One-man band Scott H. Biram isn’t much for churchgoing, but he’s got a fire burning inside for gospel music.
“It speaks to me more than any other music that I’ve listened to,” he tells CMT Edge from his home in Austin, Texas. “I know the person singing is basically in despair. They’re at the bottom, locked up in chains, and that’s the only thing getting them through the day. When I sing it’s having the same function for me as it does for them. It puts my brain on hold and my heart in gear.”
On the jacket of his ninth album Nothin’ but Blood, Biram stands waist-deep in water, arms outstretched and eyes on the heavens like he’s about to be baptized. But take a closer look, and you’ll realize it’s not water at all.
Mixing brokenhearted country and gospel with the primal scream of punk rock and metal’s ferocity, Nothin’ but Blood continues Biram’s penchant for putting God and the devil side by side to see who comes out on top.
CMT Edge: So I’m wondering, after all your years as a one-man band, why do you continue to work alone?
Biram: Well, I’m a control freak. (laughs) I mean, I’m on the road a lot, so it’s hard for me to put a band together and commit and deal with all the egos and practice times and all that stuff, but also sometimes it just comes down to finances. It’s a lot more practical for me to go on the road and get paid like a four-piece band but only have to split it between me and my “roadie.” It’s hard to let go of that. I have a lifestyle I have to maintain. (laughs)
When you started, did you have any one-man band heroes to look up to?
No, I didn’t become a one-man band because of any other one-man-band. I had heard of Hasil Adkins before and maybe had one his records, and Jesse Fuller was king of the one-man bands back in the day, but that wasn’t really what inspired me. It was more of being a solo artist and wanting to play in rock clubs again, and I couldn’t really do that anymore by just singing into a microphone, so I had to crank up all these amplifiers and bring my old wild-ass self out.
Why did you lead the new album with the less-aggressive “Slow and Easy”?
I felt like it was the best-produced song out of all of them. It was not the best-written song. I’m still struggling playing it live and trying to put percussion into it. There’s not any on the record. A lot of my favorite songs come to me in five minutes when I just jot it down, like “Gotta Get to Heaven.” “Slow and Easy” didn’t work for me, and then I put a bridge in, and it came together. It was a real good production experience in the studio with overdubbing and different types of guitars.
The last time we talked, you were doing guitar leads and struggling to get them how you wanted. Any progress?
Well, guitar is a crazy animal, and I keep struggling. I’m giving myself more breaks when playing guitar. I used to play one to three hours a day, and now I’m playing the drums more at home to clear my brain. And it works! I didn’t play it for a couple weeks and then came up with some cool stuff. It’s crazy playing guitar for 26 years and still learning new things you never really noticed.
A lot of the characters in your songs are from the wrong side of the tracks. Why do you think it’s important to explain these characters and why they are the way they are?
I think people are genuinely good, but they just do bad sometimes … unless they’ve got some wires crossed. And sometimes it’s just me getting negativity off my chest and using a character instead of myself. Just because I’m singing about murder or burying people, it’s more like a subconscious thing for me of burying frustration.
It’s a mystery to me, too. I’ve found some of the best times for me to write are when I’m awake at 5 a.m. or still up at 5 a.m. and I have this on my mind and can’t quit, and I just stop and write it down without actually thinking about it. Especially in the morning when I just wake up, before I’m out of that “dream state.” I think that kind of writing is similar to all those rock musicians when they were all strung out on heroin — the connection. … Everything I’m telling you is a bunch of bullshit because I can’t really explain it to you.
I like to do these interviews because an artist can look back on things like that.
Yeah, sometimes I learn about myself. You’re always trying to find new ways to look at things, and I hear other people’s songs and think, “That’s interesting they thought of that.”
What’s the background to “Only Whiskey”?
It’s a funny story. The inspiration has nothing to do with the subject matter. I got flown to Detroit to do a show about seven or eight years ago. The guy that flew me up there had me staying at his buddy’s house. He was separated from his wife and had a young daughter.
I have an older song called “Whiskey,” and this new one is called “Only Whiskey.” I guess he played that old song at his house all the time, and his daughter knew it, so she called me Whiskey and was always like, “I want to listen to Whiskey!”
She went to stay at her mom’s house while I was at her dad’s, and she said to her dad, “Only Whiskey can sleep in my bed.” And I was like, “That’s a song, man!”