An Extraordinary Life: Scott Shenk, on music, military, an extreme coffee delivery service, and becoming a father… to a herd of alpaca!
“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”– Eleanor Roosevelt
I’d never been to the USA before, so the opportunity to visit friends in San Diego last summer filled me with excitement. My itinerary was simple… arrive… buy a guitar… spend two weeks catching up and jamming with my buddy, as we’d done almost every weekend for the past 20 years before he moved to the States.
I thought this trip would be a great opportunity to meet, other musicians ‘in the area’ and maybe make some music together. So… having been a member of the online music creation platform, BandLab, for a number of years, I thought that’d be a good place to start.
Not long after posting details of my trip and desire to get a jam going, I receive a message from one of the 50 million musicians on the platform with an invitation to visit him… out on his ranch. My immediate thoughts were “this is going to be an amazing experience, let’s do it!”. Our subsequent conversations led to thoughts of “… this guy lives in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of Alpaca… do those things eat meat? What if I don’t make it out alive??”
However, as Elanor Roosevelt said, “reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” So… I was either going to be Alpaca fodder, or it’d be a rich experience to remember fondly down the years… it most definitely turned out to be the latter.
San Diego based singer-songwriter, Scott Shenk, has attracted a very respectable following of over a thousand listeners on BandLab since joining the platform in June this year and immediately dropping nine engaging, expressive and excellently produced original songs on his first day.
Scott demonstrates a strong sense of musicality and technical proficiency, coupling excellent guitar work with a raw, emotive vocal style akin to that of Ed Kowalczyk, lead singer of ’90s alt-rock band ‘Live’ – a rich and powerful lower register, loaded with emotional intensity which allows him to connect with listeners through the power and sincerity of his performances.
Having spent some time getting to know Scott in the buildup to my arrival, and becoming a fan of his music, I was looking forward to our meet. And so it was… mid-September 2022, I found myself (along with my Santee friends) driving down a dusty road in the back end of beyond on a mystery tour to meet Scott, and his hopefully herbivorous Alpaca, for what turned out to be much more than a ‘rich experience’.
As we sat in his garage studio, feasting on a delectable assortment of freshly plucked organic fruit and vegetables, Scott began sharing stories about music and adventure that were too good to forget… and so, naturally… we had to do an interview. Let’s get into it!
Hey Scott, thanks for taking the time for this interview! Let’s start with a bit of background… if our readers were to pick up your biography, what might they find in the synopsis?
First off, I am absolutely thrilled that you would make the time to do this interview! Seriously… THANK YOU!
As for a bio synopsis, I grew up half in the city, half rural, in Southern California. I also spent some important teenage years in the central northern plains of the U.S. living in the state of North Dakota. It was there I learned to thread the needle between being a heavily punk-rock-skateboard influenced kid and co-existing in a rigid, highly conservative environment. I have been a music fanatic since I can remember hearing jams pour thru the AM Blaupunkt radio during hot southern California summers in the family VW bug, mid-1970s.
I had a fantastic childhood full of mischief and adventure! Music is, and always has been a tremendous part of my life since my first record acquisitions at age seven. My teen years were spent in a constant search for sound. MTV’s 120 Minutes was a grand influence on the ‘alternative’ music front. I was never much of a classic rock or hair band guy, but always loved rock in general. This later progressed to old school country and punk rock interests. Upon graduation from High School, I was partially ‘compelled’ to join the military at age 17, and there I remained for 30 years. I ‘”forgot” to get out of the service!
That’s one hell of a stint! I’m assuming you did a fair bit of travelling over the years? What impact did your service have on your passion for, or ability to make, music?
Over a 30 year span I was posted mostly between California and Hawaii, and completed many a deployment across the globe. Serving in the military did not stop me from bringing my hobbies or musical influences with me while on that journey, and I had the freedom (even when deployed) to play in many a band – and solo – while still serving – even in the deserts of Iraq. A sort of “double life” if you will. I determined early on to never travel without a guitar and a surfboard if space would allow. That chapter closed in 2018.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into music… where did it all begin for you, and where are you now with regards to ‘creative’ pursuits?
