Mik and Scott Make Music For the People

March 27, 2015

Mik and Scott, onstage at La Cocina

Mik and Scott, onstage at La Cocina

by Joshua Levine

If there’s one musical rule that local pop-soul duo Mik and Scott prove –and there’s many — is that old-school funk and soul (from Sly and the Family Stone backwards to James Brown and others) is the universal sound of a happy heartbeat. Or as Scott likes to say, “It’s for people from age seven to 70.”

40-year old Mik Garrison and 45-year old Scott Kerr, both multi-instrumentalists, began playing clubs, bars, restaurants — literally anywhere, including impromptu performances on street corners and underpasses — in the Downtown area just a few years ago.

“I was born in upstate New York,” Kerr recalls while laying out the deep roots that reside in the musical bond between he and Garrison. “I was always banging pots and pans. I had some guitar lessons and played trombone a bit. I was always around instruments.

Scott Kerr, who has seemingly become disillusioned by the confines of a stage

Scott Kerr, who has seemingly become disillusioned by the confines of a stage

“But when I moved to Tucson in 1999, I started playing trombone with Howe Gelb [of the long-running and locally legendary rock band Giant Sand] for the whole summer, backing him up. It was really incredible to play with someone whose music I really cared about. It was huge for me. I did more playing with various people and then I ran into Mik. We were working on horn stuff and I’d drive him around looking for good spots to busk. We did a benefit for [the late] Jesus Acedo from Black Sun Ensemble, a band that I was in. After that we played at Club Congress a couple of times and we just felt this dynamic between the two of us and we just went with it. We were searching for ways to create something new and different. My friend was putting on a puppet show about two, three years ago. I made a bass out of a bike and just made some crazy sounds out of this one-stringed contraption and we did some jams, did some background stuff for the puppet show. That kind of thing just carried through — Mik loves theater.”

The duo, who performs every Sunday afternoon at La Cocina at 201 N. Court Ave. for what they humorously dub “The Funky Brunch,” and very frequently at Maker House, 283 N. Stone Ave., may make music reminiscent of the soul classics of the ‘60s and ‘70s, but they have a novel and innovative approach, which offers up a huge, layered soundscape far larger than any duo should be capable of.

Mik Garrison, singing into his telephone

Mik Garrison, singing into his telephone

Mik and Scott’s secret weapon is an electronic device called a looper. How it works is simple: plug an instrument or microphone into it, make some noise and the looper repeats the phrase until its operator stops it. Garrison, a Tucson native who has played horn instruments in local bands since high school, first incorporated the looper effect into his own music several years ago, after seeing a YouTube video that featured it prominently.

“I saw someone looping online and that was, like, ‘okay — one-man band time,’” he remembers. “This happened about five years ago. There was a Japanese hip hop artist who played really cheesy organ, and he had several videos of him looping various things — children’s toys, record scratching — everything.

“When I’m writing using loops, I’ll start with some kind of beat-box, lay down a bass line and see where it goes from there,” Garrison adds. “The process for creating a song live is a little different. Depending on what instrument starts it, we will play a phrase, and loop it. The phrase will keep repeating and you can start laying other things on top of it — other instruments, or the same instrument playing something different. On top of that, I’ll sing or rap or play sax.”

Scott Kerr with percussion

Scott Kerr with percussion

Another unique characteristic of Mik and Scott’s sound is Garrison’s usage of a rotary telephone as a vocal microphone.

“I read about it in a magazine, in 2006, maybe” he explains. “There’s a microphone that hooks up to telephones, and it’s very easy to do. And I loved the sound of it. It’s one of a kind and you cannot fake it any other way.”

All of these quirky and distinctive touches add up to a deeply satisfying experience, in concert and on record –via the recently released debut album “Introducing Mik and Scott.” But the duo’s main attraction is their undying sense of fun, and the enjoyment they find in entertaining their audience, which unfortunately is not common in much of the contemporary pop and rock music scene.

“It’s fun, it’s funky, it’s got a bit of an old-school hip-hop vibe to it, it’s silly,” says Garrison, summing up the music’s appeal. “It’s for dancing.”

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