Mixing with the Americana underbelly of Indianapolis, Scott Kern is the producer/multi-instrumentalist behind an eclectic cross-section of roots artists, including Jethro Easyfields and The Arrowheads, Crabtree’s Trunk, The Highway Kind, The Accidental Arrangements and The Cool Jerks.
None are bands that are going to grab a recording contract and a jet to LA to guest on American Idol. And shout some praise for that. Instead, Kern has his hand in taking rough-and-tumble bands, leaving the idiosyncratic parts in the mix, while making the music, harmonies and all that is left gleam just a little brighter as the music they make gets recorded.
The Scott Kern sound? It’s more like an artist’s sound, straightened and dusted by Kern. He says there’s lots of projects in various stages of completion, and we thought it was a good time to introduce you to the (mostly) quiet genius and behind-the-scenes wizardry that is Scott Kern.
ROB: What do you have in the producer pipeline?
SCOTT KERN: I am currently working on a few album projects, either performing or engineering. Sometimes I do both, I get to wear a lot of hats. I will be recording Fernhead live at Locals Only Art and Music Pub to get some live tracks for their upcoming album. I am also doing solo projects with Scott Crabtree and another with John Bowyer and plan to start hitting those hard. I just finished laying down some guitar tracks in a studio in Fort Wayne for Dwane Ferren. Also, Midwest Contraband will be having a release party for their album in late June. And, Simeon Pillar’s new album Not As Bad As You Think was released in April. (It’s) a huge amount of dang work, but a blast to do.
ROB: With all the projects you are working on, what is your recording setup?
SK: I have a home studio setup but everything is racked up to be portable. I actual prefer to record music in different locations. One reason is to get a palette of different room sounds and the other is I just like to record in interesting places. I’ve recorded groups in places like the middle of field, an art gallery, front porches and basements. Once I get all the tracks recorded, I spend a lot of time tweaking each individual track. That’s the fun part for me: lots of sliders sliding and knob twisting. I usually try and do this with as little input from the band as possible. I want to get the tracks to sound good to an unbiased ear. Mixing by group consensus is definitely one way to screw up a mix and make you burn (too much) midnight oil. Once the basic mix is done, I’ll get some input from the band but always being aware not to let things get out of control. That’s why they have producers – to keep the project going forward and know how to blend the creative and practical. This part can be the most fun or the most maddening, but I love doing it.
ROB: How about you getting on stage?
SK: I’m not much for playing solo, I much rather enjoy accompanying someone else. I perform in some bands around town: 19Clark25, Strawboss Union, Cootie Crabtree, and Jethro Easyfields and The Arrowheads. I’m planning on some bluegrass picking at the John Hartford festival with friends. Performing with Scott Crabtree and The Rhinestones in Nashville IN on June 3rd and then back at The Melody Inn with 19Clark25 later in June.
ROB: As we’ve done consistently throughout this series, I’ve asked all the artists what their take is on Indianapolis as a music town. Now it’s your turn to answer.
SK: Indianapolis, as I see it, has two camps. You have the creative, artsy side and you have the cover band side. There is room for both and they both have good and bad sides to them. In order to make it work as a living in Indy, you have to play on both sides of the field. If you are playing bar venues, then you may lean a little more towards covers then say someone playing in a coffee shop. Being able to tailor your music to the audience and venue will help give you a leg up. And don’t forget the day job – even Indiana’s Jazz great Wes Montgomery had a day job and played clubs at night.
Everyone I play with inspires me in some way. It’s not just people up there banging out notes, at least it shouldn’t be – there should be an exchange of musical ideas going on between players. It’s great to see when it’s all clicking between the players. You can actually see the musicians playing and looking at each other like they are having a conversation while they are playing. That is what gets me jazzed about music. That and the ability to record it for others to enjoy.
ROB: What kind of music do you listen to when you aren’t “working”?
SK: One of my favorite things about the internet is Youtube. You can see all those buried bootleg clips of performers that have helped shaped the music we listen to today. The great thing is that your friends can send you links, so the whole scene just blows up geometrically and we probably have the most musically-educated generation yet. I’ve been diving into old Bill Monroe, Django Reinhart, Les Paul, Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, and Led Zeppelin. I try and cover as many genres as I can. More current performers or bands I’ve been listening to are groups like The Steeldrivers, Punch Brothers, Wilco, and Esperanza Spalding.