Jeremy Scott is one of those people. You know the type: the person who makes you feel like shit because not only are they vastly more talented than you, but they work harder, too—like a musical version of Rudy, if Rudy eventually became the starting middle linebacker at Notre Dame instead of staying a practice squad scrub for his whole college career.
The creative force behind the eclectic indie-jazz outfit The Paddle Boat, Scott also has his creative mitts in a number of other local bands. He's the bass player and co-songwriter for the indie-folk group Vision of a Dying World and the drummer for the experimental folk group Cuckoo Chaos. But The Paddle Boat is where he shines, and the fact that the band even exists at all is a testament to Scott's hard work and persistence.
Back in 2006, the Vegas-born Scott was crashing at bandmate Keith Milgaten's place in Kensington while working on material for Vision.
“I suddenly just started cranking out a shitload of songs,” Scott says, “but a lot of them were kind of lighthearted and strange, and the band didn't really think we could use them.”
“We were doing a Southern-rock thing at the time,” says Keith's brother and fellow Vision and Paddle Boat member Jackson Milgaten. “I just didn't think these songs would work for us. But I definitely encouraged Jeremy to do his own thing.”
And so he did. With Vision drummer Mat Davidson agreeing to sit in, Scott started arranging his songs and set up some live shows under the name “The Paddle Boats.”
But things didn't go so well.
“Our first show was kind of a disaster,” Scott remembers Scott. “We completely screwed up our first song. After a few stops and starts, we finally got things together, but when we asked the audience if they wanted to hear some more, the place was absolutely silent. No one said a thing.”
Then, Davidson took off to Boston to attend Berkeley College of Music, rendering the drummerless Paddle Boats an uninspired solo act. Scott was working at Hillcrest Cinemas at the time, alongside Jackson's girlfriend Jane Weibel, who happened to play clarinet. The two got to talking and collaborated on some arrangements. Jackson felt strongly enough about what he heard that he soon joined the band on bass.
By 2007, the trio had become The Paddle Boat and emerged with a sound that San Diego had never heard before. A kind of lazy Dixieland band with elements of Django Reinhardt's more subdued gypsy jazz numbers, all backed by Scott's ethereal slide guitar and vocals. Then there's the bizarre, often surrealist lyrics. The band's song “One Legs” begins with a line about disembodied body parts washing up alongside a riverbank.
“I like the juxtaposition of beautiful melodies with violent—or disturbing—imagery,” Scott says. “I definitely got that from the writer Henry Miller. He has a way of describing the most disgusting, brutal aspects of life in such beautiful terms.”
Miller's presence hangs over much of The Paddle Boat's music—the band's song “Airconditioned Nightmare” shares the same title and sentiment as Miller's classic travel epic about the impotent, anti-intellectual doldrums of American life. Heady stuff to experiment with in a city that's long been dominated by the often less-than-cerebral garage rock and punk scenes. And Miller isn't the band's only heavyweight influence. Scott's song “Just Like a Good Girl Should” is inspired by George Gershwin's “Porgy and Bess.”
No surprise, The Paddle Boat has had trouble finding its niche in San Diego. “Our music doesn't exactly fit in with the established scene,” Scott admits. “People have been really appreciative of what we do, but we're definitely still struggling to find our audience.”
That should change when the band's first full-length album, I Wonder if the Water Ever Tires of the Sea?, comes out Dec. 10 on Jackson's Single Screen Records label. With the addition of former Boomsnake drummer Dave Mead, the band has evolved beyond the pure cognitive dissonance of their early times, and their album features more electric, up-tempo tracks, with nods to Grizzly Bear, '70s surf rock and Ennio Morricone.
“Some songs are super fresh and others I've been trying to record for four years,” Scott says. “I think the album represents the arc of the band's existence up to this point.”
The only downside of the album is that Weibel no longer plays live shows with the band after a tense two-week recording session in Oregon.
“It was the band or our relationship,” Milgaten says of Weibel's departure.
But while Weibel will be missed, this is still Scott's band, and it's still his vision. His sound and continued evolution as a songwriter should give San Diego some compelling music for years to come, even if the audience is still left bewildered.
“Henry Miller found his spot in Big Sur,” Scott says. “I think I've found mine here in San Diego.”
The Paddle Boat plays with Miss Erika Davies on Thursday, Dec. 10, at Sushi Performance and Visual Art. www.myspace.com/thepaddleboat.