Josh Scogin talks playing new songs live, their Royal Blood comparison, the pros and cons of being a two-piece, and on '68 starting over a burrito...
On June 2nd, guitarist Josh Scogin (right) and drummer Micheal McClellan (left) - AKA '68 - will release their second album, 'Two Parts Viper' via Good Fight and Cooking Vinyl. Much like their solid 2014 debut LP, 'In Humour & Sadness', this new record is an experimental, dark, and varied chaotic mixture of rock n' roll, blues and hardcore. A month on from its release, the duo will then hit Australian shores in July for their first headline tour out here, performing both new and old cuts as authentically as they can, with as much energy as possible.
After recently jumping off a support slot for Every Time I Die and while on tour in New York, Scogin tells me of the shift from supporting bigger bands to stepping into your own headlining position, playing new songs live, their frequent comparison to Royal Blood, the pros and cons of being a two-piece, and on '68 starting over a burrito...
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Have you seen a difference in show quality and turnout in these headline shows compared to that recent ETID tour, Josh?
Yeah, there’s been a shift with the crowd. But the biggest shift has been going from playing a 25-minute set to a 45-minute to an hour one, as we’ve been on the road for over a month now. So we can’t really go home and practice all of these new songs. You just got to practice on your own time, and if you get a sound check, you run through a few new songs. But you’re getting trail by fire and practising on tour sometimes [laughs].
That’s a good way of putting it, actually. While it’s a pretty generic interview questions these songs are still pretty fresh for you two, and I’m curious to know how have you found their response and delivery live?
It’s cool, man. It’s fun for us as it is so fresh for us, so there’s a liveliness that comes with that. A couple of the songs we’ve released as singles or videos, we had day one of the tour and only a couple people knew then, then day 12 or whatever, we had people screaming along. And the album isn’t even out yet but with Internet access and the like, people can check it out. It’s also been a really good sign as people have been calling for the new songs live, which is really nice to see.
Good to hear! I only got sent the album this morning, so I’ve only had one listen to it so far. Personally, I think it’s a tighter and better-composed record than what ‘In Humor And Sadness’ was. So what do you and Michael think you’ve learnt the most and grown in certain areas since that debut?
That’s a difficult question. The first record was written completely… well, I don’t want to say blindly, but I purposefully wrote it in a week or two. So I didn’t nor couldn’t overthink anything; just play it and hopefully, it’ll land where it lands. With this record and the debut being three years ago, we’ve had time to know each other better. Michael and I have known each other for several years now but that’s different than being in a van all the time together, flying around together and spending countless nights around each other. So with that, you find yourself evolving and as every year goes by, and I like to think that we get better at our craft each year. Ultimately, it all comes from the same place of writing good rock and roll music that will move people live and songs that we’ll feel day in, day out.
Right on, Josh. With the first record and ‘Two Parts Viper’, there are certain effects or parts that I’m curious to know how you'll pull off live. I missed your Australian tour last year so I’m wondering if you maybe omit certain parts of your songs -old and new - or use a live backing track or what have you?
Well, first of all, I treat our records and our live show as two different things. I don’t know how other people write but I assume or think that they’d write an album, record an album, and then spend the next couple years trying to perform that album. With us, I love what we do live, so I try to put that onto our albums – the live aspect. As I’m writing the songs, I do think that we are indeed just two people, but I never let that hinder an idea or song. Because if the album will be better off doing a particular thing, then I’ll do it; I’ll let future Josh deal with it live. Also, we never do live backing tracks, that is just not a world that I’d ever want to be a part of. So it’s got to come from us, for real.
There are certain “tricks” you can do, like me playing guitar in one hand and the keyboard with another, or Michael making a very simple beat so that he can also play his own keyboard setup. Essentially, though, the live show is the live show. So if parts are different or need to be spruced up with a guitar part instead of a violin, then I’ll use an effects pedal or something to create that sound. I don’t want the record to ever hinder our live show, but I also don’t want the fact that we’re two people to ever affect the live show. That’s the challenge but the real fun of it, instead of “faking” it.
Of course. And do you think that that’s something you two were able to nail right away when this band formed or something that ’68 has really developed better over the years?
We’re always evolving it and there’s always new tricks or things that I can afford that help out. But the way that I run my guitar is that I split my guitar three-ways immediately into A, B and C. A goes to guitar stage right with its pedals, settings, head and a cab. B goes to stage left which has completely different pedals, and it's own guitar head, cab etc. Then C is treated as a bass and goes an octave down into its own pedals, head and bass cab. I’ve had a lot of people say very nice things about our sound, that they’d heard us play from a room or two over, came round to see what band it was and then being baffled that it’s just two people making all that sound. [Laughs].
