O'Brien And Scott Return To Stripped-Down Roots

Roots musicians Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott first recorded together in 2000 and fans have waited 13 long years for another studio release. The wait is over, with their new CD, Memories and Moments. O'Brien and Scott tell host Rachel Martin what got them back in the studio together.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back in 2000, roots country musicians Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott recorded an album together called "Real Time." It was regarded as a tour de force and fans waited hungrily for their next studio release. For 13 years they've waited with bated breath. Those fans can now exhale.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEMORIES AND MOMENTS")

TIM O'BRIEN AND DARRELL SCOTT: (Singing) I wish that I could hold you when day is done till the life is through. But all I have to hold onto are these memories and moments.

MARTIN: That's the title cut off "Memories and Moments," the new CD from Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott. It was recorded the old-fashioned way - with the two artists facing each other in the studio, their music bleeding into each other's microphones. No overdubs. No added bells and whistles. And we've gotten them together today in a studio in Nashville. Tim and Darrell, welcome to the program.

TIM O'BRIEN: Thank you.

DARRELL SCOTT: Thank you very much.

MARTIN: So, you have both have had such remarkable solo careers, spent time with world-class artists, among them Mark Knopfler and Robert Plant, just to name two. And you - the two of you have toured together over the years. But what finally got you both back in the studio together?

O'BRIEN: I remember calling Darrell up to have just a general hang-out and catch-up thing. And there was some intention to do something relating to our view on mountaintop removal, which takes place in our home states of West Virginia and Kentucky. And I remember we talked about that and that came true.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KEEP YOUR DIRTY LIGHTS ON")

O'BRIEN & SCOTT: (Singing) Well, my daddy came from coal dust and, me, I'm 'bout the same. If you read King Coal's ledger book, then you've seen my family name. It used to take a camp of miners to load that train and gone. Now, there's four in my crew and we do what we do to keep your dirty lights on, to keep your dirty lights on, keep your dirty lights on. If you got money in your pocket and a switch on the wall, we'll keep your dirty lights on.

SCOTT: About two hours from Nashville, I have some land and a cabin. And Tim and I got together, you know, to work on some songs, talk about the possible recording. And right across the hill from us, it's literally at the Cumberland Plateau, there's a mountain called Bear Knob. And I think it's meant to be B-E-A-R but it may as well be B-A-R-E, because it was a strip mine or a blown-off mountain from the '30s and nothing grows there. It also means it's a great lookout from up there. And then seeing there's, I guess, a campaign of billboards that's pro-coal that says: Coal, you know, we keep your lights on. And I thought "Keep Your Dirty Lights On" was a pretty good twist on that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KEEP YOUR DIRTY LIGHTS ON")

O'BRIEN & SCOTT: (Singing) Yes, if you got money in your pocket and a switch on the wall, we'll keep your dirty lights on.

MARTIN: I mentioned in the introduction about the simplicity of this recording. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about that decision. There was a conscious decision, I imagine, to strip away all the fancy production devices that are available to musicians these days in a modern kind of studio environment. What do you gain by doing that and is there something that you lose?

O'BRIEN: Well, one thing that happens when somebody comes in and records after you - let's say Darrell did his part first and then I came in - he wouldn't be able to react to what I did because his part would be, it would be in stone. It would be in, you know, digitized already. So, when you play together, maybe you sort of see or hear the gears going in their brains, you know, the people that are playing. There's something more that happens.

SCOTT: And you asked the question what do you lose? I think I could say you lose perfection. So, a lot of recordings are striving for a kind of sonic perfection. When you do it live and immediate, you kiss perfection goodbye.

MARTIN: And you're fine with that?

SCOTT: Oh, absolutely.

MARTIN: On at least one track, you two were not alone in the studio. John Prine was there to sing his classic "Paradise." Let's take a listen to this and then we'll talk about it on the other side.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARADISE")

JOHN PRINE: (Singing) When I was a child, my family would travel down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born. There's a backwards old town that's often remembered, so many times that my memories are warm. And daddy, won't you to take me back to Muhlenberg County, down by the Green River where Paradise lay. Well, I'm sorry, my son, but you're too late in asking. Mr. Peabody's coal train has hauled it away.

MARTIN: That is a lovely song.

O'BRIEN: I loved hearing him talking about how he wrote this song that, you know, when we were there that day. He said he went down to Paradise - his dad actually first wrote him a letter and said, well, you know, it looks like they hauled Paradise away. That was his dad's hometown down in Kentucky. And he had kind of a hit song with it in the early '70s. And he said all the people in Paradise really hated the song and hated him for writing it.

MARTIN: Oh, no.

O'BRIEN: And his relatives, you know, they all worked for the coal companies. He said nowadays people love the song and they understand it. There's no work for them now. There's no coal mining there 'cause they took it all away. The town's gone and the coal's gone.

MARTIN: I want to talk a little bit more for what it's like for the two of you to reunite musically.

O'BRIEN: The thing that happens when we get together, neither of us really has to hold back. We can just sort of let it hang out.

SCOTT: We don't push it as in there's an old blues saying called chopping heads, where you try to outdo the other one and, you know, one takes a solo and then the other one gets out and stands on the bar playing a solo and then the other one puts the guitar behind their back. It's not that but in a really positive, wonderful way, we push each other not to, you know, destruction.

MARTIN: We've got time for one more from the CD. This is your song, Tim. It is called "Time to Talk to Joseph."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TIME TO TALK TO JOSEPH")

O'BRIEN & SCOTT: (Singing) I lay awake till morning, mind racing through the gloom. Till I practice shadow puppets on my side of the room. And you softly snore beside me as I make those figures dance. Until finally I'm laughing at the random path of chance.

(Singing) It's time to talk to Joseph, I'm gonna pack my little sack....

MARTIN: That's a lot of picking going on in that song. I wonder - your original CD together, "Real Time," is so beloved by your fans. Does that make you just a tad nervous about how this much-anticipated follow-up might be received or do you just block that stuff out?

O'BRIEN: You know, I'm getting over that.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: But not yet. You're still working on it.

O'BRIEN: Well, there is a sort of a fermentation that happens in people's minds, and I guess it happened in my mind too that, you know, boy, can we do that again? Can we go back to that? And then at some point I just said, well, you know, if we don't try we'll never do anything together again.

SCOTT: To me, the word is fearless; putting it out there and then with the right ingredients it'll probably turn into something edible and listenable.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations on the album. Tim O'Brien and Darrell Scott. Their new CD is called "Memories and Moments." They've joined us from Nashville. Thanks to both of you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Rachel.

SCOTT: Thank you, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "TIME TO TALK TO JOSEPH")

MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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