Spinning Platters Interview: Kelli Scarr

by Dakin Hardwick on July 30, 2010

Photo by David Price, taken at Hotel Utah, 7.27.10

Kelli Scarr is a native of Folsom, CA. She has spent many years playing in different bands, before ending up as a collaborator on Moby’s 2009 release Wait For Me, as well as playing in his band on his corresponding world tour. She’s recently released her debut full-length solo record, Piece, which as an absolutely stunning piece of work. Spinning Platters had a chance to speak with her before playing the intimate confines of the Hotel Utah Saloon.

How did you end up hooking up with Moby?

Well, I was playing in the band call Salt & Samovar for a couple of years, and we were playing this show in New Jersey. It was the anniversary party for a blog called Music Snobbery.  At the last minute, the headlining act for the party canceled, and nobody really knew why. So the guy who runs the blog made a video where he said that I would pay $1,000 to play my party. He sent this video to, I believe, three different acts, and Moby was one of them.  Moby actually got the video in his inbox and replied to him, saying “I’ll Play Your Party!” This all happened in about a week, but all of the sudden we were opening for Moby!

He (Moby) listened to a few songs and the next day he wrote and told me that he really like my voice and wants to get together and talk about music. Then we started hanging  out a couple of months later. I brought him some of the songs that I was working on for my record and he was super impressed and decided that he wanted to end up working with me. Then I ended up singing on his record (Wait For Me) and then I ended up going on tour with him. It was a twist of fate.

How did it feel collaborating with Moby, who doesn’t collaborate often?

Well, “Wait For Me” was already his song. I just came in as a guest vocalist.  But, we really started collaborating when working on my record. He came on as producer and gave a lot of input and advice. He was kind of a mentor, guiding the whole process.

Recently we worked on writing an actual song together for that NPR thing, Project Song. That was the first time we have written together. We get along well together and understand each other’s strengths.

I know that you are relatively local to here. What prompted you to move to New York City?

I wasn’t so much of a choice.  I was going to school in Boston, playing in a band called Moonraker and the band had kind of hit a ceiling there, and everyone in the band besides me had already graduated from college, so they were all like, “We are moving to New York.” And so I kind of hurried through my degree, and left Boston to go to New York in order to continue to work on the music thing. And Brooklyn was the placed to be then.

How often do you come back here?

I come back a lot, maybe four times a year. I have a very young son, and all of my family lives here, in fact I’m the only Scarr that isn’t from California.  It’s kind of hard, but they are all very supportive, so that gives me a good excuse to come back here all the time.

How did it go for you, giving out the Piece EP for free on the internet while you were still working on the record? What inspired this idea?

Most of the material was written and recorded, at least in demo version, before we started on the Moby tour last summer, and you know, I was itching to finish the record, and I didn’t want it to turn into this 30 year process where I am drunk and alone and I have nothing to give. So, it was a way to get the material out, and what got the material mixed in the best quality would given our resources at the time because we wanted people who had seen me opening for Moby to have something to hang on to in the interim, because I knew we weren’t going to be done touring for a while. We finished the tour in April, but we were able to finish the album during the winter because our tour with Moby was kind of slow then. It was basically a way to pull people over and get them engaged, and I knew that by giving it away, it would get people a lot more interested than if I was selling something.

I’ve been stuck on the song “Baby Boom,” which is on both the EP and in a slightly different version on the full length. What is the story behind that song?

Well, without giving away too much… (brief silence) That was the first song that I had written and recorded, and I finished it in like an hour or two, and when I was finished it was like ‘Wow, this is something that I have finished that I can actually be proud of.’ It was like, the lyrics and the chords and at the time it was to this drum machine, and I thought that it had a really cool vibe and I sent it to my friend  Matt Morris, who also helped me produce the record, and he was like, this is really awesome let’s go with this thing. His girlfriend and my best friend  decided that the song reminded them a lot of the score to the movie Baby Boom, with Diane Keaton, and that’s where the theme to the song came from.

As for the lyrics, I like to keep them a mystery. I want it to mean several different things. Sometimes I hear it, and it can be a different thing to two different people or a feeling, or I don’t know…

What do you listen to? What get’s you excited? What inspires you?

Lately, I’ve been listening to the Talk Talk Spirit Of Eden record. That’s been my beacon of light for the next  record, and the inspiration for the next record I want to do, which is a little more live band: bass, drums all playing together in same room. And on this road trip that I have been on since New York with my pedal steel player, we’ve been listening to Vince Gill non-stop.  We’ve been listening to a song that he wrote about his brother, “Go Rest High On A Mountain,” over & over. I’ve also been really into Bill Withers.

What kind of band are you touring with? When I saw you open for Moby you were by yourself, just layering yourself. What’s this road trip going to be like?

Well, playing by myself was intense. A lot of pressure.  We began on the east coast with a full band, which is drums, bass, electric guitar, pedal steel, piano. Then we broke away from the band because it doesn’t make much economic sense to bring everyone all the way across country.  So it was just me, the pianist, and the pedal steel player doing a trio. This was a bit of a challenge. It was cool because we all sing, and we love singing harmonies, but I think it was a little hard to make the set diverse in terms of tempos and volume as just the three of us. But, in California, we found a new drummer that is based here, and Art, my bassist, was able to turn this into a family vacation. So, we’re just pulling it together with what we got, and this will be the band for the rest of the road trip.

The arrangements on this record are crazy. They are so intense, yet sparse. How does that translate to the whole live show?

I play with some amazingly talented people.  I give them the recordings, but I want them to find their own voice in the songs. It’s completely different every time we play. I’m playing drums with this guy Deon Harris that I haven’t seen since college,  and I haven’t seen or played with him in ten years, and he’s bringing something completely different to the table than my drummer in New York does. So, it feels a lot more high energy with the live band there, and I am also singing a lot harder because I have the energy of the live band behind me.

When you toured with Moby, you encored with (Everything Is Wrong’s) “Feeling So Real,” and you sang the squealing part from the song live. I keep looping that in my head, and I want to know how that came to be, and whether or not he will officially release it?

That actually started out as a joke. I just decided to see if I could do it, and it worked out, and was a lot of fun, so we just did it every night. But we don’t think that we would every actually release it.

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Special thanks to David Price for supplying the photos. You can find all kinds of concert photos at davidpricephoto.com

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kara July 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Damn, you’re an interviewing machine.

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