Scott Merritt Emerges From The Cottage

by Bill Monahan (photo courtesy of Randy Sutherland)

If you are someone who recognizes the name Scott Merritt as a songwriter of promise from the 1980’s who toured with Jane Siberry and recorded with Daniel Lanois, then it’s as if you’ve been let in on a special secret.

Despite releasing only three albums in the past twenty-five years, Scott Merritt is still considered one of Canada’s best and most underappreciated singer-songwriters.

After some commercial airplay of his early songs, he was signed to Duke Street in Canada and IRS Records internationally.  Unfortunately both labels folded not long afterward.   A legal mess with IRS prevented him from recording for several years but he wasn’t entirely frustrated with the situation.  He hadn’t been particularly comfortable being marketed as a commodity.

“Yeah, my hands were tied, but I wasn’t in much of a mood to raise a stink to be honest,” he explained to Innerviews, “I had become SCOTT MERRITT in capital letters and it didn’t feel real anymore. There was a toxic feeling to it at an artistic level. So, I.R.S. had me in a position, but I wasn’t in any position to record anyway. I didn’t want to go back into that factory. I had really got to a place where it wasn’t fun and I had to promise to myself — something most of us do, but never keep — when it’s not fun to do, do something else for a while. So, at the time, the idea of a career wasn’t very attractive. I lost my taste for it.”

Since those early days, when promising record deals bloomed and withered with the vagaries of the business, Scott Merritt has spent most of his time working as a producer in his Guelph studio that he calls The Cottage.  Artists like Suzie Vinnick, Stephen Fearing, and others have made their pilgrimage to The Cottage for his producing services.

While he has released relatively few records in his career what they have in common is that every one has been greeted by effusive critical praise for an artist whose music and lyrics both come from a unique and moving place.

When he was young and riding high, Scott Merritt had a reputation and something of a guitar and effects wizard which stood alongside his reputation for evocative and poetic lyrics.  He never thought of himself as a commercial artist.  It took him by surprise when his second independent album “Serious Interference” in 1981 ended up on some commercial radio playlists and labels came calling.  The tours and awards were short-lived and strangely unsatisfying.

Since then there have been only six albums, but each has garnered critical acclaim and a cohort of dedicated fans who will always count the work of Scott Merritt in their top five.

Since the 2015 release of “Of” his sound has been stripped down.  His quarter of a century in the studio shows through in the way he manages every tiny nuance.  His appreciation of the quality of sound leads him to set aside guitar and lean primarily on a ukulele, not strummed but picked like a harp.  The album is filled out with sound sculpting by Jeff Bird’s double bass and Andy Magoffin’s baritone horn.

Scott Merritt is unrelentingly experimental but his experimentation is not just for its own sake.  He reaches out for new ways to reach you.  The result is always unexpected, imaginative and atmospheric.

As the Georgia Strait put it, “listening to Merritt is like hearing something you’ve never quite heard but have always known. On the surface the musical structures, sounds and vocal phrasing are accessible enough, but closer listening reveals surprisingly potent, disturbing and pleasant layers of musical and lyrical complexities.”

“The main thing for me is to always be truthful and believable,” he said in the same interview with Innerviews, “The two things often have a blurry line between them when you’re writing. Most of my songs relating to that stuff are not from the first person, but only from the fear of the first person — being afraid to be that person. They were very much related to close friends doing that dirty fight”.

Scott Merritt sightings are rare enough that it is a special opportunity for anyone within driving distance of Flesherton to find him playing live this Saturday night at The Bicycle Café, a venue owned by music lovers and renowned for its eclectic menu.

The show starts at 9 pm, tickets are just $10 at the door.

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