There’s a lot to like about Scott Bartenhagen, a 22 year old singer/songwriter from Lathrop, California. He’s not your typical singer/songwriter: he’s 6’7” for starters, loves Sci-Fi and draws inspiration from movie soundtracks and 20th century classical music. A friend of mine suggested I watch a video of his song Delta Fog, and I am forever grateful that I did. Scott’s jazz-influenced guitar playing along with his beautifully deep, soul shaking voice make for an astounding combination. When I met Scott I was immediately drawn to his warm and quirky personality and quiet demeanor. It was a privilege to interview such a young talent, and it’s my pleasure to help spread the word about this rising star. Check out the video of Delta Fog below, courtesy of YouTube, and if you liked what you hear (which I know you will) you can download the song for free via the player below.
MF: When I first saw your video for Delta Fog I was immediately awe struck and completely blown away by the hauntingly deep and poetic sound of your voice. I feel that you have one of the best voices of our generation, I know bold statement, but every time I listen to your songs I am instantly inspired, and amazed. When did you start your singing career?
Scott: Pretty freaking bold statement man, and thank you so much. I sang “Great Balls of Fire” my junior year of high school for a 70’s school dance that the high school band put on. Then I started writing songs, so I’ve been singing for I guess that would be about five years now, I didn’t ever sing before that I was always too afraid.
MF: Have you ever had singing lessons?
Scott: No, I’ve never taking formal singing lessons, but I’ve had good guidance from friends that were great singers that really helped me out.
MF: Like I said, I feel like you have an incredible voice. I remember the first time I watched Delta Fog, your voice gave me chills. It was almost hard for me to believe that that voice was coming from you, it really blew me away.
Scott: Wow man, thank you I really appreciate it that’s awesome.
MF: I feel that writing lyrics is the hardest part of creating great songs, and you nail it on every song. Where do you get the inspiration for your lyrics?
Scott: I get the inspiration from my lyrics from personal experience, or nerding out on something. It also comes from my general love of storytelling. My lyrics have to sound good coming out before anything else. That’s kind of the David Byrne theory of lyric writing. I find words that I think sound great then I use my imagination to put them into situations that make sense when they are spoken aloud. So it comes melody first, then how the words sound, then what kind of words can I fit around those syllables that still makes a great song, and that’s why its kind of a bigger puzzle than if you were just writing lyrics.
MF: In my personal experience with writing songs, I feel that lyrics are the toughest part of writing any song. If you don’t have solid lyrics then it’s going to be harder for the listener to connect to you.
Scott: Oh yeah. I could write like a dozen songs a day, but it takes me a week to write the words for the songs sometimes.
MF: Yeah, that’s understandable I think it’s very hard to write solid lyrics and you do a great job writing great lyrics.
Scott: Thanks man, As long as they’re not too contrived, or as long as they’re honest enough, even if they’re not true if they’re honest and they’re not contrived and trying to sound cool, I like it.
MF: What are your musical influences, and what artists inspire you to create your music?
Scott: Um, my musical influences would be, movie soundtracks, Joni Mitchell, and Jazz. Those are the big three, but I also like singer-songwriters that influence me a lot, like my good friend Travis Vick, a local Sacramento artist. His music has a big effect on me. Also, Bluegrass players and anybody who excels at their instruments inspire me as well. That’s a tough question, because I have a whole lot of influences from a lot of different things. Movie soundtracks are a big one. As well as orchestral music, and 20th Century classical music is where I get a lot of my melodies. So that’s a little bit of an idea of how I get inspired.
MF: As far as movie soundtracks do you have a favorite composer?
Scott: I like uh, I really like Joe Hisaishi, Hans Zimmer’s pretty cool, he’s kind of a hack, and I like John Williams as well. Anyone who puts music to motion, I admire, because it’s all about the emotion other than the notes, it’s about evoking a feeling, which I’m a big fan of.
MF: Is there anything outside of music that inspires you to write your songs?
Scott: Yeah definitely. Various novels, stories that my dad tells me, great Science Fiction, um, trying to get a handle on politics. Not that my songs are too political. I’m not too crazy politically but politics definitely make me angry, and anger definitely inspires me.
MF: As far as Science Fiction is concerned what specifically about Sci-Fi inspires you?
Scott: I like all types of science fiction, usually get inspired by near future science fiction, like Blade Runner, or people like William Gibson who write Cyber Punk. It really gets my mind racing, I really enjoy it. I’ve written some songs based off of stuff like that. A decent amount of my songs have a Sci-Fi twist on them.
