Home, which was about moving home after graduating, it was G, A, D the whole song, and then the course was AD, AD. I found a little way to work B minor into a bridge, and I thought, well, this is a pretty good song. And it turned out, on our first album, it was on that.
Scott Blasey: But then, yeah, as I got older and I started writing more, I started to look for different ways to make different chords. Rob James, our guitar player was really great with… He never really gave me lessons, but I would just watch him.
Jim Donovan: He’s brilliant.
Scott Blasey: He is great, man. I’m just like, “Oh,” and he would show me. He’d be like, “Try that.” I was like, “Oh, okay.” At first, I was like, “No, I think I’ll do it the way I want to do it.” But then secretly, I’m watching him like, “Oh, yeah.” I see what he’s got going there.
Scott Blasey: And yeah, he knows what he’s doing. Because Robin’s been playing guitar for a long, long time. I would pay attention to him and he would show me little things. And then we started to collaborate, and a lot of our first album really is all songs written by The Clarks.
Scott Blasey: I would come in with a little bit of a snippet of an idea, but everybody would throw out their ideas and…
Jim Donovan: Nice, and it’s that mix, that synergy that really makes The Clarks sound like The Clarks. It is its own thing. A lot of bands that try to play music together, but they never seem to find that voice.
Scott Blasey: (singing)
Jim Donovan: I was looking through your discography on the website. Did I count like 15 releases?
Scott Blasey: Yeah, probably 14 or 15. It’s a beautiful body of work.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, thank you.
Scott Blasey: I think 10 or 11 proper studio albums. And then there were two albums worth of outtakes and b-sides or a couple live, and then I’ve got a handful of solo things.
Jim Donovan: Now, when you’re in creative zone, is creative zone only with a guitar in your hand or is it… Or do you let yourself be in that, at other times you find like, are there times when ideas sort of drop in more regularly than other times?
Scott Blasey: Most of the time, it’s with guitar in hand, but there are occasions when I’ll be just driving on a highway and I’ll hear a Bob Dylan song on SiriusXM, and I’m just like, wow, I’ve never heard that Bob Dylan song. That’s such a cool melody or such a different sort of chord progression. And as soon as I get home, I won’t copy it, but I’ll use that little bit of inspiration to figure out my own take on what he just did.
Scott Blasey: I just did that with a J. J. Cale song that I’d heard for the first time. I love J. J. Cale and I never really knew his music growing up, but in the last few years, and I think it was because of Eric Clapton. I’d been listening to some Eric Clapton stuff, and I realized all my favorite Eric Clapton songs were like J. J. Cale kind of material.
Scott Blasey: I was like, I got to dig into J. J. Cale here a little bit more. So I did. Rob had given me all of his vinyl and there were a couple J. J. Cale albums in there, and I put one on one there and I thought, oh, that’s great. Immediately, just turned off the stereo, walked in and picked up the guitar and took what I’d heard and made something of my own out of it.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, almost like you steep yourself in that vibe and pull some of that into the new thing.
Scott Blasey: I’d been doing that a lot lately.
Jim Donovan: It’s so nice to be able to still find artists after all these years that can stimulate that, and that you can go, “Oh, wow. I just discovered J. J. Cale. Man, I gotta go and dive into that.”
Jim Donovan: It’s an amazing thing when it happens. It doesn’t always happen.
Scott Blasey: No, it doesn’t. And it happened recently again with… I’m a big Sting fan. I loved the police growing up and I love his solo stuff. I was listening to Fields Of Gold and I was learning it for my solo show. He just starts on a B minor and goes to G. And I thought, oh, I’m going to steal that little move right there. But nobody will even, no one will have a clue that it came from Fields Of Gold, but I wrote a whole song around it.
Scott Blasey: I was like, “Thank you, Sting. I appreciate you.” And just sometimes that little sparks of inspiration come from listening to other music, and sometimes just sitting down with a guitar. Honestly, nine out of 10 times when I sit down with a guitar, I get nothing. I’ll play for half an hour, 45 minutes or so and won’t get much out of it. But it’s a craft. If you do that daily or every other day or so, eventually, one day you just pick it up and boom, something’s there right away. It’s like, okay. And maybe I only have a half an hour because as a parent I don’t have three or four hours anymore, which I used to do in the 90s. I would sit at my house for hours and hours, and work on material to the point where I was like, “I need to eat.”
Jim Donovan: What a luxury, right? Like hours, hours of that.
Scott Blasey: And no, I work a half an hour 45, pull out the phone and record the idea, and then it’s over. And boom, move on.
