With a combination of classical technique honed over years training as an opera singer and the country, dark folk, and rock sensibilities that have flavored her musical journey since childhood, Brooklyn-based songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, photographer, filmmaker, and model Scout Paré-Phillips has developed a beautiful, complex, musical aesthetic that is recognizable and memorable in a sea of indie-folk artists.
Paré-Phillips plays a number of instruments including guitar, baritone, bass, autoharp, celtic harp, keys, trumpet, and French horn, all of which she taught herself by ear though she had many mentors along the way (“My father is a Carl Perkins-era guitarist, so it was paramount to him that I incorporated fingerpicking techniques as I was first learning guitar. I’m very grateful for that, in retrospect,” she says), but even after years performing with Baltimore Americana group The Sterling Sisters and collaborations with fellow musicians (including several with Jack White), she still considers her voice to be her primary and most “intuitive” instrument. As a solo artist, most of her songwriting starts with ideas for melodies, and develops instrumentation from there based on the moods and needs of the piece from there.
In the studio, Paré-Phillips spends several days laying down all of her instrument and vocal tracks before inviting fellow musicians to flesh out the rest. On her upcoming second album, Door Left Open (Dais Records), guests includes her longtime collaborator, Emil Bognar-Nasdor, cellist Angela McJunkin, and her former music teacher, pianist/keyboardist Jonathan Elliott. “It’s an amazing experience to be able to work with him still: a sincerely momentous, full-circle moment as an artist. Education has always been very significant to me; I still feel I owe a nod of gratitude to all of my past professors and am compelled to commemorate the skills they’ve graciously shared with me. I’ll never stop learning,” she says.
Like the bulk of her solo material up to now, Door Left Open follows the trajectory of an on-off relationship she was involved in for several years. One difficult break occurred in 2014, just before she left the states for a European solo tour, which she followed with a photography residency in Parma, Italy. The couple patched things up during the first few weeks she was away, but upon starting her residency program, the distance combined with the slower-pace of life in one place vs. life on the road gave her an opportunity to reflect on the situation with new objectivity and find the strength to stand up for her needs.
Those moments and subsequent conversations, inspired the album’s haunting, gut-wrenching title track, on which she plays bass and autoharp. “For the first time, I was the one leaving him and setting conditions I needed met if we were to continue the relationship,” she said. “There I was, huddled in the one corner of wifi in my wood paneled room, for the first time having conversations in which we were equal, expressing and hearing each other’s complaints with open ears, open arms. That is what “Door Left Open” narrates, serving as a table of contents for the tone and themes of the rest of the record.”
Among the themes of the album, the most prevalent by far is heartbreak, which Paré-Phillips’ conveys it startling rawness and intimacy—a result of both her solitary writing practices and her tendency to write entire songs within 1-2 sessions. As anyone who has ever written a love poem or kept a diary can attest, digging deep into your most private feelings alone can be cathartic. The thought of reliving them onstage and sharing them with an audience, however, can create a range of emotional complexities. Paré-Phillips concurs. “The moment a song is finalized, I do lose a piece of myself; revisiting the emotional state I was in while writing it onstage, rather than the cocoon of my bedroom, can certainly be a petrifying exercise,” she says.
“It gets particularly disorienting when considering set order, shuffling years of my existence in a thirty-minute rendition. Since the material does dredge me through some of the most painful romantic experiences of my life in succession, I am always apprehensive to get offstage—off the pedestal—and be seen differently by every stranger in the room, to be tempestuously exposed for what I really am.”
Still, the sake of art and self-expression makes it worth any apprehensions or risks involved. “I don’t know if I’m in a position to be giving advice to other songwriters grappling with inscribing emotionally intricate tales, because some of the content in my songs I would not be comfortable repeating in a casual conversational context,” she says. “My songs are extremely literal and bare, but I try to occlude certain aspects of stories with a layer of vagueness out of respect for my partners. I’d say to use songwriting as an outlet, a private, safe medium to express things you may not have the grit to be able to mutter to anyone but yourself. That imparts the narrative with a certain power, and through performing it repeatedly the song will eventually hoist you up with it, allowing you to be face to face with feelings which were once too difficult to confront—to admit.”
Door Left Open will be released on March 10 via Dais Records. Pre-orders are available now.