Scott ‘Scoddy’ Bywater Interview – Part Two

Bywater later decided to let the space voyagers continue
their journey without him. He quit his day job with the United Nations and moved
to France. Scott began to focus on songwriting, poetry and performing as a solo
musician. When he returned to Phnom Penh in 2012 he found a transformed music
scene and some incredible opportunities.

In March 2011 I had started writing poetry again.  I was starting to feel poetry and in an over-excited
state one night set up a blog (Silver Pepper of the Stars). I got some really nice responses from
people and after a while they started asking ‘when are you going to do a book?’.
…one of these people was Ken White and so I threw it back in his court ‘do
you know a good printer?’. Sokkha [Ken’s wife] suggested one and we went down
there, negotiated back and forth. January 2012. Printed the book, had a launch.
So there was this other thing that I was now doing, and that sort of broadened
the base, in a way.  When I came back
this time last year, I had plans on for another book and therefore another
launch. It was like I already had  credentials
and people were looking forward to me coming back.
Musically, having played open mics in front of Paris
audiences, I had an idea of what I could do now. And immediately the gigs started coming
in. I went to the Riverhouse to see
Up2UMango, Ukulele James and Sam and Greg, when I walked in James called from
the stage: ‘Scoddy, are you free next Friday night, can you play drums at Paddy
Rice?’ I met Toby the manager at the bar and I said I do a bit of this. He said
he was thinking of getting some music in for ladies’ night, why don’t you come
in we’ll make it a paid audition. I walked away that night with two gigs and
it’s just been like that ever since.
It’s only in the last 12 months that I’ve actually
stepped out of the shadow of the Space Project again. You still hear people
refer to me, or introduce me as ‘Scott from the Space Project’.
One of the things that I bang on a lot about is that
this city is very special simply by way of its size and the accessibility.
Everywhere you go in the world people complain about how hard it is to get out.
But if they did decide to go out they would go downstairs and get in a tuk-tuk
and they would be in the venue in 10 minutes. Also its a place where people are
forced to find their own social networks because most people don’t have family
here, they are forced to find a substitute family among people with similar
interests. Musicians are very fortunate because they have something in common
immediately. You walk into the various open mics around town three times and
suddenly you are part of the family. ‘I remember you’.
The high point of that for me was the Leonard Cohen
afternoon we did at Rubies. This whole string of people coming and doing their
own take on these songs. Recalling the
rousing chorus of So Long, Marianne at the end of the evening that still
makes my hairs stand up. It’s easy to put together a band from that point of
view because musicians are looking for the contact to hang out with each other
and they will put aside a night or two per week to play music with each other
because they don’t have those other connections. Also to get to the gig you
jump on a moto and put your guitar on your back. Taking away that complexity of
‘how do I get there?’ just reduces that barrier to entry. There was a time when
those connections weren’t being made.
The whole scene is different now. It used to be that
what music you could find tended towards bar bands and blues-rock. There’s
nothing wrong with that, but that was all you found. It would be like going to
a town and all you could find was reggae bands. They might be great, but after
a while…
Also what grabbed me was there was a great tendency
for people to put together bands not doing original material. As someone like
Ziad [Samman] was showing, you can just get out and do that stuff. In the end
I’m not breaking any musical barriers here, apart from the fact that we’re
saying we’re only going to do original songs. All it takes is a commitment to
say ‘this is what we’re going to be doing’.
The last thing Phnom Penh needs is another
middle-aged, English-speaking white male playing the classic rock covers on a
guitar. This is the place where you can stop playing in your bedroom and come
out and be whatever you want to be. There aren’t the normal rules of you must
not do this and you must not do that, you can go to the extremes that you want.
The streets are full of people going to extremes that may or may not be good
for their health. For me it’s a place… what did you dream of when you were a
kid? Did you dream that you could be in front of a punk band? Did you dream
that you could be in a Hank Williams band? You can do that. People will muck in
and help you out. It beats sitting at home and watching seasons of American TV
on one DVD. Anyway…
There is a great demand from the venues and people are
struggling to put together the bands and they’re possibly not as… There’s
probably two or three professional bands and the rest… I think it would be
really nice to see more people coming in and building up and having the
confidence to take the next step and then following through with that. Here is
your chance to behave like a professional and do like a professional and this
is going to help the whole scene.
People learn early on that this is not a town to be
boastful as a musician. You stand and fall by your performance. If you walk in
and say ‘I’m shit hot’…no. You need this network, don’t expect that you are
going to be given a lot of space to say how wonderful you are without actually
doing anything about it. Don’t just list your CV, get on the stage and show us.
In the Spring of 2013 Scott gathered together a group
of local talents and began rehearsing a repertoire consisting entirely of
original songs. Moi Tiet! evolved from an acoustic project to a muscular rock
band featuring 6 or 7 players. The act succeeded in winning audiences over at venues
normally associated with crowd-pleasing cover bands.
I feel blessed that I’m able to play with people who
are much, much better musicians than I am. I have measly technique, but because
I’m easily bored I play across different styles, and I’m willing to give
anything a go. Moi Tiet has been great for the chance to break out of the
acoustic guitar songwriter style and write/arrange for a bigger band, punchier
and funkier, maybe surprise a few people.  
But there’s some risk: you’ve got a gig on Friday and
your bass player can’t make it. Suddenly you have to teach somebody two full
sets of original material. But to my mind it’s like anything else you enter
into, most of the things that are really worth doing are things where you’re
excited about it but you’re also a little bit scared. You don’t know what the
outcome is going to be, you’re relying on your own strength and skills to get
it across the line.

