When Scotti Clifford wrote the song "Earth and Sky," he had the band's bass player, Juliana, on his mind. He was also thinking of sun dance, the traditional Indian ceremony that lasts for days and involves specific dances and songs passed down through generations.
"It's about how if the sky could sing a song to the earth, what would it sound like? What would he tell her?"
At least, that's the way Scotti's wife, the bass player, tells it. I didn't get the chance to speak with Scotti because he was participating in a sun dance, but Juliana Clifford took a few minutes away from the ceremony to talk. "All of our songs, the lyrical content, is about our culture," she said.
The duo married this past June, but has been playing together for nearly three years. Their influences include the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix. Juliana said she loves making music with her husband. "It's really soothing. As a couple, it's healthy, and we're really happy doing it."
Their band, Scatter Their Own, is the English translation of their tribe's name, "Oglala." The Oglala Lakota live on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, surrounded by the Badlands and the Black Hills.
"People from our tribe really embrace [the band's name] and are proud of us. We're taking the people -- our name -- around the country, and when we go to different tribes in different places, people know what we're talking about," Juliana said.
The band performs primarily for Native American youth. When they travel, their car becomes their home, supplemented by people's kindness on the road. "The people take good care of us. We really appreciate those relationships," Juliana said.
Scatter Their Own also has taken to the Internet. You can find them on Spotify, YouTube, iTunes, and most recently the fundraising site Indiegogo. They are hoping to raise $15,000 to produce a music video for the song "Taste the Time." Juliana's brother Willi White plans to rent video equipment to shoot and direct the video.
Pulling from alternative, blues, and rock influences, the song focuses on water pollution. The issue plays a major role on Pine Ridge, where cancer rates have skyrocketed due in large part to chemicals leaking into the water from uranium mining for nuclear power.
Juliana and Scotti wrote the song together. "We sat and thought about if people could really drink from the river. They can't because you might get sick, but our people used to go to the rivers around here," Juliana said.
The video concept comes from one of Juliana's dreams, as she explains on their fundraising page. In the dream, she approaches a table of people drinking what she thought was tea, but when they lifted their heads to smile at her, oil lined their lips.
The band chose to make the video to help gain exposure across social media. "Since we're so far out on the Reservation, kind of in the middle of nowhere, we can't just go downtown and play at a club and ask everyone to come and watch us. Music isn't supported like that here," she said.
However, she and Scotti are working to change that. When home from tours, they give guitar lessons at one of the reservation schools in the town of Porcupine. The children learn not only a musical skill, but see a potential path for their own futures.
"I love working with the kids. We wanted to give back to our community in that way since there wasn't music here for us," Juliana said, adding that local schools don't offer music classes.
Ideally, learning to make their own music will be therapeutic for the children. It may be a way to combat the incredibly high suicide rates among youth on the reservation -- four times the national average, according to the New York Times.
"Suicide is one of the biggest issues here," Juliana said. In the past year alone, three of her friends have taken their own lives. "I can't tell you why, but I've been around it my whole life and know people who have gone through with it."
As Scatter Their Own play concerts locally, give lessons at Porcupine Day School, and make the video, they help the community by way of demonstration. Life can be good, their actions say.
"I just want the youth to know that no matter how crazy of a dream it is, you can offer your art and beauty out there and come back and share it with your people," Juliana said.
Learn more about Scatter Their Own and help support by donating to the band's video fundraiser.