By S. Pulse
Perched on a high limb and ready to fly, the band Jason Scott & the High Heat’s 2022 album “Castle Rock” has received some nice traction in the form of reviews, streaming, and radio airplay. Led by the strong vocals of band leader Jason Scott, these purveyors of southern-roots rock produce infectious hooks that make you want to sing along.
We caught up with the Oklahoma-based band after their set at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion. Vocalist Jason Scott, guitarist Gabriel Mor, and bassist Ryan Magnani spoke to Austin 101 about making music, the influence of Jason’s unique upbringing, and the band’s forthcoming album. Other band members include Taylor Johnson on guitar and keyboards, Garrison Brown on keyboards, and Alberto Roubert on drums. Give their popular track “Quittin’ Time” a listen and you will understand why they’re receiving some well-deserved attention.
Austin 101: Your 2022 album “Castle Rock” was well received. Currently, you are gearing up to release a new album. Can you tell us a little bit about the new album and what changes listeners can expect?
Jason Scott: The new album is titled “American Grin”. We actually played five songs from the upcoming album today (at Luck Reunion). I think it has a lot of the same vibes from “Castle Rock”, just updated a little more. We are all getting better at what we do and we were intentional about trying to make our (new) songs more crowd friendly; something the audience could get into and maybe sing-along to right out the gate.
Ryan Magnani: Well, the first record we were trying to find who we were as a band. Jason had these songs and we kind of came together for the record “Castle Rock”. I feel like on the new record (“American Grin”), we knew what we wanted to sound like and who we are a little more as a band.
Gabriel Mor: And Taylor (Johnson), our guitar player, he’s a big part of this (new) sound and he’s an incredible producer and he spends most of this time in that dark cave he calls a studio.
Austin 101: Speaking of studios, I understand that a large portion of the tracks for “Castle Rock” were laid down in Jason’s backyard shed. Is that accurate?
Jason Scott: Yeah, I have a shed in the backyard where we started all of “Castle Rock”. We were adding band members. As we progressed, Taylor came into the band. He had us recut a lot of stuff, like drums, that would have been awful in my little shed. We recut a lot of stuff. And I did a lot of vocals, and stuff like that in my cousin’s bedroom in Colorado.
Austin 101: And how did production change for the new album “American Grin”?
Jason Scott: I mean, I have two kids and I work from home, so I still lay down some vocal tracks in my shed and send them to Taylor but, the entirety of the new album was laid down at Lunar Manor and at Sonic Ranch outside of El Paso.
Austin 101: Oh, Sonic Ranch, the amazing studios right on the border?
Jason Scott: Yeah, literally right on the border, right by the wall. It is an incredible place.
Austin 101: How has having a producer (Taylor Johnson) as a band member impacted the band?
Ryan Magnani: Yes. He works with a lot of bands but having him as a producer is a game changer. Having a built-in producer in the band and a studio that we can access at any time changed things.
Austin 101: So, by having Taylor in the band, has he helped accelerate your learning curve?
Ryan Magnani: Yes. Honestly, he makes that process go a lot quicker and he’s got a really good ear for music. He gives it (the process) a little bit of a left turn to give our music a more viable pop sensibility. He works in hooks, goes for 2 ½ minute songs, and makes it catchier. He’s making that structure more palatable for a wider audience.
Austin 101: What song from “Castle Rock”, do you think can be thought of as the beacon of light that led you on the path to the next album? Is there a song that you feel could bridge the gap between “Castle Rock” and “American Grin”?
Ryan Magnani: I would think “Quittin’ Time”. It is the most radio friendly, sing-along one. I think that our next album is a little bit bigger and grandiose with almost like an anthem feel. I think “Quittin’ Time” is the closest to that. You can see people clapping along and singing to its chorus. To me, that kind of bridges the gap.
Jason Scott: And you know “Quittin’ Time” was the newest song, so the last song I wrote on “Castle Rock”.
Austin 101: So, wasn’t there a break in the recording process for “Castle Rock” due to the pandemic?
Jason Scott: Yeah, totally. Well, even before I had this band. Like “Sleeping Easy” is from before this band even got together. But “Quittin’ Time” was one that I wrote very quickly, and it was also the most heavily influenced by Taylor.
