Nashville-based Americana roots-rock artist Scott Clay shows his vulnerable side and musical versatility in his deeply personal new album, Let It All Lay Bare, which dropped September 23rd.
Clay’s songs lead the listener through visceral stories about the power of nature, traversing the open road, relationships, and more, doing it all with melodic instrumentation ranging from contemporary rock, to soulful Americana, to tender singer-songwriter ballads.
The diverse new album is Clay’s fifth release, and was recorded both before and during the pandemic. The songwriter embraced the challenges of an unexpected new environment, and focused on making the best work he possibly could.
“We just geeked out and focused on creating a lush, headphone-friendly mix,” says Clay.
Clay moved to Seattle in 2005, where he worked on his debut album, Colorful Thing, which was release in 2007. Since then, he has evolved his songwriting, and incorporated his influences into his work ranging from artists like Tom Petty, R.E.M, and The War On Drugs to name a few.
We got the chance to chat with Clay to learn more about him as an artist, the new album, and much, much more.
So how has the year treated you so far?
2022 has been such an exciting and expansive year. I have had an amazing time touring all the way across the United States, from Tampa, Florida, to Fairbanks, Alaska. I’ve had the opportunity to share my music with so many incredible and inspiring people from all walks of life. I released one full-length album and five music videos, performed 105 shows, and shared the stage with some amazingly talented musicians. I also attended my first ever AmericanaFest in Nashville, where I had the opportunity to watch some of the world’s best performers on-stage and attend seminars hosted by executives in the music industry. It really has been a year for the books!
Let’s talk about your new album, Let It All Lay Bare. Are there any overarching themes or motifs through this collection of songs?
There are certainly some themes that fit with both my brand as a performer, and this album in particular. One consistent theme that I explore is nature. I spend a lot of time hiking in Washington State and often write music on the trail as well. I’ll bring along pen and paper, and sometimes a harmonica, and allow my mind to wander as I’m exploring the wilderness. There is no rush of responding to calls immediately or the distractions of social media as soon as you step out of cell range. I’ll camp several nights under the stars, filter water from pristine mountain streams, and come across incredible wildlife. And, for me, this is the ultimate luxury in the songwriting process.
Some overall themes related to nature are our smallness when viewed through the lens of a vast forest, a flowing ocean, or an endless expanse of stars in the night sky. I find this perspective to be wildly humbling, and it pervades much of my writing. Another theme in nature that I like to explore is that nature takes its time to resolve things. It does not move in the urgency or immediacy of our modern culture. It is a powerful and important theme that I like to explore, and I feel that we have lost so much of this in our modern life.
You’ve got some killer musicians in the fold on this record. Who helped your vision come to life and where was it produced?
The project started with my pre-production and tracking sessions at the Hall of Justice Studios in Seattle with producer Mike Davis. We focused hard on pre-production, making sure to arrange each song as best we could, building out musically complex bridges and solos, and ensuring that each key and tempo was the best fit for the song. Some songs date all the way back to 2006 and include some revamped songs from a previous solo project, Fool’s Journey.
We then worked with incredibly talented studio musicians — Daniel Walker (keys), Sean Lane (drums), and Keith Lowe (bass) — to track live on the floor. I worked with these same musicians on my 2020 album, Time Will Tell, and the fact that we had history in the studio together was a large part of why this album was such a success. We were able to work more closely together and become more creatively vulnerable with each other, and that created an incredible camaraderie that truly helped the project become more organic and creative.
I also mixed with Seattle engineer Steven Aguilar and mastered with Rachel Field at Resonant Mastering. They are both notable professionals in their industry and it was amazing to include them as part of the production process!
You have a good range of sounds within the first three songs of the album alone: from more contemporary rock to a groovy and funky track, to a delicate heartbreaker ballad. How intentional were you with the placement and order of your songs? How important is that to you?
I absolutely love making a killer mixtape. I grew up in the era of Indie Radio, Napster, LimeWire, and Myspace. I’ve spent many years honing my skills as a mixtape-ologist. To me, there is no better mixtape than my own album, so in this regard, I put a ton of work into making sure the order of the songs on this album was absolute perfection.
