Interview with Singer-Songwriter Hilary Scott on Freight Train Love, Influences and Touring

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The indie pop/Americana artist, Hilary Scott (with one “L” which she will explain later in the interview) is based in St. Louis, MO, and released her 11th recording Freight Train Love last Fall which was recorded, engineered and mixed by Johnny Lee Schell (Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal,) in his studio, Ultratone Studios, in Los Angeles. Scott is signed with Belltown Records.

Freight Train Love was produced by Michael O’Neill, an Americana artist, who pulled together a group of Grammy-award winning musicians and hit songwriters for the album. It’s a mix of soulful R&B blues, upbeat pop country tunes, and slow country ballads – which makes for a great mix of tunes!

Her love of music began when she was just a young toddler and continued throughout the years learning to play piano, violin, guitar and vocals, and she began songwriting when she was 15.

She has had the fortune of touring throughout the US, Europe and Asia and has worked with some iconic musicians which she shared some special memories with us.

GGM:  How did you pull together such a great team for your last recording Freight Train Love which has received rave reviews?

HS:  Michael O’Neill, an Americana music veteran, invited us to play his Americana Music Series. In the green room, we got into a discussion about working on a record together. We co-wrote four songs, and as part of his production input, Michael teamed me up with the all-star cast of musicians on the record. It’s incredible to work with artists who have played with everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Paul McCartney. 

GGM:  Can you tell us about the writing, recording, and producing process for this album?

HS:  Several of the songs on Freight Train Love were ones I had already written to bring to the project. When Michael O’Neill and I decided to write together, we met up in Gig Harbor, Washington and sat in his tour bus and wrote over cups of coffee and tea. The second time we met, it was once again over cups of coffee and tea, but seated at his kitchen table instead. We actually worked pretty rapidly, tying up four tunes in two short sessions. Once we headed to Los Angeles to begin production, we were both flying in for just a few days at a time. Two days were spent with Tony Braunagel, Johnny Lee Schell and Bob Glaub cutting all the basic tracks. I flew back twice for vocals-only spending a couple studio days doing those tracks as well as harmonies, additional percussion, and sitting with Johnny while he added additional instrumentation. Michael knew the quality of sound we would get, and ideas were bounced off of everyone as we went along. But this is a very organic record. Most of it is live – the band played together while recording – and the goal was a clean, but not overly-tweaked sound, still raw enough to express the honest quality of the songs.

GGM:  Any one particular song that stands out from the rest?

HS:  Although I really feel there are several standout tracks on this album, “Freight Train Love” stands out the most for me, because it is newer territory. The soul feel we captured with that one is exciting, and vocally I got to stretch a bit.

GGM:  You started your music career in Seattle over a decade ago, have since moved to the Midwest, and have released 11 albums during your career. How would you say your music has changed over the years in terms of your approach to writing?

HS:  Some aspects of my writing have remained the same throughout the years. For example, I still allow thoughts and ideas to “come to me,” and I never define a lapse in creativity as writer’s block. A fruitful and creative phase always comes again, so I don’t stress about perhaps going months without writing. I will have weeks where I write three songs in a matter of hours, so there is balance. This isn’t to say I haven’t done disciplined writing sessions as well – I certainly have. The one major aspect of my approach to writing that has changed is that now I often seek out stories to tell as opposed to relying as heavily on autobiographical issues as I once did. 

GGM:  Your music has been described as roots, Americana, folk-rock, indie-rock, pop and blues. Who were some of the artists that influenced your style?

HS:  I have been influenced by a wide variety of artists from Peter Gabriel to Led Zeppelin to Patty Griffin but I don’t know if I could say those influences make themselves obvious in my music. I think everything I listen to and thoroughly absorb inspires me. Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Patsy Cline, Neko Case, Ani DiFranco, Prince, The Cure. There’s a lot in there and all very different from each other.  

GGM:  When and how did you first become involved in music and what instruments do you play?

HS:  My mom got me into piano lessons as soon as she could, because I was crawling up onto the piano bench as early as age two and picking out melodies. She has photographic proof of this. After piano followed violin, a brief flirtation with the saxophone, and then guitar. 

GGM:  What’s your instrument of choice when writing a song or does it vary depending on the style of song?

