Scott addressing his audience from the WUEC studio within Hibbard Hall on UWEC's campus

We recently sat down and had a great chat with PeerValidated friend Scott Morfitt, host of our favorite area radio show, Local Independence. Scott can be heard Sundays at 7:00 p.m. on 89.7, WUEC . He answered questions about what it’s like hosting his own program, what his favorite local concert experiences have been, what criticisms he has for the EC music scene, and a whole lot more.

JD: The beginning is always a good place to start…how did Local Independence come about for you? Furthermore, what goal or goals do you have in doing the show?

SM: Local Independence originally came about as a result  of me just wanting to do a rock ‘n’ roll show on Wisconsin Public Radio.  I wanted to think of a good angle and I started to realize just how many great bands there were here in Eau Claire, and it really snowballed from there. In the proposal phases I talked a lot about giving the University a bigger connection with the music scene and I think that’s still my real goal for the show.  I think that we have a lot of people doing a lot of great things here that go unrecognized, or that don’t get the recognition they deserve, anyways.  I really just want to show what this is all about.

My secondary thing was we had a great all ages scene for a little bit while the Nucleus was doing shows, and Acoustic was doing some things…I guess I really did just want to provide an alternative to going out for kids too so they could see that there was this great thing happening.

I guess at this point, though, my goal is to just showcase music and just build my own art form as I come to the show, to start to just become better! I’ve had like four years of this with no training other than just sitting in a studio and doing it myself every week.  I think I am trying to get more glossy and polished, but still just show how much I love Eau Claire.

JD: What’s been the most satisfying or exciting part of hosting and running your own radio show, and what’s been the hardest?

SM: I’d have to say the Local Indepedence Showcase was my favorite part of doing this show so far.  Just the fact that I could get six bands that I personally really liked and really wanted to see in one space under a roof.  And the way that everyone kind of came together for it; it was amazing seeing so many people volunteering and having interest.  It was a six band bill happening in the afternoon in the middle of winter during a time when people were away protesting even!  That was probably the most fun I’ve had since I started doing the show.

This Year's Local Independence Showcase

The other great part about this show is doing the interviews.  I’ve done I think close to 45 interviews since I started this show…maybe even upwards of 50?  I just really love meeting people!  I think that I try to write up or produce the story so they sound really smart and have everyone really drawn in, but really I’m just a dude that likes to meet people, and that’s really fulfilled in this show.  I mean, sometimes I interview people I know already, but when I get to meet new ones…I’m very, very happy.

The hardest thing…I don’t know.  I guess at first when we went from one to three hours, that was pretty difficult.  Just thinking about how I was going to put that much content together every week.

JD: …speaking of the showcase, does Local Independence have any plans for doing further showcases or producing more shows, or was it a one-time thing?

SM: Well that bill is a one-time thing, I don’t think there is a way I could get those same six artists together again.  I can’t say for sure that there is going to be another showcase, but I know if I wanted to do one, I would focus it more on newer bands rather than the established bands.  I think that doing a showcase with someone like Wisconsin Built or even maybe The Heart Pills…they’re kind of still more emerging.  But then focusing on Halogen Tapes and a few more of the newer things.  I don’t know!  But if something like that were to happen, it would probably happen in the spring.  But I…I don’t know.  I’m probably going to put it together again.

JD: What’s the most memorable experience you’ve had in your time doing the show?

SM: The most memorable thing was prepping for the Bon Iver interview I did, because it came out right before his show at Racy’s and I think it was like a week after he got this really good review from Pitchfork.  I remember just kind of looking him up to see what other people had done, and realizing that he had already had features in Rolling Stone and Spin and stuff.  It was just weird to have this realization, like…holy shit!  We have a rock star in our town.  A legit rock star!  It was this awakening moment for me.  I mean, I had heard “For Emma” before, and liked it, but I hadn’t considered it this international thing.  It was just in doing my interview prep for it that I realized there was going to be some real traction there.  That was probably my most memorable thing, realizing what was happening here.

One of the best things I’ll have to say in the show was when I went to Iraq and I was able to give the show off to Dave Smuhl, because he had so much passion for the scene, like I did, that I recognized kind of a counterpoint to myself.  It was really comforting to be able to give over the show to someone who was as passionate as I am.  It’s funny because I’m kind of coming to that point soon here.  I have one more semester of school and therefore one more semester of hosting the show.  So I guess I am at one of those memorable show points where I get to figure out the future of Local Independence.

JD: …are you going to do more with radio once you are outside of school?

