Interview with Nan Scott
Nan Scott is one of those people who avoid the spotlight, but whose heart shines bright throughout Yachats. We were pleased to catch up with her this month.
TYG: So where are you originally from?
Nan: Believe it or not, that’s kind of a tough question! I was born in South Carolina, and when I was six weeks old, I went to China. My parents were missionaries in China. I lived there until the Communist revolution kicked out all the foreigners—I was two when we left China. Then I came back to the States for about seven years, and then went to Taiwan when I was ten years old. I graduated from high school in Taiwan and came back to the States. I went to college in South Carolina, then married Greg and came to Oregon!
TYG: Cool! How did you meet Greg?
Nan: Actually we met when I was in high school. His dad was in the Air Force, and we were in the same graduating class—all 23 of us.
TYG: Comparing that to my dad’s high school, which I believe had 3,000 students overall, and his graduating class had about 100 or so, maybe 300 or 400. Very different.
Nan: That’s right! But it was a good experience!
TYG: So, I heard you’re involved in a quilting association. What’s your involvement in that?
Nan: Oh, I’ve been with the Oregon Coastal Quilters Guild close to 16 years. I’ve served as President, as Membership Chair, as Chair of the Quilt Show... so I’m very involved.
TYG: How did you get involved with that?
Nan: When I was working, I really didn’t have time for much creative outlet pursuits, but I had always been interested in fiber/textile art and that sort of thing. When I came to Yachats, one of our neighbors in Quiet Water was Helen Barney—she’s probably before your time. Helen and Russ—we used to jokingly call him the Mayor of Quiet Water. They moved away about ten years ago. But she introduced me to the Guild, and Gladys Schoonover, another long-time resident who has since passed on, took me to the first Guild meeting—and so I joined! [laughs] It’s a good group.
TYG: So how did you come to Yachats?
Nan: Greg went to OSU, and all the time he was at OSU they would come over to the coast on weekends and holidays and that kind of thing. His parents at that time lived in, I think, Nebraska. He was born in California and moved all around because of the military. So he didn’t often go home for holidays and weekends, and his favorite place to come was Yachats. So he graduated from OSU, and before he retired from his position at OSU, we thought we would buy some property over here, and just see if that’s where we wanted to live. So we first bought a piece of property up on Horizon Hill. It was going to be very expensive to build up there, and we started realizing that if we ever wanted to go anywhere, we’d have to get in the car and drive to town, so we ended up buying in Quiet Water. We built a house there in 1989, and decided we liked it there. So that’s where we came to live.
TYG: What’s it like having a house built? That’s something we’ve always wondered about.
TYG-GD: “We” as in “Allen.” [laughter]
Nan: Well actually, it was kind of fun, because at that time my son was about 10 or 11 years old. He loved to build things with Legos, and he was quite good at drawing and art. But he struggled with math—it wasn’t his forte. When we started planning the house I worked with him to build a scale model of the design [for the house] that I’d come up with, so that got him into fractions and calculations, and then he just took off. When he was in middle school, he got the school’s prize for math.
TYG: Quite a change!
Nan: I had that little model for several years, but when we moved over here I had to get rid of it. When the builders were building it, they’d often refer to the model to see how it went.
TYG: It was that accurate!
Nan: Yes, it was! He even had the wood stove in the corner, things on the wall, and rugs on the floor... and underground utilities.
TYG: Oh! Wow!
Nan: We had a road in front of the house that lifted up, and we had batteries in there and lights that came on.
TYG: Wow, that’s a good way of doing it! That’s really, really accurate!
TYG-GD: Where did you get those skills?
Nan: Oh, I’ve always been interested in getting kids excited about doing things. [Building a model] is a real fun way to start, and it’s a good way to make sure that what you’re building is what you want, because you can visualize it. In fact, when we built the model we changed the plans a little bit, because we saw that it wasn’t quite enough space to do what we wanted to do.
TYG: Yes, it’s always good to build a scale model, because you don’t want to have build the house, and then add a new wall.
Nan: That's right. Changes are very expensive.
TYG: Did you build a modular unit? Like each wall is a separate unit that you can arrange into different slots?
