Scott H. Biram doesn’t need anyone’s help to kick out his greasy, Delta-inspired blues-rock numbers
Scott H. Biram isn’t completely ready for the men in the white coats, but from the sound of it, he’s not that far off. The Georgia Straight’s first call to the country-blues hellraiser ends abruptly, with the self-described Dirty Old One Man Band feverishly asking if the interview can be pushed back an hour. When he picks up the phone 60 minutes later, Biram somewhat cryptically reveals that he had a “personal issue” that needed dealing with.
“Sorry about the confusion earlier,” he says, his voice containing more than a hint of a southern drawl. “I’ve been having these panic attacks at night for the last week and a half. I’ve been awake for over 24 hours right now. I haven’t been able to sleep, and I was afraid I’d be all groggy when you called, but now I’ve got a second wind.”
Asked what’s causing the panic attacks, Biram willingly dishes the dirt. In March, he was wrapping up a tour of Europe for his third and latest album, the righteously raw shack-shaker Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever. Things were going great until, near the end of a six-week, 10-country haul, he broke his leg. Actually, broke is underselling things; shattered is a better description.
Given that Biram’s records tend to sound like the work of a Mississippi-mud-coated lunatic who deals with his daily hangovers by pouring bourbon on his corn flakes, one might logically assume that he was bombed at the time. As much as that would make a great story, the reality is that he had a freak accident at a U.K. gas station.
“I was trying to catch a plastic bag that blew out of the van,” he says. “When I stepped up on the pump island I slipped and my whole body went one way while my leg broke sideways. That was a month and a half ago. It started out that I couldn’t sleep because of a pinched nerve in my foot, but then it screwed my sleeping habits up. Now I keep lying there thinking of random bullshit. But I’ll also get up, play a little guitar, and sit on the front-porch swing drinking a little wine and talking to my dog.”
It’s not the first time Biram has had his luck turn bad. In 2003, he came out on the losing end of a head-on collision with an 18-wheeler, which, famously, didn’t stop him from hitting the stage in Austin a month later with two broken legs, a mangled arm, and a good chunk of his intestine gone. Funnily, this latest mishap in some ways hurts just as much, seeing as how he’s made one of the best records of the year but is unable to get out on the road to sell it.
One of the most admirable things about Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever is that it’s going to prove once and for all that Biram might be a one-man band, but he’s not a gimmick.
The perception that he’s working a shtick is understandable. For the past half-decade, he’s built a hard-core following at home and overseas by taking DIY to a stripped-down extreme, stomping out a beat with his amplified left foot while thrashing away on a ’59 Gibson guitar and field-hollering into an assortment of vintage microphones. As unconventional as his setup is, Biram offers that the last thing he wants anyone thinking is that he’s a novelty act.
“I’ve kept things really simple,” he notes. “It’s not like I’ve got a bunch of drums around me and am playing snare with my right foot. I’m basically just taking floor-stomping blues and amplifying that floor stomp to a huge thud. All I’m doing is keeping the rhythm. I’m not a crazy big spectacle with cymbals on my elbows.”
As with past outings, there are moments when Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever sounds like a garbage can full of cherry bombs going off in a corrugated-tin gin joint; check out the revved-up blues explosion that is “Hard Time”. But as much as Biram often seems like he’s been drinking from the same still as R. L. Burnside, he’s got more than one trick to offer. The deliciously scuzzed-out “Time Flies” throws church organ and gospel vocals into its Delta-inspired mix, “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue” does hurtin’ country with enough pathos to impress the genre’s old-school giants, and “I Feel So Good” suggests more than a passing fondness for grimy retro rockabilly. Through it all, Biram sounds like someone going through life with farm dirt under his fingernails, motor-oil stains on his unironically worn trucker hat, and a flat of warm Schaefer beer in the back of the rusted-out pickup truck. Which isn’t far from the truth.
“As far as the hillbilly thing goes, if people think I’m acting like I’m country, I did grow up in the country,” Biram says. “I don’t really think I’m a hillbilly, though. I’ve got a little bit of hick in me, but I’m not this crazy, country-fried cartoon. I went to college and shit.”
And what did he major in? Well, that would be art, with a minor in the kind of pursuits that are probably helping him get through his midnight panic attacks.
“I learned how to make a gravity bong, and I learned how to drink Old Crow,” Biram says with a laugh. “I guess, when I think about it, I didn’t get a lot out of college.”
Still, there’s no disputing his work ethic today. In fact, if you’re looking for what’s really keeping Biram up at night, you’ll have to look a lot further than his leg. Given the major artistic leap forward he’s taken on Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever, he knows that now isn’t the time to be sitting on the front porch hoping people will stumble onto his MySpace page. Biram says he’s almost healed up to the point where he can get excited about his upcoming West Coast tour. Now it’s just the waiting that’s driving him slowly insane.
“I’ve already had to cancel a whole tour—the one that I’m missing out on right now—that I’ll have to make up in July and August,” he says with a sigh. “It’s real frustrating, man. I don’t like to get behind, and I don’t like to cancel shows. But it’s not like I have a drummer, so all I can do is sit here and wait.”
Scott H. Biram plays the Media Club on Friday (May 29).