SM: I really do want to.  I don’t know in a career capacity; if I could find that public radio job that is supposedly out there, I would love to do that!  I don’t want to do commercial radio.  So I think the third option would be doing some sort of community radio station, and that’s something I really want to pursue wherever I go.  I really want to do live radio again!  Local Independence is pre-recorded, and that allows for it’s own precision and artistry, but there’s just something in the thrill of knowing that you’re live on air that I really miss.  So yeah, I think I would like to do some sort of live community radio.

JD: What’s your process for picking the music and interviewees?

SM: As far as how I pick the music…I vary it.  If someone has a really great new release, like Desa has, I’ll play six to nine songs off the album for the first 40 minutes of the show.  Sometimes, like this week, I actually went through and played bands alphabetically just for fun.  It all depends!  The music I choose is really what I’m feeling right now, and really what I want to be listening to myself.  A lot of that does end up being new music, because I feel like that’s what we fuel our souls with.

As far as the people I interview,  I interview bands about their new album, or if they have kind of a bigger show I’ll do in-studios with bands if they don’t have an album.  Or just people I’m interested in.  I mean, like this week I interviewed Shawn Smets of the Eau Claire music school.  I wanted to do this interview for quite awhile because I’m excited about kids learning and their scholarship program and this connection to the music community they have.  So sometimes I do have pet interviews I’m just waiting on having time to do.  I guess I don’t have a real hard set rule for why I interview.
On a technical note, I used to spend a ton more time on editing interviews.  I used to worry a lot about people saying, “um” or “like” and stuff like that.  Recently I’ve realized that’s just how people talk and I’m really trying to take a naturalistic approach to interviewing.

JD: As far as radio programs in general go, what do you think makes a good one? What do you like about the medium? Do you have any shows or podcasts that inspire you or that you listen to regularly? 

SM: What I like about radio is that it’s so intimate.  You look at the way that people experience radio and it’s in these times where you’re either in your car, or you’re working on a project, or you’re doing something else where you just really want to connect with the sound and just really feel.  And I think that radio at it’s best connects the host with the audience.  You feel like that radio person is right there with you.  It’s such an intimate thing.  I mean, people experience it so much differently than the passive way you experience television where you just kind of sit there and absorb, or the kind of academic way you approach reading a newspaper article.  It’s somewhere in-between there and it’s just so personal.  So I think that good shows at their best really do bring the audience in and say, “Hey! Come spend some time with me!”

I think podcasts that inspire me to try and do better would be like “This American Life”, which I know is a really obvious one, or “Radiolab”, or even like this show “Studio 360″.  These things take such broad, big topics.  In the case of “Radiolab”, for instance, they take science points which can be really, really confusing and they not only make them really palatable and understandable, they also just engage the listener and produce some really great sounds at the same time.  So that’s what radio does when it’s at it’s best, it draws the listener in, and then it tries to be a little cool and “indie-rock” I guess (laughs).

I lived close to Iowa City, IA before coming to Eau Claire. Like Eau Claire, it is a college town and it also has a city population very close to that of EC’s, yet there was very little in the way of a local indie music scene (at least when I lived there). Do you think there is anything in particular about Eau Claire that helps to foster the talent of bands like Amateur Love, Bon Iver, the Daredevil Christopher Wright, and Laarks (just to name a few) while similar sized areas don’t see as much talent emerge? …or are we simply lucky that these great musicians just happen to live here?

SM: You know, I’ve been pondering that question for five years…I really have!  I’ve been trying to figure out what the answer is to it.  I think it’s a few things.  I think it’s the strength of the music program here at the university.  You have people like Sean Carey (*Bon Iver, S. Carey) who has a percussion degree, or Dave Power (*every other band in Eau Claire) who brings a jazz emphasis to various rock bands.  And there’s just an immense amount of collaboration in the scene.  I know a little bit of the reason is our proximity to the Cities.  But I think it’s mostly just good things perpetuating themselves, because you have like the Amateur Love, the Echo Bravo, and the DeYarmond Edison, who then birthed and inspired bands like Daredevil Christopher Wright, Meridene and Laarks, who are now inspiring bands like Kalispell, and Halogen Tapes, and Wisconsin Built.  So I think it’s this thing that’s really just perpetuated itself and grown.