Nan: Well, it was glued down. We made it with balsa wood. The walls weren’t two-sided... I can’t remember what the scale was, but it was about this big [indicates a toaster oven size].
TYG: Incredible amount of detail for such a small thing!
Nan: It was—it even had tiles on the roof!
TYG: Oh wow!
Nan: [laughs] He got into it—he really did.
TYG: So was he home-schooled, or did he do this on his own time?
Nan: No, this was in school—he was in grade school. He had excellent teachers—it’s hard to get somebody excited about something they don’t see much use for. So when he saw the application... he could convert fractions in his head! When he was in school he was in the talented and gifted program, and at the end of middle school they had to do a research project, almost like a thesis. Surprisingly—I didn’t direct or anything—he chose math as his subject. Math, and art. He chose the topic of fractals.
TYG: Ooooh! Fractals are cool.
Nan: And he actually did a computer program where he put in one dimension of the fractal, and if it was repeating a certain amount, it would calculate and then draw it out.
TYG: So early computers—code-level stuff! That’s really cool!
Nan: He had a lot of fun.
TYG-GD: What does he do now?
Nan: He’s a Hollywood producer now. [laughter]
TYG: Cool! I imagine he makes very good sets.
Nan: Yeah! He was coproducer on The Revenant.
TYG-GD: Oh, I saw that! It was bleak! There was a lot of groaning.
Nan: [laughs] Yes.
Nan: [still laughing] Groaning. Di Caprio was the star.
TYG-GD: He was frozen, and beaten up by a bear, and frozen again, and beaten up by Indians, and frozen again... Anyway, he just laid on his back and groaned a lot.
TYG: That’s a nice role to play if you can get it!
Nan: Well, it was pretty bleak acting too. The director, Iñárritu, who has won a number of Best Picture in Academy Awards, only shoots in natural light. And so they were shooting this in Canada, and if the weather wasn’t right, you didn’t shoot that day. It was a warm winter, and they ended up running out of snow in Canada, so they ended up having to take everything down to Patagonia and finish the movie down there. Just amazing. And part of Alex’s job as a producer is to keep things on budget.
TYG: That must have been a nightmare!
Nan: It was a nightmare! In fact, the movie was so long in the making Alex called it the Forevernant. [laughter]
TYG: So, how would you describe your role in the community?
Nan: Well, I’m pretty heavily involved in the community: I work on Trails [the Trails Committee]; I was a member of View of the Future, but I retired off of that board a little while ago; I’m on the Friends of the Commons board; I’m Treasurer at the Presbyterian Church; I’m Treasurer for our Quiet Water homeowners’ association; and I’ve been on the City Planning Commission for the last seven years. Right now I’m Chair of the Planning Commission, but December will be my last meeting. I’m retiring off of that.
TYG-GD: Wow, what a lot of things! What are you going to do with all of your spare time? [laughter]
Nan: Make quilts. [laughs] Well, no. I’ve got a grand-baby coming in January, so that takes some time. And Greg is doing a lot more traveling. I’ve told him that I’ll go with him on warmer places. Antarctica was a little too cold for me.
TYG-GD: Well, I actually wanted to ask you about your travels, because you have been to some amazing places! What do you do while Greg is waiting five hours for one shot?
Nan: [laughs] I do a lot of getting up very early in the morning—photographers like that early light, you know. It’s been kind of fun. I just have an iPad. I can take pictures on my iPad, and I can do it very quickly, because I don’t have to set all this stuff up.
TYG: Yes, phone cameras have gotten so good now!
Nan: In fact, when we went to Canada, I used my iPhone instead of my iPad, because it has a little bit better camera. But then there’s this cool app, called Postale, that you can create digital postcards with. So I use one of my pictures each day, and I send that to family and friends all around. It makes a little travelogue for me. I came upon it when we took a trip to Iceland about three to four years ago. I wanted to send postcards back to family, so I went into a little store, and they were five dollars apiece! [laughs] So it makes it more fun when they’re your pictures. [...] So I have a mailing list, so I just write something, and blast it out to everybody!
TYG-GD: So what else do you do while he’s shooting?
