Red Wanting Blue will be headlining the final Songwriters In The Park show on Friday, August 24 in Red Bank, NJ. They'll also be returning to their regular haunt, The Saint in Asbury Park, on October 14. Led by lead singer Scott Terry, the band is fresh off their network television appearance on The David Letterman Show. I was able to catch up with Terry, a former Jersey boy from Moorestown, as he drove his band's tour bus across Indiana for a gig in Indianapolis. We fought bad cell phone connections and racing truck drivers, but managed to talk about a ton of things.
This is part 1 of the interview where we discuss the Letterman appearance and the frustration of the struggling years: the years when a band is seemingly on the break of hitting it big.
For those of us who have followed Red Wanting Blue for a while, it's nice to see the band finally getting some breaks. Tell me about your appearance on David Letterman. What was that like?
Oh man, that was nuts. It was a great experience. We had a lot of lead up time -- more time than I thought we would. I always thought that kind of stuff was booked relatively quickly, but we had a couple of months' notice, which was great because we were able to build a story up about it. It let us get a lot of people's attention -- those who would otherwise say, "Yeah, I know that band". Suddenly, everyone does a double take. They're like, "David Letterman? Holy shit!"
The show was great. The staff was amazing. They were really professional, great to work with. We had a great time. They were really nice to us. We never got a chance to meet David beforehand. He's not actually there for the rehearsal; he watches it on a screen, so we didn't get a chance to meet him until the world watched us meet him on the show. We had heard that he can be kind of cold if he doesn't like the band, but with us he was very nice. He offered Dean money for his drums!
Did he talk to you guys after the show?
He gets out of there pretty quick. We spoke to him for a moment and then he was off, but he was very gracious and his staff was great. They let us stick around there. Audience members who wanted to come up and say hello were allowed to come up. I thought that was a really nice gesture. So, fans and people who came far distances just to be in the audience for our show were able to get photos with us on stage. I got to sit at the desk with the band and took some photos. They even gave us the cue cards that said, "This next band is from Columbus, Ohio making their national debut with us."
Very cool. Did anyone pull out an impression of Ed Sullivan saying, "And now... right here on this stage... Red Wanting Blue?"
(Laughs) No, but the whole time we were there we were all walking around kind of quietly enamored of the fact that this is the studio that the Beatles played in. This is the stage where the Ed Sullivan show took place. It was really something else.
It was cold in that theater though, no joke. It was like a meat locker. Dean said it was 48 degrees in that studio. I guess Letterman does that because he doesn't want to sweat or have his guests sweat. But the experience was great and we had such tremendous support there. I couldn't believe how many people in the audience were fans of our band. The staff actually told us that they were very happy with us. They said they were surprised by how many people in the audience came to see us. Typically they said nobody cheers beforehand except when they hit the applause button. And they don't get the kind of response we got unless it's someone huge like U2.
Letterman is obviously shot in New York City and you're originally from New Jersey. How cool has it been for you to have your parents not only be able to catch your shows in the area, but watch as the band develops a solid following in their backyard over the years?
Its been really, really awesome. When you go after this kind of work, it's definitely not the road to making lots of money. There's a part of me -- though I know this is what I was meant to do and what I love doing -- there's always a part of you that would love to make your family proud. My parents are super supportive and very proud, but I think about them bumping into the parents of kids that I grew up with at the grocery store in the town that I grew up in. I imagine its like, "Oh really, your son is a dentist now, that's wonderful. He's married too? Just moved into a new house and has three kids now? Wow, that's really great. Well, Scott's still in the band, not married, no kids, and still playing music."
Sometimes I feel like I really want to do well for them so they understand that their son is doing this because he loves it and it's what he was meant to do, he didn't screw up, he didn't make a mistake. It's not a mistake for him to keep playing. He does what he does very well. This Letterman thing has been sort of the cherry on top of building our fan base along the East Coast where I grew up originally. We're at the point where we've had publications write about us lately -- suddenly, everyone in the town that I grew up in is aware of Red Wanting Blue, who we are, and what I've done. That makes me very happy on a personal level. And it makes me happy to reach out to music lovers out there with the hope they can make a connection with the band and become fans. It's been very rewarding.