Scott Blasey: And then depending on the idea, like some ideas, I’ll come back to it right away. It’s all I can think about while I’m making dinner. That melody is in my head. Those words, I’m starting to think of words and what story do I want to tell? And sometimes I’ll just throw something down, and I’ll completely forget about it. And two months or three months later, I’ll come back and I’ll listen to, I’ll have eight or nine or 10 little minute, two minute long ideas. And I’ll be like, that’s crap, that’s crap, that’s crap, that’s awesome. I’ll take that awesome idea, and then I’ll start working on that.
Jim Donovan: What I’m hearing you say is that you just let yourself create with no judgment, right? It’s just, “I’m going to create, I’m going to let the thing happen, and then let it go.”
Scott Blasey: Yeah, for sure.
Jim Donovan: Unless it doesn’t let you go, then you’re with it no matter what. And then come back, and sometimes… I know when I’ve done that process, I’ll come back and it’s like, when did I do this? I don’t even remember, recall this. But it’s that space of non judgment. I think let someone create a body of work. Because I think if you’re second guessing yourself over and over again, maybe you block yourself from just that flow.
Scott Blasey: Right. I’ve learned over the years not to dismiss anything out of hand. I mean, oh this, I don’t know if I like this, but I’m going to record it anyhow, let’s see what it sounds like to me four months from now.
Scott Blasey: But now I’ve realized and I just came upon this situation, it’s never happened to me before. I wrote this song a couple months ago. I wrote this idea, recorded it. And it goes back to us talking about chord formations. I have no idea how to play it. And now I’m realizing I’m going to have to video. If I do this in the future with something that’s a little out of the ordinary, I’m going to have to video my hand. Because I was listening back to it, I was like, oh my gosh, I have no idea how to do what I did.
Jim Donovan: You have to get that there’s an app where you can slow it all down.
Scott Blasey: Oh, yeah?
Jim Donovan: Kevin, my friend, Kevin McDonald, guitar player of mine has that, and that’s how he learns all the songs that maybe…
Scott Blasey: I going to have to do. It’s a great song. I want to finish it. I was doing it the other day, I was like, I can’t figure it out. How did it I even do that? I’m going to have to call Rob. “Rob, can you figure this out?”
Jim Donovan: It’s nice to have friends that can bail you out.
Scott Blasey: He’s got a great ear for that. He’d be like, “Oh, yeah, this is what you did.”
Jim Donovan: When you wrote originally back in your younger years, did you have like a go to subject area that just really compelled you to want to express and write? Were there common themes that you saw?
Scott Blasey: Women.
Scott Blasey: (singing)
Jim Donovan: Women, yeah.
Scott Blasey: The breakups and the being in love. Both, I found inspiration in all of that. I would say 80 or 90% of those early songs were all either about someone I was crazy about or someone that I couldn’t get over, or… We wrote a lot of breakup songs.
Jim Donovan: I was just listening to You Thought It Was Free on the way over. This is just such a good song. Because you can feel how deeply you’re in it, like when you’re singing it, when the guys are playing it.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, that’s a good rocker.
Jim Donovan: I love that song.
Scott Blasey: That was the first song that DV played a little bit.
Jim Donovan: I remember.
Scott Blasey: Right before Penny On The Floor, which really kind of took off. But they played You Thought It Was Free for a little while, and that was a good rock song on that station. But yeah, I mean, all that early material was very much relationships. That’s what we were living. And being in your 20s I never felt comfortable really commenting on larger things, and relationships were all that really seemed to matter. The band mattered and what relationship were you dealing with at the time.
Jim Donovan: It makes sense. We were just getting used to that.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, and it was all new and it was all very exciting. It was good fodder for material.
Jim Donovan: And being in a band there’s more opportunities for some relationships.
Scott Blasey: There certainly were. Yeah, and I really was a bit of a serial monogamous. I never took advantage of my station like I did in later years.
Jim Donovan: Oh, that was nice of you.
Scott Blasey: Oh yes. I was a good guy. But within that there was still tons of room to write about people, and places, and situations, and feelings, and all that stuff.
Scott Blasey: Greg started to write too, and so we would bounce things off of one another and I was having to learn his songs and sing his lyrics, which was a challenge at first and still can be a challenge, because you have to really believe it, you have to feel it, and then you have to express it when you sing it.
Jim Donovan: And then deliver it.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, man. And if you can’t get behind it, it can be a tough thing. But we were all going through the same things, and he was writing the same kind of stuff. And then I would be inspired by something that he wrote. I would listen to something, a lyric or a chord progression and think, man, that’s killer. I got to get on the ball here.
Scott Blasey: And there was a very healthy competition too, that he would write something good and that would spur me on to pick up my guitar and keep going.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that. We can do that for each other.
Scott Blasey: Right.
Jim Donovan: I like that. Do you think that the bank of things that inspire you has changed or widened or… Like the newer things that you’re writing, are they from a different spot in you?
