That Philly band Scantron is still a band at all is surreal to everyone involved with the project.
What began as a low-fi bedroom side project for James Everhart and Will Donnelly has persevered for the better half of a decade. Along the way, the duo crisscrossed the country as members of Low Cut Connie, often opening for themselves and winning over audiences to Everhart’s garage-infused power-pop cuts backed by Donnelly’s booming percussion. A rotating cast of characters – bassist Lucas Rinz, keyboardist Jared Loss, and longtime sideman George M. Murphy – would join in whenever possible, each adding their own brand of charm to the sound.
Over time, the band stumbled their way into relative success: syncs on network TV and Netflix, amassing a deep back-catalog of sonic nuggets and snagging coveted supporting spots on bills with their favorite bands. Recently, Scantron was named 93.3 WMMR’s Jaxon’s Local Shot Artist of the Month for April. Every Wednesday this month at 6:30 pm, their songs will be played on the station.
“All of us grew up listening to WMMR, this means a lot to the whole band. It’s like a badge of honor. We’re stoked to be chosen and can’t wait to listen!” Murphy said.
Everhart adds, “WMMR was the soundtrack to my childhood and being on the station is a great hometown honor!”
In the summer of 2018, Everhart hit a wall. Six years on the road weighed heavily on his psyche; he was recently married and burned out on the grind of touring. He made the challenging decision to leave Low Cut Connie and return home to Philadelphia.
Later that fall, he found himself reinvigorated, working through a new batch of songs that expressed the hurricane of feelings he was still weathering. The addition of drummer Robb Matthews and the return of bassist Tyler Yoder added a heavy depth to the band’s live shows.
Traditionally, Scantron’s recordings were the product of midnight tinkering in unlikely places, with Donnelly playing mad scientist over a cobbled-together Eclectica of equipment. It wasn’t uncommon for months – sometimes years – to pass between sessions on the same song. With “Electric City,” the band took over Port Richmond’s Drowning Fish Studio for a tour-de-force weekend capturing the energy of the band in a live room setting.
The sessions saw Donnelly return to the engineering helm, assisted by Davis M. Shub (Grave Bathers, The Bad Larrys). The release was mixed in Memphis by Adam Hill (Big Star, Deer Tick, Low Cut Connie) and mastered in Joshua Tree by Charlie Stavish (Jenny Lewis, Starcrawler, Ryan Adams).
“Scantron is always fighting an uphill battle,” explains Everhart. “We’ll probably never release a full-length album. We love to follow the script of the old single-slinging of the ’50s and ’60s – short, hot bursts of music with no in-between, no fluff.”
PW recently caught up with Everhart to talk about the band’s success and what’s ahead.
How is the band weathering the virus outbreak? Have the restrictions had an impact on live performances?
Basically, we are in hibernation and writing mode. Just like everyone, we have a handful of very exciting local shows mapped out for the spring, however, we are scrambling to reschedule them. Since we are not a band that tours heavily anymore, many venues are giving preference to filling all of the most recent slots with touring acts. I suspect it will be difficult for local bands to fill their show quota, so we’re going to use this time to practice, write and stay safe.
If you choose to produce standalone singles, you have to certainly focus on writing hooks and material that will keep people constantly engaged. Once you get enough singles – then release the “Greatest Hits” on a 12″ and call it a day.– Scantron’s James Everhart
How has being from Philadelphia influenced your music? Are there Philly musicians and bands who have been especially influential?
I toured as the lead guitarist with a minor songwriting role in Low Cut Connie in their seminal years from 2012-2018. In that time, I realized how special it was to be from Philadelphia. I noticed that no matter where we went, people always had something nice to say about the city – especially people who were into soul and rock and roll. I always gravitated towards the dirtier DIY garage and power pop scene of Memphis, and I like to think Philadelphia’s mentality is very similar.
When I was coming up as a guitar player, my ear was tuned towards bands that focused very heavily on utilizing the studio in a very pure and organic way – relying on musicianship and listening. Dr. Dog was always a big influence locally. Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to share the stage and steal licks from some of my favorite local bands like Roger Harvey and The Highlifers, Karl Blau, The Dawn Drapes, Pine Barons, Kirby Sybert, The Whips, and Ali Awan, who I sometimes fill in for on guitar. I also absolutely love The Tough S**ts.
Scantron’s EPs are kind of a throwback to the days when all albums consisted of songs that could stand alone as singles instead of having an underlying theme. Why are you attracted to this style of album?
I am attracted to this style of album simply because my attention span cannot create a long, thought-out concept record. My creativity comes in quick sprints and disappears just as quickly. I think people’s attention spans are also just not equipped for true LPs anymore. I’d rather just keep the tunes coming one-by-one rather than sitting on a “masterpiece” for two years only to find out that once I’ve released it, it’s not relevant anymore.
With that being said, if you choose to produce standalone singles, you have to certainly focus on writing hooks and material that will keep people constantly engaged. Once you get enough singles – then release the “Greatest Hits” on a 12″ and call it a day.
It’s an exciting time for you, with a recently released EP and single, and being named the Local Shot Artist of the Month at WMMR. How has the new music been received by your fans? What’s the feedback been from the WMMR exposure?
I am thankful to have been able to bring Scantron’s music around the country a few times and even more thankful that the friends I’ve made along the way have stuck with me even after I decided to leave Low Cut Connie. The new EP was a delight to make, and it was even better when I would receive messages from friends across the country about it. It was a nice portal to connect with people I haven’t spoken to in a while.
Being named the WMMR local artist in the month of April is wonderful – I would imagine that a ton of people are listening to their radios while they kill time waiting for the quarantine to lift, and I’m happy to be their soundtrack. I grew up listening to Y100 and WMMR off of an old clock radio in my bedroom – I think 11-year-old me would be just as stoked as 31-year-old me.
What’s ahead for Scantron – once the virus passes? New music and live performances? How can people stay up-to-date with what you are doing?
I am busily trying to reschedule some missed dates – though we are looking forward to a few gigs that are set in stone further down the line. Currently, we are busy writing new material for another EP, and I am also training up a new eight-piece psych folk ensemble, Cosmic Guilt.
The best way to stay up-to-date with Scantron and our little song factory is either via my Instagram @jimmyscantron or the band’s page @scantrontheband. We’re chomping at the bit and cannot wait to play together again.