New Mule: An Interview with Kevin Scott

Kevin Scott

Photo: Eric Gettler

When Southern rock royalty Gov’t Mule announced they had a new bass player, I don’t think there could have been a better fit than Kevin Scott. Born in Alabama, Scott played in his father’s bluegrass band before moving to Atlanta, where he cut his teeth on the city’s rich musical scene. The mix of blues, rock, jazz, and funk allowed him to fully develop his chops and, more importantly, find his own voice on the bass.

Part of finding his musical self came from working with the enigmatic “blues surrealist” Colonel Bruce Hampton. Scott initially moved to Atlanta after receiving one of Hampton’s albums by chance at a flea market and learning that’s where Hampton lived. After getting a foothold in the city, he would catch the Colonel’s attention and eventually join his band. His years in the group trained him to play with other guitar wizards in the future, including Wayne Krantz, Jimmy Herring, and John McLaughlin. All that experience and knowledge landed him in Gov’t Mule, backing up the legendary Warren Haynes.

Aside from Gov’t Mule, Scott has a project with drummer Zach Danziger called Wednesday Night Titans, which creates a multi-media performance including vintage pro wrestling clips set to futuristic music. He’s also a member of Forq, and most recently, he’s become a label owner.

I was lucky enough to meet Scott at Peach Fest in Scranton, Pennsylvania, after which we set up this interview to talk about Gov’t Mule, his new label, Colonel Bruce Hampton, and more.

Gov’t Mule is currently on tour performing “Dark Side of the Mule” and will continue with the “Peace… Like A River” world tour later this year.

What have you been getting into since we caught up at Peach Fest?

I’ve been working on getting this Pink Floyd set down and working on some new Wednesday Night Titans stuff. I’m also still trying to maintain this label I started so we’re getting all the release dates for that.

Tell me more about the label.

I started a label with Austin White, who is a great bassist and electronic composer. He also runs a great label called GSI Records. We hit it off and started this improv and experimental label called 29th Street Editions. We put our first record out last month with Scotty Zwang. He played drums with Dopapod, but the record is a big tribute to his friend Ian McGuire, who passed away.

This month we’re doing something called the DARK Quartet. It’s me, Austin, Ryan Clackner and Danny Sher. That’d be kind of the first release I’d do, but I’m putting out a few solo records I have together and all sorts of stuff coming up.

(Editor’s note: Rising by the DARK Quartet is available now on streaming services, including iTunes and Amazon MP3.)

The whole idea the label is to put out improvised music of either groups or people from around the world we piece together. We have recorded like eight albums. I’ve got one of my solo projects that I had forever in Atlanta called Wax Paper. It took us like five years to do the first record. So that’s coming out and then I have a solo/trio record with Ryan Clackner and Matt Chamberlain that’s pretty wild.

There’s a whole bunch of stuff we’re trying to do. We’re trying to keep that old-school New York spirit going. We want it to be similar to ECM where we have a sound, but just let the players put records out.

How would you describe the label’s sound?

Everybody has had time in the“jazz” genre, but everybody’s improvising so there are also elements of extreme metal and some electronic elements. Just all sorts of sounds. I think the really interesting part about it is having Ryan Clackner, who is my favorite guitarist. He’s an amazing improviser, plus he writes the best black metal records, in my opinion, in the world right now. He’s on a lot of the records, so there are elements of extreme metal, but it’s just all over the map.

Obviously the other big thing we’ve got going is your new gig with Gov’t Mule. I don’t know how much you can talk about Jorgen leaving, but I just wanted to know how this all came about for you.

Part of it is from me being involved in the Southern improvised scene. When I started working with Colonel Bruce, that obviously opened up doors.

Warren actually came to my jam session about 13 or 14 years ago and sat in. I was always having run-ins with Warren, but nothing of major significance. We didn’t get a lot of time together. Last April, I was on the road with another act and I got a phone call from Dave Schools of Widespread Panic. He said, “Hey man, Jorgen has COVID. Come fill in for three or four dates. Warren called me, but I can’t do it.” I said sure. So eventually the ball was rolling and I talked to Warren. I filled in and it was a blast. Eventually they called me again and the rest is history. I did all the dates and eventually they asked, “Do you want to do this?” And I said, “Sure. I’d love to.”

It seems like the perfect fit to me, knowing that you’ve got kind of the southern thing going and you’ve got the improv thing going. Just your tone and attack. It seems like you’re the right player for this band.

Well, it’s really cool. Basically it’s about knowing how to play in a trio setting, even though there’s a keyboard player. The way you treat what you’re doing with improvised rock music, it’s something that you have to know what to do from listening a bunch. Of course, you have the main trios with the Hendrix stuff and Cream and Mountain and Cactus. Tim Bogert is a huge influence on me.

