One night earlier this year a Phantom of Rock (hat tip to Lou Reed) descended upon Mills Avenue. As part of a bill with Bubble Boys, Seattle's Scott Yoder was a revelation in the cramped confines of Uncle Lou's, making a dive bar feel like an arena. Yoder himself was decked out to the nines: all in black, with opera gloves, cape and makeup, looking like an unholy mix of Screaming Lord Sutch and Vincent Price. He played what looked like a tiny organ and often sang into a modified telephone, backed by a band who looked to be plucked from different eras of rock music and a handful of blinding white lights. The music they played sidestepped punk in favor of dramatic, cinematic glam rock. Yoder held court like the MC in Cabaret, conducting the band and the set like a theatrical presentation. It was mind-blowing.
But it wasn't always this way.
There is a time-honored narrative in the more wigged-out lineage of pop music: A sweet young folk musician gets seduced by the dark, glittery underside of rock. It happened to no less than David Bowie, Marc Bolan and Lou Reed with spectacular results. And Yoder is the latest standard-bearer for more eyeliner and drama in rock.
Spinning out of his time in Seattle psych-rockers Pharmacy, Yoder branched off to find his own musical way as a solo artist. After releasing the excellently earnest Looking Back in Blue album in 2016, major aesthetic changes were afoot by the following year.
After a three-pronged break-up – band, relationship, and arm in a bicycle accident – Yoder chose to convalesce with a pile of movies close at hand. And with a head full of classic silent movies and German films – Yoder was particularly bewitched by Marlene Dietrich, Joan Blondell and Katharine Hepburn – a new look and a new sound came to Yoder as if in "some kind of a dream."
By the spring of 2017, a rejuvenated Yoder was embarking on a West Coast tour and so it was that this unexpecting audience got the first glimpse of the transformation. Yoder sees it less as a metamorphosis and more of a natural creative evolution. "It was just an extension of what I'd been wanting to do all along, since I'd started playing solo," he says, "but I wanted to take the next step and add that element of theater to bring people in."
New album A Fool Aloof is an excellent précis on the state of Scott circa 2018, with the influence of his bombastic live shows leaping out of every groove of the LP.
"It's coming from the same authentic place and voice that I have but I wanted to have fun with it," explains Yoder. "I wanted to subvert the folksinger dynamic and try to see what weird places I can take it."
He's already eager to move on to the next phase, the next persona. "I feel pretty good, satisfied with where I'm at right now, but it's always something where I'm curious about moving on and seeing in what ways we can expand on it," he says.
Yoder and his trio of musicians are road dogs of the highest order; they've been on tour for eight months of this year, and when Orlando Weekly chats with Yoder he's fresh off a plane back from a European tour where they played a lot of outdoor shows on beaches – he wore the full outfit, of course, but chuckles, "I refrained from wearing the white cream [makeup] during the daytime shows" – and driving to Los Angeles to start this new leg of U.S. touring.
Yoder praises his current bandmates, saying, "They're all very dynamic and able to take my songs and make them louder and more bombastic ... or more quiet and tender if an audience will let me. And we'll see where it goes. That's the trick – that's the experiment. Especially in a dive bar."
Next up is a series of six 7-inch releases though a variety of labels with accompanying music, and otherwise, video. Yoder's creative energy is positively infectious. Catch him now, before the next persona.