"Scoundrels" is the middle tune on Friends in Low Places, and serves as perhaps the most important track in the album's sequencing. The "rhapsody" features multiple sections that provide an intreresting and provacative segue to the latter half of the composition, making it stand out.
Bobby and Jon talked about the track and its significance to them.
"Scoundrels" has an interesting backstory. Explain how it came about.
BM: "The first part came out of a jam session that included Jon, Drew (our original drummer) and myself. Jon had the riff and I recall singing nonsense words to the melody that ended up in the song and I hit that high note in the chorus on the first run through and then started incorporating the words 'Friends in Low Places' on the next few run throughs. The rest of the song was written in various locations, including my dorm room, the dining hall, the hallways of the Shea Auditorium, and in the Studios at William Paterson University."
JA: "'Scoundrels' was the last song conceived for the album, and ended up being perhaps the most important from a story standpoint. I came up with the riff you hear in the beginning and throughout the choruses around November of 2012 as a lick based around chicken picking, but shelved it for a while. I tried re-hashing it several times, but Bobby actually vetoed it (I even wrote several different songs in different keys using it that will never see the light of day). Finally, in this one fateful jam after 95 percent of the album had been recorded, I just started the riff and Drew just filled it in. We had that chemistry throughout all the time we played together, and it worked. I guided Bobby through some chord changes, and we just felt it. He then created the chorus concept on-spot, and the song was born."
The song had a unique recording process. Describe it.
BM: "We recorded the first section of the song essentially note for note as the original jam from Drew's basement. From there, Jon and I had come up with a long bridge with a build up. This song was the only song to feature James McIntosh, the current drummer, on the album. He, Max and I arranged the remaining three sections together. The second and third sections were totally written on the fly in the studio with James in the main recording room. He did a great job on that track- its not easy to do a recording on the fly like that with me barking orders over the monitors. There were slight tempo changes between each section, but nothing drastic enough for the untrained ear to notice."
JA: "At this point, all of my tracks and the bass tracks had been laid down for the album. I take a lot of pride in playing the things that I write, but Bobby ended up taking my parts. After hearing them back, I just didn't feel like the parts had my personal spin on them, and asked him if I could record on my own portable mixer and send them in. He agreed, so I set up my guitar in my room and laid down one track for the rhythm. Somehow, it worked. Joe also then subsequently came up with a bass lick that we knew we had to get into the song, so he did the same thing (on a much nicer rig) and sent them in to be mixed. Our friend and fellow musician Tim Gysin also makes an appearance vocally."
The album title comes from within the song. What stands out about it?
BM: "The theme of friendship runs deep through this album, and the idea of losing friends over your convictions. We all have friends that are different and weird, or maybe we are that friend. The idea of having friends in low places is something we all can relate to - even Garth Brooks."
JA: "For the record, we don't listen to Garth Brooks. Nothing against him, but we weren't even aware there was a compisition called that. The album went through several title changes (ranging from 'Poets & Kings' to the self-consciously grammatically incorrect 'Better Men Than Me'). Ultimately, we settled for this for the reasons Bobby mentioned. Friendships, in the end, can greatly shape one's personality.
What is your favorite section of the song?
BM: "The first section rocks hard, while also jamming and being groovy (or 'Drewvy'). The second section includes a quiet, then building lyric that ends in me snarling the name of the song. The third section, the solo, explodes and is ferocious. The final section is really quiet, yet very reflective and is very special to me. I can't choose one section as my favorite. Depends on my mood, as does a lot of things."
JA: "I wish I could take the high road and say I love every part, but I'll choose one for this sake. The line involving the 'Scoundrels from the east side' is so powerful to me. It's an anthem for the main character at that point, a battle call. I really think it stands out, and is very different from stuff we've done before. That whole part was conceived in a hallway, just Bobby and I together, deciding what kind of breakdown we could do for the song. Really great stuff."
What exactly is the final part of the song?
BM: "The end section of the song was taken from a song called 'Madman' that I was working on, and I decided it would fit well in the story. The idea of the last section came from a Martin Scorsese short film called 'Life Lessons' from 'New York Stories.' I very much related to the main character in that story, and I wanted to sing his song about needing failure and depression in order to create something real and beautiful."
JA: "I love that part. I wish the audiences would appreciate it more, honestly. I think it's powerful, and can create an incredible scene when played with the proper reception."
Do you think you took a risk with "Scoundrels" at all?
BM: "This song was not written to be radio friendly - we already had songs like 'Deadbeat' and 'New Age' for that. This song had to be as long as it was. We made the choice to make it long, so we stuck to that and went all out. The song isn't for everyone, and thats okay. It was the song that I had to write."
JA: "I'll admit, it does hurt when I see this song isn't as well-received as I hoped it would be, but I still take a tremendous amount of pride in it. We definitely took a risk, as it was way different than anything we had done before it. But I respect people for liking what they like, and I know there are people out there who enjoy it."
Where does the song compare to the rest of the album for you?
BM: "It is easily one of my favorites, if not my favorite. I think it shows off every aspect of the band at its finest."
JA: "My favorite. Undoubtedly, and unquestionably."
Were there any particular difficulties you ran into when writing it?
BM: "I spent a lot of time on the lyrics. Usually, I try to write from the heart, quickly and honestly. But these lyrics I spent many hours, with many re-writes working on, and refining exactly what I was trying to say. The end product contains some of my favorite lyrics I have ever written. I am extremely proud of the words in this song."
JA: "Really figuring out where we wanted to go with it was tough. We could have left the song as it is heard in the first part, but really challenging to go above and beyond and do something different without being pretentious about it."
Why is "Scoundrels" so critical to the album's story?
BM: "It ties it all together. The line between the first two sections is literally the turning point of the album. Where the main character goes from wanting to fit in, to trying to figure out who he is, and then makes an effort to stay away from whatever was popular or cool. The album takes a dark turn at this point in the album and it is done very effectively, in my opinion, with this song."
JA: "I think what is done, thematically, is pretty cool. As he said, the theme of the entire album literally changes in the middle of the song. I can't think of many other albums that are able to do that, so it's something we take pride in."
The song is one of the key parts of your sets live. Why is that?
BM: "It's awesome. Like I said, it shows off the band firing on all cylinders. I do the band introductions during this song most nights because the idea of 'Friends in Low Places' fits for me to introduce my band of misfits."
JA: "Before the tour started, I had always done the band introductions. With the name change in the band, it only made sense that be changed to Bobby. 'Teenagers Too' had been the most frequent track used for them, but a few weeks prior to the CD release show in Asbury Park, I proposed the idea for the new breakdown that has now become a staple of the live show. It's so much fun. It's so groovy. It's perfect. And then the 'east side' portion...when all the band joins in...it's just massive."
Any final reflections on the song?
BM: "One of my favorite songs I have written, definitely some of my best work lyrically. Also, it was a total team effort. I could not be more proud of this song. It was the last song we recorded for the album, but I think it might be the most important."
JA: "It's the best song on the album, in my opinion, compositionally. I think if people take a moment and listen to what is actually happening, they will appreciate it for what it is as well. There's a ton of passion put into every facet of the tune, which is something I believe is missing from a lot of music today."
Friends in Low Places is available via iTunes, Bandcamp, Spotify and various other outlets.
Friends in Low Places