Singer-songwriter Ben Scott-Brandt’s unusual new Ribbons of Song project, “Waterbugs,” gets previewed in some inspiring ways: in-studio on Local Spins Live and in an outdoor pre-release performance Sunday. (Podcast, video)
Leave it to a sibling to nail it on the head.
Musicians and songwriters usually have a tough time describing their own musical approach, typically insisting their songs can’t be pigeonholed into a particular genre or category.
For Grand Rapids’ Ben Scott-Brandt, aka Ribbons of Song, that’s understandable, considering the sound-expanding and eclectic cornucopia of laid-back folk-pop he’s created over the past six years.
But his brother, producer Jonathan Brandt, has little trouble in cleverly characterizing the music on Ribbons of Song’s upcoming new album, “Waterbugs.”
“I describe it as electri-coustic left field,” he offers. “It has some very, very weird sounds on it that somehow work, like for instance, French horn and a … grand piano. I also have soda tabs flicking for percussion and I think I have an aerosol spray can in there, too. All of these things get warped and blended into a soundscape with Ben on top of it singing with his lovely voice.”
I certainly couldn’t take a better stab at it than that. Suffice to say, Scott-Brandt’s Ribbons of Song project covers some lush territory, with a serene-yet-touching indie-folk gracefulness.
He demonstrated that – without some of the aforementioned unusual sound effects – on Local Spins Live this week, performing the song “Afterword” on acoustic guitar in the studio at News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW). Listen to the podcast here and watch video of that performance below, with a photo gallery from Ribbons of Song’s Local Spins Live appearance.
Growing up in Niles, Michigan, Scott-Brandt attended Calvin College and has lived in Grand Rapids for about 16 years. “I definitely grew up in a very musical family and my mom taught me piano lessons when I was a little kid,” he says. “Sang in church and sang in choirs and always had music around. But no, I didn’t have a lot of formal training. I took some guitar lessons in high school, but nothing since then, so pretty self-taught.”
Inspired by the slow, moody and captivating music of artists such as Elliott Smith, Scott-Brandt has long brought songs he’s written at home to other musicians and friends – with “wild variations in instrumentation” – to help build his Ribbons of Song projects (with more than a half-dozen albums, EPs and singles released since 2007).
“Sometimes that gets me into trouble because then I think of 15 friends that I have and it’s a huge production and I get really worn out and it falls apart,” he says.
So, he decided to streamline things on “Waterbugs,” doing most of the singing and instrumental work himself, and calling on his producer brother, who lives in Portage, to further develop the soundscapes. Singer Jesy Brenner also pitched in.
The resulting mélange of acoustic instruments, synthesizers and sound effects behind Scott-Brandt’s engaging voice oozes melancholy beauty and tranquil power.
It’s not surprising that Scott-Brandt’s unusual musical approach might also spawn an unusual sort of album pre-release party. Rather than unveiling the project in a bar or traditional live music venue, he’s chosen to gather friends and fans in an informal way outdoors at the Cattail Crossing at Huff Park on Grand Rapids’ Northeast Side around 7:30 p.m. Sunday.
With a guitar in hand, the singer-songwriter will perform songs from the new album – which will be officially released in digital-only format on June 1 through iTunes, bandcamp.com, soundcloud.com and elsewhere online.
Scott-Brandt said he often goes to the wetland areas of Huff Park to de-stress. “It feels peaceful, it calms my blood pressure, whatever,” he offers. “This record is called ‘Waterbugs.’ It’s about being outdoors and it’s about being relaxed. So I thought, ‘What a perfect setting.’ ”
For more information about Ribbons of Song and the new album, visit the official website.
LOCAL SPINS LIVE PHOTO GALLERY: RIBBONS OF SONG
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