“When we finish a show we want to be tired. We want to be really tired because we want to let it all out,” says Andrew Scotchie, guitarist and lead vocalist in the Asheville-based blues-rock quintet Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats.
Scotchie’s band, a power trio plus horns, sounds like The Yardbirds circa ’67 one minute, and like the latest rhythm-wrenching Trombone Shorty jam the next.
“To me it’s about soul, and if you’re up there belting it, expressing your pain … people relate with loss and hardships, and I think one thing that people really like about my style, about this band, is that it’s very much a release. We get up there and try to, from start to finish, pour everything we have into it.”
Scotchie has known his share of pain — admittedly, he has yet to fully heal from his father Tom’s violent death in 2008. It was Tom who took Andrew to Foghat and Lynyrd Skynyrd concerts when he was young, shared his own love of rock and blues, and encouraged his son’s interest in learning guitar.
“Classic rock and British Invasion stuff was the foundation I grew up listening to. When I was 14 or 15 it switched over to a little bit of punk and alternative rock and roll,” the guitarist recalls. “I really got into blues after that. It’s a universal kind of music. To me it’s the most dynamic music and it speaks to me the most. I love it when people push the envelope in blues music, when they take the standard formula and change it.
“R.L. Burnside was one of the godfathers of that,” notes Scotchie, referring to the late hill-country bluesman from North Mississippi who was in his sixties when he rose to national prominence. Burnside’s raw, hypnotic style influenced numerous national young blues acts in the ’90s and early ’00s.
River Rats bassist Asher Hill jokes that Scotchie, 22, should have been born in the 1960s or ’70s. “I really do dig into that stuff,” Scotchie admits with a laugh. “Ten Years After took blues and rock and roll and just merged them together. There is definitely a resurgence of music like that; you just have to look for it. People relate to that, because it’s a group effort. I think it all comes down to energy. If it has good energy, I like it. The song and the energy — those are the two ingredients.”
Scotchie tends to get song ideas from those closest to him. “You have to have your share of good times and bad times, and be able to write about it personally, but you also have to be able to write about it to where anybody can get it,” he says. “People understand it, because we’re all in the same situations. Part of my strategy is listening in to conversations. Whenever someone opens up to me, shares something with me that they don’t normally share, I’m inspired by that. I like the way that people describe things, the way they use different expressions. I try to put my interpretation of that into the song, focus on something that people can relate to.”
As dynamic and vibrant as it is today, the full-on electric Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats show has humble beginnings. “It actually started with me on acoustic guitar, with a harmonica player, out busking on the streets and just playing our hearts out,” the singer relates. “I had gotten out of a punk band and just wanted to do acoustic stuff, get back to the core of writing.”
However, “we quickly turned into an electric band when Eliza Hill came up to us and said, ‘Yeah, I want to drum for you guys,’” he reveals, praising Hill’s unique style and energy.
“No other drummer before her could match it. We definitely click together on and off stage.”
Scotchie has known the River Rats horn players, trombonist Kyle Snuffer and trumpeter Alex Bradley, since kindergarten. “We went to the same schools, were in Boy Scouts together, have a lot of childhood memories together,” he says. “I was always blown away at how good they are. They have this amazing ear and are able to put amazing melodies on songs. They came up to me and said, ‘Man, we can play all of these songs, you just have to tell us what key they’re in.’ I’m like, ‘Really?’ From then on they were part of the band. It quickly changed the way I wrote songs. I would think of them as more of a layered, textural thing, like, ‘How can the horns fit into this?’”
The horns added depth and sparked the crowds. “A lot of the songs are pretty simple, but we also have songs that are a little bit funkier, and I attribute that to the horn players,” Scotchie says. “In that classic rock setting, bands like Chicago were always in our reach. We always loved Earth Wind & Fire, Tower OfPower, you know the funk. It makes you feel so good. You can write some basic melodies on guitar, add a horn line, and it just makes people want to dance all night long.
“If we’re feeling it, if we’re feeling the audience and they’re really enjoying it, we’re going to bounce off their energy and have a great time,” he continues. “Energy is above technicality. If you can put on a great show with three chords, then that’s great.”
The group released its second album, We All Stay Hungry, in April, with Matt Williams of The Eagle Room studio producing. (Coming off a full schedule of regional gigs, the band plays Brevard Blues Fest this month; in the fall, Scotchie will again produce Asheville Barnaroo, a rural camping festival of roots acts that originated in his mom’s backyard in 2009 and now takes place at the scenic events center Frannys Farm in Leicester.)
“[Hungry] really captures the more expansive sound that we wanted,” Scotchie says. “It’s a lot thicker than the last record, and the eight songs we handpicked to showcase different parts of the band, different styles and instruments, and songwriting approaches.
“It’s really funky, and a lot more layered than our last album,” he concludes. “But at the same time, it’s still got that stripped-down rock and roll feel.”
The second annual Brevard Blues N’ BBQ Festival, sponsored by Brevard Music Center to kick off its summer-long concert series, happens June 5 and 6 on the BMC campus. The blues fest features more than 15 regional and national acts. Andrew Scotchie & The River Rats play Saturday from 2:15-3:15pm. For a full schedule and ticket information, visit brevardbluesfestival.com or call 888-384-8682. (Also ashevilleriverrats.com)