MF: You are a phenomenal guitar player, how long have you been playing the guitar, and what inspired you to start playing?
Scott: I’ve been playing the guitar since about, eighth grade, probably a little bit before that. Probably ten years. My mom is a great guitar player so I listened to her a lot and got inspired. Also, I think a friend of mine got a guitar down the street, and that made me really want one. I was already playing trumpet in a band, so I figured I could move onto guitar from there. I didn’t really get into songwriting for a long time, but learning jazz guitar definitely helped keep the fire and passion for the instrument.
MF: Have you had any professional training?
Scott: I was a music major at Sac State, before I left. I took three years of schooling as a jazz studies major. I am a big proponent of taking lessons and learning as much as you possibly can, shedding ego as a guitar player and just wanting to learn. I took lessons from a really great jazz guitar player, and I learned to play with other people in groups for a long time as well.
MF: Also, you mentioned you played trumpet, do you play any other instruments?
Scott: Yeah, trumpet and tuba were my first instruments and then I moved onto the piano and guitar. Those are the main instruments that I can play.
MF: I notice you have a lot of songs ready to go, are you coming out with an EP or a new album in the near future, and if so will Delta Fog be included?
Scott: No. I’m over the idea of albums. Like every year you make your one album, and then you put an EP out and then you make an album that has twelve songs on it or something and then a whole year passes. That whole cycle is formulaic and I don’t think it works any more with the way people buy albums. So I’m kind of into smaller releases but more often. I think that’s a pretty cool idea. I have a few releases coming up, I have a five song project that I’m working on called Speeches, that I’m working on at the moment, still recording. It should be done in the next couple weeks. Then I have another small project on the way that should come out within a couple weeks as well. So within this month I’m hopefully going to have a bunch of new stuff done for the world to see.
And I have a new group as well, with three girls from Sac State, a drummer and a bassist. The three girls are singing three part harmonies as well as playing the violin. I’ve added six people to my group.
MF: Wow, that’s exciting I can’t wait to hear you play with the new band.
Scott: Yeah, I’ve already got to play some shows with this new band and they are really freaking good man, they’re really tight. These two girls sing some amazing harmonies, and we have this bitching violin player who’s incredible, it’s tight man. I can’t wait to play some shows in Los Angeles so you guys can hear it.
MF: What are you thoughts on the current state of the music industry, and where do you see it going?
Scott: I think that there’s a lot of music out there. I think the music industry is pretty oversaturated with the Internet now and I think it’s high time for bands to get more creative with the way they do things and how we get music out there, and what it means to have art. I think there are a lot of creative ways to distribute music, play shows and collaborate. I think it’s a good thing and I think it’s going the right direction. I just need people to start giving a crap, but I guess we need to make them start giving a crap.
MF: As an independent artist, do you find it difficult to accumulate new fans and to be heard amidst the overwhelming amount of music that is out there?
Scott: I do feel it’s really hard to be heard. I feel there are so many different avenues for me to put my music out that nobody bites. I get a good response when I play shows, but it’s hard playing venues when you don’t have a fan base. Promoters don’t promote anymore, venues don’t want to get people in the door themselves, it all falls on the shoulders of the bands, which is I think criminal. Live performance is not geared to help bands. It’s hard finding fans, and it’s hard finding places that want to help musicians get fans instead of just wanting to take their money.
MF: So which one do you think is more difficult? Trying to accumulate new fans, or to be heard?
Scott: I think they’re pretty much the same thing. I would like to hope/think if someone hears my music they’d become a fan. I can’t force them to become a fan. I would say it’s harder to show my music to people in the right context. It’s hard for people to find my music and want to listen to it, as opposed to they have to either actually search for it or they find it on some obscure online radio station that never actually works. So I think they’re both related: it’s hard to find fans and it’s hard to try to get the people who aren’t fans yet to listen to your music to become fans.
MF: I absolutely agree. It was really great to learn more about you as a musician as well as a person. I enjoyed talking about your music, what you’re working on, and the thoughts you have about being an independent artist, as well as your thoughts as the current state of the music industry. I am looking forward to your upcoming projects and attending your shows with your new band.
Scott: Thanks man, I really enjoyed it as well, and I will keep you updated with the projects I am currently working on. Great talking with you, and I will talk to you soon.
By: Mason Frank|L.A. Ambassador|MasonFrankMWL|Beat-Play & Music Without Labels LLC