Scott H. Biram is an American hollerer with a bunch of room to himself between David Allan Coe and Jack Oblivian. He likes Black Flag but sometimes he gets weird and reedy like Dock Boggs, and he decides here that he is probably not going to take shrooms again for a little bit. This interview by Sarah Bennett.
Do you still have your ’65 Ranchero?
Scott H. Biram: I’m sitting in it now. It was pretty beat up when I got it but I had it redone and they kinda ripped me off and didn’t do as good a job as they should have. But my cousin builds hot rods and works at this badass shop and he had it for three weeks and fixed it all up and it’s badass.
Do you collect old cars?
Scott H. Biram: No, this was actually my uncle’s—he died in ’99 and I bought it from my aunt. It was just sitting in the carport for five or six years. He was only the second owner and the old man, Mr. McCoy, who owned it before—my grandfather says he remembers when that old man bought the car brand new and drove it into town and no one had ever seen anything like it before.
What town was that?
Scott H. Biram: Until I was 10, I lived in a small town called Prairie Lee—population 100 people. There was a schoolhouse with grades kindergarten through twelfth grade all in one big building. There were fourteen kids in my class. I moved to San Marcos, Texas, when I was 10—a college town—and I grew up there. Plus I did a lot of traveling with the folks too, so I didn’t get the whole hick thing.
You’ve openly attacked the ‘hick’ stereotype. You have an art degree, right?
Scott H. Biram: Some people just automatically think I’m some kind of dumb redneck because of my moustache, but no—I went to college at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. It’s a state university now. David Yow—the singer for Jesus Lizard—is also from there. He was quite a bit older than me, but we still had the same art teacher who did a couple of Jesus Lizard album covers and he just did my most recent one, too.
Do you still do any visual art?
Scott H. Biram: No, I got burned out in college and didn’t want to do any more art after that. I still do T-shirt designs, but that’s about as far as that goes. I was a painting major and I did collage—weird collage. I made some little tiny roasted turkeys one time.
Where did music come in? I read that you got into Stevie Wonder first and demanded a Casio keyboard for Christmas.
Scott H. Biram: I don’t know where I would have said that, but yeah. When I was a little kid I heard ‘Superstitious’ and I was like, ‘What is that?’ It didn’t sound like a keyboard and my mom told me it was a synthesizer and I said, ‘I want one of those.’ So, yeah—I started playing keyboards first.
You’ve been in a lot of physical accidents—including the Great French Gas Station Leg Break of ’09. Does your pain tolerance ever improve?
Scott H. Biram: Nah, I don’t like pain. Most of the stuff happened to me back in 2003 with my big wreck when I broke every limb in my body except for my left arm. It was pretty wild. And so in February, I broke my other leg and they put rods in that one. Now I’m like the bionic redneck or something.
How much metal is in your body? How much does it weigh?
Scott H. Biram: It’s titanium so it’s not really heavy, but I have a rod through the center of the bone of my right lower leg and a plate in my left knee with about eight screws. I have a titanium rod through my right leg through the center of my right femur and another plate on my forearm with more screws in it. But as far as pain goes, my tolerance for Vicodin is way high now. I took one the other night and it didn’t do anything to me.
What about morphine?
Scott H. Biram: They didn’t give me any this last time, but when I was in the first time, they had me on so much morphine for the first week that I thought I was locked in a feed store behind enemy lines. I was in a military hospital, too, so everyone had their fatigues on.
You recovered alone this time, right?
Scott H. Biram: I’m always alone. I’m like stir-crazy in my own head. My dog thinks I’m crazy because I’ve been whispering to myself. I’ll be thinking something then I’ll whisper it and my dog will look at me like, ‘What are you doing?’
Is it hard to adjust to the inherent social aspects of going on tour?
Scott H. Biram: When I go out by myself in regular situations not playing music, I can get nervous. I don’t like to be around people—meeting their families and stuff like that—it just makes me nervous. But when I’m on the road, it’s like having a birthday party for you every night. You’re the guest of honor and they’re giving you food and beer and showing me their titties and stuff.
Do you believe that bad things happen to you because you were a bad person in a past life?
Scott H. Biram: No. I just feel like I have shit luck. I’m not a clumsy person. When I slipped in France, it was because the gas company makes their pumps with tile flooring on it so they’re slippery as fuck.
If you did have a past life who do you think you’d be?
Scott H. Biram: Not a truck driver; probably a carpenter. I’m good at building things. If I was somebody else before, I would be just an anybody that didn’t stand out too much—a person living a humble life. I just don’t feel any extraordinary background coming to me from any past life. But I’ve been told I have an old soul.
Do you agree with the statement that ‘America in 2009 is a place and time when it isn’t hard to have the blues’?
Scott H. Biram: I’ve been having a little bit of trouble writing lately, but I started recording a new record just a couple of weeks ago. It was three years between my last two records, so if I can finish this one in the next seven or eight months, I’ll be doing good. I’m feeling a little punk rock again. I’ve been trying to write some minute punk songs—just straight-up punk rock hollerin’. It goes with my lack of inspiration somehow. If I just yell some words out and play some really Black Flag-sounding shit, I could write a shitload of those songs. I know there are a few people who miss the wild and crazy me because the last record had a lot of ballad songs on there. They say, ‘We miss the rowdy, grind-y style,’ so I don’t mind showing them it’s still there—and then throwing a couple of lonely ones in there too. The one I already recorded for the new album is kind of like a lonely, driving-across-the-desert-at-night song.
Do the ballads come from recording alone in your home studio?
Scott H. Biram: No. It’s because I’m depressed. I’m depressed as fuck. I’ve been depressed forever. I’m jaded too. I have no love interests at all and that’s a little depressing too, that I’ve given up on that shit.
