Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott Share Their Collaborative History Together

Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott are surely considered two of the best songwriters and musicians working today. They each have appeared on numerous recordings, performed with some of the true legends of the bluegrass and string band genres, and have their own impressive discographies. In addition to their own individual careers, Darrell and Tim follow up their intimate, masterful, and casual recording, 2005's Real Time, with a live album called We're Usually A Lot Better Than This.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tim and Darrell about their working relationship and history together, as well as their experiences making Real Time and We're Usually A Lot Better Than This.

Hi guys, thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. Before we dig into your new live album, I'd like to ask you if you could share some of your earlier experiences together.

First, what did you know of each others' work before you ever met or had gotten together?

Darrell Scott: I saw Tim in Hot Rize and Red Knuckles and The Trailblazers five years before we met.

Tim O'Brien: Honestly, Darell was only a name that my publisher had mentioned. 

Can you describe how you met and if you can briefly discuss your experiences first playing/ writing together (15 years ago n in Nashville, and how that led to working together on a song for Tim's album at the time)?

Tim: I met Darrell in a writing room at his publishers. We wrote a song called "Daddy's On The Roof again" that day. He hit a lick on guitar and I knew he was a great player and he sang a song he'd written called "Uncle Lloyd" and I knew he was a great writer and singer. Soon after I heard him play with Sam Bush's band.

He'd heard my music a little bit, and saw me perform at a Fest in New England.

Darrell: It was put together by our publishers in Nashville. We simply got on very well and wrote a song that went on Tim's Record. The second song we wrote went on Garth Brook's record.

Following that, you met a few months later to write a tune for a Garth Brooks album. Can you talk about your experiences collaborating again and how it built upon your previous experience or was different?

Tim: I knew from writing with Darrell the first time that he could pull things out that other people couldn't pull out of my head. The song that we wrote on our second meeting was called "When There's No One Around" and it was pitched to Garth Brooks pretty much immediately after it was written and Garth loved it right away.

Darrell: It is always different when we're writing. The key we have found is to be open to the differences.

I read that you connected again at a "pickin' party" that Sam Bush was having. Please tell us about connecting again and how that inspired you guys to embark on a European tour?

I started singing a Dylan song that I had recorded called "Senor" and Darrel just jump right on at the party jam. He is explosive as an instrumentalist and it can be contagious.

The UK and Ireland tour idea was mine. I had dates and wanted someone to help drive and maybe sit in on my set.

Darrell: We played well together, and it was enough for Tim to ask me to join him on a three-week run in Europe. We set out to do 2 sets: one me, and one Tim. Then after one night together, we realized we would just do the entire show together from there on out.

What would you say you learned most about each other on that tour? And how did that light the spark to do an album together?

We would do sound check together and just jam on songs that maybe one of us had never heard, and it would be really fun and so the shows quickly became duets all the way through. We seemed to light a fire under each other.

Darrell: Well, we both direct well, we both listen well, and we both have a great love of authentic, roots music including country, mountain, folk, and bluegrass. We quickly found that was a common language between us.

How and when did you decide to get together to make a duo album (which would become Real Time)?

Darrell: After a couple of years of touring.

Tim: Yeah, it was obvious that we should record together.

Darrell: The songs came first and the placing of songs came after (for our records or anybody else's records). However, we did write "The Second Mouse" for the recording.

Tim: We didn't write songs specifically for Real Time, but we were writing together some and at least one of those songs showed up on Real Time. And it was Darrel's intention to write an instrumental which became "The Second Mouse", which was nominated for Grammy.

Was there a song(s) that set the direction for the record?

Darrell: I'd say, "With A Memory Like Mine". It was not on our recording list (I wrote it with my dad's lyric (Wayne Scott) the night before we started). When Tim heard it and said "Lets start the recording there", we did.

Not really but the song "Walk Beside Me" seemed to be a good statement to open the record. That was a recent co-write at the time. He had also written "With A Memory Like Mine". He wrote that the night before we recorded our first day and so we started with that one.