Ryan Magnani: And that song has more of the imprint of this band on it. We started understanding our sound better.
Austin 101: Jason, tell me a bit about your church background. You were a pastor-in-training in the Pentecostal Church. Although you have since left the church, do you think that experience influenced your desire to make music where audience members join in?
Jason Scott: Absolutely. I mean I came from congregational music and it’s the same idea. We’re trying to touch people with music and that can have a crowd sing-along. There’s no better feeling than that – either as an audience member or on the stage (as an artist). It’s a magical moment.
Austin 101: The Followill family members from Kings of Leon had a similar Pentecostal Church background that is detailed in the documentary “Talihina Sky”. Have you seen the film?
Jason Scott: Yes. I’ve seen it. In fact, I actually went to a lot of the same church camps as them (the Followills) and met them.
Austin 101: That’s amazing. In the documentary, they (the Followills) talk about how growing up on the revival circuit gave them exposure to life on the road, touring and performing in front of crowds. Would you agree?
Jason Scott: Absolutely. Totally. I was 4 or 5 (years old), singing on the stage at church. I mean I’ve been doing that the majority of my life and I’m very thankful for that church background and I know that those boys are too.
Austin 101: I also hear that Jason’s church upbringing gave him a kind of isolation from secular music and that y’all are constantly playing songs for him that most people know, but that are new to him. Tell me about that.
Ryan Magnani: We kind of take for granted our access to just, regular music. In the studio, Taylor would send him ideas and say, “Hey, maybe it should sound like this Led Zeppelin song?” And he’d (Jason Scott) would be like, “what song?”.
Austin 101: Don’t you think that lack of familiarity may fuel your originality to a certain extent, like you are looking at all this stuff with brand new eyes?
Jason Scott: I would think so. I mean, this guy right here (points to Taylor, who has joined the conversation) has sent me more music and influenced me incredibly.
Austin 101: Nice to meet you Taylor. We were just talking about how y’all have had to give him a ramped up musical education after having lived in the bubble of non-secular music. So, Jason, what one song did you hear from the guys, that most people already know, that blew your mind?
Jason Scott: Well, Led Zeppelin. I don’t know if there is one song. That’s too hard to answer. Even the Beatles I mean I’ve heard the Beatles, but never really listened to their songs. I mean exposure to all these guys has definitely influenced my songwriting for sure.
Ryan Magnani: I saw him Shazam “Stairway to Heaven” the other day.
Jason Scott: You did not.
Gabriel Mor: No, no. I remember vividly, when we were working on the record and someone brought up Fleetwood Mac and you said, “What is Fleetwood Mac?” Which is insane.
Jason Scott: For the record, it was a joke, but there was a particular Fleetwood Mac song that I hadn’t heard.
Gabriel Mor: I remember that you didn’t know what Rugrats was either.
Austin 101: I think we should forgive that. That may not be a bad thing.
Ryan Magnani: Also, it’s kind of cool because he comes in without being too influenced by something. I mean you’re not going to be a rip-off of someone else and now he can absorb the normal influences that we had growing up. I think it’s worked out well.
Austin 101: It makes me think of an old Prince interview where he talked about how he is really careful about what films and television he watches as it all serves to nourish his brain. So, here you have this nice pure slate to start from.
Ryan Magnani: Yeah, exactly. I know a lot of bands who do that going into the recording process. He just did it his whole life.
Austin 101: I heard a rumor that you opened for“Band of Heathens”? Any plans to tour with them?
Jason Scott: No. We just played a show with them last year. We also stole their veggie tray and drank a bottle of their tequila.
Gabriel Mor: Yeah, we owe them veggies and tequila. We were told it was ours.
Jason Scott: We were sharing a green room, so we helped ourselves.
Austin 101: That’s funny. Tell me more about touring. You’ve all held full time jobs outside of music. Jason, I know you worked a desk job for six years. So, how does making music, performing, and touring compare?
Jason Scott: Well, I’m fucking broke. This is definitely a step down, monetarily.
Austin 101: Thus, the stolen vegetable tray?
Jason Scott: Yes! We had to eat. But who cares about money really, because this is what I’m supposed to be doing.
Austin 101: We are also glad you are doing it. Thanks guys and good luck.