In a world where kids, divas, teens and tweens rule the sonic landscape, one might think that a nasally family man hailing from Portland, Ore., would have a tough run of it. But this is a trifle that Scott Garred, the supreme force behind Super XX Man (pronounced “super double-ex man”), never seems to think about.
In a world where kids, divas, teens and tweens rule the sonic landscape, one might think that a nasally family man hailing from Portland, Ore., would have a tough run of it. But this is a trifle that Scott Garred, the supreme force behind Super XX Man (pronounced “super double-ex man”), never seems to think about. If ever there were to be a father figure of the Portland music scene, it is Garred, and the 12 albums he has amassed in almost as many years show the quality of a truly timeless songwriter.
Garred’s tunes are small acoustic gems ruminating on themes that, while complex in nature, are presented with the knowing paternal simplicity of a man who recognizes that saying just what you intend is more profound than saying something convoluted.
However, this songwriting sense is one that does not develop without experience. And the experience that has touched Scott Garred’s heart and musical quill as of late has come from his day job, wherein he conducts musical therapy sessions with people whom the state has deemed “a danger to themselves and/or others.”
“From the people I work with at the hospital,” Garred says, “I have learned to cherish what I have and be very appreciative of my life. The most important thing I have learned, however, is to always strive to be authentic in everything I do. To be real with people is a great gift to give. I receive this gift everyday from the people I work with at the hospital.”
And the adage of art imitating life is never so evident as in Super XX Man’s songs.
Garred got his start in Austin, Texas, with the now defunct indie pop trio Silver Scooter. In the mid-’90s he started hammering out some lo-fi, four-track solo recordings—what would soon be the genesis of Super XX Man—and his first album aptly named Volume I.
“It was a 12-song cassette,” reflects Garred. “Each year I promised myself to do one a year. My average for that has obviously fallen off, but not by much. I’m proud of the output for sure!”
The onset of 2008 found Garred releasing the album Volume XII: There’ll be Diamonds, and with it a much more definite venture into the characters and personalities that he has come across in his work with musical therapy.
“It started when I began working in mental health back in 2003,” says Garred. “It fully bloomed for me with Volume XII. It was then that I started paying closer attention to the issues impacting the lives of people living at the state hospital level of care. Issues like losing capacity to fully function independently of the care of others, loss of family and friends, physical and mental disabilities, etc.”
The comparisons to John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats are inevitable, even down to the nasally, idiosyncratic lyrics of Super XX Man, but instead of the novels that Darnielle tries to fit into the span of a single song, Garred has more focus and empathy for the people that populate his simple narratives.
In the song “Crazy People,” Garred confesses: “Some people say I work with crazy people/ And I do/ It’s true/ I work with crazies who are more involved in life than some people I know.”
Garred has found his muse—at least for now—in these “crazy people” and the subject matter was never more appropriate for his simple acoustic arrangements and matter-of-fact lyrics. The plain guitars offset and humanize the mental turmoil of his characters, suggesting—like he says in the song—that these people are more involved in life than the “normal” people he knows.
Through his vast library of albums, little has changed for Garred by means of songwriting.
“I think I return to forms and styles that I’ve used throughout my career,” says Garred. “My life has changed so much in this time. I would hope my music has changed too. Time is funny though, because I hear myself say this now, but thinking about the recent Silver Scooter reunion a week ago [at South by Southwest] and, other than my vocal range, not much has changed.”
But for Garred this constant change is advantageous. His formula is tried and true and, more importantly, honest. One change is the addition of a backing band including Kelly Dachtler on bass, Bob Ham on drums, Ali Wesly on flute and vocals, Mike Johnson on guitar, melodica and vocals, and his wife, Michelle Garred, on accordion.
Garred brings the backing band into his world of constant attention and the question he asks generally of the world is “What Lies Beneath” (another track from Volume XII)?
“Paying close attention to the details of my life,” says Garred, “and how truly wonderful this world is has brought me this far as a musician and songwriter.”
With ample inspiration surrounding him, Garred is sure to travel much further in his songwriting. He has come out with a dozen albums, and one can’t help but wonder what will happen with the next dozen.