Scott Blasey: For sure. There’s the saying and I know you’ve heard it, you write about what you know about and what you’re living, and what you’re going through. I was very much someone who did that. And so in the early 2000s when my wife and I got together, she was living in Dallas, Texas at the time. She’s from Western Pennsylvania originally but was living there and working there, and we got together, and we were going to start our family. So I moved there and I lived there for four years.
Scott Blasey: I made a record in Dallas with a bunch of great Dallas musicians about moving away and the record’s called Traveling On.
Scott Blasey: (singing)
Scott Blasey: But I did write about other stuff. I wrote Hey You about 9/11. As I got a little older into my early 30s, things that were impacting me, that I’d seen happening to other people maybe or the world at large, I felt a little more comfortable commenting on or writing about. But that was the first time that I really like a whole record’s worth of material about and not even first person. But the song called San Antonio is about a guy who goes through a divorce and he moves from the North to the South, and he wants to get away from the snow, pawns his wedding ring. He dates a girl who is Mexican and she speaks Spanish, and there’s a little Spanish line in it.
Scott Blasey: It was the first time I really opened up to a theme, and it was all about moving away and transition in life. And then I came back to Pittsburgh, came back to Pennsylvania, and the band hadn’t done a record in four or five years, and we started working on a record called Restless Days.
Scott Blasey: I was wonderfully happy. I was married, I had two young children, I was in a really good place. And I suddenly realized I didn’t know what I was going to write about. I mean, I’d written a song on Traveling On called Little Sofia. I sort of wrote about my family and my kids and my wife a little bit, but that’s a really hard subject to write compelling Rock and Roll music. It’s much easier to write that stuff when you’re down and out or when you’re in a breakup situation. When you’re happy in a marriage and with kids. That’s not what people want to hear in their rock music.
Jim Donovan: I think about Metallica. They were pretty angry, but then everything was good and they weren’t as angry anymore.
Scott Blasey: I had to really reevaluate, okay, what am I going to write about? It was the first time that I felt like I’m going to step outside of myself. I’m going to write more character driven stories.
Scott Blasey: There was a song called Inside that was about a girl who kills an abusive lover. And all the songs, I never wrote lyrics or that were too on the nose. They were always a little vague… There were certain lines that you could sort of pick up where this is going, but none of it was too specific. But, that was a song about a woman who killed her lover. And a song called Midnight Rose, a guy who’s running away from something and escaping from jail and hops on a train and the train is called The Midnight Rose.
Scott Blasey: I was just going down that road, and so that was a real cool thing to do, and to open my eyes up to writing about third person stuff, bigger things beyond my little world.
Jim Donovan: It really gives you so much more fodder to pull from too.
Scott Blasey: Yeah. I was old enough at that point and had been writing songs long enough that I felt comfortable doing it. I felt comfortable commenting on situations that weren’t my own or writing songs about other people, or things that I had seen other people dealing with and going through.
Scott Blasey: (singing)
Scott Blasey: And then the next album, Feathers And Bones, we all experienced a great deal of loss. We all were losing parents or grandparents or close friends. And so that whole album was just, really just the specter of death hung over every song. The song called Broken Dove, and Irene is about a young artist who dies. I just started writing about the things that were happening to me.
Jim Donovan: A lot of that was recorded in the room we’re in right now, right?
Scott Blasey: Yes, yes. Both of those albums.
Jim Donovan: We’re in Red Medicine Studio, our friend Sean McDonald’s place.
Scott Blasey: And Sean produced them. We had worked with Sean on a Springsteen cover of the river that ended up getting a lot of airplay on DVE and the sound of it was killer and people loved it. We said, Yeah, we’re going to make a whole record with this guy. And then we ended up making Restless Days and Feathers And Bones, and just killer stuff.
Scott Blasey: Some of the songs on Feathers And Bones like Irene in particular, and Take Care Of You, I think are just as good as it’s gotten for me as a songwriter and the recordings of the songs and where they went. Sean had a lot to do with that.
Jim Donovan: For sure. When you’re in that zone, we’re at a certain age where this is what happens at this age, we start to lose people. Have you ever found the writing process to be therapeutic-
Scott Blasey: For sure.
Jim Donovan: In a way? How’s it worked for you?
Scott Blasey: Well, I would have said to people in the past, I know when a song is really good if it makes me cry. It’s so emotional. It doesn’t have to be sad, it just has to really crystallize that feeling into the perfect lyric or the… ya know… It literally will bring me to tears, and then I know it’s good. Like Irene did that when I wrote it, and then when I heard the final version that Sean had recorded and the pedal steel was on, it’s very sparse. It’s just my acoustic guitar, my voice, pedal steel and-
Scott Blasey: (singing)
Scott Blasey: When I heard the final version of it, I was in my office and my wife was at her desk working and I was just crying listening to it. She said, “Are you okay?” I said, “Yeah, I’m great. This is so much better than I ever thought it was going to turn out to be, and it just nailed it.” It just nailed it.
