Southern Culture on the Skids
Maybe it was because I had first heard Southern Culture on the Skids in the mid-’90s, during the “Seinfeld” reign, that I’ve always thought of the band as a Seinfeld-esque group with a Southern perspective.
SCOTS, as they’re also called, often mixes the sounds of surf rock, rockabilly, garage and country — or Southern twang and roll, as they describe it — with lyrics based on slice of life stuff found in everyday Southern culture. And it’s often with tongue pressed firmly in the side of a cheek.
Throughout the band’s long and varied career, this has led to songs about sex, drinking corn liquor, cheap motels, houses with wheels and, yes, banana pudding.
The Seinfeld analogy is one I raised with Rick Miller, the band’s primary songwriter, during an interview recently. It was an analogy he hadn’t considered, but, in the end, he found wholly appropriate.
“I’ve never heard that analogy before, but you’re exactly right,” he said. “A lot of (our songs) are little things out of our daily lives that we’ve grown up with. With that kind of sense of humor — that’s a good analogy.”
Formed in 1983 out of Chapel Hill, N.C., SCOTS consists of Miller, drummer Dave Hartman and bassist/vocalist Mary Huff.
Their songs have appeared on numerous video games, movies and compilations, and their latest album, the group’s 12th, was just released in August. Named after the group’s recording studio in rural North Carolina, The Kudzu Ranch, the album is another in a long line of humorous, infectious and, ultimately, danceable albums the group’s released since its first in 1986.
These songs, curiously enough, almost always take shape in a car.
When it’s time to write, Miller heads out on the rural backroads of North Carolina with a journal and pen in tow.
“It’s a great form of meditation,” he said. “You can drive for 20 minutes and find a few things to write about. It gets a little hairy in the country roads, trying to jot something down on the steering wheel … but I’ve always enjoyed writing like that.”
The song sketches often get set aside for later, when it’s time to record a new album, but if an idea for a riff accompanies the lines, Miller will often flesh out the song more fully when he gets home.
With a guitar and a beat box, to set the proper tempo or feel of the song, Miller makes a few demos and then shares them with Huff, especially if it’s a song he wants her to play. Before the song makes an album, it’s usually played live and multiple takes are tried.
“We have our own studio and that helps,” he said. We have four different takes on some songs, which we’ll offer as downloads.“
Some songs, like “High Life,” on the new record, are available as an electric, acoustic and rockabilly version. The song “Bad Boys” is garage rock on the album but the alternate take is more straight up rock, with a country feel.
Miller said deciding which track to select for the album can get dicey however.
“We basically fight with one another” to decide which take makes the album, he said. “The person who sings it gets the last call usually. Dave and I really liked the rockabilly version of ‘Bad Boys,’ but Mary liked the garage version of it because she does deliver it with a snarl and she’s right that it is better.”
“We’ve been a band so long it’s like fighting with your family over what channel to watch. Usually the fights are OK, but a lot of people get shot over stuff like that sometimes.”
Now that sounds like a great song.
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