That frustration definitely comes across in many of your lyrics. I used to think it was largely the frustration of the music industry, but it seems like a lot of it might be personal frustration as well.
Yeah, I think it's a little bit of everything; it's not just any one thing.
[Hang on for one second Gary because I want to give you my full attention, but there's a semi that's right next to me trying to do battle with me on speed. He's not faster than me, but he's trying to be. I just want to get over and get out of his way... Oh my God, what is this fuckin' guy doing? Get away from me dude!]
It's a little bit of everything. Those songs are written about the frustration of having to try to fit into a mold. I think there are a lot of options for people in this day and age. There are a bunch of different jobs out there, a lot of things people can do. I think it's a very brave thing to know what you want to do, find what you're passionate about, and go after it. That has so much to do with the name of the band and what I was about from the very beginning. The name of the band means going after something that you are not designed to be. Take primary colors, one will not be the other. But it's our human condition to fight and to try anyway; it's what got us to walk on the moon and touch the bottom of the sea. It's that type of perseverance and stubbornness like man was not born with wings, but we're going to learn how to fly anyway because we're passionate about it. It's how I feel that you're only on this planet once, if you're passionate and know what you want to do, you should go and do that and that should make you successful. It should make every day of your life worth living because you enjoy what it is you do. And if you can figure out a way to make money off of it and be financially secure in the process than that's the ultimate bonus.
Far too often I feel like people are stuck doing things that they have to do. Whether that means they say, "Well, we got married too soon and had kids too early and now even though I want to be a race car driver I have a family and have to focus on them." There are just so many obstacles out there. Too often people are doing something that they have to do as opposed to something that they want to do.
I've heard you use a term that I often use; you've called yourself a "Lifer" with regards to being a musician. I'm a lifer in the publishing game. It's always good to be doing what you feel you were meant to do and I applaud you for following your dreams.
Everyone has a different idea of what success is. For me, the biggest thing is that I know this is what I love to do. Songs like "Finger In The Air" or even the track in These Magnificent Miles that says "I don't want to hear it"... I know I write about that kind of stuff a lot because these are the struggling years, not just for me but I think for everybody. And especially for people my age, the early 30-somethings. We're all trying to figure out how to live in America in the 21st Century. I think everyone has these feelings. Maybe I feel the desperation and the temptation because I don't personally have the emotional weight of having a family waiting to have food on the table or children waiting on me to dress them and send them to school. The band and I have put that off for a different time in the future when we can have families and raise kids.
We always feel like we're sort of on the brink... where you're so close you can taste it. And that just makes you work harder. It's like you're almost there and you're always working. We always seem to be three-quarters of the way across the lake.
I think you really get a sense of that struggle in your songs, but a song like "Walking Shoes" seems somewhat optimistic to me. It talks about the struggle, but sort of looks forward to the future as well with lines like, "We are cursed to be travelers in search of fame, so when we hit the Hollywood hills we're gonna scream our names, hoping one day it will echo".
Yeah, but that song is bittersweet man. It really is. The line, "when I see your dog smile, I cry inside a little but its just so much to touch, but never enough to hold." That's very much how we live. It hurts me to know that we can't have a dog. We've even talked about it. "How cool would it be to have a dog on tour?" Yeah, it would be great, but it wouldn't be right for the dog. That song, in particular, was kind of inspired by my buddy John's dog named Daisy. He showed up at our show in D.C. and he was like, "hey, come over and say hi to Daisy, I've got to drop her off at my sister's before the show." I was like, oh man; you brought your dog with you. Oh God, that's so cool. I miss having -- those are the types of things that make a home a home: having plants in your windows, a dog and life in your house when you're not there... It's like that's so nice. We don't get that stuff. These are the kinds of sacrifices you make when you're on the road.
