A Week In The Life Of… Full Time International Folk-Singer, Scott Cook

Scott Cook by richard nunn 1400px

 

It’s been a long road so far for Canadian roots troubadour Scott Cook. He’s spent most of the last eight years on the highways and byways of Canada, the United StatesEurope and Asia, making his home where he’s parked, collecting stories, and scratching out a living in the song-trafficking trade. After receiving widespread praise in Canada, the US, and the UK for his fourth album One More Time Around, Cook has now shifted his scope to Australia where he has officially released the record and embarked on a huge national tour spanning over 3 months, including several festival shows such as Woodford Folk Festival, and a number of house concerts, where Cook‘s intimate, conversational style is best appreciated.

One More Time Around has been nominated for a Canadian Folk Music Award and its opening track “Pass It Along” won the Folk and Acoustic category in the UK Songwriting Contest, with UK magazine Maverick Country naming him “one of Canada’s most inspiring and imaginative storytellers“. Cook has been touring the world nearly non-stop for the last eight years, and is widely regarded as one of the hardest working troubadours on the road today, averaging over 160 shows and a dozen music festivals every year since 2007.  All the hard miles notwithstanding, he still believes that songs can change your life, and your life can change the world.

We are delighted to have been given this tasty glimpse into his remarkable life, and to be able to share some of his great advice and stories.

Job Description:

I’ve been a full-time, self-employed folksinger for the last eight and a half years. I haven’t had an address since June of 2007, when I left my job teaching kindergarten in Taiwan and moved into my van in Canada. Since then, I’ve been touring all over Canada and the States, and gradually expanding my reach into the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia, and Australia, where I bought another van in early 2015. In a way, I’m living the dream, dividing my time between two “summer homes” on wheels, in addition to living out of a backpack now and then, and getting to sing songs for people everywhere I go. On the other hand, it seems that precious little of my time’s spent singing songs for people, while significantly more of it’s taken up by driving, working on the computer, and of course staying up late “networking”. But I sure can’t begrudge the grunt work, since it allows me to keep traveling to new places, meeting new people, and avoiding the nine-to-five.

A brief daily journal over a week:

Since I’m not a nine-to-fiver, my weeks don’t follow much of a routine. Mondays are quite often days off, and Friday and Saturdays are usually workdays, but even that’s not fixed. And festivals, which take up a lot of my weekends (16 in 2015) are a completely different kind of workday altogether. With that in mind, I’ll just break it down by type of day:

Normal Work Day: I usually wake up in the back of the van or in somebody’s spare bedroom, and often savour the feeling of having no idea where I am for as long as I can stretch it out. Pretty soon my mind’s onto the mission for the day, which usually involves driving several hours, running a couple errands along the way, and hopefully making it to wherever I’m headed in time for soundcheck. If I’ve got spare time at my disposal, I like to ease into the morning with yoga, tea, and writing a few pages in my journal. Sometimes, though, it’s just crawling from the bed into the front seat and speeding off. Again, if I’ve got spare time, I like to make a few stops along the way, to check out whatever waterfall or historic site or whatever it is I’m passing on the drive. I’ve inevitably gotta stop for food somewhere, too, whether it’s just grabbing some fruits, veggies, and boiled eggs from the supermarket, or sitting in a roadside diner somewhere and listening to the locals talk. If I’ve got time to spare, I also try to put in at least an hour or two on the computer, to stay abreast of all the bookings and such.