I have been tinkering with music from an early age, but really got caught in the snare at age 15 after getting my hands on a guitar. I deeply enjoy recording but playing live is probably one of my favorite pastimes. Having been out of the game for several years due to other commitments, I am currently re-building the gig schedule for solo acoustic ventures as they arise and playing with some local musicians in a studio close by for the simple joy of it. Revisits of incomplete works from the past are well underway, and there have been some hyper-creative moments these past few months. What a joy to be back into making and playing music! I have been highly active in the collaborative web based BandLab application since June 2022, posting beta versions of original works and some cover songs. I also have a ReverbNation page as far as music dissemination goes.
That’s a pretty solid intro… but I know there’s more to the Shenk story. Outside of music and military, what else do you have going on, Scott?
I am a fanatical about history, the outdoors, surfing and flying airplanes. I have an amazing wife and three kids. We live on a small hobby farm in Southern California raising alpacas for the shear (haha) love of it.
I wanted to thank you (again) for the pleasure of spending a bit of time with you and your family in San Diego this summer – one of the highlights (there were many) was our ‘private tour’ of the world-famous Taylor guitar factory. A fitting experience for someone like yourself – so naturally gifted with the acoustic guitar! I read somewhere that it was your stepmother who bought you your first guitar at a garage sale. Did you have any interest in guitar before then? Was that the starting point for you?
The Taylor Guitars tour was a life-changing moment to be sure. I am BLOWN AWAY just thinking of how amazing a treat that tour was. I still have our tour guide’s phone number for your next visit! I digress…ah yes…that first guitar. Somehow out of the blue, overnight perhaps, I became obsessed with learning how to play the guitar. It was U2’s Unforgettable Fire album that did it I think. Hearing “Pride in the Name of Love” on the radio when it came out was a pivotal moment for me – the one that likely sent me on my way. I know exactly where I was the first time I heard that song and recall watching snow blowing sideways across the streetlight adjacent to our home at midnight. It was my first winter living in the state of North Dakota, and it gets very cold there. I am still surprised the local radio station even carried the song because the town we lived in was quite literally 10 years behind musically. After that moment in time, I would find my way to the local music store, not knowing anything at all about guitars – only that I had to have one someday. I’d see one hanging on the shelf and humbly ask the clerk if I could pick it up, then sit there dumbfounded with it in my hands. I’d then, while shaking in a cold sweat, hand it back to the clerk. Jukebox hero stuff haha!
My stepmother caught on to this new obsession and surprised me one day with a $5, well-worn acoustic guitar purchased at a garage sale. It was missing a string and only had 5. I had no idea how to tune it, play it or replace the missing string. It remained in that state for at least a year, yet I plucked away at that thing, certainly establishing some bad playing habits along the way, but having a blast. Of note, I recently told this story to a fellow BandLab artist and he went the extra mile and wrote lyrics around it. We later posted the song “Bigger than Me” and it’s a simple ode to that 5-string guitar and what happened next.
I really wanted to learn U2 songs and Spanish Classical. Never quite got to either. Came up with my very first melody on that 5-string, non-tuned configuration – which later developed into a song that I finally finished this summer, “In the Clouds”. After a year of languishing with my 5-string, I happened to meet a new friend who actually knew how to play guitar! He invited me over and we would jam. He showed me how to tune the damn thing and got me after my first 4 chords. Things progressed from there.
In my first ever jam session with a band, we played ”Born to be Wild” 10,324 times. The punk rock bug was setting in about this time and my musical interests shifted to a point somewhere between Andres Segovia, Husker Du and Waylon Jennings. I got my first “real” electric guitar at the local guitar store for $135USD. It was a no-name guitar, but it looked like the one that Bob Mould played. It is long gone now, having been destroyed with our home in a wildfire that swept Southern California in 2003.
Aside from guitar, do you play any other instruments? And, If you were to learn any another instrument, what would you choose?
