FFWD Magazine, Edmonton,
Scott Smith thinks he might have a slight case of attention deficit disorder – at least, as far as his music is concerned.
"I really like hearing different kinds of songs from different performers," says Smith, one half the creative force behind Vancouver-based alt-country quartet Bottleneck. "Maybe I’m just attention deficit or something, but I really like bands that have more than one lead singer."
It’s with this philosophy that Bottleneck operates, with two lead vocalists each writing their own songs. Smith shares the artistic control with Nova Scotia native Robyn Carrigan, and the result is a fusion of Smith’s background in Vancouver’s vibrant roots and country scene and Carrigan’s traditional East Coast Celtic influences.
According to Smith, this is a very different arrangement than he originally imagined.
"Bottleneck started out as an outlet for my songs," he explains. At the time, Smith played guitar for a rockabilly band called Bughouse Five, a situation that didn’t lend itself well to his own writing. "I had all these songs that the Bughouse Five singer couldn’t sing because they were about my girlfriends and my heartaches. They were just really personal songs and not the kind to be done by a rockabilly band, either."
Smith worked with Carrigan previously in another alt-country band, Auburn, so he asked her to come aboard his new project to play banjo, accordion and acoustic guitar and sing background vocals and harmonies. As they played together, Carrigan brought more and more of her songs to their performances. Eventually, it didn’t make much sense to stick to the initial plan.
"The original idea was for it to be my group, but the thing is she writes such good songs. We put a few of those songs in a set, and eventually it was like, ‘you know, this is kind of dumb.’"
This collaborative dynamic is nowhere more apparent than on Bottleneck’s sophomore release Late Nights, Early Morning. The album leaves behind the strictly conventional, formula-driven country songwriting of their self-titled debut, and opens the door to experimentation and growth. Accented by banjo, accordion, pedal steel, slide guitar and the dobro, Late Nights, Early Mornings finds its inspiration not only in country and roots, but also in blues, jazz and even a faint hint of rock.
Despite very different backgrounds, both Smith and Carrigan’s writing styles fit together on a single album like carefully cut pieces of the same musical puzzle. Smith explains this is a conscious effort that requires more than a few concessions.
"I think we have cohesion because we both write songs, and some of them just sound like Bottleneck songs. Those are the ones we bring to the band, but both our influences end up showing in the music somehow," he says. If this means that some of Smith’s more blues and rockabilly oriented songs are dropped, or Carrigan’s traditional Celtic songs are left by the wayside, this is a compromise both seem happy to make.
Smith is also quick to point out that Bottleneck is by no means a two-person show. The rhythm section is vitally important to Bottleneck’s distinctive sound, with Liam MacDonald on drums and Jeremy Holmes playing bass. Both bring their own musical background to the band.
"They both have a jazz background. It’s not obvious, but they definitely bring that improvised, adventurous thing to Bottleneck," he says, adding the two are also given a great deal of freedom in their contributions. "With Liam and Jeremy, I hardly give them any idea. They listen to the words and that influences what they come up with. They just get the mood of the song."