So how are you spending your time in quarantine? Scott Coulter brought musicians from around the nation together virtually to record an album.
The Philadelphia-based organist and pianist recently completed a jazz album, set to be independently released June 14. “Be Still” was recorded entirely in quarantine, with musicians from Philadelphia, Boston and Colorado. Coulter describes the album as a series of musical meditations on the nature of the interior, spiritual life we are being forced to confront as the world sits in quarantine.
The compositions on the album began as a series of Lent meditations on spiritual life. There was no ambition or plan attached. But when the world went into shutdown, and the musical community closed down with it, these compositions gained new life, Coulter said.
So he reached out to friends and fellow musicians from as far away as Colorado and Boston, and, track by track, the music on the album became a reality.
Coulter is a former student of Art Lande and Fred Hersch and a graduate of New England Conservatory. Over the past two decades, Scott has performed and toured extensively within the rock, blues and Americana scenes, sharing the stage with Grammy-nominated singer Celia Woodsmith (of Della Mae), keyboardist Bill Payne (of Little Feat), guitarist Bill Kirchen and others.
PW recently caught up with Coulter to talk about the new album and life during the pandemic.
A lot of people spent self-isolation streaming Netflix. You spent self-isolation creating a new album with artists from around the nation. Talk a little about how you came up with the idea and how it all came together.
To be fair, my wife and I have spent a lot of time watching “The Sopranos.” But this album came about amazingly organically. It started as a Lent practice for myself, a series of compositions based on spiritual concepts. I never envisioned turning them into an album.
But when everything shut down, my priorities shifted. Overnight, every festival, every show, every tour, it was just gone. Our whole industry came to a halt in a way that was just kind of shocking. And I think for anyone who creates music for a living, it’s not just a passion or an activity. It’s a fundamental part of how we process the world. It’s part of our spiritual practice.
So this became my daily meditation and prayer. And because we had to record remotely from our homes, I could ask someone 2,000 miles away just as easily as I could ask someone down the block. And that let me pick a group of musicians that I never could have gathered together in person. Everyone on here knows me, but several of the musicians on this album have never even had a phone conversation with one another!
Of course, recording it layer by layer did mean I spent ungodly amounts of time syncing up tracks, re-recording backing tracks, mixing, editing, and all that. But in the end there was a grace to this project that’s been quite stunning.
You describe the resulting “Be Still” as “music that speaks to the spiritual catharsis these times might offer us if we learn how to listen with a contemplative mind.” What kind of music are you talking about? Jazz, gospel, blues? How would you describe the overall sound of “Be Still”?
It’s a blend of styles. It’s a jazz album, but there are heavy doses of gospel, funk, even classical aesthetics. What I hope unites the tracks on this album is that each is pointing toward an inner, contemplative state.
Take “The Monk Has Death Before Him.” That title comes from the rule of St. Benedict, who told his monks to follow this idea – that you should always keep the reality of impermanence forefront in your mind. This track opens with Tibetan singing bowls and distant, echo-y piano.
Through the middle it comes into clearer form, but that reverberating piano keeps going behind the other instruments, until the end of the track dissolves very slowly back into a slow emptiness, which blends back into the singing bells, and finally dies out.
To me, this is the nature of our human lives – we come from the source as energetic beings, we form into these tangible selves, with ego and opinions and feelings, and we believe these formations are the end-all-be-all. But as every religious tradition reminds us, we will all return to that source, dissolve back into pure energy. Each song is exploring a core spiritual idea in a similar way – some funky, some deeply introspective, but all dedicated to sitting with these large questions of faith and purpose and meaning.
How will people be able to get the album?
The best place to get it is on my bandcamp site. It will be available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music, of course, but it’s no great secret that streaming services pay musicians very little. If you want to support the musicians who made the album, go to http://scottcoulter.bandcamp.com and download it. But no judgment – if you’re not in a financial position to purchase it, stream away!
You’re also the keyboardist for the Colorado-based Americana band Gasoline Lollipops. What’s happening with that group now? How has the pandemic and all of the closures impacted the Lollipops?
Like every band, the pandemic hit us hard. I was supposed to be in Colorado a lot this summer for some major shows and tours, and all of it is on hold right now. Clay Rose, the singer and songwriter, has done a lot of streaming shows and that’s helped some, but there’s no substitute for touring. Nevertheless, we are moving forward with a major new release in the not-too-distant future. It’s an album we recorded last November down in Lafayette, Louisiana, at Dockside Studios. We recorded the whole session to old-school analog tape, and man, that stuff sounds amazing! We’re incredibly excited for that release. Interesting tie-in, by the way – Brad Morse, who played bass on a few tracks on “Be Still,” is also the bassist for the Gas Pops.
You’ve performed with a lot of famous people and in a lot of large venues. You’ve also played dive bars and festival stages. Is it fair to say you just like making good music, no matter the setting?
Absolutely. And I’d add to that, I love making good music with good people. That’s one of the things I absolutely love about this album.
Everyone who played on this is not just an incredible musician – they are all good-hearted, kind, thoughtful people. Chris Hersch, the guitarist, has been my dear friend for years. We went to school together in Boston years ago, he was the best man at my wedding, and we’ve been involved in multiple projects together over the years.
Kinyon Lanier, who sings on the title track, is one of the kindest human beings you’ll ever meet. Gavin McCauley, the drummer, listens as deeply as a monk, in personal interactions and behind the drums. Mark Zaleski is just a ball of curiosity, generosity and kindness. And Brad Morse, the bassist, cares for the people around him so deeply it can move you to tears. And in my experience, that comes through in the music if you listen deeply enough.
What’s ahead for you, once the pandemic ends? New music and/or appearances? What’s the best way for fans to keep up with what you’re doing?
That’s the big question. I don’t know if any of us know what comes next. Big shows might not return for a very long time. I’ve heard some people talking about 2021 for theater shows. You gotta figure, packing 750-2,000 people into a theater isn’t something you can do if you’re not
absolutely certain it’s safe, so that might mean it can’t happen til we’ve got a vaccine.
In the meantime, hopefully some of the smaller shows can return. I’m planning to get some more collaborations going with folks in the near future that I can start uploading on a regular basis.