If there ever was a particular day to reflect on the future of the planet, it would be Earth Day.
And today is that day.
The genre-blending jazz-forward octet known as The Scooches are weaving world impact into their music with their newest poignant and uplifting single, “Stop This Climate Change,” which fittingly premiered today on Earth Day.
“Our goal for this song is to inspire people to roll up their sleeves and take action. Let’s come together and truly believe we can create positive change,” says vocalist and composer Betina Hershey who penned the track.
A portion of the proceeds generated from the single will benefit the Sierra Club, the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the U.S., one whose purpose is to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. Environmentalism is important to the group as a whole. “We recycle, compost, use compostable garbage bags, and bike or walk whenever we can. We can’t afford to deny our impact on the Earth.”
The group emphasizes the magic that comes with hard work towards impactful change, and is excited to inspire listeners to feel the same, and help make a positive – and needed – change.
We talked to Hershey and multi-instrumentalist Nick Russo to learn more about the band, their mission behind their music, the new single, upcoming album and much more.
How has 2023 treated you? Any notable highlights for the band or otherwise?
Nick Russo: At the start of 2023, I was still focusing on solo guitar, after reconnecting and studying classical guitar again with one of my college professors, Dr. Steve Salerno then attended the Classical Guitar Retreat in Scotland under the supervision of Matthew McAllister in the summer of 2022. It was refreshing and empowering to recultivate my daily practice routine and continue my classical guitar journey. I also deepened my music journey path last summer by attending a week-long Robert Fripp Guitar Circle with my dear childhood friend, Charlie Koci.
However, towards the end of 2022 into 2023, The Scooches have been in full force recording, producing, mixing, mastering Lift You Up, shooting videos and preparing for both our radio release and album release concerts (June 2nd at The Zinc Bar in NYC and June 24 at Meadow Blues Coffee in Chester, NY). I’m so psyched how 2023 is unfolding with The Scooches’ new record blossoming into a remarkable album, and I’m excited to see the completion of both the physical CD and vinyl to finally be complete and tangible! Yes, I did say vinyl! Lift You Up will be our first vinyl pressing! Gotta love vinyl!
Betina Hershey: I have been really enjoying working on our album, playing concerts together, meeting our communities at APAP and Folk Alliance International, developing a rewrite of a family musical I wrote, Switch It Off, about technology, which will be performed by Garden Players kids May 21 and 22nd in NYC, and reconnecting with my tour buddies from “The Phantom of the Opera,” where I played Meg for two years quite a while back. It’s been quite a year so far, with so many projects developing at the same time. I enjoy the creative spark. I have been writing tons of new songs, and I look forward to developing them, hearing them played by The Scooches, and getting them out into the world.
We have to ask- where did your band name, “The Scooches,” come from?
Hershey: Our band name has gone through a whole journey, just like all of us have. Our musical adventure started with a Strawberry Festival in Brooklyn looking for a country band. We picked the name Banjo Nickaru (for Nick) & Western Scooches (for me and the rest of the band playing western swing and country music). This one gig got us excited to keep playing country, bluegrass, Americana, and originals together.
After a while, we whittled the name down to the true essence of what we are all about. We aim to Scooch many diverse musicians, audiences, and musical styles together to create something uplifting, traditional, and new!
Russo: My grandfather used to call me and my cousins Micah and Jacqueline “Scooches” when we would goof around and annoy him in a loving way! As it’s common in Russian culture to add cute suffixes to people’s names, a former girlfriend, Elina, would sometimes call me “Nick-aru.”
One of the initial reasons to form the band, besides the Brooklyn Strawberry Festival concert Betina mentioned, was to deepen my 5-string banjo skills! (Before this band, I only played tenor banjo). I literally conjured the band name “Banjo Nickaru & Western Scooches” on the fly!
How did the eight of you get connected and unite as a band, and was there a mix of musical influences between you all?
Hershey: Nick and I began playing music together, sharing songs, and Nick could hear the diverse styles that would really lift my music up. He would layer on his own rhythmic ideas, and soon began pulling in musicians such as Miles Griffith on vocals, harmony, and scatting, with his jazz and calypso roots, plus Dr. David Pleasant with his Gullah Geechee rhythms, stomping, tambourine, handmade drums.
Russo: We really united from that first Brooklyn gig offer but then continued to play concerts as a varied core quartet with Betina, Miles Griffith plus Harvey Wirth or Dr. David Pleasant taking turns on the drum chair, depending on their availability. Yes, there was always a mix of diverse musical influences but Miles, Harvey, David and I all shared eclectic, but united, advanced rhythm, time and groove concepts.
With Betina giving us full artist freedom, we could go anywhere musically, including advanced harmonies, polyrhythms, hemiolas, metric modulations and of course melding all of our diverse music cultures together. Growing up with my dad (Rich Russo of the 1960s pre-KISS band face makeup called Scarecrow), I came from a deep blues, jazz and rock background, playing guitar and drums at an early age.
Miles Griffith (nephew of Calypso Rose with Trinidad roots singing with his brother, Mervyn in Church since they were kids) has a precise ear with deep jazz experience and Island influences. One of a kind, Dr. David Pleasant, with his rich Gullah-Geechee rhythmic concept and original handmade drum set, and Harvey Wirht’s deep pocket, rich Suriname rhythmic heritage and Gnawa drumming experience.
Your new single, “Stop This Climate Change,” dropped today, on Earth Day. Was there a certain environmental instance that sparked this call to action, or just the ongoing threat as a whole?
Hershey: I started playing this song idea and as the words tumbled out, I discovered what I thought was a relationship song turned into a song about our relationship to the Earth and each other.
