Interview! Exclusive! Berenice Scott: A musical journey from stage to soulful solo

You may have heard Berenice Scott ’s music on hit shows such as ‘Vigil’, ‘Liar’, and ITV’s ‘The Suspect’, or seen her on stage with renowned acts like Simple Minds and Heaven 17, or touring with P!nk, amongst others. A multi-instrumentalist who splits her time between composing for TV and film, touring, and writing and performing her own material, her new release ‘A Joni Kind Of Mood’ features her own moving and intimate personal arrangements of Joni Mitchell songs and some other original surprises. Encapsulating vibes from yesteryear and soaking up moods from today’s current climates, ‘Hejira’ is the first single from the album. It’s a timely collection containing her reinterpretations of one of the most revered and prolific artists of all time – Joni Mitchell. A jazz-fused acoustic soul journey, this album was recorded in unique spaces with some of the UK’s top musicians.

A Joni Kind Of Mood’ was released on 3rd November 2023, with the lead single ‘Hejira’. Berenice Scott will be live at Pizza Express Holborn on 12th January 2024.

Here’s our lovely and heartfelt chat.

berenice scott Hejira single_art

Monica Costa (MC): Your gig in London will be after New Year’s celebrations, on the 12th of January 2024.

Berenice Scott (BS): Yes, exactly. It seems like a strange idea right now. Now I’m kind of winding down for Christmas, I have to prepare now.

MC: It is the best time to do it because after Christmas, because January is a very sad month.

BS: It’s kind of good for me too because to be honest at this time of year I’m usually just doing absolutely nothing. Hibernating. And then after Christmas, I need to get back into life. So, I can’t really stop. I guess it’s good. It’s fantastic. I can tell, it’s going to be a great month.

MC: Let’s make January a good one, you know, instead of a depressing month.

BS: Let’s change it.

Berenice Scott

MC: Your latest project, the Joni kind of mood, is really cool. Can you tell me a little bit, can you share the inspiration behind this release and what led you to choose Joni Mitchell songs for this?

BS: I thought a few years ago I was going through a tough period in my life and I hadn’t really got into Joanie until later. I didn’t grow up listening to her but, during that period, I listened to her constantly and she was just like my salvation and best friend and then it just developed from that. I just absorbed my favourite songs and it just grew into this project that I had to, once I started, I had to finish and it wasn’t easy but it took a long time, a very long time.

MC: Music is a healer, isn’t it?

BS: I didn’t ever really want to be in music professionally but I’ve always played and played instruments and music was always in my home so it was definitely a healer for me before I did it professionally. That’s it’s good to grow and to move on with this as your best friend almost.Berenice Scott

These songs are beautiful complex pieces of poetry that have always intrigued me, have been there for me through very important times in my life, and the deeper you immerse yourself in her work, you discover more and more the intricacies of her writing. I found myself at a place in my life where I was burnt out, musically and personally, and I was consuming her catalogue as a sort of lifeline… in that process I was drawn to living and breathing her work, it became almost an obsession, I knew the only thing I could do to complete the journey was to interpret and record these songs in my own personal way.

MC: You are a multi-instrumentalist, a composer, and a performer. How do you balance your time between composing for TV and film, touring with other artists, and working on your own material?

Berenice Scott

BS: Sometimes it gets quite hectic, and even when there are things that are scheduled to be done, I still have to manage my time by myself because there’s no getting to the office at night. Although when I’m composing with my partner, we do try to stick to those patterns, and my routine changes constantly. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. It’s just that every day is different. It depends on your personality, really. There is no right or wrong. Some people are very routine-based, and they love their routine, but I am not. I hate when something becomes a routine. That kills my spirit, kills my mind. You become a bit robotic after a while. And you need subtle changes to let inspiration seep in. Even if it’s a small change, like you change the time of day, you do particular things, it can leave your brain room for new things, new thoughts.

Berenice Scott

MC: I listened to and watched the video for “Hejira,” the lead single from the album.

BS: Hejira was the first single that I released. And I’ve read someone described it as a jazz-fused acoustic soul journey. It’s quite a mouthful, but yes, it definitely encapsulates that.

