Former burlesque performer, comedian, and multi-media storyteller Scout Durwood released her first musical album from Blue Elan, titled Take One Thing Off in 2017, and it quickly morphed into a massive raft of interrelated videos that accompanied the music and tied a story together, illustrating the album’s narrative whole. When it came to her next body of work, she and her collaborator Dave Darling planned an even bigger narrative scale, but the full story was put on hold by Covid, for now. Instead, the EP Comedy Electronica Vol. 1 was released by Blue Elan, replete with some absolutely hilarious accompanying videos, and now the EP Comedy Electronica Vol. 2 is looming on the horizon, due for full release on June 25th.
While you can listen to the songs on their own, and certainly enjoy their wit, candor, and attention to the detail of modern life, watching the videos takes things to the next level, as with the already released “Terrible People” which features Scout Durwood and friends as over-partying Barbie dolls, and “Love U Like” and “Millennial Malaise”, which were shot live in Durwood’s apartment in order to work within Covid roadblocks, but show so much ingenuity that you wouldn’t know there were any struggles involved. Scout is now taking in “van life” and continuing to work on the large, feature-length narrative behind Comedy Electronica that may eventually complete the picture, and I spoke with her about the new slate of songs and videos and how her life and work intersect.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I’m familiar with songs and videos from Comedy Electronica Volume 1, and when I look at Volume 2, I’d say there’s definitely some escalation going on here. Is that just a matter of perspective, or do you feel that way too?
Scout Durwood: The horrible, dirty secret about this project is that it was not originally intended to be two EPs. With Take One Thing Off, I did the album release and a digital series following. With this one, we said, “Let’s do it all at once.” We shot a feature-length narrative with all the music videos all kind of linked, and then Covid happened. We hadn’t finished shooting them all and there was a narrow margin for error with the budget. We paused. Then Blue Elan said that they would like to release singles. So my answer is that I both agree with you and that you are wrong. I think that in the way the songs have been released, there definitely is a build, but on the other hand, it’s a happy accident.
HMS: I know that for your first album, Take One Thing Off, there was an overarching narrative that turned the sequence of songs into a performance event. Is or was there originally also an overarching narrative behind Comedy Electronica?
SD: Yes, but I think Covid yanked everything apart. This time we’re releasing singles. The narrative is a feature-length movie and we’re still working on it. All of the songs do fit together into a feature length narrative, but that narrative is not actually called Comedy Electronica, but is called Youtopia. It is a scripted, traditionally shot and performed narrative, and the music videos fit within it. Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer is the closest comparison to the format, though mine has a more intense plot and starts with a breakup.
HMS: After the way that Take One Thing Off developed, with such a close interrelationship between the songs and videos, did that become the new normal for you? Are the songs inseparable from the videos for you now, or are they two different projects?
SD: Now, I cannot imagine doing music without a narrative attached. I’ve had a lot of internal struggles over my identity as a musician and what that is. I was a cabaret singer, I interpreted music, that was what I did. When I ended up at Blue Elan with Take One Thing Off, I realized I didn’t want to do comedy music, but that I was a comedian. The reason we created the digital series was because it was clear that what I do is comedy and music. Whether it’s comedy music or not, who knows? I know that in my heart, I’m a storyteller. That’s what this process taught me, that I cannot wait for the narrative, because for me, that makes my heart sing.
HMS: That’s really fascinating. I’m always interested in storytelling in music. An overarching narrative can create a kind of accordion file into which you can slot these smaller story moments.
SD: It’s always been a challenge for me, trying to focus on one thing, but in the end, this is what I do.
HMS: The truism is that you have to pursue one thing to do it well, but some personalities aren’t made like that, and combining things is the way forward.
SD: I don’t know that I would wish my life on anyone else, but I also wouldn’t wish for any other life for myself. I played soccer in college, and I thought that soccer was going to be a big part of my life. Now I wonder, “Was that wasted time?” But the correct answer is to believe that it wasn’t, and by believing that, value comes out of it. So much of who I am, for instance, comes from being a teammate, and finding camaraderie with women. That hugely changed my life. Eventually I would like to find time to nap, but for now it’s okay.
HMS: Tell me about your van life, your Vista Cruiser, and your adorable dog.
SD: I’m in my van now! I had been looking at vans for a long time, and during Covid, I was having a hard time. I was going to go home and I got rear-ended on my way out of LA. So I left LA with my tail between my legs, but my parents said, “We are proud of you for living the life you want to live. If you want to take this chance, then take it.” So I bought a van over Christmas and I’ve been living in it full-time, though I stay with friends in LA a lot when working on Youtopia.
What I’m continuing to do is writing that involves music and having the van and getting out of LA allows me to do that at a different pace. The thing that distracts me about LA is LA itself, and also there is so much to fidget with in an apartment. In the van, the quiet is also incredible. I don’t know how long that quiet will last. We are thinking about doing an outside release for the EP at the end of the month.
HMS: These videos have clearly been a labor of love and intense experience to make. I know that some of the Covid restrictions meant you had to simply make them in any way you could. Do you think that kind of situation brought out any unforeseen, positive results?
SD: I think it let me let go of some of the sense of urgency and importance of “my work” and let me focus on the importance of “the work”. I think the original schedule for these videos and Youtopia was breakneck, though. I feel really lucky that what I do is something that I love and that I think is good for the world, but this experience has been a good reminder that seeing yourself on TV as a lesbian, or a curvy person, or a brown person, or a person who plays soccer, is important, but the goal is for all of us to contribute to that conversation, not for any of us to “win it”. It helped me chill out a bit.
