Scott Bruce is a highly connected advocate for the arts in Chattanooga. Given his friendly demeanor and plethora of connections in town, he has become a valuable asset to know, while also being approachable.
While serving the local community at his day job at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank full time, he also serves as a director on the Board of SoundCorps, chairs the Programs Committee for SoundCorps, writes a monthly music column in Chatter Magazine, hosts a monthly radio show on WUTC, serves on the Nightfall selection committee, co–founded Magic Birds, an Americana band, and founded and hosts Scenic City Showcase, a quarterly songwriters–in–the–round series at Barking Legs Theater.
What are some of your earliest music memories?
Scott: My parents primarily listened to country music, so as a kid I remember singing along to "On the Road Again" by Willie Nelson and "Elvira" by The Oak Ridge Boys. I think my parents picked up pretty early on that I loved music. I sang at church, around the house, in the car. I remember when my dad brought me home my first vinyl record, which was Thriller by Michael Jackson. I loved that album, although I remember Vincent Price's part on the song “Thriller” scaring the crap out of me!
Whose music inspires you?
Scott: That's a tough question. I am a music nerd and I love all types of music. Although I grew up on country from the 80's and early 90's, I got into rap and hip-hop in middle and high school. I got into grunge later in high school in the mid to late 90's. I also sang in church so I really like southern gospel music. In college, I delved into 70s rock-n-roll, bluegrass and jambands. After college, I got into singer-songwriters and indie rock, both which I still love. Today I am really into Americana music, which is the type of music my band, Magic Birds, creates.
Over the past few years, I've begun to admire a lot of the country artists that are bringing back that classic or outlaw sound that is completely lost in mainstream country. So overall, you’ve asked a tough question. I still love all of the genres mentioned, but I guess Americana and classic country is really what inspires the music I write these days. I played in a few bands over the years, but the music I create now in Magic Birds feels more natural to me.
How did you get involved with SoundCorps?
Scott: I had actually been approaching people about starting something in the same vein as SoundCorps, right about the time SoundCorps was all coming together. I was a part of the Chattanooga Music Council, which was a group of leaders in the music community that was putting together ideas that eventually led to SoundCorps. It has been a while since we had last met, and I was getting anxious to keep it going. When I found out about SoundCorps starting, I approached [executive director] Stratton Tingle and expressed my eagerness to be a part of what he was working on. Stratton and I knew each other at the time, but not very well. I think he realized that I was very passionate about building the Chattanooga music economy, and I also think he realized he was going to have a hard time telling me no. I had been a songwriter for a while, been in bands, booked a music venue in the past, had been a booking agent in Atlanta and had been on the board of another Chattanooga nonprofit, also serving as the chair of their Programs Committee. I wanted this opportunity and I am grateful that he allowed me to be a part of this.
Can you tell me more about Magic Birds? What prompted you to start this band? What projects are you guys currently working on?
Scott: Ben Ezell and I met when he and my wife Mary worked together as teachers. This particular school they worked at did not have classes on Friday, so the teachers got together on most Thursday nights. It was a tight-knit little family. Ben and I had previous conversations about music and we figured out that we were both Radiohead fans. When the teachers were over at my house one night, I gave Ben my guitar and we proceeded to play the Radiohead song "Lucky" together. It was a lot of fun and I proposed that we should try to get together again and learn some other covers. We found playing other people's songs was a little tough for us. It has been at least 10 years since I had last been in a band, but I had still been writing songs over those years. Most of them were just in my head. So, we decided to try and finish a few of those songs. It felt natural and I soon started writing more songs for us.
Eventually, we started testing these songs on friends. After some good feedback from them, we were encouraged to try a few open mics at Tremont Tavern and the old Camp House location. We then took a break from that, finished 9 songs and got our friend Kan Munson to record them for us. When we finished the recording, we came up with the name Magic Birds, launched a website, a facebook page and launched The Music of Benjamin Bruce to the public in May of 2015. We have been playing those songs for anyone that will listen for the last 2 years, along with a few covers and a few new songs we have written since then.
We play live in Chattanooga about once a month, on average. We have also played in Atlanta, Greenville and Anderson, SC and in the nearby cities of South Pittsburg and Whitwell. We are currently in the studio working on our next album with our friend Nick Lutsko. Where our first album was very stripped down with just acoustic guitar, vocals and harmonica (which is what you see when you see us live), this new album will have a full band sound. Nick is playing a lot of instruments on it, and we are also bringing in some guest musicians as well. We have already finished one song that features Danimal Pinson on the lap steel guitar, and we have plans for Randy Steele to come in and play banjo on a few tunes. We have a lot of fun and we are very eager for people to hear what we are working on. We have no timetable for this release, but hopefully by either the end of the year or the first of 2018.
What prompted you to write music articles and features for the Times Free Press and WUTC respectively?
Scott: When I first started working at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2010, I always thought that Chatter Magazine should have a monthly music department. They would feature music from time to time, but not on a regular basis. Although I was a manager in the advertising department, I had always enjoyed writing. After I had been there for about a year or so, I pitched my music column idea to them. They let me do it and the rest is history. They still let me write it even though I left the TFP in Nov of 2016 to be the Director of Marketing & Communication for the Chattanooga Area Food Bank. I left on great terms and still have a lot of friends there.
At the bottom of the column each month, I include a playlist of 16 songs. These are new songs that has recently been released, mixed in with a few songs of artists that are coming to Chattanooga to perform that month. I started creating the playlists on YouTube, then eventually switched over to Spotify. I then shared them each month from my facebook page. However, I put a lot of effort into these playlists and I really wasn't sure if they were reaching the masses, so about a year ago, I approached folks at WUTC about playing the playlist on the radio. Richard Winham initially let me come on his daily show one day and try it out. After that show, I was offered a regular spot; the 2nd Sunday of each month at 8pm. The best part about it is that Richard still joins me every single month on this show. It is a lot of fun and I really enjoy it. We play the songs and Richard and I banter back and forth about the songs and artists. Overall, I am truly grateful for both opportunities!
What advice do you have for those who want to pursue music (as a performer, technician, etc.) as a full time career?
Scott: Figure out exactly what you want to do and take it very seriously. Treat it like a business. If you don't handle the business aspect of it, then you need to have someone on your team that you trust and that will do that for you. But you still need to be involved in the business, especially in the early stages. It is fun, but it is definitely not easy. Even though I'm heavily involved in this industry, I still do it on the side. I take it very seriously, but it is a hobby for me. I tried to be a booking agent in the past, but I realized that keeping it as my hobby allowed me to enjoy it more.
A career in the music business is definitely not for everyone. I am not saying that you shouldn't try it. If you don't try, you may always regret not trying. But if you do, please prepare for struggles. What you normally see and hear are people that are somewhat succeeding. What you do not see is all of the people that have failed. I have seen way too many amazing musicians fail. The music industry is a big risk...it could result in big reward, but you have to take it seriously. If you are talented enough, treat it like a business and put in hard work, you will have a much better chance. It's hard for me to really give advice since I don't do it full-time myself, but from what I have witnessed, that's the best advice I have!
Photo Credit: Cinnamon Oak Photography