As soon as we had some rough mixes completed, I uploaded the songs to SoundCloud, and from there I could easily start toying with the order of the track list. I spent many road trips trying out different arrangements of songs. I even saved multiple track list combinations as I found certain song orders that seemed to work well together.
Mike and I had written an instrumental piece that tied the singles “Let It All Lay Bare” and “Aurora” together. A dreamy, spacy, melodic outro that led from one song to the next. But, no matter how hard we tried, the two songs did not want to live side by side. So, we were forced to scrap the instrumental arrangement, and “Aurora” eventually ended up on the B-side of the record, where it desperately seemed to want to live.
The album was also originally titled Open Country, but as I spent more time with the track list, the song “Let It All Lay Bare” seemed to really want to take the spotlight, so we let it take the first placement on the track list and made it the album title. This also helped the album take a more rock-forward approach and introduced some new themes and musical ideas immediately as the album began.
One mantra that Mike Davis would repeat over and over throughout the production process was that “consistency is boring.” We really took this approach to the track list, allowing for big shifts between tempo, energy, and theme from song to song. I truly love this approach for not only an album track list, but also a live setlist, because it truly grabs the attention of the listener as you move dramatically from one dynamic to another.
Is there a song on the album that was the most difficult to write/record for one reason or another?
In the recording and production process there is always one song that seems to continually slip out of reach from completion. In the case of this album, the song “Aurora” proved to be the song that was most difficult for us to finish. The trick for us was that the original voice demo on my iPhone was so intimate and powerful that finding a way to recreate that in a studio performance proved to be extremely challenging. Sadly, the original take was poorly recorded, did not have the final arrangement of the studio song, and included guitar along with the vocal performance which made it hard to mix the vocal part. In the studio, we tried every method of vocal tracking we could think of, and still, the original voice demo seemed to have an emotional quality that we could just not reproduce.
Mike and I built out a beautiful drum and guitar studio track, and I brought the early session files home with me. I had a simple audio setup in my apartment, and from time to time I would track vocal takes for “Aurora” at home. Late one night, I captured what felt to be the closest vocal take to the early demo sessions; it was relaxed, carefree, and effortless. We plugged this vocal take into our mix, and it finally seemed to “click.”
We did, however, still want to include some pieces of the original vocal demo, so at the very end of the studio song, there is still a 15-second outro that contains the very first version of the song ever recorded. It’s one of my favorite parts of the whole record, and I’m so happy that we included it in the song. It leaves the song feeling heartfelt, casual, and organic.
How might Let It All Lay Bare compare or contrast to your previous album, Time Will Tell?
I personally feel as though there are many vast differences between the two albums, however, one area in which they are similar is that they were recorded in the same studio, and with the same producer and studio musicians. There is one song on the new album, “Open Country,” that both Mike and I considered to be a “sister song” to “Time Will Tell.” It is the song which I feel is the bridge between the two albums. “Open County” has a similar tempo, arrangement, and mood to “Time Will Tell,” and they do share a similar emotional landscape with one another.
Apart from that, there are some major differences in the two albums. First being that I played the electric guitar on Let It All Lay Bare and took a much more rock-forward approach to the arrangement of this album. Performing electric guitar on this album allowed me to mirror some of the melodic approach of the vocals in the guitar solos I recorded. Melody is the backbone of my writing process, and I’ve found that capturing a similar melodic style on the electric guitar is a key element of the songwriting process.
In the past, I worked with studio guitarists to play electric guitar in the studio, but as I’ve matured as a guitar player, I’ve been able to step out on my own and perform these parts myself. Let It All Lay Bare was my first record taking this approach, and I am so proud of the dynamics that we’ve been able to add to the songs by having me perform and write on the electric guitar.
When you look back on this album in ten years, what do you think you’ll remember most fondly and/or negatively about the entire experience and process?
Let It All Lay Bare is the fifth full-length studio album I’ve released, and by far this album has been the least stressful and most deeply creative project I’ve ever done. I would completely attribute those successes to the team that I’ve built around me for the production and release of this album. Each of these people has taken this project much farther along than I could have done on my own. What I’ll remember most fondly about the project are each one of these deeply creative people that I worked with along the way.
