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After disbanding his former group, Asherel, Georgia native Trey Rosenkampff found himself in search of a new direction. Anxious to capture a raw, aggressive sound in the recording studio, Rosenkampff began the process of writing material that reflected the intentions of his new project. After spending a year holed up in an Austin recording studio, Rosenkampff’s collaboration with White Denim’s James Petralli yielded an original, innovative approach to composing that has allowed the twenty-year-old musician to forge a new path for himself and his music. Together they have created a musical gauntlet, punctuated by seething guitars and drum fills that are capable of causing an Earthquake.
Taking the stage as Chief Scout, Rosekampff has cultivated a layered sound that sonically highlights the sharp edges of his arrangements. Scheduled for release on Columbia Records this upcoming October 28th, “Run Away From Home,” offers a portrait of a writer who has been let loose in the studio, ambitious and precise in his execution and approach. It’s a frenetic, high-energy song that recalls the lethal, savage energy of primitive rock and roll, while simultaneously revealing the musical sophistication and poetry of a Chief Scout composition. It also marks the performer’s first release under his new name, carefully chosen to evoke images of the traveling band of musicians he will now lead. A few weeks before his debut performance at New York’s CMJ Music Marathon, Rosenkampff spoke about his influences, the recording process and the events that led him to his new project.
You got your first guitar at the age of seven. Do you remember what first drew you to the instrument?
Not particularly. I just remember, growing up my parents always liked and listened to a lot of different kinds of music. And so my dad introduced me at an early age to people like Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young and the Allman Brothers and stuff like that. So I think it was more their influence than anything else…From just being interested in musicians that play guitar! (laughs). So that was probably the biggest reason why I started playing.
Do you still have your first guitar?
Oh yeah, definitely.
Where is it now, do you still play it?
It’s at my parent’s house. It’s beat to shit and it’s got a huge crack down it, but I still use it all the time. I’ll record with it every now and then and I’ve written most of my songs on it.
It’s very common for kids to pick up different instruments when they’re young, and then soon lose interest and move on to different things. Was there a moment when you were a kid that you realized that your skill and commitment was a little different than those around you?
I never really viewed music as just a hobby. Even when I was taking guitar lessons at such a young age, I always wanted it to be something that I could do. At some level I wanted to be able to do it beyond a hobby, so I don’t remember any particular moment, but I just always remember being enthused with the idea of music as something significant to me. I never viewed it as just taking lessons to take lessons.
You hail from Georgia, yet your music doesn’t immediately recall Southern influences. What did you listen to growing up, besides the stuff that your parents got you into?
Growing up I was one of those kids, until I was probably almost in high school, I pretty much just listened to old school stuff. Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen are two of my biggest influences- and Paul Simon. Right before I was in high school I started getting into more modern bands. I went through more of a teenage angsty fan stage, like I first discovered Nirvana and I was like,“Oh my gosh, I connect with this- this makes so much sense!” And then I moved on…
I knew the guys from Manchester Orchestra, who are also from Georgia. So they were kind of instrumental in getting me into modern music. I started listening to them and then some smaller bands that they had been touring with. I don’t really think there was any particular influence where I was just like, “Oh I want to make music that doesn’t sound like it’s from the South.” But I never really envisioned myself as a Southern rock artist.
Before forming the group, Asherel, you had been performing solo. Did writing for the band open up new doors artistically? I would imagine that solo performances can be somewhat limiting in the sense that you might not have all the instruments available to create the sound you want.
Oh yeah, absolutely. Before Asherel I played mostly solo stuff, this is when I was very, very young. I was about fifteen, and fifteen when Asherel started (laughs). And even then I still wrote a lot of solo material and performed it. But Asherel was kind of the first time that I got in a room with other musicians that were serious about their craft and really wanted to make good music. Which sounds funny to say, especially considering that we were just fifteen, but I was playing with very talented people in Asherel. It was good. They challenged me and opened my mind a little bit to find out how a song would work best with other members playing other instruments. It really taught me about composition and arranging songs.
In 2011, the band had the opportunity to travel to Seattle to work with producer Adam Kasper. You were saying how you were a big Nirvana fan and everything. The atmosphere and musical climate of a city like Seattle is so different to Atlanta. Did you find that new environment to be creatively inspiring?
