This is my original version of a feature written in 2018; the previously-published version included some editorial additions that were not part of my article as filed and that didn’t reflect my perspective. — bk
A longtime fixture on the Western North Carolina music scene, Scott Bianchi imbues his original songs with regional influences, a modern sensibility, and lyrics that focus on real-life concerns. Working with fiddler Crosby Cofod, Bianchi channels that music through a pleasingly restless sense of musical exploration.
Bianchi has written literally hundreds of songs; he chooses from among the best for his live performances and recording projects. And unlike some composers who save their unused work so that they can mine it during a dry spell, Bianchi says that “life just keeps on hurtling forward. It’s almost impossible for me to go back and unearth an old idea.”
Instead, he puts his energies into developing the musical ideas that spring forth from his consciousness. “If I get an idea, I try to stick with it right then,” he says. His explains his philosophy: “get in and get out as quick as possible, be happy with what it is, finish it up, and keep moving.”
Bianchi is quick to admit that some of his best lyrical ideas come from listening. His day job brings him into regular contact with people. “I’m always working with volunteers and the public,” he says. “I hear stories from older folks and younger folks, and I’ve learned to pay attention.” And often as not, those listening experiences inform his own musical storytelling.
Guitar is Scott Bianchi’s primary instrument, but over the years he has made a point of developing facility on other instruments: old-time fiddle, ukulele and clawhammer banjo. And his songs are rooted in the richness and variety of sounds created by those folk-based instruments. In fact, for many years Bianchi was deeply immersed in Appalachian folk music scene. “I lived way out in Madison County,” he says.
The often minor-key approach of some Appalachian folk – Bianchi calls it “mountain modal” – is one of his favorite qualities of that music. “It’s really haunting,” he says. “That’s what really drew me in.” He also places a high value upon the style’s unschooled approach. “A lot of traditional music – whether it’s blues or old time music – is handed down from people without any formal musical education,” he says.” And that quality means that when a musician wants to play it, he or she has to learn it by ear. “All you can do is listen over and over until you figure it out,” he says.
“When music comes out of that oral tradition, it often comes from people who are downtrodden, or at least not among the privileged part of society,” Bianchi says. He believes that once a style of music is taught at a university level, “it seems to lose some of its zeitgeist.”
And though his love for those traditional styles endures, Bianchi eventually moved beyond mountain folk music. “There was a while when I thought I was going to play only that music,” he admits, “because I love it; I feel it needs to be taken care of. But it’s in such good hands around here; it’s very well cared for. And it will never die.”
So instead, Bianchi writes those original songs of his, drawing from mountain traditions as well as other musical forms. “I grew up listening to rock ‘n’ roll, too” he says. To be true to himself musically, he decided some time ago that his approach would be to “distill from all these different genres, and come up with my own voice. And that challenge really keeps me in it.”
“Forbidden Fruit” is a minor-key retelling of the Judeo-Christian fable of Adam and Eve; in Bianchi’s intentionally objective version, it’s left to the listener to decide if in fact the couple’s newly gained knowledge might not necessarily be such a bad thing.
“The Devil Came Knocking” employs a bouncy acoustic guitar style that will be familiar to fans of Jerry Garcia’s work with the Grateful Dead. And here, Bianchi’s vocal delivery on the tune – a musical cousin to the Dead’s own “Friend of the Devil” – bears more than a passing resemblance to Garcia’s disarmingly hoary delivery.
These days Bianchi collaborates onstage with a like-minded musician, violinist Crosby Cofod. Though Cofod has a musical foundation in classical music and improvisation, the musical pairing is a natural one. The two met at a “song swap” jam session and bonded immediately over their shared musical passions. They soon got busy working up duo arrangements of Bianchi’s songs. “Crosby’s got an incredible ear,” the songwriter says. “We’ll play a song once, and he’s got it. And he has a lot of good ideas.”
“Scott’s songs are diverse,” Cofod explains. “So I have to be diverse in my playing, to fit that mold. I see his songs as blank canvases.” And the duo employs an interactive approach. “Hearing how Scott is playing really determines how I interpret the song as well,” Cofod says. “I’m constantly exploring.” Combined with Bianchi’s slice-of-real-life lyrical approach, that interplay makes for an intriguing and appealing musical experience.