The project started with the crew, including producer Mike Davis, at the Hall of Justice studios. I then set out to film five music videos at National Parks as an effort to promote singles from the album. I worked with Spencer Johnson at North Cascade National Park and Canyonlands National Park to film “Aurora” and “Let It All Lay Bare.” I also worked with Britt Warner to film “Open Country” at Olympic National Park, “Simple Kind” at Great Sand Dunes National Park, “It’s Easy” at Dry Tortuga National Park, and “Let It All Lay Bare” at Canyonlands National Park. She also edited and produced all the videos for this album.
On the marketing and album release side, I worked in Nashville with Erin Anderson from Olivia Management as my management consultant, and hired two Belmont University interns, Evan Lutz and Dalton Becker, to assist with booking, social media, and promotions. I’ve developed a great relationship with my music publicist, Krista Mettler, who has been so helpful with tour press and album release press. Brad Hunt has also been tremendously helpful in getting the album airplay on Americana radio.
It has been an incredibly positive experience releasing this album, and it has spanned two and a half years from start to finish. I’m thrilled to start into further production in Nashville in 2023 for a brand-new album release!
What does a dream gig look like for you?
I really got into the show “Songland” hosted by Ryan Tedder. It’s a songwriters dream show, filled with amazing tips and constructive ideas for improving your performance and songwriting. It’s a show hosted at one of my favorite Nashville venues, the Basement East. My dream gig would be to perform on that show and have the opportunity to songwrite with Ryan Tedder. Sadly, the show is no longer being taped, but if I could go back in time and be one of the contestants on that show it would make me so happy!
What are one or two pinnacle moments for you as an artist?
One of my pinnacle moments thus far in my music career has been stepping into the national touring scene. For many years, I had performed regionally in the Seattle area, spending most of my time performing at wineries throughout Washington State and Oregon. As I started to develop my three-to-four-hour setlist during these winery shows, I found a market for them at other bars and restaurants in other states.
I started reaching out to venues in Colorado and Texas and eventually connected with a touring act called Bridging the Music. I performed for a few road shows with Bridging the Music, and then worked my way into the MC position with them, introducing acts of all genres that were performing throughout the night. The shows would typically host around 15 to 20 acts in one evening, and each performer would play for around 20 minutes. We would host all varieties of music including singer-songwriter, hip-hop, rock, and pop. I performed all throughout the country with Bridging the Music and that was my first opportunity to travel nationwide as a musician.
I began to fill in solo gigs in between these MC shows and found that I could make enough money performing at bars and restaurants as a solo artist to keep myself on the road full time. Now I’m in my third year of full time national touring and am continuing to develop and grow my stage act by playing ticketed venues and clubs. As I’ve toured, I’ve made Nashville my home base; it’s the perfect tour hub for so many reasons, and I’m so proud to call it home.
What might the fall and winter have in store for you whether musically or otherwise?
I’ll be taking some time off the road during the holiday season, visiting with friends and family in the Pacific Northwest, and reworking my setlist for the 2023 tour season.
We are also releasing a new music video for the song “Simple Kind,” which I’m so excited to share with everyone! It was the first video in the National Parks music video series that I filmed with Britt Warner. I can’t wait for you to see the location that we filmed at in Great Sand Dunes National Park.
I’ll be starting the winter tour in mid-January in the mountain towns of Colorado, playing some lodges and ski resorts. Then, I have a very fun venue show in Denver with artists Dave Tamkin and Jenny Shawhan. Then, I head to Birmingham to tour with Americana songwriter Bob Marston in late January. We are going to perform in Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. I met him at a show in Little Rock, Arkansas, and we hit it off as songwriters, and I’m so thrilled to share the stage with him this winter.
In February, I’m attending Folk Alliance International in Kansas City. I’m excited to be a part of some amazing performances and workshops and network with artists and executives in the Americana industry. I’m most excited to meet up with an Australian multi-instrumentalist named Paddy Montgomery whom I met while he was performing with Fanny Lumsden at AmericanaFest 2022.
After that, I plan to head back to Nashville to record a few singles with producer Eric Masse. I’ve got some new songs up my sleeves, and I’m thrilled to get them tracked and ready for a release this coming year. I’ll be recording my first ever duo song, so I’m absolutely thrilled to be sharing some new songs and new sounds with you all!
Photos by Spencer Johnson