July 26, 2017 Interview – Joe Scarborough
Music is the universal language of the world. While communications falter on social, political, and sometimes even personal levels, we always have music which connects us. In agreeance with such sentiments, co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough has been fascinated by music since a young age. In 2011, named by Time 100 as one of the most influential people in the world, Scarborough served in the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001, worked as a lawyer, and become a fixture in the media. Through it all, Scarborough has always had the constant of music in his life.
Now after years of playing and writing his own music, Scarborough releases his first ever EP, Mystified. Hitting airwaves back on June 22nd, Mystified is a culmination of a passion for creation that finally reached a boiling point for Scarborough, and the best part, he is just getting started. Recently we caught up with the busy renaissance man to talk his love for music, the decision to finally bring it to public, balancing politics and business with art, plus much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have had a very interesting and diverse career. You have been involved in politics, the media, and now you show the world your musical side. First, tell us, what inspired you to pursue music?
Joe Scarborough – Girls (laughs). When I was 14 years old, girls weren’t interested in me. I was like the Cameron Crowe character in Almost Famous (2000). I was the guy who was always at home when everyone was at dances and always at home when everyone was at the beach. A group of guys got together and I got a band. We started playing music in the basement, I started writing songs when I was 14. I loved a lot of music, but the Beatles inspired me especially, so I obsessed over writing songs.
I have had a diverse career, but in middle school, high school, law school, I was writing songs. When I was a lawyer, in congress, back to lawyering, and then on tv, I have always been writing songs. It is the one constant in my life. All the other things I have been doing I have done to pay the bills, but music is the great love which has stayed with me. Over the years I turned around and wrote over 400 songs. With this process, it was really a kind of cool experience of “old Joe,” being able to look through my catalogue and co-write with “young Joe” (laughs). It has been pretty interesting to go back through the songs and seeing what I did right, what I did wrong, and working through them to get an EP done every month.
CrypticRock.com – Very interesting. Speaking of EPs, you released Mystified at the end of June. You wrote, produced, and arranged the entire EP. It is a very cool collection of songs with different sounds. The title track has a New Wave ’80s sound. Tell us about that?
Joe Scarborough – “Mystified” is sort of a one off. The other songs are sort of traditionally inspired by everything from the Beatles to Motown, to Classic Rock and Alternative Rock faire. “Mystified” was a one off and interestingly enough the reason I put it first on the EP is because it was the first song I recorded. It is sort of the reason I dragged myself into the studio and said, “Ok, I have to start recording my songs.” I had just written it, it started very stripped down and very Indie. Then I got out, started stacking parts on top of each other, and by the end of it, it didn’t sound like much of anything I had ever written before. It was more of a Talking Heads or Flock of Seagulls sound to it, like you said, an ’80s Synth Rock. It was interesting so we recorded all these songs, got 50 done, but people kept coming to “Mystified.” That surprised me, I was glad, but everyone said I had to put in on the first EP, so I did. But yes, it is a bit different from the other songs.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. The EP as a whole, as stated, is very diverse. These songs have a very full sound to them. You worked with other musicians, there are backing vocals and such. What was it like for you to put this all together?
Joe Scarborough – It was a thrill! I had been playing in garage bands my entire life, when I decided to start doing this, I decided to go all in. There are background singers, I made the mistake of seeing Steely Dan at the Beacon Theatre last year, and when I walked in, I thought, “Damn I’m going to need a horn section!” I never thought about having a horn section before, but once I got some guys and brought them on, then it really opened me up creatively to write songs that specifically brought in a horn section, background singers, and alike.
What I really love doing is writing, producing, and arranging. It is very exciting for me, I enjoy that even more than playing live. I think like a lot of people who write songs, I am a musician that learned to play enough of guitar, bass, keyboards, and everything else to get my song ideas down. What I really love doing is arranging and writing. I think that might come out in the arrangement of the songs. They are a more full sound than most of the stuff I have done my entire life.
