It’s about 2 p.m. on Friday, June 21, and Joe Scarborough’s voice is still a little hoarse. It’s coming along, but he figures it will take the weekend to return to normal. The MSNBC’s Morning Joe host stretched his vocal chords a bit more than usual the night before, holding a record release show for his debut EP Mystified (under the moniker Scarborough) at the Cutting Room. Morning show host by day, rock star by night? Close.
For those who know the broadcaster and former Republican congressman from Florida - really know him anyway, Scarborough releasing an album should come as no surprise. He’s been making music his whole life, and has an eclectic mix and knowledge of music. As a matter of fact, after speaking with him for about 30 minutes, you’d find he knows as much about rock as he does the political landscape. Our conversation covered everything from The Kinks to The National to Garbage. Anyway, those who simply know the Joe from his show or read his articles or perhaps troll him on Twitter, may be surprised to A) find out he plays and B) find out he’s actually quite good.
“Music is the most important thing to me whether I was in high school, college, law school, or on TV,” he explained. “Music was always there. It’s been the one constant in my life. I’ve always done it.”
Scarborough actually started writing music when he was 14, and would lock himself in his room after school or playing sports and listen to bands like The Beatles or The Rolling Stones on his headphones. Eventually, he started recording his own songs on a 4-track cassette. “It’s taking that and just making it public,” he said of the EP.
Making his music public is something he’s gradually been doing this year. Scarborough has played several shows on the Upper West Side, and recorded about 50 songs already including the tracks on his new EP. He’s not stopping there. Immediate plans to release an EP a month for the next four years. Four more years! Four more years! Everybody chanting, yet? Good. Read on below to find out about Scarborough: the musician AKA a Talking Head commenting on a world that has truly stopped making sense.
I guess the first logical question is ‘why now?’ when you’ve been playing for so long?
Well, it’s the worst rock-and-roll story ever. I turned 50, and I was like ‘man, I’ve been doing this my whole life, and if I die, my kids aren’t going to see what the most important part of my life was outside of my family: music and writing songs.’ It was now or never.
It’s pretty ambitious to release an EP a month. Are the songs in the can?
We have 50. We went on an absolute complete tear.
It must be therapeutic to make music as opposed to talking politics all the time....
Absolutely. Music has always been a great escape…
Do you find your music gets political at all - even if it’s on a subconscious level? I know your music video is very politically-fueled.
I’ve never been a big fan of mixing politics and music. I did stumble upon it though with “Mystified” when I listened to it. A line “tell your Russian girlfriend…” came out that can be tied to the Trump world culture. That’s what turned the music video into what it is [now]. We just amped it up.
I’d imagine you can’t help for some political messages to get through. That said, I’d figure when you’re outside the studio, it’s the last thing you want to talk about. For example, I’m sure people come up to you all the time and ask you about Trump when, in reality, you probably just want to talk about music or how shitty you think Transformers is.
[Laughs] Right! People will come up to me while I’m out and ask questions about Trump and congress and I get that. But, we don't talk politics around house.
What about a return to politics for you? Is serving in office totally in your rear view? Throughout the years, there have been rumblings people have wanted you to run.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have so many misgivings about my own party and it’s not just because Donald Trump has done all the stuff he has done over the past six months or so. There are not a lot of Republicans speaking out [against] him. He’s called the media the enemy of the people. This is a Stalinist term. [John] McCain has been a stalwart in speaking out, but my party hasn’t spoken out as much as they should. Not [with what he’s said] about NATO, Germany - one of our closest allies since the end of WWII, Australians, or when he fired James Comey or health care...
Before I ever considered running again, I’d have to consider where my home would be. I’m not at home with my party’s ideology.
Jumping back to music, because this is all so depressing. Who inspired you early on and who are you currently listening to? Who helps you escape all that’s going on.
Like everyone, The Beatles had a huge influence on me. The Rolling Stones. The Who. The Kinks. As I got older, Elvis Costello, REM, and U2 when they were a new band [served as] music inspirations. Over the past five-ten years, I’ve loved indie pop bands like Stars out of Montreal, and the New Pornographers. They've got just sensibility - moments of absolute pure pop magic there. Each indie playlist now sounds like The War on Drugs, which is fine. About five years ago, it was more varied when Brooklyn was first exploding with Grizzly Bear and The National. It’s a littler harder now to find a great variety of bands.
Lastly, if you were to write your autobiography five, ten, 30 years from now, who would you want to write the foreword and why?*
Paul McCartney, and he could say I didn't completely suck as a songwriter.
About A-Sides with Jon Chattman - thisisasides.com
Jon Chattman’s music/entertainment series typically features celebrities and artists (established or not) from all genres performing a track, and discussing what it means to them. This informal series focuses on the artist making art in a low-threatening, extremely informal (sometime humorous) way. No bells, no whistles — just the music performed in a random, low-key setting followed by an unrehearsed chat. In an industry where everything often gets overblown and over manufactured, Jon strives for a refreshing change. Artists featured on the series include Imagine Dragons, Melissa Etheridge, Yoko Ono, Elle King, Joe Perry, Alice Cooper, fun, Bleachers, Charli XCX, Marina and the Diamonds, and Bastille.
*Jon Chattman’s currently working on a new book entitled Moving Foreword, a pop culture anthology with talent lending forewords to books they make up.