When guitarist Scott Burton and drummer Scott Clark formed SCUO, their goal was to write music that was harder than they could possibly play, but it’s their minimalist approach that gives it all purpose.
photo by Lauren Serpa
When guitarist Scott Burton and drummer Scott Clark formed SCUO, their goal was to write music that was harder than they could possibly play. In practice, there’s no better way to improve your technical facility on your instrument. In performance, the concept is one that could come off as forced, arbitrary, and ridiculously complex for the sake of being ridiculously complex. But although their music can tend toward lots of notes (and sometimes decibels), it’s their minimalist approach toward song structure that gives it all purpose.
At one of their first performances, they demonstrated this brilliantly in their first composition, “Legs.” A cacophonous repeated motif breaks just long enough to give the melody some air instead of letting it get lost in all the sound. The piece has a clear structure, and when something changes (akin to the minimalist process of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, or Terry Riley), something in your brain ticks.
Burton talks about the duo Hella — similar to SCUO except with more distortion and noise — as an influence. In this live tune, there’s a clear theme that begins the piece, and the duo comes back to it between other sections that almost acts as verses. Different than SCUO’s approach in “Legs,” in other words, but with the same tight unison-style playing and seemingly outlandish rhythms.
Another of these duos that’s inspired Burton is Orthrelm, which contains guitarist Mick Barr. “Barr is a guitar player that Mary Halvorson introduced me to, and I’ve been obsessed ever since,” says Burton, who also finds Barr’s new black metal band Krallice particularly intriguing. Their music is often very minimal, Burton says, unlike this track, and their album OV is one 42-minute track that progresses steadily. “That vibe, what Barr is doing, I definitely find appealing,” Burton says.
“Anytime we get together to play music,” Burton says, “we always do minimal stuff. It’s almost like an exercise, but it turns out to be pretty cool… It’s real intuitive, but the music is always about a structure that you can follow, and that makes us different. It is a conscious thing. It’s always about trying to end up somewhere that feels like it makes sense. For us, it’s more in common with the music we typically listen to and typically play.”
SCUO is two fifths of Burton’s band Glows in the Dark, but it doesn’t borrow ideas from the quintet. Instead, elements from SCUO’s music work their way into Glows, Burton says. “We’re not even thinking about Glows, but I’m definitely integrating the things we come up with into newer Glows material,” he says.
They formed the duo around a time when they were both practicing heavily and were eager to challenge themselves. “When we wrote out ‘Legs’,” Burton says, “we had this piece of paper with labeled parts to follow. Our newest song doesn’t have anything written and it’s harder to play than all the others. It’s almost easier not to write it out and instead learn it by playing it over and over again. It’s really just a challenge. We want to take this group and these concepts farther than we can do. If we can do them, there’s no real end to where it can go.”
SCUO is playing The Camel on Jan. 31 with The Suite Unraveling (NYC), and again at The Camel for Jazz by Numbers on Feb. 16. They hope to release their first album in April.