Jim Donovan: It’s almost like, if I’m hearing you right, that something about expressing it and then getting to hear back what you did can pop an emotion that really needs to come out.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, it’s cathartic. Song writing has been very therapeutic, very cathartic for me. I never expected that going in. I got a real rush playing live, and that’s where it all started, and that’s why I wanted to do it. But then as I got more into writing, I realized well, this is really the best part about it.
Scott Blasey: I’m getting so much out of being able to write and getting out my emotions and my feelings and being able to express that and having people respond to that and say, “Boy, that song really touched me,” or “That helped me through a certain time in my life,” or this or that. That part of it’s been amazing. And I didn’t really foresee that when I started.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, and I think just knowing you, you’re authentic. You say it like it is, you’re not afraid to show people weakness or mistakes. And that spirit really helps the message come across. But then when you’re letting yourself be emotionally vulnerable in the song, and even if you can sing from that spot and I hear that, I think it makes that effect happen much more deeply for the listener. Because I think there’s something that happens to the tone of the voice when I’m in an emotion for real, that shifts and changes it, that if I’m just trying to sing it perfectly, it’s not felt the same way.
Scott Blasey: Right, I completely agree. And that’s a hard place to get to performing live. I try all the time. A good bit of the time I’ll get there, but it takes a combination of physical, spiritual, and emotional health to get to that place when you’re performing live. You’ve got to have all those things lined up. Your voice has to be healthy, you have to feel good physically, and you know you’re singing as good as you can sing. But then you have to have that spiritual component where not only physically am I feeling it, but now spiritually, this is how it made me feel the first time I wrote it, and I’m able to close my eyes and it just comes out of you.
Scott Blasey: That’s about the best feeling in the world. I mean, when you write a good song, that’s great, but man when you’re playing live and your voice is at the top of its game, and you’re mentally and spiritually in that zone and you’re 100% there, and your eyes are closed, and you’re just… Nothing much comes close to that in life.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, like a perfect alignment.
Scott Blasey: Right.
Jim Donovan: And not to mention the trust that you have in the people around you to hold you in it, and to even be in it with you, almost like a team.
Scott Blasey: Right. And I take that for granted with the band because we’ve been together for so long. I just know that that glove is there and I’m in that glove, and now I have to reach up for the sky a little bit from that foundation. But I know that foundation’s there, it’s always been there.
Jim Donovan: Yea, and I know… I’m sure you’ve been to shows like I have, where we see the performer and they go there, and it’s undeniable. And everyone’s just looking at each other going, “What’s happening? This is magic. It’s happening in the moment.” But it’s that authenticity and that willingness to be in it.
Jim Donovan: Because there’s a risk, if I go there, I might lose my shit, so be it if that happens.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, there are times when you have to disconnect a little bit or your throat will tighten up. I’ve had that happen with my kids on stage. Like, wow, this is powerful, and if I think too much about it, I’m going to just… I won’t be able to sing.
Jim Donovan: I’ll be toast.
Scott Blasey: Yeah. So I have to disassociate a little bit just to get through the song.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, that makes good sense.
Scott Blasey: But just to quickly expound on that real quick, there’s a thing that I had read, the chemical process that happens in the brain when you sing. I’ve noticed this when I do shows when I get up on stage. I can be in a certain place, and especially now with kids and teenagers and I leave the house after dinner and I go do my show.
Scott Blasey: Maybe it was a little bit of a rough day, but boy, as soon as I get on stage and I start to sing, and physically I feel good and so on. And then the spirit starts to happen, and whatever chemicals are firing in my brain, I immediately start to feel much, much better about everything; about myself, about my situation, about life in general, two or three songs in. I might be singing lately and I’ll be on stage and I’ll get a couple songs into and I’ll be like, I’m feeling it, people. I’m feeling it.
Scott Blasey: It doesn’t happen all the time, and like you said, I’m genuine about it. If I feel it, you’re going to know. And if I’m not feeling it, you’ll probably be able to tell. I’ve had friends and fans that they see the band a lot, and they know when, “It was a good show, but I’ve seen you better.”
Jim Donovan: Yeah, it’s either it’s on or there’s something that’s in the way.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, and I can’t fake it, Jim. I’m just, I’ve never been one to just fake smile. I’ll work real hard to get there and I’ll give you 100%, but there’s going to be nights where I’m just, I didn’t get there.
Jim Donovan: Yeah. And isn’t that our experience here on the planet?
Scott Blasey: Yeah, and this is a very artistic endeavor. This is not math.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, you can hit all the buttons the same way and it might not add up to 15.
