(Photo by M. Krebotchnik)
This week, we’ll be highlighting some of the artists playing the 10th annual Crossroads Music Fest next Saturday, September 6. Please visit cmfkc.com for more information.
Scott Hrabko has been making music for over 25 years now, but only recently released his debut album in late 2013. The singer/songwriter composes thoughtful, reflective tunes with a backing band that provides the soul, swing, and twang that gives his music a classic country feel. We talk with Hrabko about his history and how he got back into the music scene.
The Deli: Down and dirty: 1 sentence to describe your music. What is it?
Hrabko: Singer/songwriterly, semi-autobiographical songs with rambling lyrics, played in a somewhat offbeat country/folk/blues hybrid with an emphasis on soulful three-part harmonies.
The Deli: How did you get back into writing and playing your own songs again?
Hrabko: After I moved from KC in the '90s, I had some good bands in Chicago and Austin that maybe 20 people knew about. When I came back, though, I was having trouble meeting musicians who had any interest in the kind of stuff I write. I grew kind of disillusioned about writing songs for awhile and my only connection to music was this cover band, The Original Sinners, playing semi-obscure R&B songs from the '50s a few times a year at parties. When the urge to write started pestering me again, my wife strongly suggested that I get out and play some solo acoustic shows. That was when I asked Howard Iceberg for advice and he introduced me to Elaine McMilian. Elaine booked gigs for me and helped get my music back out in public. She and her friend, the late Tom Ryan, were huge supporters early on. That helped because I was very nervous about the whole thing and had no idea how it would be received. It's not easy to go out and perform without a band, but I'm glad I did; I really learned whether my songs can stand on their own, without all of the seductive instrumentation.
The Deli: How did you hook up with the rest of the Rabbits?
Hrabko: I met Emily Tummons a few years ago at the Howard Iceberg tribute show at Crosstown Station. My old band, the Splinters, was invited to play a couple of Howard's tunes; Emily and her sister Beth sang a couple by themselves and with Scott Easterday. Their sound really knocked me out. It was very old-timey—the kind of harmonies you just don't hear these days. I thought, “I have to find a way to sing with those girls, somehow.” I figured we might run into each other eventually, but right after the show as I was loading up my car, Emily came right up and introduced herself and asked if I ever needed any backing vocals. Beth was too busy with her home life to commit to anything, but Emily wound up singing on my album and then joined the Rabbits.
Josh Arnold was the first musician who joined us after that. He had gone to school with Emily and played bass with the Tummons Sisters. He and Emily had sung harmonies before, as well, so they already had all this history. I knew immediately that we had a good combination. He's a great, intuitive bass player, and the two of them just have this telepathy when they sing together. With previous bands I was probably guilty of micromanagement, not letting the musicians be themselves and find a flow, but with Josh and Emily I just say, “here's the song—go to it,” with only an occasional suggestion of what they should do. They're also great people, and very funny.
We just lost our badass guitarist, Kirk Scott, who moved with his family to Massachusetts, so we're a trio now, but we have a fourth member lined up; it’s just not official yet. Emily sang some harmonies on my CD, Gone Places and we started rehearsing with Josh about a year ago in preparation for the CD release, which was last November at Coda.
The Deli: What have been your greatest accomplishments as a band?
Hrabko: I think it has been developing our own unique sound in a very short period of time. I always dreamed of having a band with a strong element of harmony and the first time we sang together I knew it could be something special. And, for me, personally—I was really out of the music scene for years, so getting back into it and being so warmly received is really gratifying.
The Deli: You released your debut album Gone Places last November. What can people expect from it?
Hrabko: Gone Places came out late last year. That one was me and some old friends and some guest musicians I'd just met, recorded mostly in my basement. Scott Hrabko & The Rabbits are putting the finishing touches on a new album which will be out some time this fall.
The Deli: Who are you most looking forward to seeing at Crossroads Music Fest this year?
Hrabko: There are a lot of bands I already like that I want to hear, as well as some I'm curious about. It's very nice that it all takes place within a few city blocks. After our set I think I'm just going to go wherever the wind takes me. It all sounds good.
The Deli: What does supporting local music mean to you?
Hrabko: It's about acknowledging how lucky we are to be in a small-to-mid-sized major city smack dab in the middle of the country and we're absolutely surrounded with good music. Can't swing a dead cat. I'll give you an example: we have this local, non-touring band, Dead Voices, who are making music that is just historically good, and they're like our little secret. For the time being we have them to ourselves. It's really lovely to see all this music happening here, because I can remember a time when it wasn't, aside from a handful of true believers.
It's not the product of hype, or a response to some kind of market pressure, either. It's just growing on its own, taking its own quirky course.
The Deli: What has changed about the local music landscape? Why do you think it’s growing at a rate it wasn’t before?
Hrabko: There seems to be a convergence of musicians who came up together in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, who are all friends and play in each other's bands. Many of the bands just seem to be part of one organism! It kind of sustains itself. It helps that the music is worth listening to.
Second, it seems that there are more entrepreneurs around who are musician-friendly or musicians themselves who are starting up venues and record labels, organizing festivals, etc. That infrastructure definitely wasn't around back in the day when a band like mine could play a Monday night at The Grand Emporium or maybe open for somebody at Parody Hall.
Third, the internet. Being able to post your music online for anybody to check out has been a godsend for socially challenged musicians like me, and all of the social media has made it much easier to get the word out. Going around, stapling fliers to telephone poles seems very quaint now. I would also add that there are more true music lovers—especially for live music—than you would think there would be in a town this size, so people do come out. And of course we have KKFI!
The Deli: Who are your favorite local musicians right now?
Hrabko: It kills me to leave so many out, but I am a huge fan of Mikal Shapiro, Dead Voices, of course -- anything David Regnier is involved in, Jason Beers, Marco Pascolini, Howard Iceberg, Brent Jamison, Kasey Rausch, Old Sound. John Greiner, but he just moved to the east coast, so he's no longer local. Emily and Josh from my own band kick my ass on a regular basis.
The Deli: Who are your favorite not-so-local musicians right now?
Hrabko: Lately I've gotten into these mysterious, English folky women, like Cate LeBon and This Is The Kit. Also digging back into the late Townes Van Zandt's early catalog and finding I really didn't know all I thought I knew about him. What a lyricist... like William Blake or something! Fred Neill, early John Martyn (a lot of dead guys, I guess!), Michael Kiwanuka.
The Deli: A music-themed Mount Rushmore. What four faces are you putting up there and why?
Hrabko: Leonard Cohen, Robert Johnson, Joni Mitchell, Jimmie Rodgers, Captain Beefheart (I know, that's five): great music that has stood the test of time. I've had so many musical heroes that I've either outgrown, disavowed, or gotten sick of, but I still get chills when I listen to these people’s songs. It still has as profound an impact on me as it did when I was much younger and knew even less.
The Deli: What other goals does Scott Hrabko & the Rabbits have for 2014?
Hrabko: Stay healthy, stay busy, stay visible, write great songs, and grow as a band.
The Deli: Where can we find you on the web?
The Deli: Always go out on a high note. Any last words of wisdom for the Deli audience?
Hrabko: If it's crap, don't be deterred.
Scott Hrabko & the Rabbits are:
Scott Hrabko: acoustic guitar, lead vocals
Josh Arnold: bass, vocals
Emily Tummons: accordion, ukulele, vocals
Scott Hrabko & the Rabbits will be playing at The Tank Room for Crossroads Music Fest on Saturday. Their set is at 6:00 pm, followed by Old Sound. Facebook event page. You can also catch Hrabko at Coda every fourth Saturday, where he hosts a happy hour songwriter showcase.