We found Scott Brackett via the great videos he posts on his Instagram account, “thebrackett”. The music he creates with a MOXF6, reface CS, reface DX and QY100 is really interesting and has been featured in SynthBits (here and here). We reached out to Scott and found him to be just as interesting as his videos!
In this two-part interview, we talked about his background, influences, the bands he’s toured with, what he’s working on now and how he uses Yamaha Synthesizers in his work. He’ll also be contributing a few video articles to YamahaSynth very soon – but in the meantime, allow us to introduce you to “thebrackett”.
YamahaSynth (YS): Tell us a little about your background.
Scott Brackett (SB): I grew up in Northern California, Redding. It’s a pretty small town with not a lot to do, so to stay out of trouble and have a social life playing in a band became an option. My buddies and I all met in public school playing in band – I played trumpet in the school band—and it all started from there.
YS: You played in your school band?
SB: Yeah. Interesting story there. My middle school band director, who was this amazing jazz musician and multi-instrumentalist, had to take a leave of absence for health reasons so the rest of that year we had a string of substitutes and one of them, for whatever reason, decided to put me on French Horn. I wasn’t quite clear that my trumpet was a Bb instrument, and I didn’t know the first thing about French Horn, so it was still basically unclear to me that that it sounds a fifth lower than written. So to me, I just had this foreign instrument that I didn’t quite get so I just started adding notes by ear that sounded correct. The substitutes were basically not even musicians so they didn’t really know what they were doing and didn’t hear what was right or wrong so I would just play these complementary notes that sounded OK. So from 7th grade up until my 9th grade year I was basically winging it. I think in one way it was a detriment to me learning “properly” but in another way it ended up developing my ability to play by ear and be creative which ultimately served me in rock bands and different genres of music later on.
YS: Your path to music was more about playing by ear and less about playing on the page?
SB: Yeah, but it became an issue for me because my theory and reading skills were not great and the school was going to hold me back a year in band so I could improve. The problem with that was my friends were all in the band and I didn’t want to do that. Redding is in this sweet spot half way between Portland and San Francisco so bands doing a tour would stop there to play shows and I got much more into that scene and dropped out of band to play in punk and ska bands. But that time in band playing by ear—basically taking a non-traditional approach to playing music—served me well in my later musical endeavors.
YS: What instruments did you play?
SB: Well, basically whatever! I would essentially pick up guitar, bass, drums…anything. This was mostly just punk rock, and while it is challenging to do, well it isn’t musically difficult and I would play by ear and just do what I though was right. That sort of cavalier attitude and frame of mine certainly came from punk rock—the idea that you can do this “well enough” and just go for it! I’m a big fan of that attitude, which is why I’m such a big fan of bands like Black Flag and Henry Rollins, the Clash, Operation Ivy, and so on.
YS: Attitude is everything! When did keyboards and technology enter into your music?
SB: I didn’t really get into keys until early college which was right around the time I started getting into more indie bands. Like I said, because Redding is in that spot between Portland and San Francisco lots of great bands would stop there. Often times they would just stay overnight in Redding to break up the long drive between the two cities. My music friends and I would check out the bands we liked and when we saw on their tour schedule that they were doing a San Francisco-Portland route we would reach out to them and started booking shows in Redding. We could usually book them for way less than their guarantee. For example, we were fan of bands on the K Records label so we’d get these bands to stop in Redding for a show and open for them. Interestingly enough, my trumpet past served me well during that time because trumpet solos started showing up in these indy bands (like Cake) and I’d end up playing trumpet with lots of different bands. Anyway, right around this time is when I started really experimenting with keyboards.
YS: What were some of your first keyboard instruments.
SB: My very first synthesizer ever was a Yamaha PSS-130 and I remember being enamored of it because it sounded JUST LIKE some of the instruments on the Mega Man 2 soundtrack that I was obsessed with at the time. Although I consider myself a keyboardist now, I didn’t really consider myself “qualified” to call myself a keyboard player or a musician for many years. But I was always messing with thrift store rescues that you could find for a few dollars, and sometimes I’d circuit bend them to get different sounds.
My friend and I would compose electronic music on the side for fun. We really didn’t consider it super serious then because it was not like the “serious” indie stuff we were doing. We were just having fun making chiptune-like things before that became a thing. We’d play these things for our fellow bandmates and they’d laugh so we considered it just for fun. I often wonder if we would have leaned into that a little more we would have been way ahead of the curve in electronic music! But regardless we kept rescuing these older keyboards and organs and modifying. We didn’t really know the term “circuit bending” but that’s exactly what we were doing.
OLDER GEAR CAN OFFER GREAT CREATIVE OPPORTUNITIES. SOMETHING I REALLY LIKE IS DOUBLING BACK AND REINVESTIGATING AN OLDER TECHNOLOGY THAT, FOR WHATEVER REASON WE’VE MOVED ON FROM. A GREAT EXAMPLE IS THE DX7. IT WAS ALL THE RAGE WHEN IT WAS OUT, THEN WE MOVED ONTO THINGS LIKE SAMPLE-BASED SYNTHESIS AND ANALOG, THEN WE THOUGHT PLUGINS WERE GOING TO TAKE OVER HARDWARE AND SO ON. BUT WHEN WE REVISIT THESE PREVIOUS TECHNOLOGIES, REDISCOVER AND RECOMBINE THINGS I THINK WE FIND NEW AVENUES OF CREATIVITY THAT WERE NOT DONE OR EVEN THOUGHT OF THE FIRST TIME AROUND.
That is something I find interesting as well. In the modular world the very thing that was seen as the drawback—connecting with cables, no voice memory, etc.— is the allure. It is the epitome of hands on.
YS: Well, it seems like you moved beyond the thrift store stuff to more traditional synths and technology.
SB: Yeah, you know I’ve always been into technology and science and went to college for computer science but I still was way into playing music and touring. One of the bands we were booking was the band Okkervil River. They had a trumpet player in the band who unexpectedly backed out of a tour so the lead singer, Will Sheff, came up to me and said “Hey Scotty, you play trumpet, right”? Of course I said yes, but then he added “you play keys too, right?”…and I said, “Well, yeah…yeah…” and he said “Do you think you can learn 11 songs by this Friday and fly out a do a tour with us?” I remember saying, “well, I have a trigonometry class let me get back to you.” So I went to class, decided that school and math will always be there and went on tour with Okkervil River. It was really cool! We did a tour opening up for the Decemberists and started to get a pretty solid following. They are based in Austin, TX so I took an educational leave, had about four days to either pack up what fit, toss what didn’t and moved to Austin to be a musician. I originally came here to play with them but through the years I played and toured with Okkervil River, Shearwater and Murder by Death. I toured pretty much constantly for awhile.
YS: I know you have since gotten off the road and your life has taken other paths. When did you stop touring?
SB: Well, pretty much since I met my current partner back in 2012. I was coming out of my 30s, had this new awesome woman in my life, and really, touring loses its allure as you get older. So you know, touring with these bands became my music school and while I was doing it, it was amazing. I felt like a dog going on a car ride: I didn’t care where I was going, I was just happy to be out and along for the ride. And with the music, I really tried to think very texturally whether I was playing keys or horn. The indie folk-rock genre is really about the overall sound and I just worked at finding places in the music to add interesting textures and backgrounds. It was an amazing learning experience. That was when I starting thinking about using synthesizers in different types of music.
Check out Part II here!