Scott Blasey: Right, but yeah, there’s some chemical thing going on that happens in your brain when you start singing. I’m sure it happens with guitar players, and drummers, and musicians in general, and people in the arts and whatever you do that you love to do. But boy, when I start singing something happens.
Jim Donovan: We talk a lot about that very thing on this show, like what chemically happens? What happens is that there’s a nerve right under your vocal cords called your vagus nerve. And when you stimulate it with sound, it tells the brain to produce dopamine, and endorphins, and this stuff called nitric oxide. And these are very real chemicals, you can measure them in the bloodstream.
Jim Donovan: I remember we did the benefit together last year in Bethel Park. I remember you saying, “I’m feeling it.” I’m feeling like, he’s feeling dopamine. That’s what he’s feeling.
Scott Blasey: That’s the drug. I mean, that’s as good as it gets. I’ve tried a lot of them.
Jim Donovan: But it is a real tangible thing.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, I believe it.
Jim Donovan: I think one of the most important things you said was that you deliberately put yourself in a spot where you go and sing. Whether it’s a show or in your office, or wherever, and you have the ability, without taking anything to make yourself feel better within just a few minutes, about three or four songs, and you’re in. And this is the thing I want my listeners to hear, is that your process is one that’s built in to your body.
Jim Donovan: It’s not something that is outside, even if you were just singing to the radio and you weren’t playing a guitar, you still get the same feeling it benefit.
Scott Blasey: My kids do it now. I mean, they sing and I know it’s because it makes them feel good. They sing in the car or they sing in the house, and it’s just those chemicals are being released, and that’s their drug now.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, and along with it, then, like you said, we can tap into emotion. Sometimes we might emote, maybe we laugh or cry or get angry or whatever. But then that passes out of us, and then we have some space, we feel a little bit better.
Jim Donovan: I know that a lot of people grew up in a time where if you weren’t a great singer, why don’t you just mouth the words. I’ve heard, a lot of older women have come up to me at some of my workshops saying, “When I was in school, the nun told me, ‘Mariana, why don’t you just mouth the words while the rest of the group things because you really don’t have good pitch?'” As a result, this woman stopped using her voice for anything other than talking for decades. Only to find by just doing a vocal exercise, a humming or whatever, that she had access to this good feeling again.
Scott Blasey: Oh, that’s interesting.
Jim Donovan: It’s nice to hear that therapeutically, for yourself, this is something that you do almost like a brain maintenance.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, for sure. And it’s a daily thing for me, pretty much. If it’s not with a guitar, it’s singing along in the car or using my voice in some way.
Jim Donovan: Do you still do warm ups and things like that?
Scott Blasey: Yeah, more so now than I ever have. When I was younger, I could just walk on stage and start belting it out. But now I really feel the need to warm up properly. I have my own little methods, but yeah, I love to warm up and I have to do it now. It’s very difficult to go on stage cold.
Jim Donovan: I’m with you. I do mine in the car. I get in the car and it’s half an hour, I’m feeling better, even though I’m having a crap morning. I’ve got my vocal cords moving, that vagus nerve is getting stimulated, my head gets right. And then whatever I’m going to next is better because my thoughts are clear and I’m more focused, and just my mood is better.
Scott Blasey: I got to remember that. I got to do that about a half an hour before the kids get home from school.
Jim Donovan: Yeah. Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Scott Blasey: Just be in that good zone.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, it’s like grabbing a hold of our well-being and deliberately putting ourselves in the place that we want to be because we can, rather than rely on things that we might consume to give us that temporary feeling.
Jim Donovan: And that’s, I think it’s one of the disadvantages of growing up where we grew up, is that we were taught that that good feeling exists outside of you and you need to drink a beer or whatever it is to gain it. Not that a beer won’t help that, but it’s temporary and can do damage if you do too much of it.
Scott Blasey: (singing)
Jim Donovan: Last year, we were talking about that benefit that we did for Crohn’s disease over in Bethel Park. I hadn’t heard you solo. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you do a whole solo show, and I was mesmerized, not only by your presence with the audience and the way that… It felt to me like you actually love them. It felt like it was a real, intimate relationship, like a deep friendship that you had with these people. And when you told all the different stories that connected with the songs, the way that you told them would pop these people and then you would sing the song and it was just take it to a whole other level. It was really masterful.
Scott Blasey: Thank you.
Jim Donovan: I was very inspired by it because I realized, wow, I’ve just got a lot of work to do. This is really good. I’m so glad to see this and get my ass kicked like this, and I love this.
Scott Blasey: Thank you.
Jim Donovan: I’m just wondering, could you tell us one of your favorite stories that you have?