Nan: I carry his cameras...
TYG-GD: Are you serious? [laughter]
Nan: ...I remind him to un-check manual setting... [laughing] I’m the schlepper. But not on the cold trips.
TYG-GD: So what’s your favorite photo-trip been?
Nan: Oh. Wow. I’ve been a lot of neat places. But I have to say it’s been Botswana.
TYG-GD: What did you enjoy about it?
Nan: The animals. There was a pride of lions there that had cubs that were probably four or five weeks old. Teeny... and we could get up quite close. As long as you don’t get out of the Jeep. Mama was okay with it. We went out almost every other day to watch them—that was so much fun. And then hippopotamuses. The places where we stayed—they weren’t State-run, but they were concessions by groups. They were big tents, but one place had tents as big as this room [the side room of the Farm Store]. It had a tiled shower—not really a camping kind of thing. It even had a little swimming pool to play in.
TYG: Oh wow! That must have felt nice to cool off in! Lot better than jumping in the river...
Nan: Yes, with the hippos, that wouldn’t have been a good idea. [...] The walkways between the tents and where we had meals were raised, so that the hippos could go under, because you wouldn’t want to walk where they might be. [laughter]
TYG-GD: Wow, how far off the ground were they?
Nan: Oh, maybe six to eight feet.
TYG: So the tents were that high too?
Nan: Yes, the tents were built on stilts as well.
TYG: That would be a cool architectural challenge!
Nan: Yes—it was quite nice.
TYG: How did you get down from the tents? Were there stairs?
Nan: Well, the walkways were actually ramps. They would go down to your eating pavilion, or wherever. It was right by a river, so that’s why they had hippos.
TYG: Oh, I thought it was more like bridges.
Nan: They did have one with a drawbridge that they would open at night, because the hippos would only pass through early in the morning and in the evening, because they don’t sleep in the water—they come back out. So they pretty well knew what their traffic patterns were. But when we arrived there, they told us to be sure that we put everything away in our tents, closed up bags and all that, because of the baboons. They could get into the tents because they were just canvas, and they would ransack your bag for food, trinkets—anything. They had solar panels there to provide electricity for the camp. Greg took a tour of that facility, because he was very interested in the engineering and all that. And he saw some of the panels had mud streaks down them. He asked whether they were out of service, and [was told], “Yes, for the moment—the baboons have been sledding down them.” [laughter] They really liked that place. The baboons were just interested in playing. But that was a cool trip. We’ve actually made three trips to Africa. One to Kenya, one to Tanzania, one to Botswana. All three of them were wonderful. And then next year, we’re planning to go to Namibia.
TYG: Wow. We really need to go to Africa, Mom.
TYG-GD: No. I’m not going. It’s way too hot. [laughter]
Nan: It’s actually not too bad in the evenings. It cools off.
TYG: What do you mean, “not too bad”—in temperature?
Nan: Well, it gets down in the high 60s F.
TYG: Oh! That’s not too bad. For Mom, anything over 70F is utterly sweltering.
Nan: Well, you drink plenty of water, you wear a hat. The vehicles are all covered, so you’re not out in the sun.
TYG-GD: I remain unconvinced. [laughter] I’ll go to Antarctica!
Nan: Or Iceland. That was another trip.
TYG-GD: So, I missed the very first part of the interview, but did you talk about your academic background, if any?
Nan: No, I didn’t! That’s actually a rather circuitous story. I went to college. My bachelor’s degree was a double major in English and History. I wanted to be a teacher. I had my certification; I taught school for two years. Greg was in Vietnam for the last of that year; when he came back, he was stationed in Texas. I couldn’t get a teaching certificate in Texas because I hadn’t had Texas history.
TYG: That makes sense, though, because they were actually a separate country for a while.
