An Interview With Vân Scott On Dealing With Covid-19, His Newest Music and More!
Get to know the singer-songwriter, Vân Scott! He wrote his latest track, “Poster Boy,” as a confessional song about his experience overseeing music at his church where he was often revered; a lofty position he’s never been comfortable being in.
“People tend to put you on a pedestal when you hold that kind of position,” Scott explains. “I was constantly treated like I could do no wrong, and that’s a dangerous place to be. I felt like I had to play a role and hide my flaws, and so it was hard to be myself. ‘Poster Boy’ calls out that unhealthy expectation of perfection, whether self-imposed or brought on by others. It’s meant to give the listener permission to be human, since mistakes are inevitable for us all.”
Many people around the world don’t know it, but they’ve already heard indie-pop songwriter Scott Oatley aka Vân Scott’s voice. As a sought-after singer in the Hollywood session scene, Oatley has had the chance to perform on some of the industry’s biggest, high-profile projects beginning in 2008 when he was asked to sing on Disney’s High School Musical 3 soundtrack. Since then, he’s had the opportunity to sing for renowned film composers like Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino, influential music producers such as Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Mike Elizondo, sung on blockbuster scores for La La Land, Mulan, Jurassic World, and Sing, been a featured singer on ABC’s Black-ish, and has performed as a background vocalist for The Voice, to name just a few of his credits.
But now, Scott has been gaining momentous recognition as the solo artist, Vân Scott, and is poised to break out on a larger scale with his latest single “Poster Boy” (Honorable Mention winner of the USA Songwriting Competition). The song follows the overwhelming response of two recent releases, “Die Young” (over 72,000 views on YouTube), released in November 2019, and “Tough Love” (almost 130,000 views on YouTube), released in September 2019. His songs have over one million plays and just under 50,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. Oatley has also seen success as a member of the alt-pop duo, Lord & Lady. His arrangement of the group’s “La La Land Medley” exploded on YouTube, amassing almost 5.5 million views, and the song was heard on the global stage at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games during the Russian pairs free skate.
Sincere and true to himself, Vân Scott’s journey has only just begun. With three singles under his belt and a debut EP on the horizon, he hopes that his music encourages others to embrace who they are, and to be their best self. “I want people to feel less alone, and to be reminded that there are plenty of other people out there that share their same worries and fears. I want them to feel better understood and have a stronger sense of belonging. I want them to have hope and to be inspired to be the best version of themselves. I think that people will discover this through my own vulnerability, and I hope that they’ll be able to see and discover more of themselves within my songs.”
Connect With Vân Scott Online Here:
Learn more about Vân Scott in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today, Van. So how are you keeping busy and musical these days during this crazy Covid-19 pandemic? How are you staying connected to your fans?
I actually spent most of last week recording and filming a parody video with my family about being in quarantine. [laughing] That was a fun way to keep us all occupied. I reworked the lyrics of The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to talk about how much we wish it were summer already! It was also a great exercise for me (while I’ve had some extra time) to take a deep dive into production, pick apart all of those classic harmonies, and then recreate the track.
It’s definitely been a crazy time, but like a lot of artists out there I’m still posting content and keeping conversations going with fans on my larger platforms, like YouTube and Instagram. I was already geared up my new single release, so thankfully I have a good amount of quality content stocked up to share right now!
What kind of music do you think is going to come out of these crazy times? Are you working on anything new right now?
My hope is that this isolation is affording people the opportunity to reflect, get in better touch with themselves, and even re-sort their priorities. I feel like, with so many artists being left alone to themselves for so long, there could be a refreshing wave of honest, meaningful, even existential songs talking about and contemplating the things that matter most in life. I know for me, before all this, I was so locked into my day-to-day hustle that I wasn’t really taking time to look up or ask myself what I’m doing it for. Now that things have slowed down a bit, I’m trying to do a better job at appreciating these moments with my family and being grateful.
