story by Patrick Corcoran
Mike Scott may look like just an ordinary performer while on stage,
but the veteran Scottish rocker is not merely singing. He is, in fact,
filling a void.
Scott will be filling that void here in Chicago on December 9th at
the Park West as the lead singer, guitarist, and occasional Earth
resonator of the Waterboys. But it doesn't stop there. Scott also
tackles the rotosphere, harmonium, waterkeys, organtone, thoom, micro-synth,
tambron, fireworm, and something called the loop archaeology. (He
must be a very busy man).
The Waterboys bring this expansive musical repertoire to Chicago
in the wake of their latest release, Universal Hall, a 12-song compilation
of pensive reflection and inner exploration. At the head of the Waterboys
for the last two decades, Scott is that (semi) rare rocker intent
on expressing his spirituality rather than downplaying it, and he
relishes the role.
SCOTT'S INNER VIEW
"I've always been interested in spirituality,
and I've never joined any religion. And it really turns
me off when people from one religion say theirs is the
only way. And I believe all religions are just different
ways to spirituality."
"I definitely think there's a place for spiritually-charged
music today," Scott tells Chicago Innerview. "I don't hear
much, and I'd like to." Scott says that his band has always kept
a sense of greater meaning than that which is found within much of
contemporary music. "I think it has [always been spiritual],
yes," Scott says. "Not necessarily as up front as it is
on the [latest record], but it's always been there...This is a particularly
Even if that sounds dangerously close to an attribute of Christian
rock, you should not lump the Waterboys with such a specific genre.
In addition to Scott, the Universal Hall lineup is comprised of first-rate
musicians whose appeal transcends the lyrics' message. Furthermore,
there is much more separating Mike Scott from Jerry Falwell than just
the Atlantic Ocean (Chicago Innerview spoke with Scott as he prepared
for a show on the Canary Islands).
"I've always been interested in spirituality, and I've never
joined any religion," Scott says. "And it really turns me
off when people from one religion say theirs is the only way. And
I believe all religions are just different ways to spirituality. And
if you call that universality, well, then I'm all for it."
The Waterboys have seen roughly 30 musicians pass through its ranks
over the course of the last 20 years. The latest incarnation is highlighted
by the return of Steve Wickham, a fantastic fiddler who recently rejoined
the group after several years away. Rounding out the trio is pianist
Richard Naiff, and each musician is given the chance to go nuts at
different points in the record. One might think it would be tough
to maintain any sense of identity for a band that has seen 30 members,
but Scott says that the regular state of flux is more of an opportunity
than a drawback. "I always loved artists whose music has changed,
so I've been glad that it's been an ever-changing lineup in the band."
It has, at the very least, allowed Scott to travel in several different
directions with his band, from sonic rock to acoustic folk. While
Universal Hall is decidedly mellow and mostly acoustic, Scott describes
others as full-on rock records. "All have been different,"
Scott says of his past albums. "I like [acoustic and non-acoustic]
both. I swing to both extremes."
The varied mood also surfaces within individual records, from one
song to the next. With Universal Hall, Scott, Wickham, and Naiff trot
along at a comfortable pace for almost the entire record. Almost the
entire record, I say, because of the inclusion of the electrified
oddball "Seek the Light." The lyrics and message are similar
to the remainder of the album, but track number seven sounds more
suited to a record from the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, another band
that doesn't hesitate to demonstrate its spirituality. It is not entirely
surprising that such an introspective artist as Scott points to an
intimate connection with music as the driving force behind his music,
as the following snippet from our conversation illustrates:
Chicago Innerview: "Why did you get into music?"
Mike Scott: "I started falling in love with records, and I knew
that music was touching something powerful. And from that moment on,
I knew I wanted to be a musician and songwriter and a singer."
CI: "Why do you still play?"
MS: "Same reason. I love doing it and I can't not do it."
Whether you find it inspiring or overly sentimental to hear a musician
wax poetic about his craft, Scott practices what he preaches. The
recorded tours of duty through such an extended list of musical forms
reveal Scott's passion about playing the music that strikes his interest,
consequences be damned. "I play what I want, and happily that
often coincides with what the fans want to hear," he says. "But
if it doesn't, that's tough luck."
At one point in the 1980s, the Waterboys were said to be the next
big thing in British rock, but Scott maintained his own course. "I
wanted to do music that turned me on...I think I can compete with
anyone in my generation, but I don't feel the need to commercially."
Such feelings don't necessarily go hand in hand with mainstream musical
success, but Scott expresses no regrets. "I never thought in
terms of celebrity. At the time a lot of people were predicting 'we're
going to do this' and 'we're going to do this.' But predictions are
hypotheses. I never listen to anyone who is trying to foretell the
Scott's career has taken him from Edinburgh to London to Dublin to
New York City (of course, that list is far from being comprehensive,
or maybe even chronologically correct, for that matter) and presented
more than one opportunity to tour the United States. The Waterboys'
last tour on the left side of the Atlantic was in 2001, and Scott
says he enjoys playing in American music houses. "Every country
has very different audiences," he explains. "American audiences
are very musically literate and enthusiastic, I find. I particularly
like going to all these great musical cities.... It's a very inspiring
country to tour."
Scott claims among his influences for Universal Hall many musicians
who came to prominence here in the States, as well as a smattering
of individuals whose contributions are primarily non-musical. Included
in the motley bunch are Neil Young, Elvis Presley, CS Lewis, Oprah,
and Winston Churchill. There is no obvious common thread here, and
even less of one when you consider the 20 or so other people to whom
Scott extends his gratitude. But ask him to assess the group as a
whole, and it all becomes a little clearer. "These are people
who I would follow in doing what I knew is right regardless of what
anyone else is saying to me."
Doubtless, Mike Scott is a man in step with his own rhythm, a rhythm
that will be on display in Chicago this month. Let's just hope he
brings the Earth resonator.
The Waterboys will play at the Park West Dec. 9.