MC: What was the creative process like in reinterpreting Joni Mitchell’s work and infusing your own personal touch into it?

BS: The first thing I had to do was dive into those songs and try to learn how she sings them and her phrasing, which is very unique. That takes a long time because I like to give it space and time. Then I think about how I will play it on the piano. But I do like to stick to her melody and the way she sings it. It’s really important.

MC: Have you ever met Joanie in person?

BS: No, I don’t know much about her, to be honest. I only ever really wanted to listen to her music. That is something that we can all reflect back onto ourselves. I started reading a biography, but I stopped after a few pages because it’s just her personal life, and that character is very separate for me from the art that she produces. Sometimes, I think some people will be interested in that. But sometimes, with some artists, I think it is totally interconnected. Like, for example, some musicians and their art are completely, their life and their art blend in a way. But I guess for Joni Mitchell, maybe it’s not. It’s her music.

Well, I think she gives the lyrics, I presume, a diary-based bit of art coming from her. But then, you know, it’s also you’re allowed to write what you want, and it could be her view or an interpretation of situations. Yes, because she does so many other things like painting, and there’s a lot to that creative spirit.

Berenice Scott

MC: Joni Mitchell’s songs are known for their intricate and poetic qualities. So you picked up on that. How did you immerse yourself in her work, and how did that impact you personally during the time when you felt burnt out?

BS: Oh, it helped me completely because I think one thing I really love about her work is that unlike most music and art, which is commercially produced to a degree – that’s not the artist’s fault necessarily a lot of the time, but you know, it’s the people investing the money that want to get that return. So the art is watered down. But I feel like with those with that calibre of artists like Joni Mitchell, the art is something that you can use to think about yourself. You’re not thinking about the artist like you know most artists these days, you’re like oh you have to be thinking about them, aren’t you? It’s not the art isn’t making you heal and well maybe it is. I’m sure it is to a degree, but it’s very self-reflective her work and that can be incredibly healing.

MC: You definitely convey that feeling because um it’s lovely to listen to it and it feels soothing.

BS: Thank you, that’s good.

MC: It’s positive music, positive and relaxing, but also at the same time inspiring. It’s not just, oh, I fall asleep to it, no.

BS: And that’s okay too.

MC: The album features your own personal arrangements, obviously, of the songs. Do you have any anecdotes or memorable moments from the recording sessions that stand out to you?

BS: Well, “Both Sides Now” was really special to record. I recorded that at a really beautiful studio in the countryside and I had an amazing Steinway grand piano. I spent two days just tucked away, just myself and the engineer-producer who was working with me. And that was, yeah, there was no escape. It’s just me and the piano, and just there’s no hiding, I had to try and get a performance. It’s very hard to edit acoustic performances, so you have to get as many single takes as you can. Yes. That was pretty special; the view was really good from the studio, it was the woods and the countryside.

MC: “Joni Kind of Mood” involved recording in unique spaces, as you mentioned now, and with top musicians. How was the recording process and the significance also of the chosen locations?

BS: It’s really important to pick where you are and who you are going to work with, and hopefully they want to and can. And it’s very important. I have always had in mind particular musicians that I would love them to lend their talent to what I’m doing. The percussion is very, very important on this album, and the amazing Miles Bould, who is an incredible, well-known percussionist. I can’t get enough of what he’s done on this album.

MC: Your music has been featured in popular TV shows like Vigil, Liar. How does composing for visual media differ from creating your own original songs? And what unique challenges or advantages does it present?

BS: It is different, but it’s still coming from the same inspiration source. But of course, the inspiration that inspires what I’m doing is different. So when I’m looking at the pictures on the screen and figuring out what is needed and what’s been asked of us to do, it’s fulfilling a quota from somewhere else. But I quite like that; it’s not gratuitous. There’s always a purpose to it. So to help storyline, and you’re part of a team, as opposed to when you’re on your own, that’s more linear and you’re just working. You’re in goal.

You’re part of a process. You’re all fitting in together for one bigger, you know, the director, the producers, the writers. It’s something if they need more intensity or less intensity or they want, you know, so you think somebody’s guilty or not guilty, it all can sort of change.