As far as what I’m working on right now, I’ve been collaborating remotely with some songwriter/producer friends of mine: writing and recording from my home studio. I actually can’t believe I can say this, but I’m actually working on a track right now with Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins for the new EP! That’s been such a surreal dream. I just mentioned how I’m trying to develop my own production chops… Well, I basically get a private master class on production every time I’m with Rodney!
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be a musician? What do you think motivates you day in and day out? How has that changed over the years?
Hmm… Growing up, I guess that I was singled out fairly consistently for my musicianship… The lead in school musicals, first chair saxophone in band, things like that. But one moment that really stands out to me was when I was in college at Cal State, Northridge. One of my jazz professors, Gary Pratt, gave us regular composition assignments, and I’ll never forget the day he told me that I have a “knack for melody.” It’s funny, but I spent years wanting to “be a songwriter,” but it wasn’t until I heard someone say that to me that I really allowed myself to believe I was one!
Honestly, my faith is the basis of my motivation day in and day out. I’ve been through some real rough patches, but I believe God is always good and loving. He’s the one thing for me that hasn’t changed over the years. I also love being able to encourage listeners. It’s amazing that I get to connect with people in sharing my struggles, but also in helping remind them that there’s always hope, always love, and they’re never alone in life.
Why did you decide to do something other than Scott Oatley now?
I first started releasing music as Scott Oatley back in 2012. But my focus was torn for a number of years because of another project I had going with my duo, Lord & Lady. The last single I released under the name Scott Oatley was back in 2013!
By the time I started getting the itch to do my own thing again, I felt like I wasn’t the same person that started out. So, personally, a rebrand seemed fitting and appropriate; almost necessary. That, and I would always have to spell out “Oatley” to everyone who thought my name was “Oakley.” [laughing]
There’s a lot less room for confusion with a name like “Vân Scott.” The “Van,” by the way, I borrowed from my grandma’s maiden name, Van der Zwaag. She’s one hundred percent Dutch, and proud of it! And yes, that’s an awesome name, but again, hard to spell and maybe a little too pretentious-sounding. The little arrow above the “A” was my sister’s suggestion to keep things interesting. [laughing]
It also seems like a rite of passage for me to create my own artist moniker, following the lead of some of my favorite artists, like Elton John, David Bowie, and Freddie Mercury.
How do you think your hometown has influenced the kind of music that you make? If not, why is that?
I spent the better part of the last 15 years living in a more conservative suburb in Southern California. I think that’s obviously juxtaposed with the rest of the greater Los Angeles area, which is very liberal. But I’m the kind of guy that can live in both worlds, and I think my music lives in that tension too; between the bare human struggle and my spiritual strength.
The sunny California weather probably helps contribute to my positivity too! [smiling]
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Was your family and friends supportive of this career choice? If you weren’t a musician today, could you see yourself doing anything else?
I’ve always gravitated towards music. My family had an upright piano in our house, and I would find myself there all the time, just composing my own melodies, playing by ear. I was also a weird kid… There was a time when I would only listen to instrumental music, particularly bagpipe music! In fact, I learned to play bagpipes while I was in middle school actually. I think it came naturally as a saxophonist. But I digress.
I was always immersing myself in it. I just loved it!
My family has been so incredibly supportive of my career choice. Of course, like many parents in this stereotypical scenario, my dad always wanted me to have a back-up plan. But he’s also a pilot who passed up opportunities for promotion in the military because he didn’t want to give up flying. Once he realized that my passion for music making was just like his desire to fly, he understood that I had to do my thing.
My friends have been super supportive too. In fact, many of them were the ones that suggested I go solo again!
If I weren’t a musician, I’d be a professional tennis player – hands down! I don’t have the physique that would make you guess that about me, but trust me. That’s what I’d be doing.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? What has been the best part?
I think just looking around and realizing that I’m doing it! I’m not Ed Sheeran, but I’m making a living doing what I love. I sometimes forget that as a singer, I’ve been on some sessions that musicians only dream of. I mean I’ve literally gotten to do things that I used to dream of! It would definitely be good for me to reflect on that fact more often.