Oh absolutely, without a doubt. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I draw influence on is getting out of your hometown or your comfort zone and seeing how other cities work, especially on a musical level. And Seattle was just such an interesting place. It has this weird, relaxed quality to it, even though it’s such a big city. And going out there and working with a guy like Adam, who has done countless awesome records…it was really cool to collaborate with someone who had this perspective of working with other people that have made these records. And also being in a city where there was this sort of tense, relaxed feeling…I couldn’t really describe it. But I absolutely think that was a pretty big experience for me- musically and personally.
As a young musician, was it exciting or intimidating to be recording in a city that has such a rich musical history?
I would say it was more exciting than anything else. I mean, it was kind of a challenge, knowing that, like you said, bands like Nirvana and Soundgarden and Foo Fighters and all these bands that come out of there…but it was almost an honor to say that you had worked in a place where they had created their music. It was definitely inspiring, I would say, more than intimidating.
Would you say collaborating with Adam influenced your approach in the studio?
Oh absolutely. Asherel at the time was a three-piece, we didn’t have a bass player. It was an interesting experience with Adam because he would literally put us in the room, and we would just play through a song live. Which I had done before but he would keep almost all of it. He really wanted a good live performance before we moved onto anything else. And it made us tighter as a band and it made me realize that the energy on those recordings was much higher than just sitting around and doing it part by part. Not that we hadn’t done it before, but there was just this very raw, aggressive energy to it. Probably because, like you said, Seattle has such a big influence on musicians because of its atmosphere and attitude. So I would say it definitely taught me that the first step in getting a really live, energetic, aggressive feeling recording is to track it live. Adam was pretty instrumental in teaching me that that was important.
Taking inspiration from a book you had read, you chose the name Asherel. When it comes to songwriting, are you as influenced by literature as much as you are music?
Yeah. I like to write very personal songs and very impersonal songs, too. I think literature helps with that because number one, it gives me vocabulary to express myself in my songs that are more personal. And number two, it does inspire me with ideas to step out of my life and write songs about fictional characters, or other issues that aren’t necessarily relevant to my life but that I would like to write on, just to have my perspective on it.
There’s a book called Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson that’s just a collection of short stories, essentially, but they all happen in the same city. I take a lot of influence from that book just because it has a lot of different character traits and all the characters in these short stories…I’ve written a lot of songs based off of that book, actually. I like to have a narrative in my music, whether it’s a personal struggle or strain in my life or whether it’s a small arc of a character of some sort.
Chief Scout is the name of your new project. What inspired that name?
Honestly, it was a mix of desperation and a slight idea of something that I wanted (laughs). I had broken up Asherel and I had been playing and creating music on my own for about six to eight months. We knew that we wanted to release something and we had songs to release, but we didn’t have a name. I just wanted a title that gave off an air of a single person who was kind of a leader. And I liked the idea.
The whole thesis behind Chief Scout since the beginning, was for me to write the music and then bring together all these amazing musicians and friends that I have that are incredibly talented, and get their opinions and their input and their collaboration on it. So I’m kind of the Chief Scout, all these scouts around me…that was the basic idea. It wasn’t necessarily committed to that, it wasn’t necessarily like this has to be what it is, but I just wanted a name that gave off an air of me leading this big group of really talented people anytime I went on the road or went in the studio.
For Chief Scout you wrote and recorded with James from White Denim. What led to that collaboration?
Actually, the last tour that Asherel went on. We played a two-week run with White Denim and Maps and Atlases, and we were super excited for that. White Denim was definitely one of the bands that I had gotten into when I got into modern music, that really sparked something in me because they’re so weird and all over the place and they pretty much just do whatever they want. Going on tour with them was amazing and they were just the nicest people.
And James…we talked on the road about potentially collaborating at some point or me going out to Austin with him. So when I decided that I wanted to move on to Chief Scout and start Chief Scout up, the first thing I thought of was, “I should go to Austin and take James up on his offer.” And it worked out perfectly. Two months after I had decided that I wanted to do some Chief Scout stuff, I was in Austin working with James.
Has writing with other people changed your approach to songwriting or has it altered your style or habits in any way?
Well, when it comes to writing I’m generally writing almost a hundred percent of the material. With James it was more of an experiment of not co-writing, but almost co-producing. But it was still just as crucial to the songs as the writing process, I would say. Just because we were in the studio and I had these basic ideas for songs and we would record whatever I had.
