David Scotney – Janus

Interview by Nick Scalera. Photo courtesy of David Scotney.

Nick Scalera: How did you decide to cover The Cars classic song “Drive?

David Scotney: It was all kind very serendipitous in terms of how I stumbled upon matching that song up with this particular cause as I was taking kind of a little bit of a hiatus. I knew I wanted to pursue a totally different approach to making music and I really wanted to start with a mission or purpose or cause that I could work to shine a light on. It’s not only music but also video as well as information out there to help raise awareness and money for good causes. I was kind of in the throes of supporting a family member with Bipolar Disorder, learning as much as I could about it and stumbled upon The Cars song “Drive”. I was struck by some of the lyrics that asked really powerful questions, not just “who’s going to drive you home?” but “who’s gonna hold you down when you scream?” and all these really rather provocative lyrics. In The Cars video that they put together, it is very very apparent that the original intent of that song is to shine a light on mental health. So it’s just at that moment I realized that was a perfect song to kind of tackle in terms of using it as a vehicle to raise awareness by specifically zooming in on Bipolar Disorder. It took a while to kind of re-imagine how to make that kind of slower 80’s keyboard-driven pop song into a Janus rock sound but we eventually got there.

NS: It’s a great cover – do The Cars know about this version that your band has done?

DS: Thank you. No, I don’t believe The Cars know about it…not at the moment. I know we reached out to Universal that I think co-owns the publishing with them or owns the publishing for the song but I have not had a chance or have not been able to find a way to talk to the band to just kind of make them aware of it. I’ve not had a chance to kind of interface with them at all which would be really cool if they could have a chance to check out the video and weigh in what I’m doing, that would be awesome.

NS: Is there any plan to go on tour in support of the “Drive” cover and new music produced for your label, Music For Good?

DS: No, at the moment our approach is very very different. I’ve got three kids and being a Dad is my #1 priority. Traveling and touring isn’t really on the radar at the moment and what I’m really passionate about is producing the songs and and music videos that that helped me advocate for these causes. Unlike a traditional rock band where they write a record and they go out and tour and maybe to make a music video and then they play a bunch of shows and travel all around wherever, our focus is really to stay centralized in a home base. We generate digital content and half focus on music and art and video and the artistic side of things. Then, the other half of our time is really spent on the advocacy side. We’re already working with a new organization and not-for-profit helping shine a light on Native American loss for our next song and single that we’re shooting a video for in a couple of weeks.

NS: Can you tell me about the process for songs that have causes behind them, such as the plight of Native American women?

DS: I’m really excited about it is very different from the way Janus used to write music. We used to start out with the music first so if our guitar player at the time wrote a part, then we could listen and get inspired by it. This approach is completely different in the sense that the music is really there to support the idea and the mission downstream once it’s already been formulated. I had a fan on Facebook who actually shared with me (when I was asking people for ideas about other causes or not-for-profits), an article about missing and murdered young indigenous women either on Native American lands or not. The epidemic is simply just far worse in that community than it is in the general United States national population or even Canada, so it is something I had never heard about.

I was inspired by the idea of giving these young girls and women of voice if they currently don’t have one in the space of what Janus is capable of – putting out music and are able to help shine a light on the causes and join the mission. So, it really started with getting inspired and impassioned about that. Then, that inspired the lyrics for the chorus. I actually wrote the lyrics and the melody before I ever wrote a single note of music. I had studied up on a little music theory over the last year and a half and I’m able to truly just focus on the idea or the concept and then from there, let that drive the lyrics. Then, let that drive a melody and then instruct the melody line into the musical foundation and then the music part. It all starts with the vocal melody and lyrics so it’s a very different way of writing music and I’ve never experienced that. It’s really refreshing and empowering and to be able to approach music that way and it’s really cool. 

NS: Is your label, Music For Good the label the primary vehicle where all this music both original and the covers originate from?

DS: Yes, we’re going we’re focused on probably eventually pulling everything together into a full album but for the time being just focusing on songs and singles in individual missions and and the label really is our vehicle to release those. ONErpm actually is our co-label partner where they manage distribution and marketing support and we’re excited to partner with them just based on the fact they’ve got great chops when it comes to digital marketing. Also, it’s got a really strong presence in South America so we’re working on a Portuguese version of the “Drive” video where the introduction is in Portuguese so that we can reach out to our brothers and sisters in Brazil and everybody feels more included. We’ve added all the statistics that are in the video and translated them into Portuguese with the help of a native Brazilian who speaks fluent Portuguese so that we make sure that all the nuances around the language are correct.

NS: Do you have other causes that you’re thinking about for the future?

DS: Yes, there’s a couple of organizations that we’ve been talking for this particular Native American calling, the most recent being the Buffalo Project and we’re excited. It’s looking like a really strong possibility that we’re going to be working with them and I hope to finalize that in the next week or so. We’ve got great resources for the statistics and then also we’re really hoping to feature actual families and the women who have gone missing in the video itself so we’re in the process of collecting all that data and information and pictures and video and whatnot. I come from a military family. My mom was in the Army for 30+ years retired but still volunteers at the U.S.O. down in Texas so I’m probably going to be working with her pretty closely on how to best reach out and support military families because we want to shine a light on to the family sacrifice side and some of the things about what families go through that the rest of the world who don’t live that it on a daily basis may not really know about or aware of. In terms of those two upcoming, we don’t really have anything on deck outside of that so we will be letting the project continue. We are also open to signing other artists to a Music For Good record label so that we can be out there putting music out for other artists that want to raise money and awareness for good causes.

