Scarlet Tanager | Soaring above St. Louis
Photo by Susan Logsdon
It’s no short order to mix the influences of six people while creating your own unique niche and create a lasting stamp on your hometown crowd. Upon my first time ever hearing of Scarlet Tanager I was stunned; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I heard bits and pieces of several artists, old (I mean older than me, 1950’s and 60’s groups) and new but before I could put my finger on one artist they sounded like they would effortlessly drift to another sound or influence. Somehow this group kept their influences intact without completely ripping them off and they owned their sound. From the vocals to the rhythm section and beyond, this would be the group that restored my faith in local music. This sextet was indie pop and everything great about pop music, with a bit of homegrown twang, in general.
Scarlet Tanager is one of St. Louis’ most well-kept secrets and most precious gems, as Susan Logsdon sings in her wistful, dreamy aural arena and her five band mates (including her husband, brother and sister-in-law) create the perfect mix of warm 60’s charm and the best elements of all that is right in indie pop. Scarlet Tanager explores themes relevant to nearly anyone but no one captures their light as well as Susan and the gang. If Susan’s brutally honest lyrics sung in her outstanding vocal gamut ranging from soft lulls to full bodied croons doesn’t nab your attention the musical palette of the musicians assisting her certainly will. To paint a better picture of what you’ve been missing out on, I took it upon myself to introduce you to St. Louis’ ‘most-satisfying-to-listen-to’ up and coming band.
Describe your sound in your own words. What kind of music does Scarlet Tanager play?
Michael Logsdon: Indie Pop is probably the best description. We’re just trying to play the type of music we enjoy. We have a lot of influences but trying to balance out influences with our own personal sound and six band members can be difficult. Susan comes from a singer/songwriter background but we’re eclectic, we try to bring a lot of 50’s type of pop in to the mix, too.
Every band has influences beyond what the audience may hear; what are influences of yours that may or may not be obvious to audience ears? How do any of those influences affect your sound and how do you mix those to fit that eclectic and unique style?
Susan Logsdon: My influences definitely include Patsy Cline and her 50’s pop sound. I also really like Feist and Regina Spektor. Bright Eyes and Deathcab for Cutie are influences, too, for the both of us [Michael and I], I think.
ML: Yeah, I definitely include Bright Eyes but I also really like Los Campesinos and like to include them as an influence that you can hear in Scarlet Tanager, like with the group vocals and just lots of energy. There’s something primal about just singing your guts out on stage like that and I also really like to include vocal harmonies. It’s funny because when Susan starts to come up with a song she’ll come to me and tell me she’s got a new one. I’ll listen to it and then I’ll hear something in it that she maybe didn’t consciously mean to do, but it still sounds like her or like Scarlet Tanager, very unique and then I’ll add my influences. It’s neat because having six people from different backgrounds keeps it interesting. Jordan (keys/vocals) comes from a theatre background and is really good with harmonies, Josh is kind of a rocker, you know. We just have to keep each other balanced, we make sure that the sound or our style doesn’t get out of hand and that nothing just comes out of left field.
SL: No, we all get along, we’re a very democratic band. Everyone has such good insight and it keeps us all contained. It’s really cool and a lot more fun to get everyone’s opinions on things before we move on and complete projects.
How did you get your start? And how or where did you meet the whole crew of band members?
ML: I think I like my side of this story better [laughs]. In college I played in a band called Roses at Your Feet. A Greenville buddy of mine led me to Susan when he was talking about “girls who do awesome music” and Susan went to Greenville. I thought she was great and it was intimidating! She came to see my band’s show and my friend Jason introduced me to her and all I could really say was “I heard your music! That’s you!” After the show we all went out to Denny’s and I just laid it on thick – I figured I had no chance of bombing because I wasn’t sure I’d see her again but I kept telling her that I was a fan of her and her music. Like, I was a fan of hers before I’d even met her. We started Myspace messaging each other and she came back and we started dating. She even wrote a song about me and that was in 2006.
