Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bro. Stephen (Scott Kirkpatrick) on Louisville, "Baptist Girls", & The General Store

Scott Kirkpatrick is the singer-songwriter behind Bro. Stephen. The debut album, Baptist Girls, was recorded in a chicken coop and, in addition to Scott's partners for the project (Mike Adams and Adam Jessup), the album also includes appearances by Cheyenne Marie Mize (Yep Roc recording artist and member of Maiden Radio).

In addition to Bro. Stephen, Scott has also been running and managing The General Store, a homegrown music venue in Louisville, KY. The venue has featured such artists as Richard Buckner, Kalispell, Cheyenne Marie Mize, and an upcoming performance by Elephant Micah is scheduled on February 10th.

When Bro. Stephen's Baptist Girls (Crossroads of America) made's 2012 Best Albums You Might Have Missed, as well as my own end of the year list Uprooted Music Revue's Favorite Audio Releases of 2012, I felt like the time was right to reach out to Scott for an interview.


I read that you lived a sheltered religious upbringing in rural Michigan, but left that behind and went on to a period of great personal discovery in Louisville, KY to traveling around and making music. 

Scott Kirkpatrick: I definitely grew up a little sheltered, but don't we all? My dad was a preacher and our church was definitely my 2nd home. Also, I went to a Baptist school for many years so my worldview was pretty narrow for a long time. I moved to Louisville on my own several years back when I was 18 and have been trying to figure things out ever since.

Since then, I've been in Louisville except for about 2.5 years I spent living on the road due to touring, poor planning, a weekend recording marathon that turned into 2 years of trying to make Baptist Girls, and a job installing furniture on military bases all over the United States.

Can you describe how these experiences have come into your work?

Scott: It is a little hard for me to properly put into context how that shapes my music. A lot of the traveling and floundering happened after the Baptist Girls songs were written so the influence of those experiences will be felt more on subsequent recordings. I am affected by my past mostly as it has helped shape the lens through which I process and understand the world around me. The songs on Baptist Girls are kind of all over the map thematically, but I really wanted songs that sonically represented certain emotions that I was having and exploring.

As for the next few recordings I have coming up, I think you'll find those explorations and musings to sound much different.

Can you describe your musical background: when did you begin learning and playing music?

Scott: I grew up in a fairly musical family. My father (the preacher) was/is a great trumpet player and vocalist, and my mother (the saint) was/is a great pianist and vocalist. I mostly just sang growing up. I tried to play the French Horn for like 2 weeks which failed. The only instrument I played successfully in school was the timpani, which eventually led to one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.

I didn't pick up the guitar until my junior year of high school when I wanted something other than basketball to occupy my time. I didn't know how to talk to girls, and I thought that might help. It turns out that I still don't. But, the guitar ended up feeling like a very natural way to enhance the poetry I felt compelled to produce at the time.

Which artists, albums, live shows, experiences inspired you to seriously pursue music?

Scott: Hmm. There are few watershed records and shows: 

husband&wife and Away With Vega at The Old Louisville Coffeehouse and the post-show pizza party at my house showed me what it was like to actually tour and book shows. 

All of my Crossroads of America family and every XRA Fest.

Mount Eerie's Lost Wisdom changed the way I thought about song structure and harmony.

An open mic I went to every week at an Irish bar in Louisville back in the day forced me to produce continually, and hearing Jamie Barnes play forced me to write better songs.

Getting hipped to Elephant Micah showed me what it meant to write meaningful songs and how much work I still needed to do to get there.

Touring around the country multiple times has brought me into contact with a million folks who inspire me. A few of those artists/bands are: John Davey, Kalispell, The Daredevil Christopher Wright, Vollmar, We Are The Willows, The Seedy Seeds, Matt Duncan, Laura Balke, Golden Coins/Field Report, Molly Parden, Jared Bartman, Fred Thomas, Nathan K, and lots more.

When and how did you begin writing music? What were your experiences before Bro. Stephen?

Scott: The first song I wrote was after I learned two chords on the guitar. Every time I learned a chord I tried to write a new song with it. I recorded a couple terrible songs in high school, but those are hopefully all lost in time as they should be.

My first successful bout with recording was my band Chemic. I released a record in 2006-7 called Fever On The Forest Floor and that band lasted until about 2009, around the time Bro. Stephen started.

When did you begin writing as Bro. Stephen?

Scott: I had started writing a number of songs that didn't make sense for Chemic to perform and I really liked them. So, I kept writing as many songs as I could to explore that part of my songwriting id and eventually it started feeling cohesive and the song evolved into a form with shape. I didn't quite know what to make of it, but it felt like I was starting to express myself in ways I had never been able, so I kept at it.

Did you have a set direction for the material overall (that would ultimately accumulate to become Baptist Girls)?

Scott: Initially, there was no intention to make Baptist Girls. I was just trying to write a bunch of songs. But, as I said, a number of the songs felt like they fit together in a unique way and I went with it.