Nan: [laughs] So I didn’t teach that year while we were in Texas, and then when he finished the military, we moved out to Oregon. I was looking for a teaching job in Corvallis, but since that’s a university town, it was hard to find a teaching job. So I hired on as a secretary in the Crop and Soils Science Department, in the College of Agriculture. I had a great boss, who thought it was important that you learn all about what you were doing. So I took courses in plant breeding, genetics, computer programming, and statistics while I was there. I graduated from being secretary to being their data processing person. In plant breeding, we developed varieties of wheat that are used all around the world. Do you remember Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman Borlaug? He died a few years ago , but he won the Nobel Peace Prize for the work that he did in what was called “The Green Revolution.” He developed strains of wheat and rice that could be grown in places where they normally couldn’t be, such as growing wheat in tropical places.
TYG: You can’t grow wheat tropically, normally?
Nan: Normally wheat requires a vernalization period, which means it requires a cold period before it will produce seed. So he did this, and he was part of the program that I was working with. In fact, when my boss wrote a letter to promote me to a tenured position, Dr. Borlaug wrote the letter of recommendation.
TYG-GD: I bet you have that framed! [laughter]
Nan: It looks cool. [laughs] But part of my job as a secretary there was to type up tags that went on the plants to identify [their] parentage, and the field books to take notes in. So I did a lot of this on the typewriter the first year, and we hired students to hand-write the tags. And I thought: “There’s got to be a better way to do this!” [laughs] So that was when I started taking computer programming. And I wrote a program in Fortran using punch-cards with the information, and then you could sort those each year into different ways. And then, when we would go to harvest, we had our harvest plots over in eastern Oregon. We’d harvest with a little, bitty combine from plots that weren’t much bigger than this table. But you had to keep track of the yield, because it was different for each parentage, and all of that.
TYG: Very subtle differences, on a plot that small.
Nan: And we’d have replications of those plots, which means you’d have four of them, which you’d average together for your statistical analysis. We used to bring all of that grain back to Corvallis and analyze it there, then store it for a while, then get rid of it. We had problems with mice; and just the fact of bringing that grain back, you had to have big trucks to do that. So I developed a system using a Hewlett Packard programmable calculator, and a Mettler balance that was connected to the programmable calculator. You put the bag on the scale, typed in the entry number; it would take the weight, record it in the calculator, and when you were all through, it would run the statistical analysis. So you’d decide right there that these are the ones you want to keep, and you’d take everything else to the grain elevator. So that reduced the waste.
TYG-GD: You are brilliant! I bet you were an amazing help to that department.
Nan: [laughs] It was a lot of fun. It wasn’t computerized, but I even got involved in [cross-breeding]. Every spring, when you’re in a breeding program, you make crosses between the parents [whose properties] you want—maybe disease- or drought-resistance, or whatever. So you make these crosses, but wheat is a self-pollinating plant, which means that to make a cross, you have to interrupt the self-processing. So we would sit out on little stools—and this was in the spring, with the rain dripping down your nose—and you would emasculate a wheat flower. This means taking the flowerets that come up—there are three anthers in each wheat flower, and you get a stalk of wheat and there are probably 40 on there. So with a pair of tweezers you’d have to take out three anthers. You couldn’t miss one, or it would pollinate the whole thing. So you’d take out three anthers from each one, put a glassine bag over the top of it, and then three or four days later you’d come by with one that’s pollinating, and twirl it into the tap. All that you do with an English major, see? [laughter]
TYG-GD: “You want fries with that?”
TYG: Mom’s the same way... [laughter] There’s got to be some industrial way to do that nowadays.
Nan: Well nowadays—and this gets you all into the GMO kind of stuff—they do have plants that they have bred to be sterile, that don’t self-pollinate, so the farmer has to buy the seed every year. It’s more expensive, but it’s a true cross—you don’t have any out-crossing and all of that. But they still do it the old-fashioned way, because to get some of these traits, you need to go back to wheat that was maybe originally in Turkey hundreds of years ago that’s still grown wild, or whatever.
TYG: I’m just surprised that there’s no way to mechanically remove those anthers. I guess they’re not symmetrical enough.
Nan: Well, and you have to be very careful because the female portion is down below, and if you remove any part of that or damage that, you won’t get seed set. So it’s not something that you could just take a vacuum cleaner and do.
TYG-GD: So does any of that come in handy for the Trails Committee?
TYG: Anything else you want to talk about?