SL: [laughing at Michael] Yeah, I thought he was…hot stuff. That’s the first time I’ve ever said that [continues laughing]! There was a lot of shameless flirting between the two of us. I made fun of him a lot but it must have worked because we messaged one another all summer and then started dating. But this is the first band that I’ve ever been in and he’s [Michael] has always been there for me and Josh, my brother. And Josh and Jordan are married to each other, too, so that’s really nice to have as a support system as a band and family.
ML: As a band, though, Scarlet Tanager has been together for about a year. We started assembling all the parts a year and a half ago out in West County. There was always a lot of music around us, like when we were in college at Greenville [Susan and some of my friends] and Carbondale [where I was] music and good musicians weren’t hard to find.
SL: We found Matt through church and Dustin from Greenville, but he was also in Michael’s band. Josh was getting serious with Jordan and we wanted to ask her to come join us. So, that was great how it worked out.
ML: It came together so quick that deciding on what we wanted our sound to be was hard. We kept asking ourselves what we wanted this to be. Every song sounded so different and we were trying to find some cohesion. After a few practices and meetings with one another, we came closer to our sound.
SL: Micahel played keys on a few songs, then he’d go play the guitar and Josh would play acoustic. It got hard to picture Scarlet Tanager without an acoustic. Our first show was filmed and after watching it felt that Josh’s talent on acoustic was being wasted. The guitar (electric) sound came to fit our sound, that 60’s pop tone just fit naturally.
Can you tell us about the forthcoming album? This will be your first record and you seem to be doing all of the work on your own, very DIY.
ML: The new album has definitely been a long time coming. Since we started we’ve wanted to record. For the past almost year we’ve done our own recordings. We won some studio time with Jupiter Studios and Josh and I have recording experience but this was a bit out of our zone [at Jupiter]. We took to doing home recordings in the garage and we fix it up and it sounds great. We decided to do the recordings and try to set a date for songs and production and recordings done. Fingers crossed we’ll be all ready and done by the show! The album is very representative of Susan and who she is. Susan is homemade; she’s just great at everything and is a natural at everything she does. Susan is working on the artwork and is screen printing all of the albums, she’s done the planning for it.
The mixing for the album was done by Josh and I. He and I split the duties and each took a few songs to get the whole album done. The mixes were coming out a little different but it was great because we’d bounce ideas off of each other and come up with some really good stuff. But then one night I was driving home listening to a song I was going to mix and I came up with this great idea for a music video. I sat on the idea for a week because I was a little embarrassed but I threw the idea out there and then we all talked about it, made a storyboard and got scenes and the video completely forumulated.
Photo by Susan Logsdon
Wow, a music video, especially DIY, is a huge undertaking! What can you say about the video and where/when will it be available for viewing?
SL: The video was a crazy project, lots of fun! It started as a simple idea but the whole thing just took on a life of its own. Our garage was taken over by the puppets and the sets for the puppets, outfits – we made over 30 outfits for the puppets.
ML: It’s for what’s probably the quirkiest song on the album and came up with the idea for the video with puppets and having a puppet for each member of the band. We set a deadline of 2 weeks for the video to be shot and produced, made – the whole thing, we wanted to do it in two weeks. We worked on it every night for about a month and a half until it was done but it was great because it brought everyone in the band together, all working on something for the group. The video will be premiered at the CD release show on Friday (June 24th) and will also go up on YouTube, Vimeo our Facebook, everywhere.
What’s next for the band?
SL: We don’t have a manager but we’ve definitely talked about it. We’ve done all the work, obviously all the work for the album but also booking and scheduling all of our own shows. We’ll do the work for booking like emailing venue managers and bookers but this is our dream.
ML: Yeah, this is it for us – what we’ve always wanted to do. It’s one of those things where if this doesn’t work then we’ll have kids, but this is what we want to do now. This is something we’ve worked so hard for and something we love doing and we’re looking to do whatever it takes for us to get to that next level.
Join Scarlet Tanager on Wednesday, July 20th at Off Broadway along with Tone Rodent and My Gold Mask. Doors at 8:30p and show starts at 9p.
Original interview can be found at Starla at the Show and Music of the Hour, published June 22, 2011.