Currently the 6-string guitar is my go-to instrument, but a good friend of mine was kind enough to lend me an acoustic bass recently and I have been having quite a good time fusing it into recordings. I think I could actually be a bass player (someday…)! What a fun instrument. There is also an old electric drum set in the garage that another friend has lent me. I REALLY love playing drums, but like the guitar, no formal training is going to be in the books anytime soon. I recorded my first-ever song playing drums (“Nothing to Lose”) using that kit. Until then, the only opportunity I have ever had to mess around with drums was during breaks at band practice when the drummer would step out for a smoke.
To your question on what I would like to learn someday – I would really love to get my hands on either a violin or a cello. Those two instruments fascinate me and are responsible for my favorite sounds on the planet. Mandolin in close third behind violin and cello. I did have a mandocello for a time and it was fantastic – but I wasn’t ready for it yet and it now has a new home (…I am kicking myself for letting it go!).
Can we talk about that fantastic voice of yours?! When did you realize you could sing? And I’m also interested in hearing about your former ‘band days’… what kind of music you were playing back then, and what was your role?
This is a great question! I did not know I could “sing” until the mid-1980s. I believe it was 1986, we were in a summer vacation condo in Pacific Beach, California. I met my future wife Keri there and recall trying to play and sing songs by the Smithereens and X while sitting with her on the beach. It was not until around 1989 that I really took a swing at singing. I had entered the military the year prior and we always had found ways to make music, that is, those of us whom served together that had “history” playing. The first band I was in was formed from member of the ships’ crew I was stationed with. We played some originals and some covers. Mostly rock stuff with some alternative flavor. Also some highly “sappy” love song originals as well.
We played all over the Pacific. Whenever our ship would make a port call, we would go out in town and seek out a venue to play. We would tell the proprietors that we would play for free, and that we promised to pack the place. We always delivered too – not because we were that good, but because we had an entire ship’s crew of several hundred to draw an audience from. These were some fun gigs. Later, I was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii both on other ships and at an ashore establishment which afforded me time for music, surfing and aviation pursuits. I played in several bands there and made lifelong friendships with the guys I played in bands with. The most active group I was in was named Elizabeth Hortonsphere. Derek Ho, Kevin Jones, Danny Marich, Scott Susag and Chris Diehl. Splendid individuals! I saw them play a gig one time before we had even met, and I was very much taken aback by how GOOD they were! I later had the honor of joining them. We played originals (Alt-Rock flavor) and a smattering of covers.
Funny story – we had separated for about 6 months due to work commits and had not played for some time when the band leader, Kevin Jones, received a call from the radio station asking us to open for the 90’s Pop phenom Lisa Loeb, whom was to be passing through town on a tour the following week. Kevin of course said “Yes” (before asking us!!) and we were off to the races… but we had not played for quite some time and had only a week to pull it together. We needed a bass player. We found one (Brent). We practiced in Derek Ho’s office after working hours and ultimately played a quite memorable opening performance that was highly lauded in the newspapers. Aside from Derek’s wedding in 2002, that was the last time time we all played together. Derek Ho and I later went on to capture much of the original material in a 6 CD series of recordings under the “GirlsRevil” moniker, examples of which can be found on BandLab (here).
Derek is a masterful musician, writer/composer, and friend. Of note, the GirlsRevil title comes from an ingeniously funny math equation that resides on the internet if one were to search for “girls = evil math equation”. We of course do not believe girls are evil, but found the equation to be quite hilarious!
When at your ranch you showed me your ‘garage’ set-up, which is very impressive – tastefully stacked with all kinds of memorabilia and musical equipment… a bona fide Aladdin’s Cave. Can you talk us through your some of your instruments and gear, and the journey of piecing it all together? Of all the equipment you’ve acquired, what would you say is the most precious to you?
I’d say the most precious piece of equipment to me personally is the Martin acoustic guitar. It’s not one of the overly expensive ones – it is one of the early laminate versions. It has kept me company through thick and thin…overseas on ships, the deserts of Iraq, here at home writing and recording. It has an LR Baggs “Anthem” pickup which is absolutely brilliant. I recently acquired another no-name acoustic guitar during a summer trip to Wyoming USA, that I picked up off the rack by pure chance, played once, and purchased on the spot. This “new” unknown guitar has become the go-to. I have never heard anything like it before. Sustain forever. It almost sounds as if there are bells shining in the background while playing. Magical to say the least.