Nan: Well, I’m excited about the concert and dinner that the [Presbyterian] Church is doing on December 3. Milo [Graamans] is giving a concert, and Ona [Restaurant and Lounge] is providing a meal, which is wonderful since they’re closed for three months. They’re catering a buffet there. The purpose of the event is to help raise money to support the music ministry in the community: the Big Band practices in the Church, the Yachats Music Festival is there in the summertime (although sadly, this will be their last year).
TYG: Well thank you so much for your time!
Nan: It’s good to talk with you.
Interview with Ian Smith
Ian Smith is a local musician who plays solo, as well as part of a three-member band named “They Went Thataway.” He has a CD of original music called “8 Days of Summer.”
TYG: So, what kind of music do you do?
Ian: I play mostly original music now in my life. I started off playing all cover material—other people’s music, because I didn’t know how to write music for quite a few years. Even though I tried, I didn’t succeed! So for a long time I played other people’s music. Over the years, I got a little better and a little better at writing, and then in the last ten years, I feel that my song-writing has actually gotten pretty good. So I play mostly original; still play a few covers. That’s when I play solo, when I play by myself. When I play with groups we tend to do more cover material.
TYG: I’ve only tried to write duet songs a couple of times; it gets ridiculous trying to match everything up harmonically, like without making it sound like each hand is playing the same part.
Ian: Oh, yes.
TYG: Because that’s the key. If it just sounds like each hand is playing the same part, that can be good for certain parts to give it that “chordic” element, but most of the time you want it to have significantly, or even very largely different—even conflicting—melodies.
Ian: You’re talking about piano.
TYG: Yes. I imagine it’s even harder for stringed instruments.
Ian: Well, it depends on the type of music that you’re playing. A lot of music that is sung—and I differentiate that from classical music—but most music that is sung, for a guitar, say, the guitar will be strumming chords; playing a rhythm, strumming chords. The focus is for the voice. You can get more specific in your playing—meaning you can get more base lines in with your chords—
TYG: More riffs?
Ian: Riffs I think of as a little different, more like melodic motifs. But you can just strum chords, where you’re “strum, strum, strum”—some rhythm to it; or you can pick out a base note: “boom, strum; boom, strum” and get more variation that way. The trickier the guitar-playing gets, the harder it is to play the guitar part and sing at the same time. So really good musicians, who have been at it for a while, can play very difficult things on the guitar, and then sing on top of it. Kind of depends on what you’re doing. If you’re writing for another singer, then you can make the accompaniment as difficult as you want.
TYG: Because then it’s just practice, practice, practice, and there’s no multi-tasking.
Ian: When I write for myself, without trying, I tend to write things where there will be some part of the song that is just a little bit beyond my current ability. I enjoy that, because it means that I’m challenged all the time. Some songs I write are—for me—fairly simple to play, because I have more of a melody or a lyrical thing that I want to convey. But I’m a guitar player first. So I tend to write guitar parts, and then put vocals to them.
TYG: I imagine it’s a lot easier to do big note transfers from low C to high C—I imagine that’s a lot easier on guitar than it is on piano. Because trying to do that with one hand on piano would be a nightmare, and you only have one hand in guitar.
Ian: The way the piano is set up, everything is left to right, from low to high. And if your hand isn’t big enough to reach across, then you have to hop. With the guitar, things are left to right, low to high—but they’re also stacked up. Some things are easier that way on a guitar. Every instrument, I believe, has something unique to the instrument that that instrument does really well. By virtue of how the instrument is made and played, there are some things that are very easy to do on them, versus some things that are not possible to do on others.
TYG: Like ukuleles, for example.
Ian: Ukuleles don’t have the range, but they also have a tone to them and they’re easy to play—you don’t have to push very hard on the strings. But the guitar and the piano, some things transfer easily back and forth. There are things people can do on piano that are impossible to do, like play ten notes at a time. There are six strings, and you can get only one note per string. And there’s also a range on the piano that’s very hard to do. Now on the guitar, you can pluck a string and then bend it with your finger, bend the pitch up and down, and you can’t do that on the piano at all. So there are those sorts of things. I’ve written things for the guitar that are very difficult to play on the guitar because of the fingering to get the notes to come out. And I’ll show it to, say, Milo on the piano and he just goes, “Oh!” It’s the simplest little finger pattern on the piano. Doesn’t even have to move his hand or shift his thumb at all. But on the guitar, it’s a tricky 3-, 4-string piece of gymnastics.
