Scott Terry On Red Wanting Blue

Scott Terry talks with Pollstar about fronting longtime indie/DIY band Red Wanting Blue, and how signing with a label freed him up to focus on his music.

There was a time when Terry and his bandmates handled everything from booking their own shows to releasing music on their own label.  But that changed in 2010 when Fanatic Records came calling.  Suddenly the band was rocking “The Late Show With David Letterman” and receiving the kind of press members could only hope for during the first 15 years of the group’s existence.

While speaking with Pollstar, guitarist/songwriter/singer Terry described the differences between the Ohio-based band’s 15 years pushing the DIY envelope and life today on a label that falls under the Caroline/Capitol Music Group/Universal umbrella. 

He also talked about Red Wanting Blue’s upcoming album that’s due out in early 2014, what fans can expect from the band’s fall tour and why he still loves 8-Tracks.

Photo: Steve Ziegelmeyer
Bogart’s in Cincinnati, Ohio. (l-r, rear) Greg Rahm, Dean Anshutz. (front) Mark McCullough, Scott Terry, Eric Hall

Did you grow up in a music climate?

I was born in ’76.  At that point in time … my mom was a big Barry Manilow fan. {My parents] were big Simon & Garfunkel fans, big Paul Simon fans.  I listened to that a lot [while] growing up.  It wasn’t until I was in high school when I started seeing the vinyl they had from their days in college.  My parents had all The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones [and] I started investigating that era of music. 

My brothers are both artists but they work with their hands, they’re not musicians. I would say the most musical person in my family other than me was my mom, who sang in choir in church and played the bell choir.

Do you think the soft rock your parents loved plus the heavier sound of Led Zeppelin and other records in your parents’ collection helped influence you and the Red Wanting Blue sound, at least in the beginning?

One year, … me and my two brothers and a neighbor kid – the four of us dressed as KISS [on Halloween]. … It was funny because I was actually scared of KISS.  I was at that age when I was fascinated by them but I was also scared of them.  There was a mask that glowed in the dark.  My dad took the Ace Frehley mask, put it under the light and went upstairs into the attic. [He] had my brother [tell] me I needed to go upstairs to see my dad.  I remember the door closed underneath me and my dad came out of the darkness with just the mask. I remember being absolutely horrified.  It was one of those first moments in my life that I remember my dad playing a trick on me.

I didn’t connect the dots [about the musical influences] completely until I got older and went to college.  Before I went off to college I was classically trained in music. I sang in choirs and all that for as long as I can remember … which I think was great for actual training and learning about music.  Then there was the contemporary music my friends and I liked.  I was a child of the grunge era, growing up and being in my early teens.  At the same time, all of the music my parents had [on] vinyl. … All of those things helped shape Red Wanting Blue.

How have you and the band adapted to new technology over the years?

I’ve actually gotten kind of crotchety as I’ve gotten older.  I’m not terrific at technology.  It’s something I have a hard time with.  I would be lying if I said I didn’t lean on my friends and family, they’re sort of like crutches when it comes to technology. … I like Apple products because they’re simple. They’re color-coded.  It’s like there’s a button, you push it and go, “If the icon said this is this ….” I feel they design stuff for people who don’t read code or know anything about it.

Because I’m not technologically savvy, I feel new music has to meet me halfway, or more than halfway, sometimes.  When I was younger I was a tremendous seeker of new music.  I subscribed to CMJ and back in the day before the internet I knew about bands before everybody else did.  Really being voracious in my musical appetite and trying to learn new things. 

I’m a big fan of music that can just continue playing behind me and I can focus on it or not.  I love Iron & Wine. I’m a big Josh Ritter fan.  But at the same time I’m a humongous love of Harry Belafonte.  I love listening to Sam Cooke.  I’ll listen to the greatest works of Bing Crosby or The Andrew Sisters. Music from another era.  I get fascinated as to how this music came about and why it became popular. I get fascinated by that.