So, the song is kind of bittersweet. It's like I love your dog, I wish I could have my own, but I can't. There are definitely pros and cons to this job. "Pour It Out" is a song that's not really like a "Finger In The Air" kind of song. The sentiment behind that song... there's far more optimism in "Pour It Out" than I think people sometimes want to give it credit for having. I feel -- and I have felt over the years -- that there has been a bubbling, a percolating of this band slowly but surely over the last few years. We've noticed that we're starting to be received on a national level and that's why I titled the record, From The Vanishing Point because we've been on the road so long. The title of that record actually was a tip of the cap to Bruce (Springsteen). I originally wanted to call the record, Greetings From The Vanishing Point but that seemed a little cheesy. It's just that we've been living on the road for so long that it's the home we've known the most out of the last 15 years.
"Pour It Out" to me is almost like a sequel of so many of your songs that serve as reminders for bands to keep going. The line "you've got to take it town to town" is like an extension of the line in "Where You Wanna Go" that says "you can't be in the circus if you don't want to leave town."
One of the reasons I ended the album with "Pour It Out" is because I wanted the record to go out on a high note and, more importantly, because the last album ended with "The Band". There are a lot of people out there buying albums that don't listen to the whole record. They may listen to a couple of songs or make it through the entire record a few times, but that's it. Musicians are usually the ones listening to Side B. Musicians know you've got to top load the record with the songs you think will be more commercial and the more AOR and album styled music will go on the back half.
"The Band" was a musicians' song. That was a song for other guys in bands. "Pour It Out" is also very much a song for other guys in bands because we know a lot of bands that go out there and do what we do and try really hard. But we also know a lot of bands that don't do it. You run into people who are friends and it's like your band is great, but you've got to get out there. You've got to get out and let people know who you are. You can't just sit around in your basement trying to write a hit song and hope that the world discovers you that way. Even if you did write that hit song, who's ever going to hear it? No one's going to find you, you have to go out and meet people more than halfway. You have to find fans and make people listen to you.
It takes a very long time. Here we are, after all this time, just starting to get some of this country's attention. And that's with us going out playing 150 shows a year for however many years we've been doing this. That's why the song says, "It's not enough to make it up, you've got to take it town to town" because you can't just sit in your basement, record your shit, and be like ‘come check out my song' -- you've got to get out there and prove that you've got something worth singing about and worth listening to.
Are the things happening to the band now -- the David Letterman appearance, the festivals, Rock Boat show, Superbowl Village show, etc. -- are these things you always thought would happen if you just stuck it out?
Yeah, I guess to some degree. I think musicians are all romantics; we're all working our hardest because we think that tomorrow may never come. It's in our nature. And I certainly think that I'm more of an optimistic romantic. We've stuck around for so long because I really believe we're going to turn a corner. After 2,000 corners, we're going to turn the right corner and have things start going our way and reach a tipping point. It'll either be that or it's going to be really clear that this is not what we're supposed to be doing. But over the years there's just been too many small signs saying ‘don't give up, you guys are doing the right thing, don't give up.' So, we feel like we're here, we've put all of our money on the table and hoping that some luck will start coming our way.
Do you think that staying in Columbus, Ohio has helped you? Has it actually been more of a benefit that if you had moved to say New York or L.A.?
Yeah, I think so. One of the things I learned early on is that bands only seem to survive on the coasts. Bands will live in the big city and tour up and down the coast, but when they try touring across America it's like shooting to get over. A lot of bands will say that touring the country is really hard. Many just can't find a way to make it work, they can't survive in the fly over states -- Middle America.
We always thought that if you can make it work out here, you ought to be able to make it work anywhere; if you can build an audience and be successful out in the middle of America, you should be able to take on the coasts at some point. We're a bit of an anomaly that way. Most bands can't survive in the middle, we've not only survived here for a long time but we're starting to do well on the East Coast. The West Coast is still a little far for us. Once the price of gas went up a few years ago we had to reconsider our efforts in going out there because everything is just so far apart. But I'm excited that we're going to be getting out there again soon.
Is your record label ok with you staying in Ohio?
Yeah. The fact is that we're on the road so much and because of my personal relationship -- Jenna (Scott's girlfriend) lives in New York -- so, we're out there quite a bit.
I think the label sees our story and understands it to be a very unique story and the label is young enough and believes in us. The rules to this industry are being changed and rewritten every day, so who's to say that we're doing something the wrong way or the right way?