As to why this exists here and not other places, I don’t have a great answer.  I mean, I’m going to be really frank…we don’t have a fantastic venue here in Eau Claire.  We have some great recording people, like Jaime Hansen or Brian Joseph who are recording bands well, but we don’t have any amazing spaces.  Let’s be honest, La Crosse has better venues than we do, but they don’t have as good as a music scene.  River Falls I think has more people than we do, but they just don’t have it.  I mean…it could be that we have gotten lucky, or bands perpetuating, or close to the Cities.

Eau Claire used to be more of a hub for recording artists to come through, especially jazz musicians.  You look at the Joynt…people like Brother Jack McDuff or Flora Purim were actually in this town and played that stage, which is huge.  This was a huge, huge stop.  But yeah…I don’t know!  I mean overall I only have those few answers.  I think that maybe is something that Local Independence has tried to figure out, I’ve asked a lot of “state of the scene” type questions as I’ve done this show.  I think it’s just a sustainable, self-perpetuating machine that’s happened.  As far as what was the impetus for it to happen…I…I have no clue! (laughs)

JD: As someone who is immersed in the local music scene, what are some things you’d like to see (or not see) from the local music scene, its artists, its fans and followers?

SM: Let’s see…if I had my dream thing, and this is no offense to the people making hip-hop music, but I’d like to see a bigger hip-hop scene, and I’d like to them doing a little bit more “back-packer” type stuff.  From new bands coming out…I don’t know.  I guess I’d like to see a little more coordination in booking and sets.  It seems like sometimes it’s feast or famine, where we’ll go for two or three weeks without what is to me a relevant local show, but then on a Saturday night venues will have like, Heart Pills on one stage, Daredevil on another stage, Laarks on another stage.  I mean, okay, that specific booking hasn’t happened, but it’s pretty close to things.  You’ll have your Kalispell competing with your Heart Pills.  So I’d like to see a little better coordination in the scene overall with how bands are getting booked.  I don’t think it’s bad that bands are playing multiple weeks in a row, but I just…I’d like to see it so you don’t have two directly competing things.  Our scene has a draw of maybe 60-70 people at the core, and when you have multiple bookings in one night, you break up the core audience you would otherwise have, so it just doesn’t make attendance at any show look great.

As far as musicianship…I’m just excited!  The new things that are happening are really, really good.
I mentioned before, I want a good venue in Eau Claire.  I’m excited about what’s happening in the new Davies center, but let’s be honest, it’s on campus…there is a literal bridge that divides us from the rest of Eau Claire, and it’s really hard to get people to come to campus.  The Cabin is legitimately the best venue in Eau Claire as far as lighting and sound.  There are shows there, and yeah, I definitely see like 10-20 non-university people but it doesn’t get packed out.  So, I don’t know…I mean, this is one of the challenges the Eau Claire music scene is always going to have, the connection between the music community and the college.  It’s a reciprocal thing, but yet you don’t see a lot of college kids at great shows outside of campus because they live on the hill or whatever…and vice-versa.  I guess the biggest thing would be connectivity, but the answer to that is another one of those I’ve been trying to figure out for five years.

JD: So with all the local concerts and events you’ve attended and been apart of, is there one in particular that comes to the forefront as a favorite experience or show?

SM: I’m going to have to say the showcase I booked first (laughs).  But I mean, that was something that I really, really liked and I felt was really gratifying.  Hmm.  I thought it was pretty awesome the first time Halloween, Alaska played House of Rock.  That was a fun, atmospheric show.  OH!  I really liked when Birds & Batteries played House of Rock too…that was a good one!  (pauses) …I wish I had more of those moments, I really do.  I wish I had more super favorite shows like that.  I mean, like, in general I’ve gone to so many concerts in my life for something to stand out you’d have to have a pony turn into a mermaid on the stage to impress me at this point.  (laughs)  I don’t mean to say that sounding like a condescending jerk, but like…I’ve just seen a ton of live music in my life!

Most of the shows I really dig, that I feel the happiest when I leave, are the summer concerts in Phoenix park.  Those seem to be the shows I really dig, and mostly because all of the sudden there’s a thousand person music scene.  So, I think that’s at least my favorite music movement going on right now.  Sorry that I don’t have a really great answer!

JD: And finally…as evidenced by your radio show and as anyone who has attended a local concert with you can attest, Scott Morfitt likes to have his voice heard. I’m out of questions, so…let your voice be heard. Share anything you’d like to. Anything at all…

SM: In conclusion, I want to tell anyone reading PeerValidated to look out for the Winter Brakes.  It’s going to be something exciting and fun…and that’s all I’m going to say.

 

Interview by Jordan Duroe

Photographs by Zachary Oliphant