And taking it a step further, I’m a super-neurotic weirdo because I find the music to be more enjoyable if you’re listening to it through the media that it came out on in that era.  I’m not listening to The Andrew Sisters on a Victrola.  I listen to a lot of stuff on vinyl.  I listen to a lot of stuff on 8-tracks. People think 8-tracks are dead but they’re cheap and still around.  If you find a good player, I love it. … It was a different way of listening to music.  People [today] don’t listen to music the way they used to.

People go, “That’s a B side.” People say that stuff and there are kids out there that don’t actually know what that means, where that came from.  I love 8-tracks.  They’ll just play all afternoon. I’m cleaning my house and I’ve got an 8-track player playing.  It’s playing Petula Clarke.  Getting Petula Clark’s “Downtown” on 8-track and cleaning your house, and realizing after you’re done, you’re like, “Oh, my god.  I listened to the same four songs for an hour and 45 minutes.”  I think people lived their lives that way and heard these songs and it was like it was beaten in [to them].

Photo: Steve Ziegelmeyer
Bogart’s in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Red Wanting Blue was notoriously independent and you released your music on your own indie label.  Now you’re on a label – Fanatic – and you’re repped by a major booking agency – Paradigm.  Was it a relief to let these people help with the business of Red Wanting Blue?

I would say I am a hard learner.  I’m a Taurus. I’m stubborn and I can be bullheaded. … I was in college until the mid, late ’90s.  I think the music scene was flooded with music and artists, it was that whole reverberating, echo effect that happened after the grunge scene.

With the onset of the internet, people didn’t know what was going on. … In high school, I went to some studio to record so I could have an audio cassette.  Then in college I made a CD and that was a big deal back then.  Now you have to have an MP3.  I feel like I’ve seen so much ebb-and-flow and so much fluctuate in such a relatively short amount of time.  I’ve always had in my mind that these record labels know what has historically worked.  History keeps on breaking all the rules, all these things are changing, so what the hell do they know? … I remember being young and thinking, “Well they don’t know anything more than we do right now.”

Over the years we had small labels that were interested in us and at the time I just kept thinking, “No way. I’m not going to let some small label come in and take a cut of what I’m doing. I’m going to hold out for a major. … I’m just going to keep doing what I do until someone comes to me that’s bigger and more substantial.”   Hindsight is 20/20, but when I talk to artists and people on our team about Red Wanting Blue’s personal journey, they’re amazed.  You’ve got to be on a small label to even be on the radar.  You need … someone to manage you that’s looking out for what the future can bring. 

That was one of my weaknesses.  I wasn’t busy-savvy in that way.  I just wanted to be busy, I wanted to be playing and …  go from town-to-town, like the real grassroots way.  Because that’s what I knew how to do.  I didn’t know how to get on the internet and do a bunch of marketing. That was never my strong suit.  But I was like, “I can get in a car, drive 24-hours straight if I have to and get to the venue and play.” 

There was a guy who made a documentary about our band and talking about how we had been unsigned for so long. I’m sure it was his hope that he would make a documentary and during the documentary the band would get signed.  He’d have a film that he could actually sell. 

I remember, in the midst of all those things, Fanatic came to us.  At that point I liked Fanatic because they were an unknown, undeveloped brand new label and they had a bunch of new ideas.   And more than anything – they believed in us. I always felt that was worth more than any amount of money. … The thought of somebody saying, “I believe in what you’re doing, I believe in how you’ve done it so far,” I look at our label as more hands behind the bus, pushing.  That’s how they got me.  I said, “You know how to talk to an unsigned guy.”

What were some of the first positive signs that signing with Fanatic was going to help the band?

I think my greatest comfort was … they were calling and handling things.  I used to always think … if I haven’t talked to someone, [he or she] didn’t do any work for me [that day].  [Signing with Fanatic] was the first time I felt like, “Wow, they really put their money where their mouths were.  They’re working really hard for us, they’re shaking things up. We’re getting more attention on radio and in places.”