I think that we’re able to sound bigger than just two guys, but as time goes on, as pedals get weirder, and as my knowledge gets better, we can do more and more things. We’ve even incorporated an organ with a few keys that my drummer can play in one hand and keep a simple beat on the other. So there’s this third instrument happening along with the drums and guitars.
That’s very cool, man. I love that you guys can make it work despite being a duo. And on the guitar three-way split, I suppose that’s what other duo rock groups like Royal Blood also use to sound just as a large as a full band. Also, aside from the odd Chariot comparison, ’68 also gets compared to At The Drive In, Jack White, and The Black Keys a lot. Do you think that such comparisons from media and the like limits or even stifles ‘68’s music and art in the eyes of the public and what it can achieve?
I suppose it could. When you do enough interviews or when the media gets a hold of you, they always want to put you in a genre as its quicker to write, so you don’t have to mention that we’re a little rock, a little blues and a little hardcore; so they call us one thing. As an artist, that has never hindered or stifled any of our music. But the real funny thing for me is that the first four or so bands that many compare us to is Royal Blood [laughs]. I do love Royal Blood, I think they’re amazing, but I do think that our music isn’t anything alike. It just seems to be that because both bands have two dudes in it, people lump us together. I mean, that guy plays bass and kicks it up into a guitar world, so that’s the first big point of difference. If people do compare us, though, I do take it as a compliment as I love that band, but our music is very different.
Even White Stripes, it’s two people so people say we sound like them. Of course, I love that band but our music doesn’t sound like that [laughs].
For sure, the comparisons can be a bit lazy I feel. Also, dude, that new Royal Blood track, ‘Lights Out’, what a killer track. And that video? so fucking weird but so cool.
Oh, dude, that band rules! I would love to play shows with them. The first record of theirs that I know is great.
A '68 and Royal Blood show would be sick. Now, as for the logistics side of ’68 – it must be so much easier to tour with just two band members and I assume it is maybe less stressful in some ways?
Yeah… there are pro and cons to both. There are perks to it. We do a lot of overseas stuff so it drops the cost down just flying two guys over instead of four or five. But the other side to it is that we have a lot of equipment, and it’s just us two carrying it around, loading it in, loading it out. Obviously, we can hire a crew and at some point, we will, but in a five-piece band, the singer can grab their mic and something else, for instance.
But man, the best thing about it is that it takes us no time at all where we want to go eat. Versus being in a five-member band and you’re deciding where to go, one guy can’t make up his mind, and you’re still sitting there, not eating, still hungry. That’s definitely the best perk of it for me - working out where to eat faster as most of the time, we are on tour, figuring out where we want to eat [laughs].
[Laughs] good point! Do you and Michael have similar tastes in food?
Oh yeah! He and I are cut from the same cloth in that sense. We always joke about ’68 being started over a burrito, as we were talking about what I wanted to do after The Chariot and him being involved. He was like “Let me think about it”, and I offered to pay for the burrito and he was in!
And the rest is history!
Exactly man! [Laughs]
Finally, Josh, this album was recorded with Matt Goldman at Glow In The Dark Studios, so I take it you’ve also heard parts of or maybe even in full, the new Belle Haven album? And if so, what did you think of it?
Yeah, Belle Haven, I know them very well. I have heard bits and pieces of it and I'd say it's their best one so far. I haven’t wrapped my head around it in every single sense but from what I heard, I think it’s them moving onwards and upwards for sure!
I agree with you on that, and I’m kind of hoping that they are the national support or at least one of the local supports for this Australian tour…
Oh man, yeah, that’d be great!
It would be! Well, Josh, we’ll have to leave our chat there, thanks so much for talking with me today and letting me ask you a few questions. Cheers!
Thank you for asking them man, I really appreciate it! Take care!
'68 are touring Australia this August. Find the tour dates below and purchase tickets here. 'Two Parts Viper' is out June 2nd via Good Fight/Cooking Vinyl.
THURSDAY 20 JULY – ENIGMA BAR, ADELAIDE 18+
FRIDAY 21 JULY – NORTHCOTE SOCIAL CLUB, MELBOURNE 18+
SATURDAY 22 JULY – THE BASEMENT, CANBERRA 18+
SUNDAY 23 JULY – OXFORD ART, SYDNEY 18+
MONDAY 24 JULY – SMALL BALLROOM, NEWCASTLE 18+
WEDNESDAY 26 JULY – CROWBAR, BRISBANE 18+