HS:  I write about half of my songs on the guitar and half of them on the piano now. However, when I first started playing guitar, it was my instrument of choice for songwriting. Whereas with piano I had learned all of the classical techniques and rules and music, I started with a clean slate on the guitar. I was far more creative on it since there were “no rules” in those first few experimental months. After breaking a sort of wall in my mind with the guitar, I was able to re-approach the piano with much more freedom, and now as I said, the two instruments capture me equally when it comes to writing. I do find a bit of stylistic difference leads me to one or the other. My folk, Americana and blues infused songs tend to get written on the guitar. When the song leans more towards pop or has indie or jazz influences, those tend to get written on piano.  

GGM:  You’ve had the wonderful opportunity of sharing the stage with some iconic musicians like Tanya Tucker and Chuck Berry, to name just a few.  Can you share with us some of those experiences and any memorable moments?

HS:  I have so many great memories of sharing the stage with some legendary artists, but a couple stories come immediately to mind. When I played with The Hilary Scott Band, we had the chance to open for Little Feat a few times. One time, they called me up onstage to sing with Shaun Murphy on “Dixie Chicken.” After the show, they invited us to come hang out on their tour bus. Also, the night with Chuck Berry was incredible. We had been told he was shy about getting photos and that we weren’t likely to get the chance to meet him. Not only did we meet him and shake his hand and chat with him, he was friendly and warm and agreed to have his picture taken with us. So apparently we were part of a pretty unique moment there. Chuck Berry was really on that night too-the night before his 86th birthday! 

GGM:  You’ve toured extensively performing house concerts, festivals and other venues across the US and in Asia and Europe. What’s your favorite type of event to perform and how are you received by fans in other countries?

HS:  I enjoy all kinds of different venues for different reasons, but my two favorites are theaters and house concerts. There is nothing equal to playing on a beautiful theater stage with amazing acoustics and a captive audience. However, small intimate house concerts where you can share stories and really connect with listeners are also an amazing way to perform. Overseas, the reception of my music has been great. In Europe and the United Kingdom there is a wonderful receptivity to American music, and an openness to new artists. I have enjoyed all of my overseas travels, and learned so much from them. 

GGM:  Tell us about your involvement with the video that went viral about the rescue of Gideon the pit bull.

HS:  One day my mom posted a video to my page on Facebook and said “this is your music!” I started watching this amazing video about Gideon the pit bull’s rescue and was really honored that my version of John Hiatt’s “Have a Little Faith in Me” was chosen for it, however I did wonder why the creator never contacted me about using my recording. So, I reached out to the video’s creator, who apparently had found my song through a crazy set of coincidences of other people using it for random You Tube videos, and she had tried unsuccessfully to find me, because no one had credited me on their videos. Apparently she held on to my song for a long time (I think she said a couple years) wanting the perfect time to use it, but also being concerned about not being able to ask my permission. After we spoke she immediately credited me and linked to my website. Since the video went viral with hundreds of millions of views and features on Huffington Post and L.A. Times and such – I saw an increase in downloads of my song and definitely some more people discovered my music. I believe wholeheartedly in animal rescue and hope I can use my music to help out these organizations again in the future. It truly was an incredible honor to know that someone felt my interpretation of Hiatt’s amazing song added just the right emotional element to Gideon’s story.  

GGM:  I know there’s the confusion out there with the spelling of your name (Hilary with one “L”) so as not to be confused with Hillary (two L’s) Scott of Lady Antebellum. I read where your stage name has a special meaning to you. Would you share with us that meaning?

HS:  My older brother’s first name was Scott. He died at the age of 29 in circumstances that really tore our hearts apart. I can’t describe the devastation. My brother was someone I emulated for his independence, and his unique ways. He LOVED music to the very core of his being. I started really performing and recording my songs shortly after he died. I was heartbroken that he would never hear me do what I loved to do. I chose his name as my performance name so he would always be with me. Let me say many of my family members have inspired and assisted me in my life and they all deserve huge credit for that. I wouldn’t be here without them. But the memory of my brother is also a big impetus in continuing to pursue this crazy music dream. 

For more on Hilary Scott, visit her site:  http://www.hilaryscott.com

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