Sunday, December 22, 2013

Strange Appetites | An interview with Scout Paré-Phillips

Self Portrait by artist

Who is Scout Paré-Phillips?

I'm a musician and photographer from New York City, currently studying textiles and teaching. I'm in a band, The Sterling Sisters, but am currently focusing on writing a new full length record and single for Not Just Religious Music, a new label by Thomas Cowgill of King Dude. 

What was growing up like for you?

I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and attended school in the city, but actually didn't spend much time there. Both of my parents wanted me to grow up in nature. I spent most of my time in a tiny log cabin on an acre of land near Albany, New York, stealing peas from the vegetable patch, seeing how fast I could run on broken ground, and raising a litter of Jack Russell Terriers.

You have a strong educational background in Fine Art, Photography and Musical Composition. When did you discover you were creatively inclined and how did you decide which direction to follow?

I believe very strongly that everyone should pursue whatever talent is unique to them. If they are offering something that other people can do and are doing, they should venture further until they find something distinct to their ability. I'm an opera singer that grew up with her father playing country music alone on his guitar, songs of Roy Orbison, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Willy Nelson. I've always coexisted with a - long since retired - singer/songwriter in the house. Since before I can remember he was always yodeling the opening to Lovesick Blues somewhere in the background of every childhood memory I have. Not that I necessarily liked it at the time; I wasn't into country music for a long time, until much later in my life. In high school I started listening to some of it, but that's also when I started classically training my voice. That's when I really fell in love with playing music.

 I had always been in bands, but I was never a good player, although I could hold a tune on about a dozen instruments. When my voice started developing, I realized I had something that set me apart. That singer/songwriter backbone I had from my father started making everything come together. Initially, I thought I couldn't write songs for the Joy Division-esque band I was playing synth in at the time for that voice, so I started dabbling alone at home with my guitar. I wrote a full length album towards the end of high school that actually isn't all that bad, aside from it being a 16-year-old Scout whining about what she thought was the worst heartbreak in the history of the world. There was a moment where I wanted to go to conservatory after high school to study classical singing, but in the end I decided to go to school for photography, my other love. Being a part of the professional opera world was not an attractive life to me.

Photo by Røb Brulinski

Where do you draw inspiration from personally and professionally?

I'm still very young, and I think it is natural for young artists to work primarily autobiographically. Obviously, by working like that, artists cut their content short until they mature. A big part of making music for me is balancing disparate influences. For instance, I don't really think a lot of my friends would even be into my music, but then again I am also someone who primarily listens to post punk. These are songs that I write at my darkest moments in my bedroom, and perhaps my peers can only relate to them and be moved by them in their darkest moments alone in their bedrooms. That isn't something that bothers me; I embrace it. Even though this music might not be attractive to most of my friends, I would so much rather remain true to myself and my life. Ten times out of ten, if your music is genuinely coming from you, it's going to be better, no matter what the genre. 

There will never be a time when an affected intent isn't audible in the product. That said, yes, I love post punk, I love death rock, but my two biggest influences are probably Rowland S. Howard and Roy Orbison. Does my music sound like theirs? No, not at all. What do those two artists have in common? Probably nothing, aside from the heart wrenching raw emotion they were both so good at conveying. That's the thing I take away from most of the music I listen to in my personal life. I could only hope that other people hear something similar in my music. For my band, The Sterling Sisters, I would say The Gun Club, Nick Cave, 16 Horsepower, and then of course Slim Cessna's Auto Club and Munly were the biggest influences. It really helps me to have a band like that going on at the same time as having a solo project because I have an outlet to play and write louder, harsher music - music that I really love - that would be appropriate for all of my friends to listen to and enjoy, and perform at the same kind of shows I'm recreationally attending. I think that having something like that makes the music I write on my own even more honest because if I happen to write a rock song, it can just be played in The Sterling Sisters. I'm not about to have a rock band solo project, that's not something I'm interested in doing at the moment.

Not only are you an artist and photographer but you are also a model and an accomplished Musician. How do you juggle the different outlets and is there a particular avenue you prefer more than any of the others?

I certainly have a lot of characters I try to play, ha. Right now I am in musician mode. But it does get hard with how I allocate my time, when other mediums encroach. For instance I was just talking to TJ (King Dude) about touring schedules this summer and I have two solo photography shows I have to work on at Loppis Gallery in Italy right in between the European tour and the American tour. In the moments I have to prioritize, it requires a bit of detachment and foresight in order to really decide what matters to me most in my life at the moment.

You have played several times with Blood Axis, pioneers of what we know today as “neo-folk”, and you are playing an upcoming show this weekend with Blood Axis once again. Can you talk a bit about how you feel about that genre and do you think it's an appropriate label for your music?