The welcome challenge to it all has been to embrace who I am as an artist. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last couple years since I left my full-time job to focus on my music. I really had to dig deep to start articulating more of my thoughts and solidify my points of view. It took time, and it was hard, but I feel like I’m becoming more and more myself – probably because I’m finding out more and more who I am in the process.
That’s probably the best part too. Ultimately, I think the vulnerability in my music creates more and more points of connection to my listeners. It brings us together, and I love the fact that I’m able to unite with other people through our shared experience. It’s humbling and awesome.
Let’s talk about your brand new single, “Poster Boy” which was released TODAY via AWAL/Oat Brand Music. What was the inspiration for this track? How would you say that it compares to the rest of your music? And how does it prepare listeners for your forthcoming debut EP?
“Poster Boy” basically wrote itself once I had the title. And that’s because it finally allowed me to tell a story that had been nagging at me for a while.
I was a full-time worship leader at a church up until a couple years ago. And while I was in that position, I often felt like those around me put me on a pedestal. I was treated like the “poster boy” for the church, who could do no wrong. And because of that, I found it hard to fully be myself. I felt these constant, imposing social pressures (whether real or imagined) to be perfect or to have the appearance of being perfect.
I have to admit that I enjoyed it sometimes because it made me feel important or special. But I think it only served to further isolate me from more genuine connection to others, and silently built into my own vanity. The truth is every saint is still a sinner. And so this song is my reminder to everyone (and, I guess, to myself too) that I’m still a human who needs to the freedom to make my own mistakes.
“Poster Boy” continues with the painfully honest and personal themes of my first two singles, “Tough Love” and “Die Young.” But musically, I think I’m starting to broaden the soundscapes a little bit. Part of that is because I worked with two new producers on this track, Jesse Carmichael and Andy Davis. When I first sent the demo to Jesse, I think he was even more enthusiastic about it than I was! He thought it had a playful, “throwbacky” “Queen-ness” to it that made it really great and catchy. I guess that you only have to flatter me to get me to work with you. [laughing] But really, it’s important to me that my collaborators are as enthused about the song as I am because I believe that that will directly translate to the heart of the record.
In terms of preparing people for the upcoming EP, I think “Poster Boy” shows that there’s room for me to play around within my genre, and to try out some new things. The record has a slight Beach Boys, surf rock vibe to it that’s very different from my first couple singles, which were more straight-ahead pop. I think listeners can expect more of that adventurous spirit in my sonic choices for the EP, while still having my vocals maintain a familiarity and sense of cohesion through it all.
Speaking of your debut EP, what was it like putting it together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process and once you got into the studio?
Well, actually, my original plan was to release a new single every six to eight weeks for an entire year! But by the time I got to single number two last year that just didn’t seem sustainable. It was going to be way too expensive and time-consuming to give 10 songs that much individual attention! So I started thinking about how else I was going to share new music…
I didn’t have all the songs written for an EP yet. But after a few more months, when I took a step back, I realized that a number of my top song prospects had a cohesive, “soul-searching,” “I don’t know what I’m doing” theme to them.
All the songs seemed to sum up this season of my life where I had left my church to pursue music, questioning my own motives, and wondering if I was doing the right thing. So I guess that surprised me. Well, that, and the fact that I’m wrapping up a song with Darkchild right now! That certainly wasn’t on the original agenda, and I couldn’t be more stoked!
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
I’ve definitely learned to trust my own musical instincts a lot more. That wasn’t always the case, and I can still be pretty insecure about my own writing and production sometimes.
I first started owning more aspects of production while recording covers with my duo for YouTube. I was a bit hesitant about it at first, but I’m glad that I decided to make the leap. With time and the man-hours, my confidence has come a long way.
I remember playing some demos for my producer friend, Mike Elizondo, a little over a year ago. (He’s a Grammy winner – no big deal – and, in my opinion, one of the most versatile and humble producers in the business.) But he complimented the production on one of the tracks that I produced.
