Reverb, rowdy pop, and hints of twang spring forward on Castle Rock, the latest project from Oklahoma City’s Jason Scott and his band of stalwarts known as The High Heat. Scott’s sonic pedigree started in the church, but a shift in perspective led the 36-year-old to change directions, trading worship music for open mics and sports bar gigs before leveling his own sound as a songwriter. Relying on savvy observational and personal narratives that chronicle the realities of small-town life, addiction, and the uncertainty of modern times, Jason Scott & The High Heat riff and thump across a landscape dominated by hard-luck harmonies, empathetic guitars, and choruses that meet every challenge. Castle Rock is available everywhere beginning February 11th.
AI- You’ve got the new album on the way, Castle Rock— tell me about that place! That’s a town in Colorado that you moved to when you were how old?
JS- I was probably 11, 12. I’d been born and raised in Oklahoma, not really even been outta the state much that I can really recall, and then got to move right there to Castle Rock, which is between Denver and Colorado. Certainly one of those picturesque, Colorado backgrounds, for sure!
How long were you there?
There’s a little bit of back and forth there between mom and dad, but over four or five years, I’d say.
And you grew up deep in the church. You studied to be a minister or you actually were a Pentecostal minister?
Yeah, I actually was. I was just starting. I was a worship pastor for a while and a youth pastor forever, youth music, and then had started doing some evangelizing and some preachin’ there at the home church and out a little bit. That’s what I certainly thought my calling or career was gonna be during that time (laughs)!
What changed for you?
I just had some personal accounting to do, and I kind of came up with a few unanswered questions that I felt were big enough for me to make some changes, really. You know, a crisis of faith, I think some people call it. But it just turned into something that I thought my whole life, the way I was taught, and the deeper I got into it, at least for me, there were just some things that really didn’t add up in the direction that I was going. So I stepped down from my positions and left very soon after.
But music was a huge part of that for you, despite everything else. What was your capacity in music at that point in time? And I’ll make that a double part question– your capacity in music within the church, and then what were you doing outside of the church? And about when was this?
It was soon after my firstborn, soon after we had Owen. It wasn’t much longer, so probably around nine years ago is what I would say. And no, I wasn’t doing anything outside of the church, especially the way I was raised. Secular music and involvement was not something… Especially if you’re the worship pastor (laughs)! It was just me, Jesus, and the choir for that period of time.
So what led you into secular music? What was your adult introduction into saying, “I think I want to do this for a living?”
Well, I’ve always been musically inclined and I wasn’t really allowed to listen to much secular music growing up, but as a teenager, and during that period of time, I certainly had exposure to some outside music. When I got out of church and knew that [it] was not the life for me, I just jumped right into any music that I could get my hands on, recommendations for many friends, and then slowly, I was in a position where I had to find a new church, a new community of people to be or around. So I just grabbed my guitar and started hittin’ open mics around the city, and from there built friendships and eventually a band and eventually the band that I have today.
Were you writing at that point in time when you were hittin’ up all those open mics?
I’ve been writing songs for a while. I’ve written several worship songs. When I got out of church, it just seemed natural that with the complete 180 I was doin’ to still write songs. I feel like that’s a part of me. I’ve always known music is what I’ve wanted to do– or at least have some talent for or desire to do. I just changed gears but stayed on the same road.
Castle Rock is your first full-length album with High Heat, but as you said, you’ve been writing songs for a very long time. When I called, first, I got your voicemail for String and Sound. Tell me about that ’cause you’ve got your own studio– and then you used to have a wedding band?
I still own String and Sound, actually. Since I left church, I’ve been playing bar gigs– a lot of times with TVs and sports games going on behind me…
I hate that (laughs)!
Hey, it’s paid a lot of the bills! But really, the money is certainly in weddings! I’ve got a company that– we usually don’t go as a band, but we do ceremony music and we’ll DJ the wedding. I’ve got a couple of different teams in place and stuff like that, but that’s definitely where the majority of my music income has come from.
I think the coolest and most interesting factor of that, I read an article talking about how you will write songs for couples at their request for their weddings!
Yeah, we’ve written quite a few! Actually, one of the songs on this record coming out called “Fort Worth”, it’s for a couple from Fort Worth that I wrote a song for their wedding. We usually sing it and then record a copy for them, but that one, we felt like was good enough to put on this record. Yeah, that’s always been a great exercise too– having to rewrite a love story in a different way.
Where did you record Castle Rock? And at what time was that?
Dude, this record, because of the pandemic, we were scheduled to be doing all of this last year, even at the beginning of 2021 and late 2020! The record’s been done since early 2020! There’s even some lyrics on a couple of songs that are a little bit outdated at this point socially! I recorded a bunch of it here at my home studio, and then I also (laughs) recorded while doing weddings out in Colorado! I usually stay with a cousin, and I recorded a bunch of vocals in her basement. And then the remainder, we recut a bunch of drums that didn’t really work out from my place and some other stuff at Lunar Manor, which is my guitar player, Taylor Johnson’s place. It’s been around forever! Vince Gill and everybody like that have recorded there. We engineered and finished everything at Lunar Manor and Taylor did all of that, but the audio files have come from several different places– and one of ’em (laughs) was just a bedroom downstairs!
You bring up Taylor, tell me about the rest of the players on the record.
