It’s fitting that a guy as down-to-earth as bluesman Scott H. Biram would answer the phone while doing yard work at his home in Texas.
“It’s been cold and wet around here lately, but today it’s sunny and like 65,” he says. “So, I’m just walking around the yard while I’m talking to you, moving the little things out of my garden.” He also describes his three chickens, saying that with their black bodies and “blueish-white faces, they look like mimes.”
Biram is a country dweller at heart (though he lives in the suburbs now) and a proud lifelong Texan, rarely seen without a trucker hat and handlebar mustache. That identity (albeit a more bloodthirsty, maniacal version) frequently comes through in his music, which he plays as the Dirty Old One Man Band with only a guitar, a stomp board, a wall of amps and plenty of piss and vinegar. Much of the subject matter in his songs is as straightforward as biscuits & gravy, about human topics like loving good barbecue, dealing with loose mental screws, being lonely, sinnin’ it up, drinking more than is healthy and feeling conflicted about religion.
With a vivid visual element that sweats tactile details, Biram’s music—a kicker cocktail of delta blues, country, punk and even metal—has as many storytelling threads as there are rivers in Texas. “My songwriting kind of revolves around a lot of imagery,” he says. “I feel like it’s good to put pictures in people’s heads when you’re writing songs.” The result is a grounded musical sensibility instead of one that reaches for lofty topics. In his songs, Biram says, “I don’t get too deep with the philosophical stuff.”
But that’s not to say Biram doesn’t have a thoughtful, contemplative side—he just saves his two cents for interviews to keep folks guessing.
He played a similar trick with the title of his new album, Nothin’ But Blood—released earlier this month—which sounds like it would be about a depraved gore fest. Well, it’s still pretty depraved, but the record actually doesn’t bring in the darkness until the latter half of the track list, on songs including “Church Point Girls” and the concluding “Around the Bend.” Biram came up with the title when he began recording the album a year and a half ago, “but the record ended up not being as heavy as all that, which is good,” he says. “I like to confuse people a little bit sometimes.”
Growing up in a state that’s highly religious and, later, being influenced heavily by gospel music, Biram scatters multiple references to religion throughout his music, such as on Nothin’ But Blood’s second track, “Gotta Get to Heaven.” He laughs when he explains that he got kicked out of Sunday school as a kid for “misbehaving,” but turns around and says, “Every day of my life, I pray, but it’s to my own private god.” And although Biram is “not a fan of organized religion,” he says, “I just try to do good and try to understand, be one with the universe.
“It’s a struggle, though, and that’s why I’m a musician probably, and that’s a lot of my songwriting,” he continues. “Like my more personal kind of songs … they’re me struggling with depression and alcoholism and being a good person and doing the right thing.”
Perhaps acknowledging his own imperfections is what draws Biram to another significant influence: chain-gang songs. “People that are singing chain-gang songs on a chain gang don’t have anything else to do but try to get through, so I feel like that really shows the bare soul.”
But where Biram really waxes poetic is when he’s talking about his home state. Anytime he hears an ignorant sumbitch talking shit on Texas, “it makes me wanna kick their ass,” he says. “A lot of people talk about Texas in a bad way, and they don’t know anything about it. … They don’t know all of my friends, my family and all the good people in the small towns that, if your car broke down on the road, that they’d ask you if you needed help and let you come in their house and stuff.
“When people talk bad about Texas, they need to remember Willie Nelson and Lightnin’ Hopkins and Lead Belly and Waylon Jennings and all the great people that came from here—that’s gotta say somethin’.”
SCOTT H. BIRAM
w/Utah County Swillers, David Williams
The Garage, 1199 N. Beck St.
Saturday, March 1, 9 p.m.