“It feels like this is what you’re supposed to be doing and in a way it feels like the universe wanted me to do this and it sent me a message to tell me that I was on the right path the whole time.”
Whether they are a musician, a visual artist, a filmmaker, a writer, or whatever else, anyone who’s pursuing a creative field has had at least one crisis of confidence. There can be a crippling uncertainty shrouding your output and if it’s supposed to reach an audience, then that feeling gets magnified.
Vocalist and guitarist Scott Ayotte from the Milford indie rock act Born Without Bones went through this and right when he was about to start anew, things started looking up. The band was getting more spins on Spotify, new fans were following and interacting on social media, and it turned out Ayotte was on the right path all along. With all of this in mind, he joined up with guitarist Jon Brucato, bassist Jim Creighton, and drummer Sam Checkoway to create Dancer, Born Without Bones’ fourth full-length album that comes out today via Pure Noise Records.
Ayotte and I spoke about the making of the album, writing a huge amount of songs during 2020, his self-imposed hiatus, wanting to be appreciated for who he is rather than what he does, and what he hopes to connect with the listener when they tune in.
What was the experience like for you and the rest of the band during the songwriting process and recording process for Dancer? Did you do anything differently than you did with previous releases? There seems to be a lot of melody and harmony within the music.
The process for making Dancer was a total 180 from the way we made records prior. We were never big on recording ourselves in any real way so as far as the demo process goes, it was totally different. For all of our previous records, we did not demo the songs at all and we kind of tried to keep it as pure as we possibly could by playing the songs as many times as you can tolerate in band practice. That was kind of the old way of our method, but for this record we demoed heavily, we took songs apart, put them back together and it was way different. Basically the whole process started about two years after our third record came out, Young At The Bend.
I kind of took a break from the band for about nine months and I got into a regimen of solitude with writing, which I’ve discovered is essential for me to come up with new ideas. As a creative person, I think it’s really important to allow your creative mind to sort of wander in solitude for a period of time to give yourself a chance to sort of look around in your brain and your ears for new ideas that you find interesting. It’s something that might not be super comfortable at first but there’s something about an idea that might draw you to it, so there’s a lot of time spent in that sort of headspace of solitude. Coming back home from work every night, pouring a glass of wine, maybe rolling a joint, playing some music alone in my studio room at home, and kind of treating it like a job while doing it every day.
Fast-forward to getting the band kind of involved, sort of past the solitude state, we’re all coming to my house on Sundays to work on songs and it could have been anything. Basically, whoever had the courage to put their idea on the table and let everybody sort of poke and prod it for the day and we did that for months just trying to come up with new ideas and new songs. COVID sort of hit in the middle of that process which was a double-edged sword. In one way it was definitely going to delay us putting out new music in the future because of what was going on but in another way it gave us more time to write more songs and spend more time with the material that we had already built up at that point. We practiced a ton, after the initial start of the pandemic we took two to three months off because nobody really had any information as far as what was safe and what was not safe.
I personally live with somebody who is immunocompromised, my father, and I didn’t want to put him at any extra risk, but we practiced two or three times a week. It was a lot of writing sessions, and a lot of demoing. Jon got really into audio engineering and mixing so we were able to hear songs that we were writing in a more professionally recorded context before we ever stepped into the studio to actually record them. We never had that experience, we were kind of always critiquing our songs via iPhone demos from rehearsal which sounded like clashing noise the whole time. We wrote more songs than we’ve ever written for any record, we threw out more songs than we ever have for any record and it was survival of the fittest.
It was about which songs were the strongest, it didn’t really matter what they sounded like. That’s never really mattered for us, I feel like an eclectic mix of vibes and sounds holds up on an album. There’s a song on Dancer that’s sort of bossa nova inspired and there’s songs that are inspired by Todd Rundgren, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, and Aerosmith—nothing was off limits. That’s basically how the process went, it was solitude followed by a regimented work ethic within the band that took the songs to a good spot where we felt comfortable with showing them to people and recording them professionally.
It sounds like you made the most of the time during the pandemic with all the music you were able to make for the album and the choosing which songs worked best. You mentioned how you took sort of a hiatus from the band while confronting some uncertainties with the band. You were trying to figure out if the music was really connecting with people or not, but then some momentum started moving in Born Without Bones’ favor with you guys even jumping on the bill for this year’s edition of Boston Calling back in May. To reflect on that time during the hiatus, how were you feeling emotionally and internally when things started to bloom right when you were almost ready to move on?