Scott Blasey: Sure, I’d be glad to. Let me give you a little background on that. I never did that early on. That was a very learned thing and a very conscious effort on my part to do that. I had seen some performers and speakers growing up, and that was always something I really admired, it was someone’s ability to stand in front of an audience and just captivate them with a good story. I thought, I want to be able to do that, and to be able to combine that with songs and music.
Scott Blasey: I thought, that’s what I want to try to do as a solo performer. And I never really performed solo until about 12 years ago. The band had been together for a good 20 years until I started feeling like, I’m going to go play my own shows and see what happens. I didn’t want to be, and this is not to disparage people who perform and just get up there and sing songs, but I said, I don’t want to just be a guy with a guitar on a stool putting people to sleep.
Scott Blasey: I’m going to stand there, you’re going to… I’m not a great guitar player, so I’m not going to dazzle you with my guitar playing. I’m a decent singer. I think I write decent songs, but I’m going to find something that’s going to draw you in. It took a good 10 years, eight or 10 years till I got to that point where I felt like I have a lot of good stories. I have 30 years’ worth of music, and education, and life that I’ve lived, and now I can relay that to you.
Jim Donovan: It’s a lot of shows.
Scott Blasey: It’s a lot of shows.
Jim Donovan: A lot of life.
Scott Blasey: It’s a lot funny stuff. It’s sad stuff. It’s tough about my parents and my dad, and I’ll get into that a little bit more, but I wanted to be able to do that. There was a moment I saw Bill Deasy, a good friend of ours. And this was right at the beginning of that 10 or 12 years ago. I’d seen him doing some solo shows down a club cafe.
Scott Blasey: He told this story about being out in Los Angeles and he had a dream about Willem Dafoe, the actor, and suddenly he was standing on a street corner in LA and Willem Dafoe was right next to him.
Scott Blasey: It was a brilliant story and the way he weaved it, and the punt, the climax of the story, the punch line, if you will. I just thought, that was a great story. And then it led into this great song. That’s how I want my whole show to be. I want two hours of that.
Jim Donovan: And it was.
Scott Blasey: That’s what I really started working toward. Also, I wanted to be able to tell these stories and to be very conscious of not just repeating the same thing the same way every time. There’s got to be a little wrinkle. Okay, I’ve told that story the last couple of shows, I’m giving it a break. It’s a funny story, it’s a great story, but I can’t continually tell the same stories over and over, it’ll get stale for my audience, it’ll get really stale for me.
Scott Blasey: I started to tell stories, and I started to realize… and this is, it was very much like writing songs. The more you do it, the more it happens. When I was on stage, I’d start telling the story, and then suddenly, I was like, okay, I’m feeling really comfortable with this audience, and, “Oh, yeah, I forgot about when this happened.” I start going down that road, and sometimes it falls flat. But there were times when I would achieve lift off. And I was like, oh my gosh, this is going to be a great story, and I’m going to…
Scott Blasey: Almost like a comedian, you start to narrow it down to its essence. You figure out, what is the best part of this? What lines do I need to keep? What lines can I jettison? And let me just crystallize this into the main feeling. I started to discover, okay, this is a great story. Let me put this in my bag. And this story, ah, not so much. I’ve never really shied from too personal. I think that’s what people want to hear. They want to hear-
Jim Donovan: It’s compelling.
Scott Blasey: They want to hear personal. I started, and then there were a couple of shows… I remember doing a couple shows a few years ago, I did a chronological timeline of the songs that I had written. I started from the beginning of the show is, this the first song I ever wrote, this is where I wrote it, this is how… and I just did, and there was this arc.
Scott Blasey: I talked about the band getting signed and I talked about the band getting dropped from the record label and the low points. And then the songs that came out of the low points and the songs that came out of the high points. I did that a couple of times. I thought, that’s a cool thing, but I can’t do that every time. That was fun for a while, and every once in a while. If I’m like, I don’t really know where this show is going to go, maybe I’ll do that again. And it always changes a little bit.
Scott Blasey: But the thing that I always come back to is my dad. He was a huge fan of the band. He would stand on the side of the stage and put his arm around me before every show that he was there. He’d always have a beer in his hand and he’d say, “Play one for me, Scotty.” And I’d say, “Dad, I play them all for you.” He just inspired me. He’s my little league coach and he was just, he loved people. He loved kids. He was the kind of guy that my friends were like, “Your dad is so cool.” That was the best compliment I remember getting as a kid, “Your dad is so cool.”
Scott Blasey: We lived right across the street from the playground where there was a basketball court, and our house was the house where everybody came over to drink water out of the hose on a hot summer day. My dad welcomed everybody with open arms. And he was particularly welcoming to kids that he knew were less fortunate or disadvantaged. No matter who they were, he would always go out of his way to talk to those kids and to try to give them some encouragement or just talk to them, just to be human with them. A lot of these kids came from families maybe they just didn’t have a father figure, and it was very, very eye opening for me just the way he treated people with kindness and respect no matter who you are.
