October 28, 2010

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Full Volume
At long last, Scalawag releases second disc
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

The four members of Scalawag have been on the Manchester music scene for going on 20 years, but guitar player and songwriter Peter Gustafson says he’s always looking forward. Rather than surrender to the cover band grind, he continues write new songs, and follows the muse wherever it takes him.

“I want to hear ‘Sweet Home Alabama,’ but I want to be in a little bar in Georgia, and I want Lynyrd Skynyrd to be playing it, and I want it to be 1978,” he says with a laugh. “I’m down for that.”

His favorite situation is when he gets a call from a band mate telling him about a song he’s written or a jam session invitation.

“You know, those spontaneous moments where there’s something new happening, I love the idea of that,” he said by telephone recently. “That kind of excitement of having something brand new that no one’s ever heard before.”

This weekend the band celebrates a new album of original material with release shows at the Shaskeen and Wild Rover. Gustafson describes Penny Arcade as “a group effort, with strong harmonies. It’s guitar-based rock. We’re from the Northeast, call it what you will — we’re a rock band.”

With strains of Springsteen, Stones, the Band and CCR, Scalawag succeeds in brewing up a terrific Americana stew.

“It’s all right to dance all night,” sings Gustafson on “Lost Comet,” a song that’s representative of the record’s rollicking spirit. Songwriting duties for Penny Arcade were split between Gustafson and guitarist Liam Spain, with two tracks written by drummer Jeff Bauman. “We all participate,” said Gustafson. “The creative process for Scalawag is four bases, everyone has their input. It’s fun.”

It took the band three years to complete the record, their second effort.

“I guess you could say we’ve taken our time putting out material,” Gustafson said. Everything was done in studios at Gustafson and Spain’s houses. “Between the two locations we got everything done. Our significant others were nice enough to let us do it at home.”

Scalawag’s first record, Wheels On Steel (2006), was done in a studio, on the clock. The new record unfolded much more leisurely, something they greatly enjoyed. “We like to play songs and do gigs, but recording an album is a whole other process. As artists, we enjoy that,” Gustafson said. “It was nice to be able to do it at our own pace.”

Gustafson also plays bass with the Christa Renee Band, a roots reggae trio getting ready to record an EP in the coming months. The two groups will share the stage at Shaskeen on Saturday, Nov. 6.

“The bands are a little bit different, but the idea is the same. The main thing is they’re original projects,” he said. “There’s always talk around Manchester, ‘how’s the original music scene?’ To me it’s kind of been the same over the years. If you want to do it, you can go do it. If you can do it well and believe in it, you’ll do fine. It’s very important to have an original music scene.”

The opportunities are everywhere, Gustafson said: “Sometimes they happen at open mikes where you sit down and play with some people you’ve never met before, that can be exciting too. And there’s certainly plenty of that going on, there’s plenty of jams to go play at. There are all kinds of avenues for musicians in Manchester and New England. There’s all kinds of people playing music, and that’s a good thing.”

Expect a rowdier crowd for the Halloween weekend shows, said Gustafson. Seacoast alt country band Whiskey Kill will open Friday night at Shaskeen, while Saturday at the Wild Rover, a favorite Scalawag haunt, there’s a costume party. “Anything can happen with that crowd,” he said.

They’ll be giving away some copies of Penny Arcade. To anyone who might win, Gustafson offers this advice: “Play the songs really loud when you listen to them, crank it up — in the car, the house, wherever. They’re meant to be enjoyed at full volume.”


Scalawag CD release party
• Friday, Oct. 29, at 9 p.m. at the Shaskeen, 909 Elm St. in Manchester
• Saturday, Oct. 30, at 9 p.m. at the Wild Rover Pub, 21 Kosciuszko St. in Manchester.
Info: www.theshaskeen.com and www.wildroverpub.com