On the electric guitar side, I have only one instrument, a used Danelectro 59 in which the previous owner had installed a Bigsby bar. It does everything I need and plays wonderfully. In the past, I’ve had my share of Rickenbacker, Gretsch and Fender guitars, but the “Dano” now covers all the basis. I dearly miss the 1967 Rickenbacker 12-string, but that’s life I guess. For amplification, I have a 1974 Fender Twin Reverb that I have had since 1994, a solid state Gibson, an older Crate PA that I use for small venues (coffee shops, etc.) and finally an active PA for larger gigs. I have not changed the effects set up over the years and it consists of only a few pedals to include a Tube Screamer, a reverb pedal, a tuner pedal an LR Baggs pre-amp. That’s it. I have become addicted to the sound achieved running an acoustic thru a Tube Screamer. For microphones, both live and for garage recordings I rely heavily on the Sennheiser 835/935 variants.
You introduced me to a really cool artist by the name of Bob Lefevre (& The Already Gone) who, according to Spotify, offers an “intriguing blend of folk-Americana lyricism with the rhythms of alt-country and punk” – I was getting Counting Crows vibes. There’s an interesting story describing how much you enjoy Bob’s music which we’ll get to in a moment, but I wanted to know more about your musical heroes and influences. What have you had pumping through your speakers lately?
I need to get my playlists in order! I mostly settle on an artist and listen to them exclusively for a spell, then switch. Turnpike Troubadours, Dangerous Summer, Micky and the Motorcars, Ride, New Model Army, Chris Knight, Kate Rusby, Don Williams, the 1975…you name it… I am all over the place! Shoegaze fanatic as well. Not to leave out instrumental brilliance, let’s not forget the Mermen – a California Bay Area band – Jim Thomas and his crew are my absolute favorite instrumental situation in existence.
Regarding playlists and music, this is where BandLab has been of immense value; because any given time of the day, I can simply dial into the feed and get handed a suitcase full of cross-genre amazingness. In summary on the playlist front, I hover anywhere between early 80’s Punk and alternative, to current alternative, folk, classical, surf rock, traditional country, and alt-country (more or less referred to as “Outlaw” country music nowadays). I still have not been able to fully embrace what would be termed the complete spectrum of “modern” Country music yet, but there are some absolute stand-out songs that come up from time to time that are easy to latch onto and happily burn oneself out on. Basically, I am not really genre-specific, but if the song has good lyrics and melody I am all in – regardless of “labels”.
Some good names in there, some new to me (better check them out!). Circling back to that Bob Lefevre story, I remember you telling me about engaging in some hardcore ‘fan’ activity. Do you want to get into that?
I was in Wyoming this August with a group of close friends delivering “safety training” to the local populace in and around Encampment, WY. We do this annually about the same time each year. Two-week trip. It dawned on me before this trip that one of my absolute favorite artists is from the town of Laramie (population 32k), about 1.5 hours distant from where I was to be staying while in the state. I endeavoured go there if time availed itself and drop off some form of tribute (a “thank you” note for making great music + coffee in this case) with an accompanying post-script prodding for expedient completion of the second album!!
Because Bob L. sends records to purchasers from his home, I was able to obtain his address – and BAM! I was off over the mountains to Laramie – in a borrowed “ranch vehicle” that ran rough and had a “check engine” light illuminated on the dashboard – with my fingers crossed that the vehicle would not break down.
I arrived to the address, and at great peril from the hounds inside the house barking incessantly at me, I dropped the bag of coffee with a poorly scribbled note saying “thank you for writing great music” and “hurry up on next record!” etc etc. I left my email address on the note to afford a reply if he or the band desired to do so.
