A low-key steady fixture on the Western North Carolina music scene, Scott Bianchi imbues his original songs with regional influences, a modern sensibility, and lyrics that focus on timeless concerns: love, death, and the outsider’s life. Working with fiddler Crosby Cofod, he channels that music through a pleasingly restless sense of musical exploration.
Bianchi has written literally hundreds of songs; he chooses from this thick repertoire for his live performances in the Southern Appalachians and Piedmont and for recording projects. And unlike some composers who save their unused work so they can mine it during a dry spell, Bianchi notes that “life just keeps on hurtling forward. It’s almost impossible for me to go back and unearth an old idea … if I get an idea, I try to stick with it right then.” His explains his philosophy: “Get in and get out as quick as possible, be happy with what it is, finish it up, and keep moving.”
Some of his best lyrical ideas come from listening. His day job at a high-visibility nonprofit brings him into regular contact with people. “I’m always working with volunteers and the public,” Bianchi says. “I hear stories from older folks and younger folks, and I’ve learned to pay attention.” Those listening experiences inform his own musical storytelling, but the songs’ emotional resonance is universal, untethered by age or circumstance.
Guitar is Bianchi’s primary instrument, but over the years he’s made a point of developing facility on other instruments, including drums, ukulele, and clawhammer banjo. And his songs are rooted in the richness and variety of sounds created by those folk-based instruments. In fact, for many years Bianchi was deeply immersed in the Appalachian folk-music scene, living semi-off-grid in Madison County and in the remote Little East Fork region of Haywood County, backing up to Cold Mountain.
The often minor-key approach of some Appalachian folk — Bianchi calls it “mountain modal” — is one of his favorite qualities of that genre. A sense of it flows through nearly all of his original folk-rock songs, for a vibe sometimes termed Southern Gothic.
“[That minor-key sound] is really haunting,” he says. “That’s what really drew me in.” He also places a high value on an unschooled approach. “A lot of traditional music — whether it’s blues or old-time music — is handed down from people without any formal musical education,” he points out.
And that quality means that when a musician wants to play it, he or she has to learn it by ear. “All you can do is listen over and over until you figure it out,” says Bianchi, who taught himself to play guitar at age 12.
Once a style of music is taught at a university level, “it seems to lose some of its zeitgeist,” declares Bianchi, whose family roots run deep and notorious in North and South Carolina (he is a direct descendant of storied soldier William Wing Loring; nicknamed “Old Blizzards” for his dissenting bluster, General Loring is the subject of several books chronicling his nine-year overseas mission leading Union and Confederate veterans in modernizing the Egyptian army).
Bianchi eventually moved beyond mountain music, though. “I love it; I feel it needs to be taken care of. But it’s in such good hands around here — it will never die.” Instead, he writes from all the forms he knows, including a deep early primer of classic and indie rock. To be true to himself musically, he decided some time ago that his approach would be to “distill from all these different genres, and come up with my own voice. And that challenge really keeps me in it.”
His song “Forbidden Fruit” is a minor-key retelling of the Judeo-Christian fable of Adam and Eve; in Bianchi’s intentionally objective version, it’s left to the listener to decide if in fact the couple’s newly gained knowledge might not necessarily be such a bad thing. “The Devil Came Knocking” employs a bouncy acoustic guitar style that will be familiar to fans of Jerry Garcia’s work with the Grateful Dead. And here, Bianchi’s vocal delivery on the original tune — a musical cousin to the Dead’s own “Friend of the Devil” — bears more than a passing resemblance to Garcia’s disarmingly hoary delivery.
These days Bianchi collaborates onstage with young musician Crosby Cofod, who’s been a classically trained violinist most of his life. Despite Cofod’s formal music education — he graduated with honors from St. Mary’s College of Maryland — that are seemingly at odds with Bianchi’s unschooled approach, the pairing emerges as totally natural, with Cofod’s keen, expressive fiddling and occasional harmony vocals enhancing the poignancy of Bianchi’s lyrics. The two met at a “song swap” jam session and soon got busy working up duo arrangements. “Crosby’s got an incredible ear,” says Bianchi. “We’ll play a song once, and he’s got it. And he has a lot of good ideas.”
“Scott’s songs are diverse,” says Cofod, who also writes and records music. “So I have to be diverse in my playing, to fit that mold. I see his songs as blank canvases.” And the duo employs an interactive approach.
“Hearing how Scott is playing really determines how I interpret the song as well,” Cofod says. “I’m constantly exploring.” Combined with Bianchi’s slice-of-real-life lyrical approach, that interplay makes for a generation- and zeitgeist-melding musical experience.
Scott Bianchi and Crosby Cofod play at 3:30pm on Sunday, February 11, at Black Bear Coffee (318 North Main St., Hendersonville, 828-692-6333, blackbear.coffee); and from 6-8pm on Saturday, March 3, at Mills River Brewery (330 Rockwood #103, Arden, 828-585-2396, millsriverbrewery.net). For more information and to hear songs, see scottbianchimusic.com and crosbycofod.com.