One aspect I really love and admire whenever I listen to Real Time is the intimate, seemingly no-frills recording style that really puts the tunes front and center. What you were going for with the recording?

Darrell: We were trying to make a field recording like the great body of folk & country stuff from 70 or 80 years ago. We wanted it to be just two people playing and singing in real time.

Tim: We really wanted to capture the interaction between the two of us and avoid much production.

Your new live album, We're Usually A Lot Better Than This is composed of tunes from your 2005 and 2006 performances at Grey Eagle in Asheville, N.C. (to support Arthur Morgan School). Can you talk about how/ why you got together for these performances?

Darrell: We each had a kid in the Arthur Morgan School and the shows were our way of raising some money for them.

Tim: Our touring together had ended in 2003 or maybe to 2004. So this was a reunion and it was fresh, but it wasn't so long since we played together that we forgot how to do it.

Being a benefit concert it had a good mood to begin with and a rabid group of supporters for the school as well as our fans in the crowd. Just more good chemistry.

Can you discuss some of the covers that you decided to include on the album?

Darrell: Tim and I know hundreds of songs. For this recording, these are the ones that came out those two days together. Of course, tomorrow would be other songs.

Tim: "You Don't Have To Move That Mountain" was an old song that Keith Whitley wrote and Hot Rize recorded. I miss singing some of the old songs and like to bring them back from time to time, plus Darrell is really good with the spiritual oriented things.

I had recorded "Early Morning Rain" recently for 'Fiddlers Green" and I knew Darryl was a big fan of Lightfoot so we sang that one. "Climbing Up The Mountain" is one that Darrell liked of mine from earlier recordings. He said it reminded him of the legend of Sisyphus.

Can you also speak to the interplay of your originals with the covers as a set?

Tim: We agreed to ignore the conflict between originals and covers, between old and new, and between bluegrass and R&B. We basically agreed to take the fences down and just let music happen. That was already our philosophy and so it showed up when we played that show.

Darrell: To us, our songs and the other ones all weave together. We played others' stuff before we had our own stuff.

With these recordings, touring experiences, and the friendship you share to reflect upon, what keeps things fresh for each of you?

Darrell: Honestly, by not rehearsing.

Tim: For me, I suppose we read and watch, listen and travel, live and love, and go about our lives, and that's what we bring to the music. I think we both look for some kind of new thing about any song we play. We make comments as they occur to us and we're able to reveal those in music.

What aspects are you drawn to most in each other's writing and/ or performing?

Tim: I was particularly inspired by Darrell's use of his own life and the tangible details of it to find the universal.

Darrell: For me, it has to be Tim's truth-telling in songs. As a singer, there is not any better singing than Tim. As a player, he is a fearless monster. I would also add that our collaboration is all about the common ground we share. If that wasn't there, we'd just play solo.

Are there any particularly challenging aspects of your collaboration that you seek common ground in in order to come to a mutual understanding (both collaboratively and individually)?

Tim: There are some borders that we don't really cross so well and so we just avoid those little cliffs that we might fall over.

What have you been listening to lately that you have been finding significantly inspiring?

Tim: I love a lot of field recordings from Library of Congress. One CD in particular is called A Treasury of Library of Congress Recordings compiled by Steven Wade. There's a new book out by Steve that covers many of the selections. It's in-depth and fascinating.

Also a group I really like now is called Lake Street Dive with the wonderful singer Rachel Price, and equally impressive bassist and songwriter Bridget Kearney.

What's next for you both, collaboratively and individually?

Darrell: We are planning to write more in three weeks, which means we'll be hanging out in the country and seeing what comes of it.

Tim: I'm just doing more the same touring writing producing. Darrell is going to take some time off and hang out on some land that he bought in central Tennessee.

Thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. I am absolutely thrilled to be sharing your experiences and insights into your collaboration and collaborative spirit with your fans and readers. Best of luck with the new record!

Tim and Darrell: Thanks.

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