I think that it's pretty clear that my music is quite removed from the kind of neofolk that was going on in the 80's. I am listening to it now, as are many of my friends, but I claim no real affiliation to the genre. I'm aware that today, thirty years later, my music has a lot of overlap with fans of Blood Axis and Death in June, etc. Maybe that's chance, or maybe it's because of who my music reached first, having been on a label like Pesanta Urfolk. I first met Blood Axis when I played Stella Natura for the first time in 2012, but they have been friends with Slim Cessna's Auto Club for decades and share a band mate. I look up to Annabel, as a pillar of light: an extremely strong female musician surrounded by men.

For those who haven’t heard your music before how would you describe it?

I think that people jump to categorize me as neofolk because they don't know what to think of my voice. 'It is strange, ethereal, she's strumming a guitar (or worse, an autoharp), this girl probably looks like an elf, sure, let's call it neofolk'. However I don't think what I'm doing is all that "neo" or new at all; I just think I was born sixty years too late. There used to be a vast selection of popular folk music sung by sopranos. Most people know Joan Baez, that's the sound I'm talking about. But there were dozens of women who proceeded her. I'm just playing folk music, but because it's 2013 it defaults into being neofolk.

There is a very distinct aesthetic to a lot of your artistic works. There is a strong feminine presence that is both aggressive and subtle as well as a sense of symmetry and control. How would you describe your work and can you explain the ideology and/or aesthetic nature that informs it?

I think that what strikes most people about my photographic work is the extremely limited palette; it seems to exist in a world where only white, black, and beige (and all the colors in between them) prevail. I think that initially came from getting interested in self portraiture photography when I first started studying it in high school. Those were the colors found on my own body, and the work started being about making or finding environments that complimented it. Since I was very young, I've always admired Diane Arbus' work. She was a master of putting the deepest psychological issues and quandaries at a surface level in a portrait, while remaining clean and subtle in the style of the imagery. That's who I was looking at for content years ago when I first started, although I have gotten starker and starker in my style of working in that span of time. My work is really about skin. In that regard, it is much more influenced by sex than say, my music, which is directly inspired by love. Our bodies are just tools that are consumable by others. I explore that appetite and dynamic in my images.

What music are you currently listening to and are there any artists audible, visual etc. that you find intriguing at the moment?

I don't listen to a lot of folk music in my personal life. I'm actually pretty new to it. I've recently discovered a German singer, Sibylle Baier, who I've been obsessed with for the past two weeks. She was recording demos in the 1970's, but her music wasn't discovered and released until a few years ago. Her album Colour Green is beautiful.

How do you approach each new project and is there a process that usually unfolds?

Right now, I'm putting together a whole new full length record. For me, working with a deadline to write a collection of music is very different from working on a photography commission because of how personal the work is. With my music, I sometimes feel like I am waiting for some conflict to inspire me. I write songs when I am moved by something so dramatically that melodies pour from my gut. In times between these events, I can be pretty dry. I'm someone that can sit down and write three songs in a few hours, but if you ask me to write something on the spot, will often come up dry. It is not because of a lack of skill; I've studied music for years and certainly possess the skills needed to churn out a bunch of "correct" little songs, but that's not the music I write. My music is simple, sonically speaking, so if I lack my emotive drive during the writing process, it will sound vapid. That raw emotion in my music is what a lot of people characterize as its darkness, in its otherwise very tonal environment. It's what makes it mine.

Aside from your creative and artistic pallet you are also quite the striking model/muse? What got you involved in modeling and fashion as such?

I haven't been involved in modeling in a professional regard for a few years. Sure, I get calls for castings, but I rarely get the jobs. I'm much more interested in being on the other side of the camera. My brother - who's over twenty years my elder - was a professional model and photographer for years, so I think growing up around him got me interested in that world.

Self Portrait by artist

Who would you say is your style personal icon?

Probably Ann Demeulemeester. If I could wear those clothes everyday I'd die happy. She is also a woman that has just carries herself so well. She is so simple and graceful, but striking.

What is it that you love most about being a woman and what do you admire in other women?

Our resilience. I think our ability as a gender to bounce back from hardship and recover goes widely unnoticed and is rarely praised. We're doing it everyday.

When no one is around what are you usually doing? Is there a public and private Scout?

Sure. If you see me out, I'm probably at a bar or a show wearing a bunch of black and leather. At home, most of the time, I'm just lounging around in bed with my two dogs playing guitar or editing something on the computer. The dogs rule the house. Occasionally my boyfriend will be there and he can lounge with us too, but usually, the dogs certainly rule my home life. As a person though, I certainly require a lot of alone time. This is pretty obvious from my music, but I often feel like I experience every emotion ten-fold. However, I'm very introverted so I need a lot of time to reflect and think about my life and the people in it in order to make sense of it all.

What's your take on life and what advice would give any of your fans?

It's nothing you haven't heard before…What I would hope people take away from knowing me and my art is simply to stay true to who you are in your expression, even if it pulls you in completely different directions artistically. Even if at times you feel spread thin, ultimately you will live a vastly more enriched life if you let yourself wander.