Toto, I Have A Feeling We're Not In Kansas Anymore: An Interview With LA-based Scores

A life-affirming trip taking in the sights and sounds of Europe fuelled Kansas performers Scores to blossom and bake sweet music together at last. Comprising of brothers Austin and Alexander Ward and pal CJ Calhoun, the trio confirms their home turf strides alone compared to the dizzy heights of NYC or LA but thrives in its idiosyncratic way. "The town (Lawrence, Kansas) that we all met and became friends in is a college town, so the most prevalent genre kind evolves." CJ commences on my quest to learn more.

"Folk-rock and garage rock have always been mainstays though. Kansas City is larger and nearby and has a ton of different types of music and art to offer as well." Alex chips in, "I can’t imagine a lot of bands or musicians in the UK think of Kansas as being a hot spot to play."

"It’s in the precise middle of the United States and so far away from the places like New York City or Los Angeles that international bands would typically tour through. But it does have a thriving music scene. As CJ said, Lawrence, KS is kind-of an indie-rock mecca in the Midwest United States." he proudly claims it as their hometown, even though the lads are currently scattered all over the country.

As a European myself, I am eager to know more about their trip to our shores and what was gained from a new, far-away culture. Alex paves the way. "The three of us have been longtime friends and had always talked about creating music together, but the timing just never worked out. The Europe trip was inspiring for a couple of reasons: mostly, it reminded us why we’re all friends to begin with and how fun it would be to finally create music together."

Not wanting the excursion to end, Scores transpired into an excuse to keep hanging out, prolonging the bond. “The trip also gave us the inspiration to write songs that were musically and lyrically different from anything we had done before- music directly inspired by a shared experience the three of us had."

A stimulated memory arises from Austin: "One night in Berlin particularly impacted the sound that Scores ultimately became. We wanted to do the city right by hitting up a late night club and what we walked away with, aside from some killer hangovers and some new permanent face wrinkles, was a new appreciation for dance and techno music." Those encountered feelings were locked in a safe place in their heads for further use. "Talk Flood is a good example of that by pushing the low bass synth higher in the mix than we usually would."

The keen terzet has played in various indie-rock or alternative bands over the years. Those projects frequently incorporated some electronic flourishes, whether it was synthesizers or programmed drum loops. Alex advances, "But this is the first time we embraced a project that allowed for some songs to be written with a more electronic feel at the forefront. When we were in Europe, we stumbled into a few dance clubs that really turned us onto the idea of trying to combine the hypnotic rhythmic drum loops and arpeggiated synthesizers of electronic music with our more natural tendency to play scrappy rock & roll."

Track Talk Flood has a smattering of Foals, Pottery, Justice and, of course, Talking Heads: a gratifying hybrid of rock and electro. Intensely industrial, funky with varying shades and natural to dance to. I ask for the band's take on proceedings. "First, thanks for the kind comparisons. Talking Heads? Hell yeah, we’ll take it. And I just checked out Pottery for the first time, and because of you, I may have just found my new favourite band. Thank you. The only sort of limitation we set for ourselves is that any songs we wrote as Scores had to have a danceable rhythm," Alex claims.

"CJ’s lyrics are somewhat self-explanatory on Talk Flood. They’re observational, passive, but the music provides the urgency and anger that we’re feeling. The lyrics touch on gun violence and allude to systemic racism but are specifically about the militarization of the police, which seems to be something of a uniquely American problem. And unfortunately, the lyrics continue to become more relevant every day."

We move on to the concept of the glitched, distorted video, primarily in a rich red. Austin states with pride, "The video was actually created by the band and directed by me. Lyrically the song is pretty heavy and has an urgency to it, so when I was playing with a colour palette for the video, the sharp contrast and intensity of the red screen with dark shadowy faces and hands helped push that urgency forward."

Wanting the visuals to seem suffocating and nauseating at times, the viewer leaves a trifle uncomfortable and unsettled. "Even though the music is upbeat, dancy and fun, the video reminds the listener of the lyrical content and the weight of the story it's telling. The mysterious face throughout the video is trying to escape the situation they are in but is always put back in place by the hands."

I wonder if the Lawrance lads have visited Newcastle upon Tyne during their trek of discovery. Alex confesses that although they have not toured the UK with Scores yet, Austin and he did with their other band Hembree. "We played Newcastle at Think Tank in 2018. Holy smokes, you’ve got yourself a party city!!! I remember a great time and some of the best savoury pies I’ve ever had at a place called Redhouse, and we treated ourselves to a nice dinner at Rani Restaurant. We also had beer at The Strawberry, which was a little rowdy! And for some reason, we drove our tour van out of the way to see the Angel of the North." Ah I'm chuffed! Wow!

So, with the band making the most of my end, I ask where I should frequent whenever I stop off in the neighbourhood to end our bubbly chat; Austin votes for Lawrence KS. "As we mentioned earlier, being a college town, it’s one of the few cities in Kansas with a more diverse population and art scene. I’d like to say that Kansas isn’t just cornfields and cows like the movies make it out to be, but a lot of the state is that. Lawrence is definitely the must-see city in Kansas for good music, bars, food and really nice people."

"Well, coming from the UK, you might appreciate Truckhenge. It’s the Kansas version of Stonehenge, and it’s pretty indicative of Kansas behaviour. Some guy was told by the city government to pick up a bunch of broken, rusty trucks from his property, so he literally picked them up, flipped them vertically, and created a trashy Stonehenge using trucks. Come on over and visit!" Thank you, Alex; I will hold you to it.

Article by Beverley Knight