CrypticRock.com – They certainly are full and it shows in the recordings. As said, music has been a huge part of your life. You have been very successful in politics and in television. That in mind, how redeeming is it for you to see your music a commercial outlet for people to hear such as this?
Joe Scarborough – It is actually what I have dreamed of since I was 14 years. I think now, I am 40 years on and in my 50s, I am not so concerned about the immediate reaction and not as crushed as I would have been 14, 24, or 34 if someone came out and said, “I don’t like your songs.” I know what I am doing and I know what I want to do, so it has allowed me to keep my head down to write and record the songs. It has allowed me a freedom that I never really had before where I know who I am and know what I love doing. That gives me complete freedom when I go into my studio and start recording – I can do what I do and not look over my shoulder. I know I did that whether I was in politics or TV, but with music, I have this freedom that I never felt before. It is really exciting and I think it helps the creative process.
CrypticRock.com – That is exciting! Creative freedom is a wonderful thing. Especially when you had the passion for so long, it is really a great thing to be able to do what you want.
Joe Scarborough – Yes, and the world has changed so radically. When I started this, I worked all summer and bought a cheap Teac A-3340 4-track reel to reel. I locked myself in my room, and that is how I spent high school and college recording songs. I got out of it for a while, got into congress, and when I came out, suddenly, these massive 16 and 32-track machines with 2 inch tape were little tape recorders! You could do 8-track records on this small portable thing, that was pretty revolutionary for me. Now you have Protools and Logic, it is just incredible what you can do. There is the freedom that it gives you. There is also the freedom of being able to record and get songs down.
When I was younger doing this, you had to know someone who knew someone who knew someone who was an A&R person at a record company. You would send letters around, try to do anything you can to get in there, and it was impossible to get in there unless you were one of the lucky few. There has been such a revolution since then. I don’t need 1,000 A&R people, I can lock in my garage/studio and start recording. That freedom is really liberating, especially as a songwriter. I think everyone can take more chances now because of that. I think most of the changes have been for the good.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, there has been more ability for artists to create and be heard. As a songwriter, these are very positive sounding songs with a good vibe. They also are nonpolitical – your music is your music. Being someone who has been involved with politics, is your music usually free of politics?
Joe Scarborough – Usually there is not. If politics get into it, it sort of slips in through the backdoor. “Mystified” was a song I wrote about myself – sort of a looking inward. I had the tune come to me in the car, “I’ve been looking inside and I’ve been mystified by what I saw.” You turn it up a little bit and suddenly you get “I’ve been horrified by what I saw.” Built on that, it really became a song about self loathing. As we were getting ready to put the EP together and started listening to some of the lyrics, I thought this might be more than just a song about a person looking inward, not being pleased with what they saw, but about where our country is right now and all the chaos going on. We did the video which is more political, but I rarely sit down and say, “Hey, I am going to write a political song.” I don’t really love mixing politics and music anymore than I liked mixing business with music.
CrypticRock.com – Music is one thing that unites us all. No matter what one’s political views, music is the one thing that gives us a common ground and that is why it is great.
Joe Scarborough – Oh yeah, no doubt about it! Even though some people would disagree, music belongs to everybody. It is not just the property of liberals, conservatives, or moderates, again, it is something that unites everybody.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed completely. My last question is pertaining to films. On CrypticRock, we cover all areas of music and movies. If you are a fan of Horror or Sci-Fi genres, do you have any favorites?
Joe Scarborough – My daughter absolutely loves Horror films, I don’t. I am not exactly sure why. I watched The Shining (1980) when I was a teenager and it chased me out of the theater, scared the hell out of me! (laughs) As far as Science Fiction goes, my family, with three sons, we obsess over Star Wars (1977) all the time. We usually do the trilogies. The boys all are from 9-28. Whether it is The Matrix (1999), Star Wars, or The Lord of the Rings (2001), we can usually all agree, even if we can’t agree on a lot of stuff, we can agree on those trilogies. We just have debates over which ones we like the most.