Prior to departing back for Encampment WY, I then proceeded the local guitar shop “D&L Music” to procure some strings for my beat-up Martin. I was recording daily in a barn on the property we were staying at in Encampment WY and my strings were TOAST! (if you want to crawl through broken glass – “Barn recordings” are all 1-take live songs on BL. Barn photo on the songs). I digress, back to the music store…
Seeing that I was not local, the D&L Music proprietor said good morning and “what brings you into town?” I came clean and told him the story – and he immediately says to me “Oh yeah Bob?! Well I have his number right here and we should call him!” I humbly and respectfully declined since I had already gravely overstepped by going to his actual residence(!) to drop coffee.
I then saw a no-name guitar on the wall that was calling to me. ‘Purchased it ON THE SPOT after hearing it. Incredible. This is the first one to get the “shotgun shell” headstock treatment, (yours is next!). Proprietor believes it “could be” a Martin. I have no reason to doubt him. Whatever it is….wow…
I received an email from Bob in response that evening. I told Keri the story that evening and she said she couldn’t believe I even did this whole damn adventure (hahaha), but thought it was cool he responded. She especially loves the second song on their album titled “It ain’t Me”!
It’s a great story, Scott… and I’m looking forward to getting back over there next year to see what you’ve done to my guitar!!
Can you tell me how (and when) you discovered BandLab and how has it changed your approach to both consuming, and making, music?
BandLab was an accidental discovery while looking for a way to record and save music. I had no intention of distro or posting, but thought “what the heck – you can’t take it with you”, and would have been stoked on having one or two people make time to listen to something I posted. It became a bit more than that. I love listening to other’s music on Bandlab. What a great site! Everyone is so supportive. My genre aperture has expanded considerably, and the collaborative application makes it even more awesome. Where else can you write and work on a song concurrently with people all over the world? Or be reached by songs you otherwise never would have heard?
Mainstream radio and streaming platforms are great and all that….but…I have found equally satisfying and amazing music on Bandlab. In many, many cases, the quality and brilliance of the music I have heard on Bandlab easily out-does that which is spoon fed to the masses in commercial applications. Pretty cool! I deeply value that aspect.
Visitors to your profile will find a blend of covers that you’ve recorded, including the likes of Big Country, High Kings and a particularly cool take on Depeche Mode’s ‘Dreaming of Me’, in addition to songs that you’ve written over the years. These typically include some text to describe the origin of the track you’re posting. An example would be your track ‘Deserve This’ where you comment; “I’ve felt for a while now that this song needed to be re-done correctly. I woke up with both it and the moon this morning” – says a lot about your passion to make music, but even more about you as a person. The lyrics really hit hard knowing a little about you already. It’s beautifully done. I want to ask about your creative process, and how you go about putting ‘structure’ to your ideas and emotions. Can you talk us through your approach – is there a particular time of day/ night where you’re at your most creative?
The music always seems to come first, the lyrics tend to catch up later. It may come in the form of a riff (“Driving a Slow Car Fast”) or an entire song composition. I do sometimes have “moments” of creative energy where this process runs concurrent for both the lyrical and composition pieces. If this ‘flash’ occurs in the middle of the night, then I am compelled to drag myself out of bed and into the garage, or wherever, to put it on paper of hum the melody into my phone before it’s gone forever.
The song “Race out of my Room” was a 4am creation. I had a moment this summer where I got thru maybe 6 new songs in a month – words and lyrics. I felt a sense of urgency to get things on paper. Not sure why, but words and music just flooded my head continually for nearly a month…“Deserve This” came then, out of nowhere. I had no plans for that song. It just showed out of thin air. I suspect it had been buried somewhere deep within and that I needed to do that one for personal reasons. It became clear to me that in my head at the time was a young man whom we lost while I was in Iraq many years ago. I was thinking about him, his family, where and how … are they now? You know it really caught up with, and hit me as I was putting pen to paper on that song.