Scott Blasey: But he said to me one time, he said, “Don’t end up in jail and don’t get anybody pregnant, and we’re good. Just be smart.” His favorite phrase was, “A word to the wise should be sufficient.” And already giving me already the credit of being wise, at 16, even though I wasn’t, he gave me that credit-
Jim Donovan: Trusting you.
Scott Blasey: He trusted me, and he let me fail. He used to say to me, “You’ll figure it out.” He didn’t try to solve my problems, he didn’t try to fix everything.
Jim Donovan: And to feel like someone has your back, especially at that time in life, it’s such a blessing. Because we all know people that didn’t have that. And the fact that he would have the back of the kids who might not have had someone that had their back and treated them that way. He might have been the only one that treated them that way. Just what a beautiful thing. Well, I appreciate you telling me that, that’s good stuff.
Scott Blasey: That was Don Blasey.
Jim Donovan: Before we finish up, I’m imagining that there’s probably people that are listening that have thought, “I’d like to write a song sometime.” Can you give them any words of wisdom or tips on how could someone get started doing that? Just in a real simple way?
Scott Blasey: Yeah. Practice. Do it every day. Approach it like a job or a craft. There’s a certain part of it that is talent, but there’s also, the majority of it is just work.
Jim Donovan: To show up.
Scott Blasey: You just got to show up. You got to have a guitar in your hand, you got to have a… I don’t even know how young people write songs. I’m sure a lot of people still play guitar and people play piano and write on piano and I’m sure there’s people who write on computers. You just got to show up.
Jim Donovan: Or maybe even just write lyrics.
Scott Blasey: Or just write lyrics. And what we talked about earlier. Melody is really the thing. Maybe not the thing because you… and I didn’t discover it until I think later as a songwriter, and this really is what you’re about, is rhythm. Rhythm is so primal, and I write very rhythmically. Dave, our drummer has mentioned to me on many occasions. He said, “Your songs are easy to write drum parts to because you’ve already written them with your right hand.”
Scott Blasey: That was something I wasn’t conscious of when I first started.
Jim Donovan: It’s all that R&B you listened to, yeah?
Scott Blasey: It was all that R&B. He said, “Man, you got great meter. Dude, that’s the… I love you. I love you.”
Jim Donovan: It’s not always the case.
Scott Blasey: Right. And those kind of things, I don’t know how much work is required to acquire that talent or that skill. I mean, you have to put in the work to get to that point. But those things, that rhythm and that melody, that to me is the foundation of the house, if you will. The melody, and then the words and the other instruments that go on top or the paint and the window treatments and all the other stuff.
Scott Blasey: But boy, if you can write something that works rhythmically and you find that melody, you’re well on your way. But yeah, I would say, just show up.
Scott Blasey: There are times, Jim, and I’ve talked about this, people they ask about songwriting. I will work on songs, nine out of the 10 songs I work on, it’s like a craft and I have to show up for it. But there are times, and the best songs that I’ve ever written, it’s very ethereal. It’s almost like the song already exists somewhere out in the sky and you just have to put your antenna up and just channel that through you.
Scott Blasey: I’ve written songs in 20 minutes, and it’s taken sometimes three or four months. And the ones that you have to craft can still be great songs, but there are times when it’s just like, boom, here it comes. Get out of the way, let it happen. Born Too Late was that way, Penny On The Floor was that way, half an hour and it’s pretty much done.
Jim Donovan: Yeah. drops in.
Scott Blasey: It just drops in and you just get out of the way. I’ve heard other songwriters talk about it too. It might seem trite, but it really is true. There are times when it’s almost like it’s been out there, it already exists, you just have to be the antenna.
Jim Donovan: That makes good sense. That makes good sense.
Scott Blasey: Bring it down to earth.
Jim Donovan: Like any inspiration, like any good idea I can even think about like way back in the early day, how prophets would bring in spiritual writings regardless of what the spiritual tradition is, but these ideas drop in from the divine, they would call it.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, I really believe in that frequency that we can put ourselves in that frequency where ideas show up, like an endless well. I find if I make myself quiet, or if I put myself in repetition, like if I have a groove that’s just playing over and over again, or if I’m driving in the car and it’s just white line fever along the highway, that’s when the stuff, those kinds of things will open up.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, that spiritual element is really strong. That’s not easy to get to, and that’s where the work comes first. And then you can get there. You’re not going to get that spiritual part first, you’re going to have to put the work in. The craft, and then suddenly it just shows up one day, but it’s out there.
