Any solo guitar-slinger can tap his foot on something noisy while strumming and singing and call himself a one-man band, but it takes a certain level of zeal and dexterity to really pull it off. Texas songwriter Scott H. Biram fits the bill with genuine fervor.
"I don't get into all that loop junk, you know? Everything I do, I do with my own limbs and mouth," Biram laughs. "I don't like to have too many gadgets going on. I want to perform the songs myself and have them come across that way."
Playing on mostly antiquated six-strings, amps, and wired-up stompboxes, Biram's been rockin' hard on his own punkish blend of traditional blues, old-school country, and zydeco for more than a decade.
"I'm still totally solo on stage," he confirms. "On the recordings, I don't use many extra percussion sounds, so that frees me up."
Biram grew up in the Black Land Prairie region of Texas before settling in Austin. In his early days as a musician, he played in a numerous punk groups, bluegrass ensembles, and garage bands. He began his career as a one-man band in the late '90s.
In 2003, Biram survived a nasty head-on collision with an 18-wheeler. He performed around Austin while recovering, often from a wheelchair with an IV attached to his arm. Folks noticed the pronounced passion and grit of Biram's music and style.
He hooked up with Bloodshot Records in 2005 and released a debut titled The Dirty Old One Man Band that year. Graveyard Shift followed in 2006, and Something's Wrong/Lost Forever arrived in 2009. Each collection featured his emotionally charged trademark growls and percussive guitar work.
Biram usually plays close to 300 days a year. His relentless touring continues this fall as he supports the release of his latest full-length, Bad Ingredients (due on Oct. 11).
"I've always tried to use a bunch of styles of music on every record," Biram says. "Part of the reason there's such a mix on this new album is from pulling old project recordings I'd made over the last three years. I'd mix them down and rework them into recordable material."
Biram recorded six fresh tracks for the new disc at his home studio before tinkering with older tracks. By the time he compiled his strongest demo material, the song list reached 23 in total. He whittled it down to a solid 13 before working with engineer Jerry Tubb of Terra Nova Mastering (Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam) to put the final polish on the set.
"I've never really gone for a big theme or a concept on any albums," Biram says. "I got on a roll before I said, 'Oh shit, my label isn't going let me put out 23 songs at one time.' It's kind of a nice problem to have. Now, I have extra songs to share and give away if I like."
If Bad Ingredients is sort of a best-of-Biram roundup — culled partly from old demos, song sketches, and unfinished tracks — it flows with surprising cohesiveness. Biram switches between various electric and acoustic guitars from track to track, mixing different rhythms, tempos, amp tones, and guitar sounds along the way. The collection showcases a sophisticated sense of songwriting — both lyrically and musically.
"I've been playing guitar for 25 years now, so I think my technique has improved," he says. "I've moved into using several different tunings on several different guitars. That frees me up and allows me to try out different styles."