There’s just a certain openness with how you have to play, but it’s also aggressive. You’re probably not trying to step on any toes, but you kind of have to sometimes. We talked about it at Peach Fest – Allen Woody was probably the best ever at doing that. Allen was alway swinging while playing under everyone’s asses. He was in his own little universe, but you can tell he took from all those old guys, from Jack Bruce and Paul McCartney and Felix Pappalardi. You can hear all the influence, but he had his own thing with it.

The way I think about approaching guitar trio improv stuff is from working with Wayne Krantz so much. His concept is basically that in a nutshell but very rhythmically advanced in terms of where you go. I think it works because there’s been a lot of “improvised rock positions,” but as we both know, improvising is improvising. It doesn’t matter what genre. There’s a certain feeling you have to do it.

What has it been like learning this whole catalog? Do you have any kind of system for learning a ton of tunes in such a short time?

A friend of mine named Josh that lives in Atlanta is a big Mule superfan. He made a big spreadsheet of how many songs they did in two weeks and it was 178 songs.

This is the first time I’ve ever had to do something like this because I’ve never joined a band [like this]. All the other projects I’ve done where I was in a band, even like with Forq, they had three records of material to work, but I had a good amount of time. There’d be a set and they didn’t switch the set list up a whole lot for tours. Even with Jimmy [Herring] or most guys that I’ve worked with in jazz, you get the tunes and then you have time to learn them. Sometimes you don’t have a rehearsal, which is stressful.

The way I do it is I’ll start with the hardest stuff first. If there’s a song where I’m like, “I don’t understand what’s going on” or “This is complicated,” I hit those right off the bat. In my mind, I’m making this mental spreadsheet. I’ll think, “Okay well out of all these songs, you know these pretty well already.” They’re songs I’ve heard a million times, whether they’re hard or not hard. The most complicated ones I’ll tackle first. With this gig, if I didn’t have the last year to learn at least do 40 or 50 of them, it would have been even harder. It was pretty much a two week notice, then we had two days to rehearse and that was it.

That sounds pretty stressful.

Yeah, well, I’m not really scared of fucking up songs. If I hear something, I’ll go for it. That’s the way we learn it. Most of the gigs I’ve ever done are with no charts, even if they give you charts. John McLaughlin will say “Okay, here’s your charts, but you can’t use them on the gig.” So to me, if there’s a total train wreck, there’s a train wreck and you learn from it. Obviously, if you’re doing a pop gig that’s more structured, then it’s not gonna be as stressful. Because once you learn it once, it’s happening the same way every time and you have your 20 to 30 songs and that’s it for the rest of the next cycle. But with the jam band scene, which goes back to the Grateful Dead, you have to switch sets every night. Yeah, and it’s definitely been some pretty crazy shit.

On the road, I’d hang out with the guys, sleep in the bunk then shed from 10am or 11am till bus call to go to sound check and then right after the sound check and hit it.

So you’re just living in the songs.

Yeah, absolutely. My schedule now is wake up with coffee, say bye to my wife as she goes to work, and then mess with the dogs. Then I’m pretty much working the first half of my day. I make sure I have all the nuances down for the Pink Floyd set coming up. And then I’m working on past sets that we did plus new songs to possibly add. It’s definitely a lot of work. And then I’m maintaining my other projects, as well.

For the Dark Side of the Mule set, are there themes for this go around, or is it just from the whole catalog?

It’s from the whole catalog; most of the Dark Side record, I mean everything from ’71 until… I mean, the newest Floyd song they’ve played is “Welcome to the Machine” and the oldest is “The Nile Song” or something.

How strict do you have to be to learning the original lines, and how free do you feel on that stuff?

Now, I’ve played a lot of these songs already. Learning stuff exactly off the record, I will take certain points, but I know the rest of it I’ll try to [make my own]. Obviously, on “Money,” you play that line. If you show up and don’t play that, then what are you even doing?

There’s a lot more freedom on certain stuff from Dark Side. The harmony is just I to IV, so there are more rhythmic nuances that Roger and David were playing on the original recordings.

Something else I was thinking about with the Mule is that you have such a specific gear thing going on. Have you had to change that at all?

I have seen the light. For the majority of my career, I’ve primarily been a P-bass guy, but with Gov’t Mule I need more rock diversity. So Banker Guitars made me a custom Thunderbird. The Aluminati basses really helped me for this gig, too. They’re sending me a new bass that has Thunderbird pickups. The sound that a lot of the songs need is a Ripper or Thunderbird…. Gibson style basses. A P-bass works for everything, but there are certain unison lines that we need that sound.

My pedals are different for this because I don’t need a lot of the freak-out stuff, necessarily. So yeah, I’m definitely switching things up to get the sounds I think are appropriate. But they don’t care what I’m running. That’s so cool. They’re just like, “You do you. It’ll be fine.”

That’s awesome to hear. I saw you say that they like you to do your own thing and maybe work on some more outside ideas.

Yeah, there were definitely moments of that over the couple of weeks we’ve already done. It was only eleven shows or something. The more we all play as an ensemble, the more active we can get.