I’ve been thinking, reading, and writing about the climate for a long time. I’ve co-written a children’s musical, “Your Turn: A Super-Powered Earth Saving Musical,” with Sunny Knable, and it was performed by Garden Players Musical Theater For Kids in 2017 and again in 2022 as a rewrite. That musical was spurred on by Antarctica melting. Climate Change has been on my mind, and I’ve been seeking ways to get as many of us stirred up to keep believing we can make a positive difference. I hope this song reaches people deeply, gives them hope, and reminds them of the work to be done!
Does your music often get political and/or touch on current hot topics? Or is this single a labor of love and hope?
Hershey: My music is definitely a labor of love and hope. I write because I feel things welling up in me, and they have to be written. I want to write about what I care about. I catch the muse that passes through me, and the topics appear. My songs lately have been deeply connected to an awareness of the injustices and problems in our communities and our world, and the powerful desire to make a positive impact. Our last album, Get Us Out Of Fearland, invited us to reach out past the divide, shake off fear, and take us to the light.
Russo: Yes, this single and all of our music is certainly a labor of love and hope! Any political or current hot topics initially start with Betina’s lyrics but since all of our global views align- all of us Scooches support her 100%! Anything I co-write and/or add to her well-crafted melodies channel positive changes that her lyrics reflect towards more love, peace, inclusiveness, diversity, equality and less carbon footprints to our planet!
You mentioned your upcoming album, Lift You Up. What can you tell us about that?
Hershey: Our upcoming album, Lift You Up, coming out July 14, intends to do just that.
We have boisterous, haunting, and jubilant songs. “What’s Meant To Last Will Last” is all about letting go of the past to embrace the present. “Spread Your Wings And Fly” invites us to believe we can make a big difference in our democracy and in this world. “I Broke The Egg” is a funny break-up song with a twist. You’ll find a newgrass song about refugees: “Let’s Grow Our Roots Deep And True,” a haunting song about oppression and gun violence: “Run”, and this song about climate change, too. The musicians include tabla, bass, guitar, organ, Gullah Geechee foot stomping, fiddle, banjo, and more!
Russo: Listeners can expect to be lifted up with crafty songs and “feel good” grooves from reggae, to banjo/fiddle driven newgrass, to sweet bossa-nova guitar, to country resonator/slide, to a 1920s influenced song supported by tap dancing and tenor banjo, to organ-guitar driven R&B/Motown, to tabla-infused rap, to Gullah Geechee protest voices.
What does the songwriting process look like as a band with so many members?
Hershey: I usually write the songs. At some point Nick hears a song, likes it, and we add it into our repertoire. Sometimes he gets an idea for a change of some sort, and we collaborate on the songwriting. He always hears which instruments and what kind of feel may really bring the song to life. It’s magical, the way he brings in our band members and we just play these songs. Instantly, they become something new.
Russo: Well said, Betina! I love hearing the first incarnations of Betina’s song when she first sings with simple yet brilliant guitar accompaniment. It’s so fulfilling to add to her songs and see my vision unfold as I create unique orchestrations with instruments such as tabla, banjo, resonator, classical guitar, tap dancing, Fender Rhodes, organ and other very cool instruments!
It’s so satisfying playing, expanding and sometimes co-writing with Betina. Then when we get together as The Scooches, it’s a blast playing her songs with my close musician friends that I have a deep music connection with. I always feel the world at my fingertips as a full-time professional musician in New York City! My vast network of diverse musicians bring so much to the table simply by improvising on the originals Betina and I created. In other words, Betina and I simply present her original music and we give our Scooches musicians a lot of artistic freedom to improvise on them.
What does a dream gig look like for The Scooches?
Russo: When most of my Scooches family of musicians are together, hanging, playing our original music at a venue or festival where the sound person is laid back with good ears, organizers are down to earth and warm, the audience is totally cool and diggin’ our music, we’re getting paid well, there is healthy delicious food included, accommodations are close to the venue, parking is close and there is plenty of high quality espresso! Wow, I’m in heaven! Haha.
What can people do right now to help combat climate change?
Russo: By writing to local congress people advocating for lowering our carbon footprint, starting conversations such as these, purchasing solar panels (which we did), use compostable trash bags (order on Amazon), check out “Who Gives A Crap” toilet tissue (save trees with more replenishable bamboo), travel with our metal canteens (not plastic water bottles), compost food scraps, recycling bottles, cans, cartons, paper, metals, walk more and use public transportation when possible.
Hershey: Absolutely! Eat locally, compost, cut out plastics, walk and bike more often, and donate. Donate to charities dedicated to the environment and climate change. We’ve been donating to Sierra Club for many years now, and a portion of the proceeds generated from the single will benefit them, the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the U.S., one whose purpose is to defend everyone’s right to a healthy world.
Do you have an album release show in place, and how about a tour? Anything else planned for 2023?
Russo: The June 2nd album release show at The Zinc Bar in NYC will be off the hook, as we included everyone on the album who was available! It will be such a powerful concert featuring incredible NYC musicians. I anticipate the audience will have such a wonderful experience; I know I’m going to be smiling and grooving every moment! Plus, The Zinc Bar has such a cool vibe. It was recently chosen as a 2022 Village Awardee by Village Preservation.
June 24th’s show at Meadow Blues Coffee in Chester, NY will be a scaled down album release concert with our core quartet: Betina Hershey, Miles Griffith, Harvey Wirht, myself, and possibly another Scooch.
We’re in communication with different bookers, including presenters we met at Folk Alliance International this year that are interested in having us. We hope to play in your area soon!