We have Gabe Mor on guitars– he’s kind of our social media guy too– and then Alberto Roubert on drums and Ryan Magnani on bass. And these are all local legends in the Oklahoma City area. They got their hands in all sorts of different things!
You brought up “Fort Worth”, which I actually made a specific note about. Who is that singing with you? Who’s doing the duet?
Oh yeah! That’s my friend Abbey Philbrick. She is part of a band called Twiggs here in the area.
Is she who’s with you later on with “A Little Good Music”?
That is Carter Sampson. She’s another friend of ours. That’s not really a duet, she’s just singin’ harmony on it, but I think she’s on “Cleveland County Line” too. She was on my first record as well. Carter’s a good buddy goin’ way back. I actually produced one of her records.
Now, “The Stone”, a story of a husband and wife, a veteran and his wife– did someone close to you serve? You get really personal in the details on that.
Yeah, I do have people in my family who have served, and I do have friends who suffer from PTSD. I think it’s more of an overall commentary on what that must be like to deal with. I don’t have personal experience. I was frustrated about the veteran suicide rate and how little that that’s really changed or how little we’ve really done about it. It’s hard to know what to do to bring awareness to that situation, but writing specifically about a home life that’s just been devastated by PTSD was where my head was when I went into it and based on stories from friends and other people who have gone through those experiences. “Johnny” and “Sally” are made-up characters, but I think the story is pretty real for many people– and not even just America. I mean war-torn homes across this world.
Is that something that you learned to deal with? I don’t wanna use the word study, but while you were a minister? How to deal with PTSD or to deal with soldiers coming home in the spiritual capacity?
A lot of what this song talks about is basically the drug problem. We definitely had a veteran community at that church, and I’m sure many other churches too, who have addictions, and they’re tryin’ to battle that stuff through another method– Jesus, through church, through community. I’ve definitely spoken, worked with people like that at church. I wouldn’t say I was maybe aware or thinking from that point of view while writing that song, but now that you mention it, I’m sure that has some sort of influence on it. It’s got to!
In that capacity within the church, you would have cause to interact and deal with people who have so many different backgrounds and issues that can lead to that sort of thinking and trauma.
Yeah, and to try to minister to ’em wherever they’re hurting is kind of the idea.
You say that some of the things on the album are outdated at this point in time as it had been intended to come out earlier. But I think the flip side of that is that some of it feels like it’s exactly on time ’cause you revisit some of those notions on the last track, on “Sleepin’ Easy”. That’s the trauma and stress of simply being alive, which we’re all in the thick of right now!
(Laughs) Yeah, I know, right? That’s true. Everything is crazy right now. I think I have some statements about the previous administration that might be a little outdated, but I think overall, the whole point of the song is everybody is dealing with– especially right now– this new surge of COVID and it’s tough out there. A lot of people stayin’ home these days.
What about you getting out there? You’ve been out– you did the recording at the Tower Theatre that got released for people to see this past December. How is it out there for you traveling and working and trying to be a musician amid a pandemic?
We’re still an up-and-coming group of people. I wish I could be [Jason] Isbell and say, “We’re not even havin’ a show if nobody [takes precautions]!” I wish I could make some demands like that. And every place is different too. You know, Oklahoma’s probably more open than up north, [but] it’s hard to know what to do these days, man. We wanna protect everyone we can while still enjoying ourselves. We’re usually support at this point, so we’re not even making decisions like that yet, but it’s certainly on our minds!
This is something I don’t know that I’ve really considered or talked about with anybody else, but you say up-and-coming– do you feel that you have to take advantage of certain opportunities and situations as they come to you, despite how things might be out in the rest of the world? Because if you don’t, then they may not come again?
I think a hundred percent, and I hope that doesn’t sound bad, but I’ve got two kids at home to support. I’m trying to never play another wedding again! I don’t mean that bad about weddings, but you know what I’m saying– this is what I want. This is my original music. This is what I care about. I’ve got a huge investment in this record and four other guys in this band and some opportunities, to turn [them] down, would not come again. It’s a Catch 22 for sure.
Castle Rock has very contemporary sound to it. I know being in Oklahoma, there is probably some sort of pitch to place you firmly within the Red Dirt community in some capacity. And while you got what I would imagine are some Telecasters squealin’ on there pretty cool, I wouldn’t say that it really encompasses that particular sound. Where do you see Castle Rock landing as far as an audience? And how do you want it to be perceived?
I don’t mean anything against this genre, but you know, where we come from, it’s Red Dirt from here to Galveston. It’s somebody that’s huge in Oklahoma and Texas. I didn’t wanna be another Red Dirt band from Oklahoma, so we really experimented with a lot of sounds, and we kind of wanted to be rock n’ roll and country, and maybe it would just be a little bit for anybody anywhere. That was our idea recording this, and from the shows that we’ve played, I think our music stands out as not something that people have heard before. It’s unique. It has a different timbre. It has a different quality to it, and I don’t think contemporary is a bad thing.
Tell me about the song “So It Goes”. I love the line, “Somewhere out there in the universe, there’s a luckier version of me.” You still feel like that right now?
That’s kind of a day-to-day feeling (laughs)! Yeah, there’s gotta be, dude! There’s gotta be!
On the flip side of that, that same version’s probably walkin’ around goin’, “Man, there’s a luckier version of me out there,” and he’s thinking directly of you!
Well, I hope maybe we can manifest some things for each other!