Switching gears here a little bit, I know you probably talked about him a lot, but I really dig Colonel Bruce Hampton. What was he like?

His demeanor was just like a weird old man that goes to the track. Somehow he could read people immediately when he met them. It was fucked up. He could just scan your brain.

I was with Bruce for almost four years with Duane Trucks. We went through a few guitar players. Eventually me and Duane made our exit.

What are some of the bigger lessons you picked up from him?

I tell people that with Colonel, there are just a handful of “success stories.” He laid waste to a lot of guys’ egos. He would show you the absurdity of what music is, especially what the “business” is. He would take your ego and shove it in a blender and sometimes feed it back to you and sometimes throw it out the window.

You’d always get this constant state of like, “What is going on?” All this weird stuff would happen when you were around him. Just crazy random things. And then he would know exactly what to say to you at certain times, like it’s in your brain.

The most I got out of it was just not taking myself seriously. That was a big quote of his: take what you do seriously, not yourself. That’s the one I live by most.

He also got me back to playing bass again because I was about 24 or 25 when I started working with him. I lost myself as a foundational bass player. I was totally just transcribing sax and keyboard solos. Bruce really got me back on track by going back to Willie Dixon, all the old Motown and Stax and Chess Records, all that stuff. But he never would say it directly to you, that’s what was so frustrating. He never said, “Listen to this,” it would always be some cryptic way of putting it. Or he would put you in positions to test your fight or flight modes. It was like being in a band with an old blues man that was also an alien that was also the uncle that sleeps on your couch.

I don’t think you could describe anyone else like that.

Yeah, man, he was a psychic. He would predict stuff that would happen or he’d guess your birthday. He constantly had you on your toes with situations. I didn’t go to music college. Bruce was my college and boot camp and I’m forever grateful. I had a very special relationship with Bruce. We talked daily for years. Duane Trucks and I were the musical directors on his final gig on his 70th birthday at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. It was so profound that he passed away on one his biggest gigs ever surrounded by all the musicians he loved.

So I was on stage with him. It’s pretty crazy that all that happened just from me listening to a random record I got from a weird guy at a flea market.

It sounds like you could count Bruce as a mentor and guide. At Peach, you told me you’re trying to do the same thing for other young players. What does it mean to you to like to try to mentor the next group of players coming up?

I don’t seek to try to be a mentor. I’ve always had a thing with being in leadership roles, whether I wanted to or not. Eventually I realized, okay, that’s my karma. That’s something I don’t take lightly. When I reach out to a lot of these younger guys on Instagram, first and foremost I’m just blown away by what they’re doing.

I just think it’s important for musicians not to lose sight of having somebody to ask questions to or just get positive and negative reinforcement. I want players to avoid seeking advice. Advice is pointless. When you hear somebody else’s perspective of what happened to him, it helps you to look at yourself. But saying, “You should do this and that,” I don’t ever do that. I think that’s a waste of time. It’s more egocentric behavior.

It’s way more about saying, “Well, here’s what I did, and here’s how this affected me. So take what you want out of it. It’s not gospel, it’s not truth. It’s just my experience.” So I’ve reached out to a bunch of players and I still do. I think it’s important. That’s where I’ve learned all my shit, is from hearing old guys tell stories. It’s definitely shaped the way I’ve done things and made decisions.

What else do you have coming up?

Forq has one festival date in Vermont coming up. Henry just moved upstate so we’re going to go up there and work some stuff out for a new record. We’re recording more albums for 29th Street Editions. I’m still doing a lot of work with Danziger for the Wednesday Night Titans. Also, I’m working on writing material for a project called Fight Josh with Rick Lollar and Marlon Patton. I’ve got a new project with Duane Trucks and Ryan Clackner that’s a psych doom extreme metal thing. It’s like if Pantera was from Norway during the 1970s.

I’ve also got a 30-part instructional series I’m going to be putting out. I’ve decided on it being called “Finding Your Own Sound.” It appeals more to the beginner side of things for technique. Then I’ll have a performance side of it where I’m going to go down a list of my influential bass players and show people you can still do your own thing with it. You don’t have to sound exactly like them. So I’ll take a song they’re famous for and touch on certain parts of it and do my own thing with it. So that should be coming out hopefully this year.

You have such a wide taste in music. I was wondering what music or players have been exciting you lately?

Yeah! It’s weird, I’ve gone kind of low-fi black metal. I haven’t listened to that kind of stuff in a while, but there’s just one band Jute Gyte and the in the record is called Perdurance. But that shit’s wild. It’s low-fi black metal, but it’s got trap beats that are in odd time and it’s all over the place.

I’ve been really checking out the band Japan. Mick Karn has been blowing me away. He’s one of my favorite bass players now. He had such an original voice.

Joe Farrell has record called Outback that has a crazy lineup with Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, Buster Williams, and Airto Moreira. Elvin does backbeats, which is a trip!

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