Digital discovery

Local solo artist Scout takes beats from bedroom to Big Room

Scout Parker makes experimental beats with rudimentary gear.

Scout Parker makes experimental beats with rudimentary gear.

Photo by Howard Hardee

Scout performs tonight, Dec. 7, 8 p.m., at the Naked Lounge with Sacramento’s Pregnant. Part of the Uncle Dad’s Art Collective’s Listen Up series.
Cost: $10
Naked Lounge
118 W. Second St.

A couple of years ago, Scout Parker scored a keyboard from a garage sale—it was free “because it was so shitty,” the 23-year-old recalled—and then started experimenting with the keyboard’s preset noises and a sampler.

“I would put a beat down and be like, ‘All right, that’s kind of cool, that’s capturing what I’m feeling,’ and then sing over it,” said Parker, who performs and records as Scout. “I just had some tunes in my head and pushed a couple of buttons.”

It was new territory for the young musician whose experience was based mostly in fingerpicking songs on banjo and acoustic guitar at charity events and parties around Chico, and recording a pair of gorgeous folk albums under the moniker Scout the Wise. At the time, Parker was in a toxic relationship and started feeling like acoustic music “wasn’t capturing the volume of what I was feeling. I was getting tired of everything sounding the same, sounding kind of cheesy.” The songwriter needed to mix things up.

At that point, Parker—who identifies as gender nonbinary—was making music purely for the sake of it and didn’t intend to release an album. And the digital-music newbie also knew very little about the technical side of music production.

“I don’t understand any of that stuff; I really don’t,” Parker said. “I don’t have almost any equipment, and I’ve never taken any [music] classes, which is awful because, if I did, my music would be so much more dope.”

Still, after a while, Parker had a solid collection of soulful, hip-hop-infused, electronic R&B tracks that felt more authentic than the singer-songwriter stuff.

“It was never supposed to be good, but people liked it,” Parker said. “I was showing my friends and they were like, ‘You’ve gotta put this out.’”

The result, 2015’s Nervous, is one of the most distinct releases from a Chico-based musician in recent memory. Across 13 tracks, Parker’s delicate voice delivers heart-wrenching lyrics through a haunting, lo-fi haze. On the achingly sad “History,” Parker sings: “You are my sweetheart/I only have eyes for you/You’re tearing me apart/With these things you do.”

With some coaxing from supporters in the local music community, the naturally shy Parker has been gradually stepping into the role of performer. In September, Parker played Nervous standout “Diff-erent-ly” with a full orchestra during Small Town Big Sound, the multiartist collaboration produced by Uncle Dad’s Art Collective at Sierra Nevada’s Big Room. It took a bit of liquid courage.

“I was drunk,” Parker admitted.

Parker’s about halfway through recording a new album (due out early next year), but is grappling with doubts about drawing from the same well of inspiration.

“When I wrote Nervous, I was not aware I was going to have to perform those songs,” Parker said. “After a performance, I wouldn’t feel good—it wasn’t fun, really, playing those sad songs. Now I feel like I should probably write songs that don’t make me feel awful, but I’m taking my time because I don’t want to fake it.”

Sonically, the idea is to keep it lo-fi. Higher production quality would be a “distraction from what I’m authentically feeling,” Parker said, adding that the shyness factor probably would be an impediment to working with an outside producer, anyway. But accessing some reliable gear is problematic; that free keyboard recently crapped out for good and Parker doesn’t own a computer.

However it gets done, Parker doesn’t want the new music to take the same melancholy tone as Nervous.

“It’s like, super-obnoxious to me when I listen to it now,” Parker said. “I was just whining a bunch. I’m like, ‘Shut up, Scout, you’re fine.’”