On arrival at the venue, it’s usually right into soundcheck, or right into dinner with the hosts if I’m playing a house concert. I’d say about half of my shows are in people’s living rooms or backyards, and I often make more money and sell more CDs at those kind of shows than in whatever venue I might play in the same town. It’s also a more immediate, real, and shared experience, where you get to know the audience. It’s not for everyone, I know, but it’s kept me on the road. Club shows can be better in terms of publicity, of course, and can be great too, depending on the place. When I started out, I was playing lots of bars, restaurants, and other venues where the crowd carries on conversations and ignores the performer for the most part. They were the only venues that’d give me a guarantee, which I needed to keep the show on the road, and I reasoned that it was paid practice. But after a while, I got to feeling that those shows were sucking my soul, and felt especially embarrassed whenever someone who came to hear the music found me in a place like that, knowing that I couldn’t make the magic there. Nowadays I’m pickier about playing listening venues. They’re fewer and farther between, but they’re out there, quite often in tiny towns you’ve never heard of, and many of them take good care of the artists, with a proper introduction onstage, a hot meal, and a place to stay upstairs. I’m incredibly grateful to the house concert hosts and the venue hosts who give so much to keep the music alive. We understand each other, because we’re both in it as a labour of love.

Festival Day: I wake up in a field full of hippies on far too little sleep, have some granola and fruit, eat a clove of raw garlic, stretch a bit, and make tea or coffee before I head down to the stages. I usually try and see as much of the other acts as I can, because festivals are a great opportunity to be inspired and make new connections. Usually I’ve got to play one or two sets during the day, and the later they are, the better I try to be about keeping the partying to a minimum. Once I’m done playing, I get into the fun with whatever dodgy characters I’ve found around the fest, and quite often, stay up late into the night (or morning) jamming around a campfire somewhere. That’s the scene that caught me and set me on this path in the first place, and that’s still the heart of it for me: folks sharing songs around the fire. That’s where folk music comes from, and that’s how it spreads. That’s where I first heard so many of the songs that changed my life. And that’s where I met some of my closest friends and comrades.

Day Off: Oh, man, do I ever love days off! I used to stress about them, because they were days I was spending rather than earning money, but nowadays I’m all about them. I’d rather leave a date open than fill it with some poorly-paid, less-than-ideal gig. Because those gigs actually take energy, and my time’s better spent replenishing that energy than expending it for small change. There’s a lot of socializing involved in my work, especially when I’m playing house concerts, and having to be on all the time is tiring, especially when you’re among strangers. So whenever I can, I take a few days to get off to the woods and be quiet for a while, listen to nature, do more yoga, play guitar, maybe make a fire by myself and stare at the stars. That’s where my art came from in the first place, and it withers without regular contact with that soil.

Highlights of the week:

The good gigs, the real connections with people, the “small world” moments, the scenic drives, the meetings with friends.

Lowlights of the week:

The emails bearing bad news, the sameness of the motorways, the loneliness, the shady promoters I still occasionally have to deal with.

Words of wisdom for people considering a job in my field:

Don’t do it. Stay home and sing your songs for your friends. Music will stay a pure thing of enjoyment for you, rather than a saleable commodity. The road is long, brutal, and rarely fruitful. You will suffer innumerable indignities, do irreparable damage to your body, and see whatever sacred offering you had to give turned into a cheap show. Besides, the world doesn’t need more singers trying to tour and promote themselves, there are more than enough of us already.

For those who aren’t going to listen to what I said above, no amount of discouragement is going to keep you off the road. If you’re actually called, you don’t need any encouraging; you’re going to do it anyway. The only advice I have in that case is just to stick around, and be kind to everybody you meet. Once people realize you’re not going away, opportunities will gradually open up, and some of the people that you met around some campfire ages ago will work their way into positions of power in the future. The connections you make are the closest thing to a retirement plan there is in this business. On the other hand, if you’re a dick, everybody you stepped on on your way up will kick you on your way back down.

2 thoughts on “A Week In The Life Of… Full Time International Folk-Singer, Scott Cook”

  1. I just heard you on Mountain Stage. You have Woody Guthrie in your soul. You gave me a lift today when I needed one. Big, big thanks. Even a tone deaf 75 year old lady can tell you are really excellent. SKG

  2. I just heard you on Mountain Stage. You have Woody Guthrie in your soul. You gave me a lift today when I needed one. Big, big thanks. Even a tone deaf 75 year old lady can tell you are really excellent. SKG

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