TYG: What kind of notation is used for guitar? For example, how do you indicate to pull a string back? Is there a notation for that?
Ian: Yes. It’s been a while since I’ve read guitar notation, but I studied classical music. To the best of my knowledge, they did not bend strings ever in classical music. [laughs] I’ve never heard it done. It doesn’t mean they don’t do it now, but... It’s notated in treble clef, but what you see written is actually an octave above the sound, if I remember correctly. So they use treble clef in standard tuning. The lowest note is the E three lines underneath the clef. The highest notes are four lines above the clef. There are things specific to guitar notation for the right hand, the fingering hand, if you’re using your fingers and not a flat pick.
TYG: Interesting! So it actually shows not only which notes to play, but the fingering!
Ian: Yes! I’m shifting over to the left hand now: because the same notes can be played four, sometimes five, different places on the neck—you can play D, F sharp, A that are written right on the clef—you can play them at the second fret, you can play the same pitched notes on different strings on the seventh fret, or at the tenth fret, or at the 14th, 15th fret. So you have to indicate where this is being played, because each one has a different fingering.
TYG: Sometimes in parentheses they’ll have 14, or 7, or 2?
Ian: Right above the notes, they’ll use the Roman numeral. That indicates what fret it’s played on. Underneath the note within a circle, that will tell you what string it’s being played on—first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth. Then on the right hand they’ll show you the pattern: thumb is T, first finger is 1, the middle finger is 2, the ring finger is 3, the little finger is 4. So depending on how tricky, complicated the pattern is, underneath, below the clef, you will see “T, 1, 2, 3”—some sort of pattern. Some things are fairly simple, and people recognize them. They’re familiar sorts of things that are done on the guitar.
TYG: Like a bass strum or something.
Ian: Right. They call them positions, but if somebody is playing the first position (the first three, four frets) you don’t need to indicate anything. But if you’re playing there and then you shift up the neck and you shift into second position, and then you go back to first position, then you’ll see some notation come in to indicate that you shift.
TYG: So, if I’m understanding this right... picture just one line of music on the page. So the upper line would be the right hand fingering, and the bottom would be the lower hand fingering?
Ian: No... the notes are notated... if there is a bass line that is being played, it will be notated with the stems going down. And all the chords and melodies, you’ll have the stems going upwards.
TYG: That’s interesting—that means a very different thing in piano. Well, actually, it doesn’t particularly mean anything, because in piano, it just happens to be [related to] where the note happens to be in the bar.
Ian: Yes. This way, when you see stems going down, stems going up, quite often what the stems going down are going to be what the thumb is playing—the thumb tends to play the bass notes, and the other fingers play the chords and the melodies. Not always, but quite often. And that way, if you want to, if it’s a difficult piece, you can learn just the bass line, just like on the piano you can play just the left hand or just the right hand. With a guitar you can play just a bass line or just the chord melody, and learn to put them together.
TYG: So, this is just an interesting thing to me, how come the guitar is a six-stringed instrument, and not a five-stringed instrument? That’s just interesting to me, considering we have only five fingers.
Ian: I don’t know exactly how that came about! There are one-stringed, two-stringed, three-stringed, four-stringed... I don’t know of any five-stringed instruments. There might be! Oh, banjo! There’s a five-stringed banjo!
TYG: That was probably designed for practical reasons...
Ian: [laughs] No, actually, the banjo is not the most practical instrument. Normally, on a stringed instrument, if you’re holding the instrument on your lap, the lowest string is on top, closest to your face, and they get higher as they go down across the finger-board. The banjo has four strings low to high, and then the one closest to your face is a higher string. You don’t finger it—it’s what’s called a drone string. So if you’re playing, say, in the key of G, quite often that will be a G. A high G. It’s played as an open string. [...] Of the stringed instruments, all use the same, basic, fundamental property: A string is strung from one end to another. You pluck it, and when it’s open, it resonates. You can press down on the string, which shortens the string, which means the pitch gets higher. The shorter the string, the higher the vibration. So as you pluck the guitar up the neck, you’re shortening the string, making the pitch go up. [...] An interesting little note: One theory is that the first stringed instrument was actually a hunter’s bow. If you just pluck that, you can hear it—there’s a note. So if you think of that, if you just put a box behind it you pick up that resonance and amplify it a little bit—you have your first stringed instrument. It would be interesting to find out why there aren’t more five-stringed instruments.