HMS: I wouldn’t have known how difficult things have been based on the videos themselves. They are so crazy and fun! I love the colors, the design, and the set up for “Love U Like”. It’s like a warped Valentine festival.
SD: Correct. We shot “Love U Like”, “Millennial Malaise”, “Now That UR Gone” were filmed in a “pod” with two other people in my apartment. “Love U Like” was an intense choice, and I’m so happy about it, to make it in that style. That’s fabric hung on my walls, so we didn’t destroy my apartment.
HMS: I was going to say that you must have trashed that place. There’s so much liquid.
SD: Yes, we did! The people helping me happened to be a director and producer, and afterwards, I went to bed and said I’d clean up in the morning, but the producer mopped the whole floor of the apartment because she couldn’t handle the sticky. I had forgotten that the producer also got as much food thrown at her as I did, but none of the glory.
HMS: How did you get the candy to land in your mouth on each shot? Was it filmed backwards?
SD: Originally, the whole video was supposed to be shot backwards, but yes, those were shot backwards. I love practical effects. There are at least two backward shots in “I Don’t Want To Hold Ur Baby”. I love low-to-mid-budget films. I’m really inspired by Buster Keaton. There’s such a freedom in doing things the wrong way.
HMS: Congratulations to you for finding a way to get the effects you want.
SD: We get away with it because we don’t deliver things in 4K! [Laughs]
HMS: I’m laughing because I just got a 4K TV and it looks so weird.
SD: I’m ethically against it as a woman since it makes us look bad.
HMS: It’s unnatural.
SD: When it was explained to me how little I was losing in actual perceivable resolution, I felt like 4K was a bunch of hogwash. We delivered Take One Thing Off in 4K, and why? I’m just going to get a tattoo that says, “1080 4 Ever” on my neck. Or under my eye like I’m crying.
HMS: Great job with the alphabet dancing on “Millennial Malaise”, by the way. Did you have all that tropical fabric already?
SD: Yes. That was my actual apartment. Though I’m out of it now.
HMS: When you’re choosing vocal styles in songs, how does that usually come about for you. Do you write lyrics first and think about the style afterwards? I know that for a couple of these songs, like “Terrible People”, you wrote some of the lyrics more on the fly.
SD: Part of my identity crisis as a musician is that I don’t produce music, except on a ukulele. I work with Dave Darling, who’s a great Producer, and he sends me tracks. For this one, he said, “We’re doing Pop” and I loved it. He named it Comedy Electronica. It’s parody. He would parody music styles, and sometimes I’d know the style he was parodying, and sometimes I wouldn’t. So “Terrible People” was Dave Darling, who is not a Pop Producer, producing a song for Katy Perry. Then he gave it to me. When I would get a track, I would listen over and over again.
Writing comedy Pop music is freaking hard because comedy is word-based and Pop is hook-based. There aren’t very many syllables in a Pop song. My writing process for these comedy songs is like math, but Dave will write silly descriptions that give me an idea of where I’m headed. We also add as many bells and whistles to the track afterwards as possible. “Love U Like” has so many special effects.
HMS: A lot of these have very personal lyrics, drawn from your life, which fit in with the narrative aspect we were talking about. But a few have lyrics more on the serious side, like “Existence is Meaningless” and “Merica”.
SD: My life’s presence in all my work is that I steal overarching ideas and I steal details, but I very rarely steal both at the same time. In “Now That Ur Gone”, there are some details from various breakups, but it’s not about anybody, so it’s not as mean. “Merica” is one that I hated, but Dave loved.
HMS: I know you had a hard time writing it because the news cycle was constantly changing, and still is.
SD: Dave likes politics. I don’t. My contribution is to stay aware and politically active, but I don’t have to focus on every detail. I don’t have to focus on every battle if it takes away from the war. I stay active in local politics. I vote and I march. But I think politics in general is deeply flawed and it’s not how I want to spend my time. This is with the exception of local politics. I’m not going to say that I’m not political, because I’m a radical feminist lesbian, though in some ways I feel old-fashioned.
I’m hoping to do the album release with a friend of mine who is non-binary. But I feminize everything, calling everyone “girl” or “ladies”, and we talked about it, and they said, “You can call me ‘girl’ as much as you want, as long as you call me ‘guy’ in equal measure.” And I thought, “Oh no! I have to introduce male energy into my lexicon?” Equality is brutal.
HMS: My last question was actually going to be about gender-fluid language and writing songs with gender in them. I know that in the past, you have overtly confronted the male-female binary in Rock songs. Do you think you’ve figured all that out now?
SD: I find it very effortless to play with gender and pronouns in a way that I feel really very grateful for. I think all my masculine energy comes from a very female place. The fact that gender is not binary does not blow my mind anymore. It does not freak me out to be called “bro” or “lady”. Whenever I perform live or covers, I do tend to change gender pronouns, and I think the end goal is for it to be visible, but for it not to make a difference. For example, wearing a dress does not mean “woman”, but it can mean “feminine”, so everyone can present the way that they want to. I think that’s where we’re going to end up. My friend saying “Call me girl but call me boy” is where we should all live. It takes away judgement.
HMS: That seems like a way of taking language back.