You could try not spending so much time alone? Your dog can’t help you meet people.
Scott H. Biram: That’s why I’m taking acting classes. I’ve been filming a demo for a horror movie that’s coming out where I’m a serial killer truck driver.
Scott H. Biram: It’ll be more like Texas Chainsaw Massacre but where I’m a truck driver. I went to Nashville to film this scene and in 16-degree weather I hung a girl by some hooks in a barn. I’ve been thinking I really want to get into this acting thing—get my mind off of music for a little bit—so I’ve been looking into these classes at the city college here in town. And I think I can meet people in a setting that’s not at a bar.
But then you’re meeting actresses who are really good at faking things.
Scott H. Biram: Yeah, well, I’m good at faking shit too. But, really, I like girls who are actresses because they have a career idea and they want to do something with their lives.
They also tend to take care of their bodies more because it might end up on camera.
Scott H. Biram: That’s awesome.
You could go to the titty bar to meet women.
Scott H. Biram: It’s not that you can’t pick up chicks at a titty bar—unless you got coke—but it’s just a waste of money. We hit one once every tour because we’re bored.
You’re in Austin now, but are there any other cities you would consider living in?
Scott H. Biram: I love San Francisco. I like the way it looks. I like coming over one of those hills and seeing the bay down below. It’s one place I feel like I can breathe; when I’m home or in other cities, I feel like I’m not taking as deep of breaths as I should. I drove through Louisiana once where all the refineries are and my nose started bleeding.
How does L.A. stack up?
Scott H. Biram: I like going to L.A. I don’t want to live in L.A. I don’t like the traffic. Every friend I know who moves there within two months is wearing a spiked belt.
What’s one way someone from L.A. could not look so out-of-place in the South?
Scott H. Biram: Well, I can’t speak for the South because Texas is not the South.
The United States of Texas?
Scott H. Biram: It’s just such a big place and there’s so many different places and different kinds of people in Texas. I’m not all about that ‘seceding from the Union’ bullshit, but it is its own entity. To me, there’s the South, Texas, the Southwest and the West. If you want to blend in in Austin, you just have to have a bunch of tattoos.
What job did you have to quit to do music full-time?
Scott H. Biram: I was a cook at the Town Square Deli in Wimberley, Texas. My last job was Christmas Eve, 2001. I was supposed to get off two hours early and I got off two hours late and I looked into the restaurant and everyone was gone except the owners and their friends drinking mimosas and having a good old time and I was back there washing dishes and late for my Christmas Eve at my parent’s house. So I said I quit without my two weeks. Told them that they wouldn’t like the way I’m going to act the next two weeks if I stay here.
Was that the worst job you ever had?
Scott H. Biram: The worst job I had would either be the pawn shop or the Goodwill. At Goodwill, I sorted through all the shit that gets donated. It’s all dirty from people’s garages and I have this thing when my hands get dust on them, I feel weird—like this claustrophobic feeling. I don’t mind oil or gasoline on them, but if they get some kind of dry stuff, it makes me freak out. They told me I needed to clean the men’s restroom and I just walked out.
What about the pawn shop?
Scott H. Biram: That was just depressing. There was this crazy guy in my art class and he got crazier and crazier and one time he came into the pawn shop and he pawned a bunch of guns and I was like, ‘This guy does not need to have guns.’
Do you still get inspiration from the CB radio?
Scott H. Biram: Well, I haven’t had my CB in a while, but five minutes of listening to it, there’s something that’s worth it. That’s where I got the title of the last record. ‘Lost Forever’ came from this trucker saying, ‘We’re gonna be lost forever!’ and the ‘Something’s Wrong’ comes from when me and my friends were on mushrooms in high school and my friend’s curled up in a ball screaming, ‘Something’s wrong!’
Which is better—LSD or shrooms?
Scott H. Biram: Well, after last Halloween, I don’t know if I’ll take shrooms again. The mushrooms freaked me out. I played this festival. There were a thousand people there and I came by myself and I didn’t know anybody. Somebody gave me some shrooms and we went to this campfire—it was a campout festival. There were all these hippies and there were people playing drums and shit. I had just played but I didn’t know anybody and I kept hearing my name being called. When I tried to find my van I got lost in the woods. I should have seen it coming—me coming alone and getting lost in the woods on mushrooms. I also locked myself in a porta-potty for half an hour to try and get my shit together.
No more psychedelics?
Scott H. Biram: I’ll drop some acid again, but I smoke pot and drink and that’s about it. Except for New Year’s Eve—that’s another story. Last year we were in New Orleans. A quarter-hit of acid, a party in a mansion and I got really drunk and started walking through the Garden District and wandered into some bars where I stayed until the sun came up.
You seem to end up on a lot of solo adventures.
Scott H. Biram: Sometimes I put myself in these places to make myself do things so that I’ll have stories to tell. I’m a really good storyteller. I remember little details and things from when I was 3 all the way up through high school and college. And I like to tell stories and I can’t shut up.
Good thing you can write songs about them.
Scott H. Biram: Yeah, but then I tell more stories between songs and people yell at me to shut up and play. It’s funnier in France where they have no idea what I’m saying.
SCOTT H. BIRAM WITH THE DIRT DAUBERS ON SAT., FEB. 6, AT SPACELAND, 1717 SILVERLAKE BLVD., SILVER LAKE. 8:30 PM / $8-$10 / 21+. CLUBSPACELAND.COM. SCOTT H. BIRAM’S SOMETHING’S WRONG/LOST FOREVER IS OUT NOW ON BLOODSHOT. VISIT SCOTT H. BIRAM AT SCOTTBIRAM.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/SCOTTHBIRAM.