One thing I've noticed over the years is how the band has been great in building a brand identity. From fantastic packaging with the CDs to turning each stage into your own personal home, you do things that make people remember the band. What would you say to an indie artist about how to build an identity? Did your identity just transform over time or was this planned out to a degree?
Well, I think that goes back to what we talked about earlier about being a lifer. I think the development of your own personality and your own branding comes out of necessity at some point. If I was talking to an indie band I would say just be honest and forget about trying to be cool. I'd be lying if I didn't say that for years it was very important for the band and the people around the band to think about being cool. But in the end, you've just got to be yourself.
Speaking of being yourself, is it true that you're really rocking an 8-track player?
Oh yeah, absolutely!
When did you pick that up? I'm a few years older than you and it was before my time.
Well, my parents always had vinyl and I think later on had tape cassettes, but they also had 8-track tapes. I remember being a little kid -- maybe between the ages of four and seven -- and just staring at the Kiss Destroyer 8-track tape cover and being fascinated by it and remember listening to old Barry Manilow on 8-track. People listen to vinyl differently than they listen to an mp3 player or CD. It's interesting and something that really fascinates me. If you put an 8-track player in your kitchen -- unless you're running through something like a best of the 70s compilation -- you're going to listen to a whole record while you're washing the dishes. You'll listen to an entire record by The Carpenters or a whole Doobie Brothers album. You can't change it, all you can do is pump it to the next track or next program of songs; the technology gave you no choice but to actually invest in the music. So, you're going to listen to even more of it than you thought you would. It's the same with vinyl. People will listen to the entire Side A at one time. Yes, you can listen to just one song and change the album, but a lot of people will simply listen to the whole thing. We don't really do that anymore. People will listen to a track and then move to a different song or different artist. I actually think the 8-track player may be one of the best designs, because it never stops.
For me, knowing that when the new Loggins & Messina came out people were listening to it on one of two ways is important. I think it's important as a musician and a songwriter to not only listen to the songs that your forefathers wrote, but to listen to them on the machines they expected people to listen them on. It's kind of funny that nowadays, when people get done recording their record they're not burning a disc and putting it in their car to hear how it sounds they're putting it on the computer to hear how it sounds on laptop speakers because chances are most people will be listening to it that way.
If you buy Red Wanting Blue album on vinyl, it comes with a download car so you can download the tunes and put them on your phone. The record will sound a hell of a lot different through headphones on your phone than it does when you put that vinyl on to the crappy mono speaker record player that you got in elementary school -- the little carrier one. Try listening to the song "Walking Shoes" on that crappy record player... it's actually my favorite way to hear the song!
I love that you guys are putting out vinyl, any plans for an 8-track?
Oh, I've looked into it. There's a place in Florida that will re-spool them. I've found some really great 8-track tapes on eBay. But what sucks is that sometimes they get old and dry out, so you may be totally digging the 8-track and after you play it through once it'll just snap on you. I had a Jackson 5 Greatest Hits and Carole King's Tapestry bust on me. My favorites right now are two I found on eBay: The Last Waltz Part 1 and 2 and Simon and Garfunkel's Concert In Central Park.
Those two were great concert moments for sure. You had a rather special concert moment show up on the recent "Live At City Winery" disc when your girlfriend was kind of dragged on stage to help you with "Step Right Up". How did she like turning up on the disc?
I got seriously grilled for that one! Yeah, she was not prepared for that, but I knew she was going to do great and she did. Afterwards, she was like ‘Why didn't you tell me? We should have practiced. If you told me and we practiced, I would have been so much better.' I'm like, if you went up there and really acted like you knew what you were doing it would not have been as awesome. The magic of that moment was that you were scared and nervous and didn't know what you were doing and it sounded great!
That's what we're always looking for. If you're a music listener that's listening for perfection and you're listening for flawless perfection, I don't know if we'll ever be the band for you. We're always looking to find a moment, coddle it, and turn it into something that can really be remembered. For me, that's the best thing in the world.
L-R: Scott Terry, Mark McCullough, Greg Rahm, Eric Hall Jr., Dean Anshutz. Photo Credit: Jenna Pace.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.