RVA Mag #28: Perceptive & Expansive: The development of Young Scum

by | May 5, 2017 | ROCK / INDIE

When you recall memories associated with falling in love, what is the first thing to come to mind? Is it the whimsical conversations that fall into place with an unexpected ease? Is it the way that one evening can feel like an indulged spirit that intoxicates the memory? Or is it as quaint as the way one feels when they hear their favorite song and it takes them back to that place? For Richmond’s Young Scum, they carry a torch that is wrought with classic romantic yearnings that weave themselves into entrancing pop lullabies. With a number of releases under their collective belts, the band plunges forward as they prepare to unveil their proper full-length in 2017.

This article was featured in RVAMag #28: Spring 2017. You can read all of issue #28 here or pick it up at local shops around RVA right now.

The story begins with a Craigslist posting and a farewell to a close friend. In 2014, guitarist Ben Medcalf met original bassist Jason Pirault through an opportunity to sublet a place in Richmond upon moving to the city. Through this digital encounter, Pirault introduced Medcalf to vocalist/guitarist Chris Smith. “Jason dragged me to an Ugly Thrash Demon show and that’s where I met Chris,” Medcalf says before Smith inserts himself into the conversation with a clarification. “It was a weird folk rock band that I was in despite what you might think from the name,” he laughs. Medcalf enjoyed the set and knew almost immediately that he wanted to work on music with Smith. The three were eager to begin working on this new project.

A little while later, the three would come together to wish a fond farewell to their friend Brian Dove, someone who plays an integral role in the past and present of Young Scum. Before moving cross-country to Oregon, Dove, also of local band Antiphons, introduced the trio to drummer Taylor Haag. The group instantly hit it off and it soon became apparent that Young Scum had found their ideal missing piece for the project. “Chris and I hit it off almost immediately due to our adoration for Teenage Fanclub and I was in need of a new band,” Haag reminisces. “So, it worked out perfectly.”

With Young Scum ready, the first rehearsals would take place in the kitchen of Medcalf’s Museum District apartment. “His neighbors fucking hated us,” Smith jokes. As the first set of songs started to come together, the band were eager to play their first show and by June of 2014, the band made their debut at the RNH House. A quick six-song set would reflect a birthing moment for the group as they could sense the growing momentum in the progress they had made as a group. “We ended up releasing that set online, because we thought it was a cool time stamp for us as a band,” Medcalf mentions.

What soon followed was the recording and release of their debut EP Autumn August. The four song collection includes a number of fan favorites such as “Blue Slurpee” and “Met You At A Party,” both of which reflect a particular personal wit that Smith engaged with in the early days of the band. “Whenever I’m writing lyrics for a song,” Smith details, “I try to think of small things that bring me a certain joy and how I can inject those into them. At the end of the day, I am pretty much writing love songs and it seems like the two ideas go hand in hand.”

Autumn August does give the band a bit of a misconstrued portrayal. “When I was recording it, I didn’t really know what I was doing and I think that’s why a lot of the songs ended up sounding a bit quieter,” Medcalf mentions, but the band believed there were other factors at play too. “A lot of the reason for putting the EP out was to help us book more shows,” Smith adds, “but sometimes it seemed like we might shock people when they would see us live and realize that we were a much louder rock band than what they might have expected.”

Close to a year after Young Scum’s first show, Pirault would leave the band, but the band wouldn’t look too long for a new bassist as Brian Dove returned to Richmond around the same time, helping locking down a line-up that remains to this day. After the slight shuffle, the band found themselves in the middle of a prolific writing streak, one that spanned splits with bands Shrunk and Reporters. As the streak continued and their discography grew, Young Scum inched their way closer to what might be their biggest achievement to date.

In 2016, the band began work on their second EP entitled Zona, a release that helped the band shape their aspirations of becoming a loud, noisey pop band. “With Autumn August, Ben and I were mainly playing with clean tones and that evidently came across as sounding a bit more quaint,” Smith recalls. “With this record, we knew we could start messing around with tones and layering tracks throughout.” Another large part of the band’s shift in sound was due to the involvement of engineer Mitch Clem. Having started working with the band on their prior split releases, he was the ideal candidate to continue directing the textures and nuances of the Young Scum sound on Zona. “One of the reasons we were able to sound like a ramped up, loud band on Zona is due to Mitch and his immeasurable talents with recording our songs,” Medcalf states. “A lot of the ideas we had stirring around in our heads would make more sense once we had him around to bounce them off of.”

Zona is a reflection of making observations about the world that surrounds you with childlike wonderment. Each of the five tracks takes the listener on a journey that only a writer like Smith could weave. The songsmith takes every twist and turn of engaged folly, and how they encapsulate our daily diatribes and daydreams. “If You Say That” swirls from the introductory moments as Smith dreams of believing in oneself and taking chances to achieve the personal goals any of us set for ourselves. In another personal ode, the singer finds himself paying proper tribute to a favorite beverage in the track “Zona,” while also waxing poetically about the beauties found in a bag of chips and simple kisses.