We (Mike Adams, Adam Jessup, and myself) recorded all of the base guitar and vocals in about 3 days at his grandpas farm in Northern Indiana so all the songs came together. I had just gotten off of a month-long tour so I was feeling good about the songs and recorded those parts live. The sonic scaffolding of the record didn't happen accidentally. Mike and I had many long conversations about each song and how we wanted each to sound.

Can you talk about recording the album in a chicken coop?

Scott: When I asked Mike to help record the record, he said he'd always wanted to record at his grandpas farm. His grandpa had a squat barn/old chicken coop that he'd cleaned up and put a couch, a wood-burning stove, a foosball table, and a dart board in. So, we just locked ourselves in there and I spent 3 days next to the stove setting everything I could into the fire.

How did you connect with Cheyenne Marie Mize and have her join you on the record?

Scott: I knew of Cheyenne's work because we were both in Louisville. She had worked with a couple local bands and put out an EP with Will Oldham (Among The Gold). I ran into her at SXSW in 2009 at a showcase and we just started chatting. If I remember correctly, she gave me her email address and was interested in singing with me. It ended up working out which was exciting and she's just the sweet and ridiculously talented and thoughtful so I'm glad it did.

I read on your Bro. Stephen Happenings blog that you are putting on shows at your home called "The General Store" (which has featured Richard Buckner, Advance Base, Kalispell, Cheyenne Marie Mize, and Telephobia). How and when did you decide to organize shows and events? What kind of impact have these experiences had on you (both as an organizer and songwriter)?

Scott: I lived on the road for a long time and didn't have my own place for over 3 years. Finally, after having a healthy stable job for 6 months, I found an new apartment. In my searching, it was important for me to find a place where I could have shows because I have benefitted from many people opening up their homes to me in the past.

I want to be able to do the same for my musical friends and family. Also, I wanted a space where I could bring the shows to Louisville that I want to see. Not everything makes sense to have in a club or bar.

Some of my favorite musical experiences of all time have been in someone's house. What a powerful concept to have someone invite strangers, friends and family into their home to collectively experience an artist who that person loves. Sharing the things you love with the people you love is one of life's greatest joys. It's definitely a selfish endeavor. It makes me feel good.

You have officially announced that Elephant Micah will be playing at The General Store. How did that come together? Do you know Joe O' Connell personally?

Scott: It came together very simply in that I proposed the idea to Joe and he agreed to it. I met Joe a few years back, and I was already a fan of his. He's a truly special artist that deserves so much more respect than is possible to get in this world. His music is very important to me.

Speaking of albums and artists that have been important to you, can you share some of your favorites?

Scott: Here's a few examples of music that inch me a little bit closer to transcendence:


Elephant Micah: Embarrassment of Riches, Hindu Windmills, Alsatian Sunlight, Exiled Magicians, Echoer's Intent, and all the rest.
Mount Eerie: Lost Wisdom
Frank Schweikhardt: Life But No More
Richard Swift: The Novelist
Loren Connors: Sails
Casiotone For The Painfully Alone: Vs Children
Low: Things We Lost In The Fire
My Morning Jacket: It Still Moves
Songs: Ohia: Ghost Tropic and Didn't It Rain
Bonnie "Prince" Billy: I See A Darkness 
Kathleen Edwards: Voyageur
Bill Callahan: Apocalypse
The Numero Group: Eccentric Soul releases
Spirit: I Got A Line On You
Jeff Buckley: Grace
And lots more.

What are some of your sources of non-musical sources of inspiration?

Scott: Some very important things to me: the WTF Podcast; conversations with my dear friend Sean Cannon; films by Bergman, Allen, David Gordon Green; books by Marquez, Milhauser, Larry Brown, Hemingway; friends who call me out on my nonsense, etc.

Can you discuss how your local community influences your work and what you find most rewarding about being connected within the Louisville community?

Scott: I am actually just beginning to feel connected to my local music community. That is completely my fault for not being involved more in the past. Louisville is easily one of the greatest cities in the world and it is blessed with a ridiculous amount of talent musicians. Everybody is doing their own thing which is great, but being surrounded by so much good work forces me never settle when it comes to my art. Community allows you to extend beyond your abilities. That's why it's so vital regardless of the context.

You have a number of upcoming projects on the horizon ("4 or 5 or 6" according to your blog). Are you at liberty to discuss further and share what you're currently working on?

Scott: I have a lot of songs written (40-50) that have yet to be recorded. There are a few chunks that are definitely linked and are organized into a couple different "albums" in my brain. I am going to record an EP in a couple weeks which is exciting and I am already prepping the next record which I'll hopefully record this spring. I'm trying to tackle one thing at a time. I'll be busy for awhile.

I know that we dug into your biggest influences already, but can you share some of what you have you been listening to lately?

Scott: Sure, lots of Radiolab podcasts, Gillian Welch, Elephant Micah's "My Cousin's King" (Louder Than Thou), Old Baby, Kurt Vile, Little Wings' Black Grass, etc.

What's next for you in 2013?

Scott: No touring plans at the moment considering that I have a very stable, wonderful, and supportive job. There will definitely be some shows and maybe a few short tours. I'm just waiting for the big money offers to start rolling in.

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