NS: Do you have any other plans to cover existing songs to fit the causes you are focused on?

DS: At the moment, there’s a whole wealth of ideas around original songs and you know it was serendipitous that we ended up with choosing the “Drive” single for the first one but we currently don’t have a plan to use a cover song unless we get inspired by one. The last version or line-up of Janus when we kind of parted ways several years back, Jake Portenkirchner was our drummer and we decided to keep it just the two-piece. I can stay focused on the music in the vocals and he can really bring his awesome power and energy to the songs.

NS: So, do you have studio musicians to play the other instruments?

DS: I grew up playing guitar and I’m not a great bass player per se, but I’m able to play everything that we need. We work with a couple of other producers like Chris Grainger out of Nashville so within the network that we have that can can tap into. There are a couple of other folks that we met recently on our on our last trip to Nashville including this one gentleman who arranges strings. It’s just awesome when we’re looking to collaborate on remixes to have a network of folks that we can reach out to. Now, for the most part, I think the music is still really heavy and I think it fits 100% in the Janus catalog but I’m really artistically kind of excited and interested in focusing on really exploring the vocal layering and as well as synthesizing which is something I haven’t released.

Well, I’ve gotten to explore some of the previous Janus stuff so where I think Mike really did an awesome job building up layers within the Janus songs on the last two records with lots of strings and keyboard. I’m more focused on trying to turn up the guitars a little bit more and focus on more percussive rhythmic guitar textures and synthetic vocal textures and layering to just really push this next chapter of Janus in kind of a fresh new direction. They’re still programming stuff and I think we’ve got a whole bunch of French horns, so there’s some really cool programming and whatnot that Drew and Chris and myself all put a lot of working hours into but even that approach I think is a lot different than where we were with Janus the last two records.

NS: What struck me first in the “Drive” video and actually pause it several times was to read the statistics. I liked the lyrical video idea and it is like really makes you think about the song meaning. Everybody kind of has their own version of what the song may be about but it just made a lot more sense with the additional information included.

DS: Seeing the words on the video I thought that was a really powerful kind of thing. Video for us is just as important as the music and the song so we aren’t going to be releasing any songs without a video to help tell the story around the content. We feel like it’s a huge part of communicating what we’re trying to say about each mission. We won’t be releasing the next single without the video so it’s critical for us (that they are released together) so that it communicates exactly what we want it to. Thank you for observing that. It’s awesome as it sounds like we did our job.

NS: How do you define success at this point?

DS: What we’re trying to do in America is not a short 100 meter dash. I think we define success for what we’re doing is one Instagram follower at a time, one YouTube video at a time, one marketing campaign, an interview like this right now, reaching one person or organization at a time. When we launched the “Drive” video, it hasn’t even been a month yet but there have been some really powerful comments posted – there was a guy who shared that he was crying real tears while watching the video. You know we got through to somebody, so that’s what it’s about man, it’s about making at an impact in a change. It is letting someone know that that there are artists out there that are so inspired and trying to shine a light on this and move the needle on it. We’re putting music out there. We are making videos and trying to talk about this in a different way in a very public forum and inspire people to do the same.

NS: Are you working with anyone to help deliver your messages about the chosen causes through music?

DS: Thanks to ONErpm, their marketing team is going to promote the video through that channel as well as work on helping us cut through the noise of the millions of other bands out there that are all like “hey look at me, look at me!” You know we’re really not into that, we are approaching the “hey look at that and let’s talk about this!” and we’re just the conduit. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are the three channels that we’re going to try and involve. We have a website where we sell t-shirts and merch. We’re creating a t-shirt design unique to each single we release.

Also, there’s currently a “Drive” shirt on out the Janus website now and every penny earned from sales will go towards the Jed Foundation. The last thing that we’re doing is a couple of limited live appearances for the “Drive” single here right here Wisconsin and we raised almost $2,000 for a local charity. We partnered for the event with an organization called Open Arms, a free health clinic for those living at or below the poverty level. Every dollar that we were able to raise pays for $10 worth of medicine so if you think about it’s almost $20,000 worth of medicine were able to help pay for and provide for those who need it. They offer mental health services there, whether it’s people with PTSD or depression or other mental health issues that are preventing them from a good quality of life – they can go there and get help.

The other thing is that is kind of exciting too is that we have relationships with some of the rock stations that played our music back in the day. For instance, in our own backyard is one of my favorite independent alternative rock stations, WJJO and Randy the program director contacted me on Facebook and let me know that he loved the “Drive” video. I hadn’t reached out to radio because I thought “Drive” is such a unique, mellower song compared to the older Janus stuff. Our new originals are a lot heavier, returning back to more metal. I’m really excited to see if some other independent stations on satellite radio pick up on what we’re trying to do and if they want, to get behind it. We just got back from Nashville, Tennessee mixing this next song and we are going to shoot the video this upcoming week. We are generating content, getting it out there, staying active in interfacing with the fans that we do have and asking people to help share the video. We think it could be really powerful and we’re hoping that in every time we talk to somebody about this next mission, nobody knows about it unless they’ve seen “Wind River” on Netflix. Jeremy Renner did a good job of shining a light on the issues that exist on Native American reservations.