Sarah Jane Scouten

The West Coast Girl

Exploring Americana Music with Sarah Jane Scouten

Born near Vancouver, British Columbia, singer-songwriter Sarah Jane Scouten says she’s a West Coast girl. “I may strike folks as a bizarro Oregonian,” she tells me via email. 

The three-time Canadian Folk Music Award and Western Canadian Music Award nominee comes to Eugene supporting last year’s When the Bloom Falls From the Rose, a collection of tunes ranging from rockabilly to classic country and traditionalist folk. 

There are also some modern touches in Scouten’s stuff, recalling songwriters like Iris Dement or Lucinda Williams. And Scouten’s got the kind of singing voice that, for those frog-voiced among us — like me — leaves our mouths agape, as if to say: “You mean you just open your mouth and that sound comes out?” 

In other words, it’s beautiful.

Scouten recalls her father teaching her to sing. “It was a way to connect with our dad,” she says. “He’d teach me the part, and make me sing it until I knew it like it was a melody.” 

When it came to intonation or tuning, her dad would tell her, “Make it buzz!”

“Like the buzzing feeling you get in your throat and teeth when you’re singing in tune really well with someone,” she says. 

But Scouten never learned to read music. Her musical training, she says, has always been very practical. “The only notated music I can read is Sacred Harp, or shape-note singing,” she adds, “which for most classically trained musicians is a mind-bender.”

Although singing came easily for Scouten, playing an instrument was another matter. “I was sick with stage fright during piano recitals,” she admits, so she stopped playing. “One day I’ll learn to play piano again.”

When it comes to her songwriting, Scouten says it’s like pulling on a string. “You find the end of it and tug to see what comes out,” she says. “You have to start with something — a chorus, a phrase, a chord progression, a title. But you have to have a spark of an idea. The rest is just follow-through, and a lot of editing.”

I ask Scouten where all of Bloom’s stylistic shifts come from. “It comes from listening,” she responds. “I’m a meat grinder. What goes in comes out in a song, or part of a song, eventually.”

She mentions a few tracks on the album.

“If I listen to 1920s blues, I write a song like ‘Bang Bang,’ which turned into a rockabilly thing on the record. If I listen to Willie P. Bennett, I write a song like ‘Show Pony.’ If I listen to George Jones, I write a song like ‘Man in Love.’”

 Scouten is influenced by indie pop and even hip hop. “A Tribe Called Quest or Kendrick Lamar are great examples,” she notes. “That’s where I started thinking about flow, or patter, or just how words come out in a rhythm, while using the harshness or softness of consonants or vowels in an intentional way.”

But, she jokes, it’s not as if she writes pop-country one song and death metal the next. “The umbrella of Americana music casts a pretty wide shadow, and I think we can get a lot more under it if we loosen up a little.”

Sarah Jane Scouten performs with Eugene’s Westbound Coyote String Band 9 pm Thursday, Oct. 18, at Sam Bond’s Garage; 21-plus.

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