Music Bugle Exclusive – Q & A – Scalawag

Artwork for ‘You On My Mind.’ Courtesy of Scalawag.

By Nicholas Jason Lopez

Scalawag – the musical project of Vancouver-based multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter Teo Saefkow – recently debuted the music video for the new song “You On My Mind,” one that exemplifies his ability to flawlessly blur genre lines.

Self-recorded in his home studio and described by the artist as a “quietly quirky contemplation on love,” it serves as a worthy followup to his previous single “Touch.” It explores the theme of infatuation within a new relationship and built on a guitar riff he wrote in 2015, with the lyrics coming to him five years later as he tried to make his partner smile.

The Music Bugle had the chance to talk with the artist – who has been compared to the likes of Hozier, Sufjan Stevens and Leonard Cohen – about “You On My Mind” and more.

Music Bugle – How did you decide the name “Scalawag”? 

Scalawag – Well, this can sometimes be a long story, but I’ll give it my best shot to keep it short. I was having trouble finding a name that would be catchy, marketable, personal, short and have a good story behind it. I went for months under different names until one day, when I needed to finalize the name to put on an application for a music festival. I sat down and told myself I wouldn’t leave until I had decided on the perfect name. I started to think about the personal side of a name and realized that maybe I could start with my grandparents’ stories and inspiration would strike. I asked my parents where each of their parents were born and put the place names together in a sentence. I can’t remember the exact sentence, but it was something like, “A shooter gives a wolf coffee at a landmark” and if you can guess the names of the places they were born, you’re a genius, but I’ll list them – Neustrelitz, Germany, which means “new shooters,” somewhere in Java – now Indonesia, Landmark Manitoba and Wolf River Quebec – Rivière-du-Loup. Once I did that, I created some anagrams until I got Scalawag and when I looked up where the name came from, I was surprised to learn that it used to be a term used to describe someone who lived in the South who was anti-slavery during the American Civil war. Now, it just means someone who’s mischievous in an un-harmful way, which I like to think describes me pretty well.

Music Bugle – What directly inspired your new single “You On My Mind” and did the music video come out how you hoped?

Scalawag – I had come up with the guitar riff back in 2015 while I was back in my hometown for the summer. I was housesitting for some friends and I remember that I felt very lonely while I wrote it and I was missing my partner, who had stayed in Vancouver, but I didn’t write the lyrics until last April when I was going through my old voice memos and found the riff, so I started playing it. I was immediately transported back to that Summer, how sad I felt back then, but how happy I was to be with my partner right at that moment. I just started singing to them and the words came out as they are on the recording. They just kinda stuck. I showed my friend Stephanie Wong a couple different songs that I was working on and asked if she wanted to create a stop-motion video for one of them. She chose this song and I gave her full creative control. Partway through, she asked if she could bring a cinematographer on board, Audrey Baunez and I said, “Go for it.” A couple months later, they sent me the first draft and it absolutely blew me away! I’m very much in love with everything about the video – the animation, the concept, everything!

Music Bugle – Who are you listening to right now, music-wise?

Scalawag – Well, I’m going back-and-forth between new and old. I’ve been listening through Nina Simone’s discography, but even more recently, I started listening to Sam Cooke. As for new, I got really into Angie McMahon last summer and I haven’t stopped since. I also really enjoy listening to my friend’s music, so I have Amanda Sum’s two new singles on the go, alongside Elijah Quinn’s single, “Love Of The Traces.”

Music Bugle – Does social media help or hurt musicians?

Scalawag – It’s a mixed bag around whether it helps or hurts anyone, isn’t it? I would venture to guess that we’re all better and worse off from any type of social media, it just depends who you ask and why you’re asking. For me, I don’t think social media has done either for my music career, because if you take any example of a platform “helping” me reach my audience, there are hundreds of examples where the same platform has prevented my fans from seeing my content in a blatant attempt to try and get me to pay for more reach on that post. At the end of the day, word of mouth is the biggest way that independent music gets shared around and I don’t think that’s changed or is going to change.

Music Bugle – How have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Scalawag – I’m also an actor. That’s actually what I went to school for, but since the pandemic started and shows have been postponed or cancelled, it’s given me a lot more time to focus on writing and recording. I don’t think this song or video would have been made if it weren’t for the pandemic. Not to say that it was worth the global pain, but it’s always good to find a silver lining in a bad situation.

Music Bugle – What has been your biggest challenge lately?

Scalawag – Two things – quitting coffee and trying to find a good time to get my ears pierced.

Music Bugle – Where do you go when you need an escape?

Scalawag – I go for a walk and try to find somewhere I haven’t been before. I do this almost daily.

Music Bugle – If you had to pick your own theme song, what would it be?

Scalawag – “From Eden” by Hozier. Not necessarily because it fits my personality thematically, but because it’s a song that opened up my eyes to what lyrics can be and influenced me as a songwriter a lot when I was first starting to write my own stuff. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing it.

Music Bugle – Away from music, what’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

Scalawag – I have two separate life-size replicas of my head out there in the world. One of them might or mightn’t be for an upcoming project. Wink, wink.

Music Bugle – What’s something you wish happened more in today’s music industry?

Scalawag – The biggest wish is that the biggest record labels wouldn’t be allowed controlling interest in Spotify or Apple Music and that those streaming platforms would be mandated to start paying out a reasonable amount per stream. I imagine this is a pretty common sentiment among independent musicians, who can sometimes feel like the gateway towards finding new fans is controlled by algorithms and stock prices. 

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