TYG: How did you get into guitar?
Ian: I think the first instrument I ever played was a ukulele. And then when I was seven, we moved into a house, and someone had left a guitar in the closet. I was seven years old, so I wasn’t very big, and this was what they call a jumbo-sized guitar—the body is bigger than a normal guitar. It was very hard to play; it only had four of the six strings on it, and it hurt my fingers an incredible amount to play it. For some reason, I just wouldn’t stop playing. I can’t explain the feeling—it’s been so long ago—but I was just drawn to it, every day, trying to figure out where notes that sounded good together were. So on my own I figured out a few chords, though I didn’t know what they were called. When my parents realized that it wasn’t just a passing fancy, they bought me a guitar, which was a nylon string, classical guitar. I played that for about a year and a half before they bought me a steel-stringed guitar. So the way I actually got into it was a combination—obviously there was something inherent in me that was drawn to the instrument. I didn’t have the same fascination with the piano or woodwind instruments, or things like that. Then we moved in that house with the guitar left behind...
TYG: The luck element.
Ian: The luck element! And I just wouldn’t put it down. I must have really, really wanted to play, because as a kid, I was a really wimpy kid. Anything that hurt at all, I didn’t want to have anything to do with. And playing that first guitar was excruciating. My fingertips would burn and hurt so badly I’d have to stop after fifteen minutes, and I’d be back ten minutes later, trying it again.
TYG-Editorial Assistant: You have a lot of family here. Did you guys grow up around here?
Ian: Yes. We grew up around here. We moved here in 1976; I was thirteen at the time. We had lived in a number of places around the country before that, but I consider myself to be from the Oregon Coast. I have two sisters, and my brother and I. My younger sister moved to Olympia, where she has stayed. My brother moved away and moved back; my sister moved away and moved back; they did that within just a couple of years. I moved away for about 30 years, but I only moved as far as Eugene, which is only about two hours away. [...] Are you interested in how song-writing happens?
TYG: The only way I can think of doing it, really, would be to just sort of let yourself go on an instrument, and then finding a riff that you like, and building on that. Is that how you do it?
Ian: Sometimes. My song-writing has changed over the years. I used to get an idea of something that I wanted to sing about—a topic, a person—and so I would then pick up the guitar, and I’d think, “Well, I want to write a blues song.” So I’d start playing in a blues style. And then I would try and come up with words; I’d try to fit them to the music. Sometimes that worked; quite often that was a real struggle for me. There have been a number of things that have changed my approach to music: listening to different musicians, playing music with different people. Some people hear music in their head, and write it in their head, and then they go to an instrument and figure out how to play it. Some people, as you put it, just play on the instrument, come up with something on the instrument, and develop it. Some people write lyrics, and then write music to accompany the lyrics. But I heard someone say—and it was a great quote—he said, “I pick up the guitar and I play a chord or I play a few notes, and then I listen for what comes next.” And it was the most inspiring thing I think I’ve ever heard. And that is pretty much how I write music now. I’ll pick up the instrument, strum a couple of chords, and literally a song will start to play in my head. And I feel that I’m simply chasing after a song that’s already written.
TYG: That’s a good way of doing it, I think.
Ian: What’s interesting is that I’ll be playing, I’m playing a brand new song, that I’ve never heard, and yet I’ll play something and in my head I’ll go, “No, that’s not right.” Sometimes lyrics happen that way, which is nice. I quite often struggle, writing lyrics. But over the last ten years it’s gotten a lot more fun. I don’t struggle with it as much as before, when I was trying to force a song into a certain style, into a box, basically. And now I’m just trying to figure out what the song is.