MC: I’m fascinated by the creative process when writing a song. We often take music for granted. Sometimes we listen to a piece of music and just think, “How was it created?” But I do ponder that because I try to learn how to write songs myself. I’ve written a few songs just for fun, to challenge myself. I find it really tough. I’m a writer, good at lyrics. But putting the music to it is gruelling. I find it difficult. I’ve tried it a couple of times, and it’s complicated. But I’m fascinated by how a song is created from scratch. So I try to understand that process, even though I’m not as talented as you or other musicians. It’s like solving a puzzle, and that fascinates me. Every time I listen to a song, I wonder, “How did they get to this?” Maybe I overanalyse it, but sometimes music just comes to you spontaneously rather than being created in a structured or logical way.

BS: It also depends on your background. Some people write songs without being able to play instruments, of course, and that’s valid. But generally, having a background in playing instruments can make it easier. Then it’s just practice, repetition, and maybe combining the mathematical aspect of music with your emotional state of mind. It’s linking the two, isn’t it? And then letting go.

MC: Letting go is a great expression, but it’s not as easy as it sounds, right? Even if you’re alone, it can be challenging.

BS: Exactly. Letting go is a massive part of the process, even if it can make you feel a bit ridiculous at times.

MC: It’s massive, but letting go isn’t as easy as it sounds. People can’t let go of their phones, their worries, and all that. So it’s stuck in our minds, and then when it comes to creating something, whether it’s a song, a book, or a lyric, it’s tough because you don’t want to be vulnerable, but ultimately, you are.

BS: Even if it’s just for you, creating something can be healing. It’s like writing a diary, really.

MC: I’ve written a lot of poems and song lyrics that are like a diary, exactly. So that’s how I feel — my emotional diary, sure. And I guess that’s how a lot of beautiful songs have come about. You don’t write about abstract concepts or things, but something that people can also relate to, because sooner or later, people will have experienced some of these feelings. Otherwise, it’s a bit of a sad world, right.

BS: Well, I think we complicate things as humans, but we’re generally quite simple and our needs are quite basic, aren’t they? We just have these massive brains that overcomplicate everything. You’re right, pop songs are like two and a half, three minutes.

MC: You’ve shared the stage with Simple Minds, Heaven 17. You toured with P!nk, which is a massive achievement from any person. These are big, big bands. How do these experiences influence or shape your approach to your solo work?

BS: That’s a very insightful question. Indeed, my experiences with other artists do shape my approach to my solo work. When collaborating, my focus naturally shifts to immerse myself in their world and give my all to the project. It’s easy to get lost in that process, which is part of the job, but it’s essential to recognise and learn from these experiences. Switching off from that mindset can be challenging, especially during tours when you’re fully immersed in that world. However, I try to find moments for personal practice and creativity, even amidst busy schedules. For example, during the first season of Vigil, I managed to carve out time for composing in my hotel room. Ultimately, regardless of the project, I strive to give it my absolute best, pouring in 110% effort and dedication.

MC: You’re really good at that. Going back to “A Joni Kind of Mood”, what do you hope listeners take away from the album and how would you describe the overall journey and message behind this project?

BS: I have a lot of fun with Glenn, my writing partner. I’ve toured with him a lot. Last year, we had a gig in France that was hit by a terrible storm, causing the festival to be relocated to a valley. We were set to perform alongside the Black Eyed Peas on one of the two stages. When we took the stage, the wind was so intense it felt like being in the path of jet planes. My hair was flying, and Jim had to hold onto Sarah’s hat to keep it from flying off. It was the oddest performance I’ve ever experienced, akin to a hurricane. Despite the wild weather, the show went on. The wind was relentless, but there was no rain — just a surreal atmosphere. They didn’t cancel the event; they kept the music playing to avoid ticket losses. It was a bizarre experience, but as they say, the best stories come from tours. My contacts felt like they were about to fly out of my eyes — it was just so weird. Oh boy.

 

Berenice Scott will be back at PizzaExpress Live (Holborn) again on 20 July 2024 and will  be performing her album ‘A Joni Kind of Mood’ which features her own moving and intimate personal arrangements of Joni Mitchell songs as well as some surprise other original cuts.

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