Samuel Flynn Scott

by Philip Matthews / 03 June, 2006

In December, Listener rock critic Nick Bollinger nominated Pegasus by Wellington band the Phoenix Foundation as his second favourite album of 2005, calling it "a set of songs that gives voice to sensitivities and insecurities that Kiwi males more often conceal". Since Pegasus, the Phoenix Foundation have sprouted two side projects: Luke Buda released a solo album, Special Surprise, and Samuel Flynn Scott has just followed with The Hunt Brings Us Life. The son of Wellington cartoonist and journalist Tom Scott, Samuel Flynn Scott was exposed to influential music from an early age. During a visit to Auckland, just ahead of leaving with the Phoenix Foundation for the band's first shows in London and the US, Scott met the Listener at Alleluya café in Auckland's St Kevin's Arcade.

The coincidence only occurred to me after we made the arrangement: the Phoenix Foundation have a song called "St Kevin". It was a total joke because we were trying to think of a name for the song and we thought Kevin would be a silly name for a saint. Then it turned out that there was one.

Apparently he was a hermit and there were a lot of crazy miracles to do with animals. It sounds appropriate.

What conclusions can people draw from these solo projects? That there are six songwriters in one band. Me and Luke are both prolific songwriters. And, I don't know, you just can't make records fast enough these days. In a band like ours, there's a collective vibe that can be intense, so to strip that back and be able to make something that is a bit more single-minded can be a good process. And we've purged ourselves of some our own ...

Obsessions? Obsessions, yeah. On Luke's album, there are two songs that would have made great Phoenix Foundation songs, but he wanted to do his thing and that was totally acceptable. He didn't write many songs on Pegasus, just one instrumental.

He was stashing his own away? Yeah, seemingly. He kept on saying he wasn't writing anything, and then he came out with this album that's full of great songs.

Growing up, were you conscious of your dad's fame and profile? He was always on the news, any time there was anything to do with [then Prime Minister Rob] Muldoon. Dad's a really interesting guy, but he's still just Dad, and it's embarrassing when you have to bring girlfriends round for dinner and he makes really terrible jokes that everyone sighs at.

You would be too young to remember when he was ostracised by Muldoon. I do remember that. He was a very hands-on father and I went to the press gallery a few times as a kid, especially when Mum [Helen Forlong] was pregnant with my sister. I wasn't a very social child, I was more comfortable with adults than children. That carried on until about 16. I remember sitting in Parliament with giant lollipops as a four-year-old. I remember that vibe of what was happening between Muldoon and Dad.

I don't really remember the political columns, but I vividly remember a piece he wrote when John Lennon died. I would have been three, but I vaguely remember that. He was so obsessed with John Lennon, which has filtered on to me. People say, "Who's the Lennon and who's the McCartney out of you and Luke?" I have to jump in and go, "I'm Lennon, I'm the bastard."

Does Luke want to be Lennon as well or is he happy to be McCartney? Luke's not very McCartneyish either, really. Luke's not a sycophantic guy in the slightest. When people ask him, he says, "It pisses me off, but I think I'm McCartney." He's more poppy and more romantic. My music's more abstract and uncomfortable.

What else did your dad play? He pretty much forced me to listen to Bitches Brew [by Miles Davis] when I was about 12. Which is now one of the most important records of my life. Probably In a Silent Way more than Bitches Brew, but that period of Miles Davis ... you can hear it in our music, the trippier elements of 60s jazz. And Dad used to wake us up with Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" ridiculously loud on Saturday mornings. That was how he got us out of bed. But Mum was just as big an influence musically as Dad. She taught me how to play piano. She was part of this whole folk/beatnik/hippie scene in Auckland in the 60s. I keep on bumping into these men in their sixties who say, "I remember when your mum was the most beautiful woman on K' Rd, and all of us poets were in love with her, but she was too sensible for us." She remembers the junkies in Auckland when there were, like, three junkies. So, Mum was very aware of a slightly more beatnik side to music than Dad was, and I think I've had more of that influence from Mum.

Before the Phoenix Foundation, did you form bands with some of the same guys? When we were about 14, I wrote a few Pixies-style punk songs and me and Conrad [Wedde] and Luke used to jam them out. And they were terrible. Then they said, "We don't like indie music, we want to start a heavy metal band." I said, "I don't like heavy metal, screw you guys." Then I realised Luke and Conrad were the only people at my school who played music that I vaguely liked, so I had to join the heavy metal band as the singer. But it wasn't too bogan: we were middle-class Wellington High School students who used to go to cafés on Cuba St for lunch. We were a pretty pretentious bunch.


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