The more you do it, the better you get. The first and
most important part of a band is that people have got to get on and enjoy
spending time together. I’m always a believer in the idea that there’s a
certain amount of rehearsal that you have to do, but the most important part is
that spending time together. I usually don’t mind if the rehearsal is playing a
few songs and sitting around talking and just getting to know each other.
Because in the end you’re going to be on stage together and you have to have
know that you can trust the person is that you’re going to be next to, and have
some idea of who they are, so that you have that instinctive faith, and be on
their side as well.

WASH is the thing that I am the most thrilled and
excited about creatively that I have done this year. Of all the things that I
have done this collaboration, to be able to work with people of such
extraordinary character who have got so many ideas to throw into something that
is… put a band together, original music, great, it’s been done. Put together
some electronic musicians and a poet and create something that is interesting
and listenable… it feels to all of us staggering stuff. For me that’s huge.
The opportunities that I have had to do that here. The wonderful sense of
sitting around in a living room, rehearsing, creating this electronic music
with a vocal and with people painting in the background you just think… this
is the bohemian life, it really is. We all work, we all do other things but we
can come together… and its hot. And the beer is cheap, you know?

Having done two shows with [Triptych], we were asked
to come and perform again and we all tentatively said ‘it would be nice to do
something new’ . The ideas had been growing and evolving. I said OK, I will
take stuff I have written over six months or so, work with that, it was this
higher level of intensity, we were adding to what we were doing, ‘so what can
we do next’. We all had some ideas of various kinds and it seemed like the
perfect point to take some space, record the next piece, The Next Horizon. They
will now do their electronic wizardry to create a second album for next year.
By the time I come back we will have completed that cycle. I will have had time

Maybe it’s time for me to write something specifically
for WASH. Previously I have taken stuff that I have already written and used it
for that. The third part of The Next Horizon was something that I had written
as part of an abandoned novel from a few years ago that was written in a poetic
style. I did some minor editing to craft it into a stand alone piece. That
really got me thinking about the possibilities… we will see.


I’m not very good
at taking a weekend in Kep, as people do. 
What I can do is uproot myself for several months because part of what
drives my creative process is that superpower of ‘I’m in a new place what does
it have to offer me?’ Not gee.. the cheese isn’t nice, or ‘there’s all this
crap on television and I can’t see the Premier League.’ In France I am planning
to perform but I am not in any great hurry. I need a break. It has been a
relentless twelve months here that I have enjoyed. It’s driven me creatively in
some ways but it’s also time to stop and assess and check and see what there is
and start building on the next phase. Where is this going.

It was very interesting coming here when I first
arrived in Cambodia and it felt very much like year zero to me… what has this
got to offer me, where can I find a place within this. I went back to Australia
9 months later for a short visit and couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I
came back to Phnom Penh and it felt like I was flying home…. Flying into
Pochentong. But I do like to keep moving, not moving in a restless way, but
settle down, find the rhythm; but when the time is right
and the stars align it’s time to move on.

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