It was tricky. I was coming off of doing the band for close to nine years at that point and as you get older there’s so many factors. Being broke gets more uncomfortable the older you are, I finally had time in my life to build healthier habits and I was able to start going to the gym and start eating right. I love to read and all of a sudden I had time to read a lot of books. I started researching topics like personal finance that I knew nothing about beforehand but was always sort of mystified by and interested in. I would love for somebody someday to come to me and tell me, This is why your band started to gain popularity and momentum when you were focusing on it the least at this period of time when the band was still active.
It really felt like all of a sudden one day during my little hiatus I saw that people did want to hear the music that we make. Up until that point, I felt like I was kind of doing it selfishly. I felt like I was dragging my bandmates along to play my songs and I felt like in doing that I was delaying my own personal growth but also delaying my bandmates’ personal growth. I was getting to an age where I felt that I couldn’t justify doing this just because it’s fun, it’s always been fun and I’ve always had a burning passion for it but I have new dreams and new goals now. I want to be a dad someday, I want to own a home someday, I want to feel some type of security in my life and if security and routine is something that you want in your life then a rock band is the absolute worst road you could take to getting those things.
All of a sudden, Spotify numbers are going up really quickly with lots of new fans, lots of new listeners. Part of me was kind of like of course, now that I’m feeling healthy and I’m getting my personal life on track this band that has sort of stood in the way of all that is rearing its head again and getting in the way of those things, but in a more positive way than in the past. Instead of having this month-long DIY tour where I’m going to be playing house shows and eating Taco Bell every night, which I was always sort of dreading, I knew the thing that I needed to be doing to keep building on the band’s name, reach, and all that was to know that people are invested in what we’re doing and that feels great. It feels amazing because I hadn’t ever really felt that way, it never felt that way. It felt that I was pursuing a vanity project that very few people really were invested in besides myself and it acted as a sort of reminder that when you have a burning passion for something, it’s really hard to ignore it or it’s really hard to not be lured into pursuing it especially when there’s now more incentive than ever to do so.
It’s a blessing. It’s truly a blessing to feel like your passion, this thing that you’ve worked so hard for, has turned into something that feels like a calling. It feels like this is what you’re supposed to be doing and in a way it feels like the universe wanted me to do this and it sent me a message to tell me that I was on the right path the whole time. That’s the way I sort of interpreted it, it’s just the way of some kind of energy telling me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing and it made it a little more obvious after it really wasn’t for a long time.
It’s funny how that works out, right? You’re ready to close a chapter but then the chapter starts adding a few more paragraphs that need to be finished. You’ve said that the album’s title Dancer comes from you feeling appreciated for what you do rather than who you are, which rubbed you the wrong way. I think this is something a lot of people in creative mediums can relate to, so how did you go about processing this feeling into the music?
I’m still processing that idea, I’m processing who I am without music. I said to a friend recently that I didn’t love how I don’t know myself and who I am without the frame of Born Without Bones and my friend was really nice. He framed it as, Well, without Born Without Bones you would still be the same honest, caring friend that you’ve always been. It’s not the band that makes you that, you are who you are. In my little hiatus, all of a sudden certain people who I had more engaging conversations with in the past became far less engaging because I wasn’t doing the thing that connected us.
Usually I would be talking to somebody who’s a friend I used to tour with or a former bandmate or whatever it was, all of a sudden that person felt that we were living on different planets now and I didn’t understand where they were coming from anymore and vice versa. I didn’t like that because regardless of how I felt about pursuing music professionally or anything like that, I fancy myself to be a musician and that is what I do. It’s the only thing that I’ve had an easy go at in ways, music came to me like English and I’ve just understood it from a young age. I speak the language and it’s one of the few things that I feel like I have a good grasp on, so just because I’m not doing it at times in a certain way I don’t think that makes me less of a musician. I still have that skill, I’m still that person and I didn’t like that because I was choosing to not pursue it in a way that at the time I felt was unhealthy people thought my ability to play or whatever was sort of fallen by the wayside and my ability wasn’t healthy anymore which was not true.
Regardless if I’m putting out music for the general public to enjoy or not, I’m going to be playing no matter what. It’s what I do, it’s what I love, it’s what I understand and I think the way I processed it was if people think that I’m just out on this then I need to show them stuff they didn’t know I could do. I need to write a song like “Dancer” that has a lot of harmony in it and it tells a rough story. I’ve never been a really good storytelling songwriter, I’ve never been lyrically gifted in that and I’ve never really been drawn to it but with that song came a storyline. I wanted to show that I could collaborate with my bandmates, which is something I’m still not great at.