That was another moment I’ll never forget. Again, it probably shouldn’t be the case, but just those few words from someone like him carried so much validation. Mike actually played a huge part in mentoring me through the process of getting my last few singles ready to record, by the way. He’s amazing!
I would love to know more about your soundtrack work on so many great high-profile projects like Disney’s High School Musical 3, La La Land, Mulan, Jurassic World and Sing and being able to sing for film composers like Danny Elfman and Michael Giacchino, influential music producers such as Rodney “Darkchild” Jerkins and Mike Elizondo. What were these experiences like for you? Does one stand out as the most rewarding and memorable to you?
Oh, man! All of those projects were so special. Being on a sound stage for a film is something magical. And you have to pinch yourself because you’re getting to work with the best of the best! I could talk for days about each one, but I should probably just give you a few highlights:
So High School Musical 3 was my very first pro recording session ever! We got to record for a full week at Capitol Records legendary Studios, A and B (home to The Beatles, Frank Sinatra) for a Disney movie! It was epic! And I got paid for it! [laughing]
Jurassic World was definitely a memorable one. I had worked with Michael Giacchino several times before that for the Planet of the Apes and Star Trek series remakes, but this was something else. When we got around to singing John Williams’s original Jurassic Park theme, I’m pretty sure I cried. I’ll never forget that session!
I guess I already mentioned Darkchild and Mike Elizondo. I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have rock stars like them in my corner.
How do you feel about social media? What do you think social media has done for your career so far? What is it like keeping up with all your different accounts? What is your favorite way to connect with fans?
If it wasn’t essential to my career, I’d probably hardly be on it! [laughing]
It’s definitely a double-edged sword. Going viral on YouTube launched my duo from obscurity to slightly less obscurity. [laughing] But if it weren’t for that platform, we wouldn’t have had our “La La Land Medley” in the 2018 Olympics. So that’s cool. There’s lots of opportunity for discovery.
But then, at the same time, it can be draining and daunting to have this constant obligation to share new content. After a while, it takes a toll, and I think artists have smartly taken to “social media breaks” at different points in their yearly schedule to help recover.
It’s obviously the best way to connect with fans, though. YouTube and Instagram are probably my favorite platforms to engage with mine. It’s easy to respond to comments, and I usually get around to most all of them.
Those comments sometimes end up being part of the fuel that keeps you going. There’s so much power in words, and so one compliment or story from an appreciative fan can make weeks of hard work worth it.
What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future? Who has been inspiring you and the music that you make?
Wow! There are so many people I’d love to collab with. Jack Antonoff is on that list, for sure. I’m a big fan of Fun., Bleachers, and his latest project, Red Hearse. If I got to work with him, I think we’d come up with some really great stuff. Probably Chris Martin from Coldplay too. Their music has been super inspiring to me over the years and has had a huge impact on the way I think about music.
Where would you still love to hear a song of yours played?
Grocery store! Isn’t that when you’ve made it?! [laughing]
Maybe mainstream radio too. I’ve seen videos of artists tearing up after hearing their song on the radio for the first time. It’s a classic sign of songwriting success! I don’t know what I’d do, but I’m sure that would be an amazing pat on the back I wouldn’t refuse.
What would a dream music video look like for you?
I’m kind of already making my dream music videos, to be honest.
For example, for my debut single “Tough Love” I had this idea where I was the “mole” inside a whack-a-mole arcade game, and I was begging my friends to come knock me out. I ended up building a life-size whack-a-mole booth with my dad, and was able to incorporate some green screen effects with my friends to pull off the concept.
So far, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of bringing my creative visions to life with the resources I have. I’ve been able to collaborate with very passionate and capable creatives (again, also my friends, which has been the most fun!), and I’ve been really pleased with how the final products have turned out.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I hope that people find hope in my music. Just by sharing my own stories in my first couple releases, I think listeners have felt seen and better known.
My song, “Die Young” seemed to have that kind of effect. I’ve gotten some amazing messages from fans saying how that song made them want to live their life more than they were, or that it helped them through a really dark time. And that’s a real honor. That’s the reason I do this!