Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes at Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme
This coming Sunday, January 20, Scott Wolfson and his band will be serving up their unique blend of Americana at the Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme series at Investors Bank Theater in Succasunna, New Jersey. The band – Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes – formed in Jersey City in 2011, and, even though the members have migrated in various directions since then, they still consider themselves to be a Jersey City band. Wolfson recently moved to East Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and, when he’s not touring, he’s working on the band’s third album, “Flying Backwards,” which comes out this year. We recently spoke with him about producing the new album, why he left the music business for years, and what led him back to it.
Jersey Arts: Could you introduce the band? It’s a pretty big band.
Scott Wolfson: And I want it to be even bigger. We all come from different backgrounds. We've got people who've had no music education whatsoever, and people like me who've studied music theory at a university. I minored in music at New York University. My major was in theatrical music. Skyler Bode plays piano, accordion and keyboard. Matt Laurita is our guitar player, but he also plays banjo with us. Kirk Siee is upright bass. Chris Kelly plays drums with us, and he also co-produces everything with me. Mike Bell is a newer member, and he's playing slide guitar and mandolin. My main instrument is guitar, but I also play some mandolin at some of the shows.
There may be 13 or 14 different instruments on stage between the six of us. We're first and foremost an Americana band, but that basically means we're taking folk traditions and then blending other American styles into it. We kind of bring a bunch of different things together and make this American soup of music that's always based in folk, but has the flavor, the spices, from these other musical styles as well.
JA: So, you just moved to Brooklyn after living in New Jersey for a long time?
SW: Yeah. I originally moved out here from Ohio to go to NYU. I spent about 15 years in New Jersey, mainly in Jersey City. I first lived out by Journal Square, but spent most of my years there in downtown Jersey City, by Grove Street.
JA: And you all met in Jersey City. Is there an origin story there?
SW: Yeah. It's actually kind of interesting. I had met Skyler when he was already living in Jersey. We worked on a project together, and I'd always wanted to work with him again. And, as luck would have it, we both ended up living in Jersey City at the same time. Chris lived there too. I met Chris through an organization called Leave a Lasting Mark, a charity-based concert series. We had shows once a month at The Bitter End in New York.
And I actually happened to meet Matt, who was also living in Jersey City, at a random gathering. He was like, "Oh, I heard you're starting a band up and you're looking for a guitar player." It was kind of funny, because usually when somebody comes up to you and says that, they're probably not a good guitar player. But I met with him and he was amazing.
So, yeah, we were very much a Jersey City band. But of course, as people got older, they started getting married and having kids and moving a little further away. It was a really great time when we all lived in the same neighborhood, but, of course, life marches on.
JA: The passing of the folk musician Jack Hardy in 2011 turned out to be a catalyst for you in terms of returning to music. You had taken a break for a while. Could you get into that a little bit?
SW: I took a six-year hiatus from the music business, although I expected it to be forever. It really had to do with the business side of things. It can be frustrating dealing with issues related to everything that's not the music. Just legal stuff, and copyrighting, and all of these other issues. I'd gotten fed up with the industry, and I just disappeared.
I met Kirk when he was about to go on tour with Jack Hardy, who was a folk musician I’d always really admired. Kirk went off on tour with Jack, and then Jack passed right after that tour. At the memorial service for Jack, at the Christopher Street Coffeehouse, they asked me to play a song, which, for me, was a huge honor. And Kirk, fresh off the tour, sat in with me. Then, we ended up doing it again at another memorial for Jack at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in upstate New York. That’s when we got the idea in our heads to get a band together. And everything just fell into place from there. I never expected to be back into music at all, and now here I am.
JA: Yeah, that's really interesting. I’ve read that John Lennon took a long break from music in the 1970s – didn’t even play guitar at home.
SW: Well, music is just like any other job. There's a mysticism about it, but it’s work. There are aspects of it that just burn you out. I didn't stop playing at home, though. I've always been a weirdo, didn't really quite fit in anywhere, and one of the few solaces that I found as a kid was music. And I've always wanted to pay it forward in some way - for other people who feel that way.
Our live shows are a tremendous amount of fun. I really just want people to have fun and feel good. That's always been important for me. The single from our first album was “You Can't Break Me Again.” I didn’t expect it to be as big a hit as it was, but it just resonated with people. I was getting stories from people about the song keeping them going through some really tough situations. That means everything to me.
JA: I always ask people in bands what the common musical currency is between the members. What do you guys listen to when you're traveling together? What kind of music do you nerd out on?
SW: This particular group, like I was saying earlier, is made up of very different people with very different musical backgrounds. And I love that. It makes our music so much richer than it would be if it was just me. But let’s see… We all listened to REM growing up. Love REM. We like Old 97's. When I was a kid I loved the Limeliters. I'll get them into some groups like that. Even some of the newer groups like Shovels & Rope or The Wood Brothers. We'll pass that stuff around. Chris and I love The Replacements. We love Velvet Underground. We love Peter Gabriel. Kirk loves Ween. He puts Ween on all the time. We always joke about doing an Iron Maiden song because Matt can play it like nobody's business.
JA: You guys have two albums under your belt, “Life on Fire” and “Welcoming the Flood.” And you have a new one coming out this year. Could you talk about that?
SW: This project is huge in scope, and we're extremely excited about it, but we're also terribly nervous because it's new terrain for us. We always do albums that are thematic. They all deal with turmoil and trouble that's brewing. “Life on Fire” was about being in the middle of it. Your life is on fire. “Welcoming the Flood” was about knowing that you are about to have a devastating thing happen, and what do you do when you're waiting for it to happen.
Our new one, “Flying Backwards,” is about what happens when you're on the other side of it – how you deal with that. And we’re exploring a number of different styles, from Dixieland Jazz to Spaghetti Western. We're just all over the place, and taking full advantage of what’s possible in the studio.
JA: So, what can you tell us about your upcoming gig at Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme?
SW: Well, first of all, Katherine Rondeau is opening up for us. She's a dear friend of ours, and she is just a powerhouse. She's also got a wicked sense of humor, and she’s just so much fun. We're doing a very long set, and we're incorporating some new music from the upcoming album. There'll be songs that nobody’s heard yet.
Also, the space and the series is amazing. We're really looking forward to playing. For us, the audience is as much a part of the show as the band. We tend to heckle the audience, the audience heckles us. Like I’ve been saying, there's a kinship there. That’s what matters most to us.
Scott Wolfson and Other Heroes are playing the Riverside Rhythm & Rhyme concert series at Investors Bank Theater in Succasunna, New Jersey this coming Sunday, January 20, 2019.