Martha Scanlan Shares Her Thoughts on Songwriting, Missoula, and Her New Album

Ahead of her Record Release Show at the Top Hat with Jon Neufeld on November 1st, Montana singer-songwriter Martha Scanlan gave us some insight behind her songwriting, musical influences, and why Missoula, and Montana as a whole are special. See the full interview below.

Logjam Presents:  Can you fill us in on the songwriting process for your new album The River and The Light?

Martha Scanlan: The poet Marge Piercy said that we remember backwards and sometimes a little forwards, and that’s oftentimes how writing occurs for me; this collaborative process of discovery, more like listening and watching and following what lights up. I love the mystery of it.

LP: What’s the meaning behind the album’s name?

MS: The title is loosely based on the currents and themes running through the record, and sort of like the writing process that’s what showed up and felt true. Even in the early stages of working on the songs, the theme of rivers kept occurring for both of us, navigating the different currents in the river of human experience.

LP: What songs are heavily influenced by Montana and your time on your ranch? How did you come to live on the ranch and why is it special?

MS: Montana seems to always be flowing through my songs in some form or another, not because I mean it to but just because it is so prevalent in my heart and inner and outer world. I ended up working and living on the ranch in south eastern Montana because of a dear dear friend who is fourth generation there, she and her family. It is still such a profound part of me in ways that I can’t even articulate.

LP: Is there a specific song you’re especially excited to play live?

MS: All of them!

LP: How did you and Jon Neufeld first come to play together? What about Jon makes him a good fit for your music, both performing live and in the studio?

MS: Jon Neufeld and I met playing together at Pickathon 8 years ago.  He is just an astonishing musician- I don’t know that I know anyone who is so free and improvisational and in the current all of the time, whether he’s playing or producing or mixing or mastering.  Just really present and in the moment.  I never get tired of playing the songs live because they are always new.  Plus he’s a wonderful person, a good friend, and hilarious, which is vital to touring.

LP: Do you see Jon and yourself continuing to work together as a touring and recording duo for the foreseeable future?

MS: Yes!

LP: How has your music evolved over the years to create this new album?

MS: It seems like a natural progression from record to record but I am not sure how.  One thing that threads them together is the improvisational aspect of them- that and the groove.  I think the most profound influence Levon Helm had on me was the groove- playing music with him, being inside that groove was like a physical space- it was so heavy.

LP: Have there ever been talks about reuniting with your old band Reeltime Travelers?

MS: Not in the near future anyway- everyone is pretty busy with their own lives and endeavors, so grateful for all of it.

LP: What sort of artists are a big influence on the sound of your music?

MS: I feel like what was interesting about this record sonically was playing electric guitars together for the first time.  Like literally for the first time, in the studio.  So the sounds were really improvisational and creative, and then Jon was building on that, and sending ideas back to me.  I’m still figuring out what the influences were.

LP: Are there any past Missoula moments that are particularly special to you?

MS: I literally can not remember there ever being an average Missoula show- it’s just a great place to play.  People really show up in a cool way, with their whole selves, all in.  It’s one of my favorite places to play in the country- so thrilled to debut the new record here!

LP: Is there anything about Missoula that you look forward to when playing here?

MS: Everything is special about Missoula.  I love what Nick Checota has done for live music here, it always feels like it is grounded in this deep love for live music, and it sets a tone.  Music likes it here.

LP: Anything else that you’d like to share?

MS: Thank you for having us, for making such an awesome home for live music.