One of Smith’s strongest suits is juxtaposing the daily grind with the small joys that make it all bearable. On “Sun Drop,” he coyly mentions that despite an unfortunate landlord, he can look forward to enjoying tacos and Mountain Dews with a significant other in the later recesses of the evening. As Zona comes to a close, “Out Of State” blasts through to proclaim how undying devotion to being with the ones you love is never foolish. If anything, it’s one of the more deserving virtues that any of us can hope to dedicate themselves to.

As the conversations reverts back to intriguing lyrical wordplay, other members of the band are quick to highlight moments they think quickly connects with a certain set of listeners. “I think there is this inherent sweetness on display that really resonates with some people,” Haag says. “Some people might not get it, but the ones that have felt the same way and experienced something similar will immediately latch on to the songs.” Smith considers a few of the inspirations for these approaches. “I have always enjoyed the way that bands like Belle and Sebastian can take that narrative device and have their be a nice blend of sadness and happiness,” he adds. ”Two things that seem like they should be at odds with one another, but they feel kinda at home in the same phrase or song.”

Outside of the lyrical perspective, Zona also reflected the band at their most confident. “We also went into this recording with a certain sense of feeling like we had a better sense of what we were doing,” Medcalf says. “We had been a band for a while at this point and we felt like we could reflect that a bit more on these songs.” Even though Dove wasn’t involved with process of recording Autumn August, he is quick to see the progression in the band from an outside perspective. “I think Autumn August was more like an effort to just start a band and get something out there,” Dove remembers. “By the time, I joined and we started working on Zona; it was more like ‘How can we get the most impact out of this release and how do we make that happen?’”

After they wrapped up recording, it took no time for the release to acquire the interest of local label Citrus City Records. “Manny [Lemus] hit us up with immediate interest in putting out Zona and the entire base of that label seemed like exactly who we would want to work with,” Smith says. The tape release quickly received solid acclaim from a number of blogs, including (just another) Pop Song whose review specifically led to the band being approached by the Spanish label Pretty Olivia Records about a possible vinyl press. As one could imagine, the band were quick to leap at the opportunity.

At the time of the interview, Young Scum had hunkered down in a practice space littered with cans of Arizona Iced Tea to begin working on their proper full-length release, something the group is excited for even if there is a little bit of pressure involved. “Yeah, a full-length record feels like a relationship commitment,” Smith jokes. “Like it’s time to meet the parents and make thing serious.” Helping ease those commitment fears are some familiar faces, like Ali Mislowsky of Big Baby lending her harmonies once again, and some competent direction, like that of engineer Tim Falen who’s no stranger to the group’s cluttered practice space.

With recording underway, the untitled full-length should see a release later this year. “After we finish everything, I imagine we’ll most definitely work with Citrus City again,” Smith says. “As far as releasing it goes, the goal is to see if we can put the release out on as many formats as possible including vinyl.” As live performances have displayed, the new set of music should entice fans of last year’s Zona and raise the band’s profile even further within the community. Their experiences touring behind their subsequent releases have been favorable as well and the band looks forward to pursuing that even more with this new record. “We’ve had really good luck just trying to hit a lot of the same cities on the east coast multiple times and help build a decent rapport with those cities,” Medcalf says.

In the more than three year journey that Young Scum have been on, they continue to find more and more welcome opportunities within the Richmond music scene. “When I first moved back to Richmond in 2013, it felt like the scene was populated by metal and math rock bands,” Medcalf states. “Through Young Scum, I’ve made a lot of friends that also play music in town and the scene just seems to get more diverse with each coming year.”

Helping foster that local fellowship is Richmond’s growing number of musicians matching the band’s melodic, yet minimialist approach. “It seems like a lot of people in town are teetering towards writing songs that kinda reflect a similar pop sensibility and attitude that fits well with what Young Scum does,” Smith says. “It’s nice to have those ties continue to grow stronger and see how that affects things positively in town.”

With a release in the works and excitement brewing within the band, Young Scum are in a perfect place to further solidify their reputation as pop connoisseurs. Inspired by the likes of artists that found homes at places like Sarah Records and K Records, their beautiful array of music, describing the chances we take pursuing the simple pleasures in life, is a welcome testament. In a city with growing musical diversity, Young Scum couldn’t be more at home and 2017 will surely be a champagne year for them.


Photo credit: Austin Town Hall

Shannon Cleary

Shannon Cleary

Radio/Words/Stories/Jokes/Bass Booking Agent at Flora, Bassist at Clair Morgan and Music director at WRIR 97.3 fm Richmond Independent Radio

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