I think as far as having any type of real moment of “Wow! People are starting to treat us a little different” was two years ago.  I would say it was a culmination of several things.  Fanatic came on … and they brought our management firm to the table, GoldVE in New York.  Shortly thereafter … GoldVE brought Paradigm to the table.

It sounds as if, after signing with a label and securing management and booking, that you could finally exhale.

There was a huge sigh of relief.  For years we were self-managed, self-promoted, self-booked.  We did all sorts of things on our own and to be able to look back and say, “Wow!  Our management team is handling this, and our booking agent is doing great.”  We had gotten with GoldVE and shortly thereafter we got the offer to be on “The Late Show With David Letterman.”  … That was more bizarre to me than signing a deal.

What’s going through your mind during the last five minutes before walking out onstage?

Everybody has their role to play.  Some of the guys are classic disappearing act guys.  “Where did he go?  Where’s Eric [Hall]? We’re about to go on in three minutes.”  Then there are other guys, like Mark, he’s more of the nervous Nelly.  He just wants to make sure everything is set. 

I warm up by singing songs. Some people try to do the vocal warm ups and get real technical about it.  I know my voice well enough that I know when I need to warm up and when I don’t.  So I just hang out in back, whether it’s backstage or on the bus, and I just like to sing songs. And the guys will pick and choose moments where they want to join in and warm up their voices, sing harmonies with it.  The hour before I go on, I’m usually sitting backstage somewhere having a coffee and singing with my baritone ukulele. 

I do have moments of panic where I’m checking to make sure my in-ear monitors have fresh batteries.  But typically, I try to feel as easy as I can. … At some point, around 2005, our Pride: The Cold Lover era/record … there was a huge sigh of relief I had where I kind of said [to myself], “There are going to be so many better-looking people than me in this world.  There are guys who are so much cooler than I am. I will not have the cheek or the bone-structure of the lead singer of the Verve, Richard Ashcroft. I’ll never be able to look like the lead singer of the Dandy Warhols. These are people who wake up and are unbelievably cool looking.” And I kept thinking I’ll never be that guy. I accept it. I’m probably closer to a Dave Matthews than one of these super-cool guys.

So I just kind of stopped trying … to be the cool frontman guy.  I’m just going to try to write honest songs and perform them honestly.  That took so much pressure off of me.  It sounds stupid, but mom and dad are right when they say, “Be yourself.” … When I was younger I tried to perform.  I was like, “This is a show, you know…”  I think I probably looked like that guy who was way too eager. … At some point I just sort of said, “I’m not going to try so hard.  I’m just going to try to be myself.” And strangely enough, I’m neurotic and over-animated enough being myself, that people seem to enjoy it. But it comes off … genuine.

How is work on the new album progressing?

We’re in our final stages. I’m so excited about it. This is the first time I’ve had the chance to make a record from start to finish where no one, no fans have heard anything. Nothing has been road-tested yet.  Because of the nature of what we did for so many years … we were playing three or four shows every week, it was like, “Let’s play that new song. Let’s try this out. Let’s try that out.” Sometimes it felt like by the time the album actually came out, we had already played every song.  People were like, “It’s great to finally hear the studio versions of the songs we’ve been listening to live for the last nine months, but do you have anything new? I’ve heard all this stuff before.” … I’ve been chomping at the bit wanting to play new stuff, but holding off until we start touring this fall.  As of October I’m going to start playing some of these songs live.  Right now we’re in the final mix.

Since we made the record, it’s the first time ever in the history of this band and in my life that I’ve been able to sit on these mixes.  It always felt it was a race to the finish. … It was like, “Send it,” and it’s off to print.  Then you keep listening to it and three weeks later you’re like, “Man, I really hate that we put that effect on this guitar.  I wish the drums weren’t so loud. My vocals, I wish they were up there more. If I had my way, I wish we could re-record it.”  That kind of stuff.  I was never afforded that time to make those decisions up until now.  It’s been great.  I think I’ll always have that Jackson Pollock nature.  “Is it done?  I don’t know. Put another drop on it.”  Where it’s never finished. There’s got to be a point where you close it.