My song ideas and the music that I make is very precious to me, they’re all like my kids so when you bring one to band practice and your bandmate wants to rip its arm off to give it a new one that’s scary to me, that’s terrifying to me. I needed to prove to myself and remind some people that I’m still very much in this and I still care about it a lot regardless if I’m in the band schlepping around the country playing basements or not. Just because I’m not doing that doesn’t mean I’m not still racking my brain for new and exciting ideas and I’m not still honing my craft as much as I possibly can. I’m still that guy, how I’m pursuing it doesn’t necessarily change it so it just bothered me that certain people who should perhaps know better didn’t think I was still here and practicing every night.
I can understand how you’d feel that way with people having an assumption rather than knowing what the reality is. What do you think has grown the most with Born Without The Bones since you started it as a solo project back in 2010?
I think sensibility is a big part of it. Knowing what a strong song is and how to craft a song that can make an impact on somebody. A lot of what any creative person does at first is they go really heavy on instinct and impulse. You’re kind of punching underwater, you’re throwing darts with your eyes closed and you’re just doing the thing, which I think is so healthy and is the way to get started for sure. When you’ve done that for so long and now you have some information to sort of guide you on how to hit a bullseye and how to connect, you can get better at it.
You can learn how to structure a song properly, you know how to sing certain lines and how to connect with people. That’s all what any songwriter is trying to do, they’re also trying to sooth something inside and process it but they’re also trying to connect with other people that felt that same thing they’ve felt. Basically, there’s a couple songs from our second record that had really started to resonate with people which we had discovered through social media, seeing streaming numbers and talking to kids at shows. “Baby” and “Stone” are the two songs I’m talking about, meeting people that those songs have touched and hearing about their feelings and how they were affected by the song or how they felt about it can’t help but make a huge impression on you. It makes you realize that you’ve helped build something bigger than yourself and I’ve chosen to share it with anybody who wants to hear what I feel or what I have to say.
I think any music listener has had songs in their life that have really helped them at times and I certainly have. I have playlists on Spotify of songs that can make me shed a tear pretty much instantly and they’re not exactly all sad bastard songs. For example, “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix is on there because for some reason the way he plays guitar on that song and the way it affects me makes me emotional. To me, it sounds like if the element of fire could make a recording. It’s so emotional, not in a sad sense or even angry or whatever, it’s just a feeling and to me it’s a hyper-emotional recording.
That’s what I strive to make now. I want to make emotional music, not necessarily emo music in the way people probably think of it as, but just music that tries to elicit a feeling. I would still feel like it’s a vanity project unless I felt that people were having an emotional response to the music that we make.
It’s a great goal to have with your music and it’s much appreciated. When people give Dancer a listen, what do you hope to connect with them on? You just mentioned how you aim to connect with people on an emotional level through your music, but is there any messaging you want to get across or anything you’d want them to gravitate towards?
A couple things. I really do want people to listen to it, even on a super surface level, and I want them to enjoy it. I want Dancer to be a record that somebody puts on for a long car ride because they know all 41 minutes are going to be enjoyable, they’re going to sing along to it, and I want it to be memorable for them. I hate feeling when listening to a new record or a new song, the song ends and I don’t remember anything about it. You won’t go back to it if there’s nothing about it that jumped out at you and got stuck in your head for whatever reason.
On a surface level, I just want people to be able to listen to it, enjoy it, remember something about it that they go back to and through that process maybe get into some of the other songs. If one song sticks out to them, they’ll keep coming back to that but when the next song plays they’ll get sort of attached to that one and it keeps rolling on. On more of a mission statement of the record, I think it’s supposed to be motivational in a way that you can’t change your life if there are people in your life that are constantly telling you what you can’t do or are actively interrupting your pursuit for happiness. You can get rid of those people and you’re going to feel better for it. The flipside is also just believing in yourself and if you have some big idea, you want to take some leap then go ahead and do it.
Life is short and as far as we know you only get one shot. Every day I’m older, every day I live I’m closer to my imminent demise so I might as well do what I want to do and do what I think will make me happy. It’s trial and error, your decision making process for what’s going to make you happy, successful, and healthy isn’t totally going to be a net positive but you might as well try, you might as well run towards something and accomplish those goals. Set big goals for yourself and try to accomplish them and try to impress the teenage version of yourself. If I was going to have a conversation with the 16 -year-old version of me, I would want that 16 year old to look forward to the 31-year-old version of me and I think that’s really big.
Rob Duguay is an arts & entertainment journalist based in Providence, RI who is originally from Shelton, CT. Outside of DigBoston, he also writes for The Providence Journal, The Connecticut Examiner, The Newport Daily News, Worcester Magazine, New Noise Magazine, Northern Transmissions and numerous other publications. While covering mostly music, he has also written about film, TV, comedy, theatre, visual art, food, drink, sports and cannabis.