Jim Donovan: Yeah, it is. And I think it’s important that… We’ve heard through our whole conversation that: A) show up at try, B) don’t judge it, just let it come out and start to amass ideas little, by little, by little. And if you do that, like Scott is saying, every day, all of a sudden in a week’s time, you’ll have maybe seven ideas that didn’t exist before. And over time, refine and just see what happens, because why not?
Scott Blasey: I’ve written hundreds of songs and I think I’ve written maybe three or four or five really good ones.
Jim Donovan: That’s a win.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, you’ve got to put the work, and you’ve got to write them. And even if it’s not the best song, you got to finish it, get it out there and move on to the next one.
Jim Donovan: Well, this has been great. Can you just to finish up, are there any new projects on the horizon? Some new writing happening?
Scott Blasey: Yeah, man. I’m really excited about what’s happening right now. Obviously, the band is going strong 33 years in. We put out an album two years ago that we’re all real proud of called Madly In Love At The End Of The World.
Jim Donovan: Beautiful record.
Scott Blasey: Thank you. We’re all real proud of that one. I got a message on Facebook about four or five months ago, the beginning of the summer, a guy named Ted Haines contacted me who grew up in northern Pennsylvania, he moved to California and became a filmmaker. A really talented guy, has worked on big time stuff. He said, “Hey, man, I’ve written this script. It’s a short indie film. It’s called Tics.”
Scott Blasey: He said, “I’m filming it in Pittsburgh over the summer. I’m going to be there for a short time. I would love for you to just come in one day and just be an extra in the scene.” He said, “It would just be an honor to have you in the scene.” I’m sitting down with my guitar and I start working on this song and I suddenly realize lyrically, this is all about these characters. I didn’t intentionally start going down this road, right? But I’m realizing this is the movie.
Scott Blasey: The song is called Stay, but the line, the chorus is, “I don’t think I’m going to stay.” I finished the song and I finished it quickly, it was an hour or two and I was like, wow, this is pretty much done, I think I got the meat of it. I’ll fine tune it, but I think I got it. I text Ted and I said, “Hey, man, I just wrote this song. I think it’s really good. It feels like your movie. Do you want to hear it?” He’s like, “Absolutely.”
Scott Blasey: I videoed myself playing it, sent it to him. He’s like, “I love it.” He said, “I’m going to send it to my composer,” a guy named Matt Duke. The music in the movie, the score, it’s not song oriented. It’s a lot of strings and just background stuff. He said, “But I’m going to take this song, we’re going to use it in the scene that you’re in, and it’s going to be playing on the stereo in the restaurant, so we’re going to have that effect going.” But then I think they’re going to use it over the ending credits. And he said, “I’ll probably also use maybe the guitar or your vocal in spots. I’m going to…”
Scott Blasey: I’m just thrilled. I can’t get enough. I’m so excited for it. I mean, who knows where it’ll end up. It may not end up really anywhere, maybe a small thing and it’s done and you move on, and even if that’s happens, that’s still great. But I’m just so excited about it. I just-
Jim Donovan: And even just to be excited.
Scott Blasey: Yeah, just to be excited about a project and about them. My song is going to be in a movie.
Jim Donovan: That’s so exciting. What’s the name of the film, again?
Scott Blasey: It’s called Tics. T-I-C-S.
Jim Donovan: Is it out yet?
Scott Blasey: No, it’s in post production and they’re going to show it at a pretty prestigious film festivals and hope for the best. It could end up on Netflix. They’re going to do a premiere here in Pittsburgh so I’ll keep people aware on social media.
Jim Donovan: Great. Well hey, where can people connect with you online, and also The Clarks?
Jim Donovan: I know people are going to want to hear this and I’ll make sure I put these addresses in the show notes too.
Scott Blasey: The simplest thing for me is to go to ScottBlasey.com. S-C-O-T-T-B-L-A-S-E-Y ScottBlasey.com. It’s a simple website. It’s just a front page with a list of shows where I’m going to be performing solo. But then it also has all the social media icons. If you search Scott Blasey on any of those sites, you’re going to come up with it. So ScottBlasey.com, and that’ll take you where you need to go. ClarksOnline.com.
Jim Donovan: ClarksOnline.com.
Scott Blasey: ClarksOnline.com. For the band, and that’ll do the same, social media.
Jim Donovan: Maybe I’ll even put a playlist together with all my favorite Clarks and Scott Blasey songs-
Scott Blasey: Oh, dude, that’ll be great.
Jim Donovan: On Spotify and we’ll link to that too.
Scott Blasey: That’ll be great.
Jim Donovan: Scott, it is such a pleasure to have you here. Thank you for taking the time and to share all these stories with us. I think it’s a wonderful interview, and thank you for that.
Scott Blasey: You’re welcome, Jim. It’s a pleasure, my friend.
Jim Donovan: Thanks.
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