What would you like to tell people about the upcoming tour that they may not expect or be aware of?

First and foremost, it will be the first time people will be able to hear any of the new music on the album.  To a lot of people who have not seen us play, our live show is also made up of a set – we’re sort of known for being thrift-store hoarders, a lot of knickknacks and whatever.  We’re going to sort of close the chapter on all of that and have a new stage setup for the new album. For a lot of people it’s going to be they’re last time to see our band as we have been existing for the last couple of years with [that] setup. 

Which is why … we ultimately called it the “Dime Store Circus Tour.” There’s like a gumball machine and all sorts of stuff.

Photo: Steve Ziegelmeyer
“So I just kind of stopped trying … to be the cool frontman guy.  I’m just going to try to write honest songs and perform them honestly. “

Upcoming dates for Red Wanting Blue:

Sept. 26 – New Buffalo, Mich., Hard Rock Cafe Four Winds
Sept. 27 – Washington, Mo., Otis Campbell’s
Oct. 3 – Des Moines, Iowa, Vaudeville Mews
Oct. 4 – Minneapolis, Minn., 7th Street Entry
Oct. 5 – Sioux Falls, S.D., Latitude 44
Oct. 11 – Columbus, Ohio, A & R Music Bar
Oct. 12 – Columbus, Ohio, Newport Music Hall
Oct. 16 – Buffalo, N.Y., Forvm
Oct. 17 – Asbury Park, N.J., The Saint
Oct. 18 – Boston, Mass., Church
Oct. 19 – Philadelphia, Pa., World Cafe Live
Oct. 20 – Fairfield, Conn., Fairfield Theatre StageOne
Oct. 24 – Bloomington, Ind., Bluebird Nightclub
Oct. 25 – Charlotte, N.C., Visulite Theatre
Oct. 26 – Asheville, N.C., The Grey Eagle
Oct. 27 – Greenwood, S.C., Sundance Gallery
Oct. 31 – Raleigh, N.C., The Pour House Music Hall
Nov. 1 – Atlanta, Ga., Terminal West
Nov. 2 – Charleston, S.C., Music Farm
Nov. 8 – Kearney, Neb., Buffalo County Fairgrounds
Nov. 9 – Evanston, Ill., SPACE
Nov. 10 – Evanston, Ill., SPACE
Nov. 15 – Tulsa, Okla., The Vanguard
Nov. 16 – Austin, Texas, Austin360 Amphitheater
Nov. 17 – Dallas, Texas, House Of Blues
Nov. 21 – San Marcos, Texas, Cheatham Street Warehouse
Nov. 22 – Corpus Christi, Texas, House Of Rock
Nov. 23 – Houston, Texas, House Of Blues
Nov. 30 – Nashville, Tenn., Marathon Music Works
Dec. 5 – San Diego, Calif., The Griffin
Dec. 6 – West Hollywood, Calif., Troubadour
Dec. 8 – Mill Valley, Calif., Sweetwater Music Hall
Dec. 11 – Portland, Ore., Mississippi Studios
Dec. 12 – Seattle, Wash., Barboza
Dec. 13 – Spokane, Wash., Knitting Factory Concert House
Dec. 15 – Boise, Idaho., Knitting Factory Concert House
Dec. 17 – Salt Lake City, Utah, The State Room
Dec. 19 – Denver, Colo., Bluebird Theater     
Feb. 22-26 – Miami, Fla., Norwegian Cruise Line – Norwegian Pearl (“Rock Boat”)

Appearing with Will Hoge Oct. 25-26, Nov. 1-2, 15, & 21-Dec. 19.  Please Visit for more information.