There are bands that take themselves too seriously, and then there is Southern Culture on the Skids. Never described as overwrought, the North Carolina trio has been making a good-timey blend of Dixie genres for more than 20 years now, and they’re coming to town on Saturday to brighten everybody’s day, er, evening. SCOTS will be at the Highdive for a 7:30 show, the Hillbilly Jones opens and tickets are $15, which may include fried chicken.
Guitarist/singer Rick Miller (he’s the one with the skinny goatee) chatted with Smile Politely the other day about their music’s pelvic component, Porter Wagoner, and why he doesn’t like emo. For more goofy goodness, check out the interview after the jump.
Smile Politely: So, you guys are about to head back out on the road?
Rick Miller: Doing our Midwest thing, get some bratwurst, spring onions, maybe a little summer sausage. We have a lot of fans in the Midwest that feed us. You gotta eat local.
SP: You probably have a hard time getting good bratwurst in North Carolina.
RM: It don’t happen. You’ve gotta import it.
SP: When was the last time you guys were through Champaign?
RM: It was a long time ago. It was quite a while ago, man. We had a great time, though. I think we’re playing the same place. Is it called the Highdive?
SP: Yep, it’s a great room. How would you describe your live show?
RM: It’s solid rock and roll. It gets movin’ and keeps going, and the crowds gets into it and it gets pretty lively. It’s good music to have a drink to. I tell you what, there’s so many people that have met and gotten married at our shows. We always get a couple requests to do wedding receptions a year for people that have met at our shows, so it’s good for relations. Everything helps, right? So, you might get lucky at one of our shows, because the music has kind of a pelvic thing going on, gets you moving in the right direction. But that’s the way we like it. Sometimes there’s some fried chicken for the people that are hungry at the end of the show, you never know. You just never know what’s going to happen. It’s like a chemistry experiment. Rock ‘n roll plus beer plus a bunch of people, you know what I mean? Equals who knows what.
SP: You’ve got to keep it undefined.
RM: That’s right. We’re scientists.
SP: How did SCOTS get started?
RM: We began when we were all in college at the University of North Carolina. We were just looking for something to do where we could score some beer, meet some girls and have fun. I mean, literally, that’s how it started. And it kind of took off, and I found that I liked writing songs, and it was fun playing a guitar, and it kind of all went from there. We’ve always kind of done our own thing, I wouldn’t say that we’re really aligned with anything from Chapel Hill like, you know, Superchunk or anything. But we’ve just kind of alway done our own thing, and taken it on the road. Now we’ve got our own studio, so we’ve got a means of our own production, so that’s the story. The way we got the name was kind of interesting. I was listening to a cassette of some rock ‘n roll, Johnny Burnett and the Rock ‘n Roll Trio, and it shut off and it was on that tape monitor thing, and somebody flipped it to the radio, and it was the end of an REM song, and I remember the DJ going, “That’s the sound of the South, the new sound of the South.” And I was like, “Dude, if that’s the new sound, I preferred it when it was on the skids.” And my roommate was like, “That’s a good name for a band, man, that would really piss some people off.” And we just started with it, and good grief, it’s lasted twenty-some years.
SP: It gives you a good sense of place.
RM: Yeah, and if I need to write a new song, a lot of times I can just take a drive, you know, 30 minutes from my house, come back and I’ve got enough for a couple songs. You know, we’ve got to flesh them out and stuff, but it’s inspiring to me to drive around. I do a lot of my meditation behind the wheel.
SP: That’s cool. Do you ever get a hard time from people around there that think you’re making fun of them?
RM: Nah, not really. I think Southerners have a pretty good sense of humor about themselves and about how other people relate to them. It’s a pretty nice place to live, pretty casual. People have got a good sense of humor. Besides, it’s not mean-spirited. We’re not calling anybody dumb, we’re just doing our thing, you know, we’re celebrating Southern culture, because a lot of it is just getting eroded away. Everywhere’s like that.
SP: What do you think the reason for that is?
RM: Just more people from other places, and it’s just getting more modernized and stuff, cable television. I don’t know, but it is. It’s getting more like anywhere else, really. Every place is. Every place is.
SP: Yeah, it seems like any suburban place looks like any other suburban place.
RM: Yeah, exactly. The malls and the strip malls, you know. You can go to the mall in Sacramento, you can go to the mall in Fort Lauderdale, you go to a mall in Champaign, you can go to a mall in Raleigh, North Carolina, you’ll see the kids with the same haircuts and people listening to the same stuff. You know what I mean? It’s just very pervasive, I guess.
SP: I would describe your band as quite unique. Do you have any other musicians that you run across that you feel a kinship with?
RM: Oh yeah, all the time. I think the band we’re playing with there is some friends of ours. You know, it’s funny man, I like roots music, but I like it a little bit weird. I don’t like it to be more revisionist rather than revivalist. And any bands like that, I kind of dig, you know? And we have a lot of bands we love playing with, and I’m always interested in new bands, because I have a studio, and I end up recording a lot of young bands. It’s pretty cool what some of the young bands are into. I’m not big on the real mopey stuff, you know?
RM: You know what I mean, like that emo rock stuff. It’s just like, dude, you’re 22, have a good time. Wait till you’re my age, man, it ain’t that much fun. You think you got to work on having a good time.
SP: It seems like if you can have a good time doing what you’re doing, that’s 90 percent of it.
RM: That’s more than 90 percent of it, man, a satisfied mind.
SP: I was just listening to that song a couple of days ago.
RM: Yeah, that’s a great one. I love Porter Wagoner’s version. I love the Byrds’ version, too.
SP: Does Porter Wagoner still tour through North Carolina?
RM: No, he just passed away not too long ago (Ed.: nice one, Joel). I remember watching his TV show as a kid. My dad would watch Porter Wagoner and the Wilburn Brothers. He was on every Saturday evening, a lot of Hee Haw growing up, things like that. My dad loved all that stuff.
SP: Yeah, I’m from Iowa, we got the Hee Haw end of things, but I don’t think Porter Wagoner’s show was on when I was a kid.
RM: Yeah, that was when there was real independent stations, you know. A lot of it was so regional. And that was great though. Like I say, it had the flavor, the regional flavor.
SP: You don’t see that much anymore. Anybody that anybody thinks is any good is all of a sudden everywhere (in retrospect, I have no idea what this means).
RM: No, and I think that’s where we come from, too in Southern Culture on the Skids, and a little bit tongue-in-cheek there, too. We’re kind of exploring and celebrating the unexplored aspects of where we’re from, and the people, and all that stuff. It’s great fun. I enjoy it.
SP: How do you feel about alt-country? Do you guys put yourself under that umbrella?
RM: Nah. I listen to some of it, but I always figure, alt-country, I can’t really figure out the alt-country thing, you know? It’s like most of the people that I know that are alt-country, aren’t really country, you know what I mean? It’s kind of a weird thing, I don’t know. Anyway, I don’t consider us alt-country. That alt-country stuff’s kind of boring to me, anyway, at least live, you know? Some of it’s good, some of it just kind of lays there, like an old girlfriend. Not of lot left, time for something new. You know it’s time for something new when it just lays there.
SP: Did you have anything you wanted to tell the people of Champaign? I’m kind of out of material here.
RM: No, man, I just want ‘em to come out, have a good time. I’d just like to see ‘em all.
Here’s the video for “Camel Walk,” probably SCOTS’ best-known song.