Working with James, it was basically us sitting in a room, trying out anything that came to mind, whatever we wanted to do, just to get these songs to the level that each of us knew that we wanted them at. It was a great process of learning how to craft a song that’s appropriate and really brings out the best qualities of the song.
Chief Scout has a bigger, more aggressive sound than your previous work. Were those changes something you were conscious of during the recording process?
Yes, definitely. I think my biggest thing with starting Chief Scout and writing new material, was I wanted to take it further into the extremes than I had with Asherel. I wanted it to be even more aggressive and driving and fast. I wanted it to be both that and at the same time I wanted to be able to explore the quieter side and make very intimate recordings. I just wanted it to be a good balance of the two extremes rather than living in the middle of that dynamic. That was a very conscious decision on my part, so I’m glad it comes across more aggressive (laughs).
In the past, you’ve been frequently photographed playing Telecaster guitars. What did you use for the Chief Scout sessions?
With Chief Scout, I definitely had that Tele. Trying to remember now…I had that Tele, James brought in a few guitars that we used. He had an old, I guess it wasn’t old, but he had a nice Gibson ES-175 that I used. Actually for most of the tracks on one or two of the songs, I played through this $150 Sears guitar that I bought, and it just sounded so weird (laughs). It was so perfect, and it got this weird feedback. We used it on this one song, because we knew it was going to be loud and weird and thick sounding. So the Telecasters definitely in there and then it was just kind of a modge podge of either really nice or really shitty guitars (laughs).
What is it about the Telecaster that has you going back to it so much?
Number one, the Telecaster that I own I love to play. I bought that guitar three or four years ago. There were six or seven Telecasters made by the same guy in the shop- I played all of them and I fell in love with this one. So that guitar is kind of my baby, so I always have that. Probably the biggest reason the Telecaster is a thing for me is just because I grew up, you know, with my dad listening to Bruce Springsteen (laughs).
I was actually thinking that!
Yeah! So I have posters of Bruce leaning on Clarence with his Telecaster back then and I was just like “Oh man, that is fucking badass!” That will never go away as a rock and roll icon. That’s just my little tribute to that.
“Run Away From Home,” is the first release from Chief Scout. Was it difficult to decide on a single?
I wouldn’t say it was difficult but it changed pretty drastically over the course of having these songs and sitting around and listening to them. We had another song that we were debating on releasing first- it just has a very catchy hook. And then we had another song that was about a minute and a half long that we were debating whether or not to put out because it was just so quick and aggressive.
I’m really glad we landed on, “Run Away From Home.” To me that song is the biggest, anthemic…I want people to hear that song just because it’s so simple and yet it has some very interesting instrumentation and arrangement qualities to it that I like. But it’s still just a classic, bang-your-head and pump-your-fist and scream-the-chorus kind of song. Which I want Chief Scout to be more than anything else, is just a room full of people going crazy at all times. So I’m glad we stuck with that one.
CMJ will be your first appearance at the NY music festival, but it will also mark your first show as Chief Scout on the East coast. Does that feel like a milestone to you?
Oh, absolutely. I’m just so glad we’re getting out on the road and going to be able to get in front of people. I love touring up the East Coast, we’ve done it multiple times now with my friends, The Weeks, and with Asherel and with some other friends, Concord America in Atlanta…I’ve spent the passed couple years, I guess for the passed year and a half, just touring with friends mostly.
It’s so great just to get out and see new cities and play in front of people that you don’t know and have never been introduced to your music. So I’m super excited because I’ll be getting brand new reactions and will be able to see how our music mixes with different cities. Like we were saying Seattle has such a unique atmosphere? I think there are so many cities on the East Coast that we’ll be playing that have a specific atmosphere. New York I’m super excited to play, Philadelphia is another one. I love playing in Philly because the crowds are always fun, so I’m excited for that.
Is Chief Scout a project that you see yourself continuing far into the future?
I would hope so. Again, like I was saying, the thesis behind Chief Scout was me as the central songwriter, and then have people play and tour that I trust and that I think will bring the songs to life the best. So hopefully Chief Scout will be something that even if I’m touring with different people that I’m going to be touring with this time, or even if the next record is made with a full band as opposed to just me and James in the studio playing the instruments…hopefully Chief Scout the name will remain, and we’ll be able to develop and change and keep it interesting through that whole idea.
Article by: Caitlin Phillips