TYG: It’s so interesting. I imagine it’s very different for a guitar, but for me as a piano player, I much prefer songs without lyrics. With piano, I much prefer just having notes and never coming up with lyrics. Or at least coming up with the notes part first, and actually finish that before coming up with lyrics.
Ian: Yes, I do that myself. It’s very easy for me to write the form of a song, the chord progression for a verse, a different chord procession for the chorus, and then quite often I will hear some sort of melody that goes to it. So I will sing the melody without the words. And what’s really fun is to sing with nonsense words. So you’re actually creating a phrase as if you were singing words, but you sing nonsense. [Ian then starts singing a melody line, then adds syllables, which then suggest words, and he comes up with a line.] Everybody has their way of writing—some people are very similar, and some people have very interesting ways of doing it—Paul Simon has a very interesting way of writing. He will record people playing something, and listen to a bagpipe, or a hammered dulcimer, or just listen to some African drumming, and he will be inspired by that. [The interview has a brief hiatus for taking a couple of pictures while the light is good.]
TYG-EA: Any particular musical favorites or influences?
Ian: Oh, goodness. Musical influences. There really are so many. I started off playing folk music, so people like Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, James Taylor—those were early influences. And I learned a lot about playing chord progressions from learning their songs. Then I got into rock and roll music, so I was influenced by Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd... there are so many. [...] And then when I moved to Eugene in the 80s, I played in a band that did all original music, then in a band where we played different styles of African music: South African, which tends to be—in some ways [depending] how it’s put together—more classical, in that each person is playing their own, individual line of music. Not a whole lot of chords, strumming, with an accompanying bass line, which is mostly a melody in itself. My part, which was the rhythm guitar, would play a melody line, and then the lead guitar would play a melody line over that. So that’s a southern African style. Central to northern Africa gets much more rhythmical, so I learned a lot of different approaches to rhythm, because their rhythms are quite different also. So I really liked listening to King Sunny Ade—really fun music; Thomas Mapfumo; Baaba Maal, who has a fantastic band. And then about fifteen to twenty years ago—I’d always listened to him a little bit, but then I really started studying his music: Frank Zappa. Probably one of the best composers that’s ever lived, as far as his ability to conjure up truly new, unique things. He also wrote some of the best rock and roll I’ve ever heard, and he wrote funk music that was fantastic. He was also a classical music composer, although he wrote 20th century classical types of things. He was a big influence on me—not so much that my music sounds anything like his, but this was a person who was truly fearless. He wrote whatever he wanted to write. He didn’t censor himself in any way, musically or lyrically.
TYG: Well, thank you so much!
Ian: Thank you, Allen. I appreciate your publication. I like seeing it; I like reading it.
TYG: Thank you!
A Call to Artists
Polly Plumb Productions Board Member, Ruth Bass, announces a Call to Artists for the first Ocean Artistry Art Quilt Show to be held at the Yachats Commons on March 10, 11, 12, 2017.
This juried show will accept art pieces from local, regional, and international art quilters. The theme of this inaugural show will be Gems of the Ocean.
Details of the Call to Artists can be found at oceanartistrycall.com/ Quilt entries will be accepted between December 15, 2016 and January 15, 2017 and will be decided by February 1, 2017. Final judging will be made by a 5-person panel of artists and dignitaries during the show.
All selected entries will be on display during the Ocean Artistry Art Quilt show running March 10-12 at the Yachats Commons in the multi-purpose room. The show will run from 10 am – 5 pm.
“One of the goals of the show is to introduce art quilting to both locals and visitors to the area,” stated Ms. Bass. “We thought the ocean theme would allow artists to explore the beauty of this area and make interpretations based on their own whimsy.”
The new art show has already received financial support from both the Siletz Tribal Charitable Contribution Fund and the City of Yachats’ New Event Fund. “We’re delighted to bring this type of show to Yachats. This will brighten up the town and we welcome everyone to experience an art quilt show,” added Bass. For more information on the show please contact email@example.com
Polly Plumb Productions (PPP) is a tax exempt 501(c)3 organization that supports and promotes music and dance performances, and art exhibitions in the Yachats area.