After penning that song, I made several attempts to reach out to the family of the soldier we lost to offer my part of the story, but my communiques likely did not get through for whatever reason. Maybe for the better? I still do not know where or why that song came, but it did. My comment on properly re-recording it was due in part that the first recording was far from where I wanted it to be, although it still stands as a very heartfelt and soul-filled rendition. Some have viewed the song as a typical “country” song about misfortune and bad luck. It is far, far from that. It is a song about appreciating what you have. A song about the travails of a returning veteran, a song about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and making your life “worth it” for those that came before you. One need not have been in a military uniform for this song to apply. It is a human song about the human experience I guess. Simple, but with deep roots.
As for covers, wow, they are so much fun to do – especially if you can place your own “spin” on them. Depeche Mode’s “Dreaming of Me” is an example. I never dreamt that song as a wall of distortion, but once I got after it in that respect nothing was off the table. I’ll pretty much only do covers that I like a lot, or speak to me for whatever reason. They can be serious or “poppy” but as long as they are fun and can come out halfway decent I’ll be all over them if I can. For live shows I do quite a few covers, but always put a unique spin on them to keep things fun.
Of all the songs you’ve written which are you most proud of/ happy with and, what’s the story behind it?
This is another tough one! “Deserve This”, “White Dress” and “Vision” are all quite important to me on a personal level, but so are the rest! I recently made a run at a song that has been awaiting completion for quite a long time. “Road to La Serena” is about a 300-mile nighttime drive from Santiago to La Serena, Chile some years ago. This particular song is half dream, half reality and captures the moments of that drive north on a remote highway under a dark, starry sky with a mountainous backdrop, being at the time a guest in a beautiful and amazing country. It is my most recent completion, and it’s always funny how as musicians, we tend to feel like our most recent song is “out absolute best song ever!” (until the next new song lol).
Have there been any notable collaborations you’d like to talk about, or any artists on BandLab that you’d like to work with in future? And… If you could perform with any musician or band (past or present)… who would be on your radar?
I would have to say that every collaboration I have done thus far in BandLab has been an absolute joy, and all are notable! I have done songs with musicians from Germany, the U.K., Greece, and Malaysia to name a few. I look forward to coming up with some start-to-finish original work in the coming months. BandLab certainly offers that opportunity in spades! As for who I would love to perform with, well while I am certainly “not worthy”, I would love to work with Bob Lefevre and the Already Gone, Steve Earle, Big Country, Gin Blossoms…this will be a very long list hahaha!!!!
What’s next Scott? You’ve been revisiting some of your older material lately it seems, and I’ve spotted a couple of live ‘garage sessions’ videos popping up on YouTube… are we to expect an album, or even some live streaming shows in the near future? Where’s this journey taking you?
While being in the military for so many years actually afforded quite a bit of freedom, it came with the cost of family separation and inability to take a musical deep dive, or run off in a band and tour. It did however enable creativity while covering those essential life “overhead” items such as room and board, etc. There was risk, yes, but I came out on the other side ok. I likely may have sacrificed some opportunities musically, but would not change a thing and am perfectly content now that I have FINALLY gotten back around to recording and playing live again. For me personally, it’s all about conscious, pressure free music. Having the mental space to write, share and most of all listen to other’s and give props where applicable brings me great joy!
The garage sessions are sure to continue although I feel I need to re-record pretty much everything I have thus far done in BandLab to a more polished level on the production side. Alas – I am still having a blast at the basic raw recordings though! Live performances will certainly continue for sure. I honestly have no idea where this journey is ultimately going to lead, but as long as it remains FUN, collaborative and continues to inspire creativity, I am ALL- IN. It would be a real lifetime joy to see one of my songs take off in another band, or performer’s repertoire. I am in no way talking about the industry, royalties or money; but to see something I wrote/created be taken on by another artist or group … now that would indeed be a great honor!
I will continue to write, play and share music, with one of my most fervent wishes being to simply promote musicians who desire to be heard. I can’t thank you enough for this epic sounding board and the opportunity to wax on about music. Thanks IAMUR!!!!
Right back at you, Scott. It was an absolute pleasure meeting you and the family… and the alpaca. Looking forward to Wizards Blankets ’24 and until then, very much looking forward to catching up on your latest recordings.