Thursday, May 14, 2020

A Visit with Scarlet Rivera to Discuss Her New EP and Other Matters of the Heart

Most long-time Dylan fans know Scarlet Rivera for her sizzling violin licks that gave the album Desire its unique sound, and for her on stage persona throughout the Rolling Thunder Revue. I first met her when she came to the Northland to perform at a kickoff concert for Duluth Dylan Fest in 2012. In 2013 she returned for another Dylan Fest and again in 2014 and '15. In the summer of 2016 she joined Eric Andersen for a special concert at Weber Hall. For many here it almost seems as if she’s now family, the sibling who moved away but is still part of us.

April 17 Scarlet released a new collection of songs in an EP titled All of Me. The song's themes reveal the themes of her life, many of which we touched on in this interview here.

EN: You’ve been all over the world since you were last here.

Scarlet Rivera: I had a wonderful time going out with Eric Andersen. Made a lot of wonderful friends in Italy, Switzerland and finished by going to Greece. I did a solo concert in Athens with well known Greek keyboardist Alexandros Hahalis, a long time musician friend.

People say retire and (I say) what do you mean? Are you going to sit in a rocking chair. No, no.

EN: You were born Donna Shea. Where?

Scarlet: That happened in Joliet, Illinois, a nondescript little town in Middle America. What was distinctive about it, and other little towns back then, was how they were supported by government funding to have bands and orchestras and the arts. We had a full orchestra and a full band from grade school through high school. This was not a fancy private school, but was what public schools were like at the time.

EN: Sadly, things have changed. Tell us about your first solo album, Scarlet Rivera.

Scarlet: It’s interesting that several distinguished music critics in recent years—including Waylon Jennings Jr, have gone on and on about how it was ahead of its time and how progressive it was. Shooter Jennings went on for ten minutes about how much he liked my first album. He wanted to know who the guitar player was on that album because he wanted to give a shout out. I said ‘There was no guitar player because it was me.’ Jennings likened the music to Blue Oyster Cult, Frank Zappa and Quicksilver Messenger Service.

When I travel around the country and the world people still come up to me with copies of that first album to sign, in pristine condition.

EN: I like your Broadsword and Serpent Logo. Does it emerge from your Celtic roots?

Scarlet: The broadsword is definitely symbolic. Everything I was painting on my face at the time was symbolic, and the things I painted were all symbols of something.

I guess you would liken my connection with the sword to something akin to Excalibur, which is a magical sword, a sword of nobility, protection and strength. I needed that when I walked out on that stage every night. I had the strength, lived up to the noble level of standing next to Bob, the magic of it, him and I playing together.

EN: So, you’ve now released a new collection of songs, an EP titled All of Me. I’d like to learn more about some of these. First off, tell me about the song "Dust Bowl."

Scarlet: It is a nod to Woody Guthrie, paying homage to Woody Guthrie and the enlightenment that he brought. And how he uplifted the common man in their struggle and their plight, memorialized them in all his songwriting, including the great difficulties of the people who suffered and endured the dust bowl, and the consequences of having to be displaced from their land, homes and farms.

I visited the Guthrie Center just last year in April, a tremendously moving experience. The exhibit on the Dust Bowl itself brought me to tears. I was overwhelmed by being in the Center because I realized I was standing in the line of footsteps from him to Bob Dylan to myself – very big footsteps to be standing in, even to have been a small part.

As you know I’m a real big environmentalist. I care very passionately about these issues, and am very upset about the environmental destruction of our planet through carelessness and greed, what’s happening in the Amazon and what’s happening in the ocean. The battle that’s happening is connected to the dust bowl really, because ultimately--the difference is that what caused the dust bowl, the farmers didn’t know that the practices they were doing were going to be bad. They really did it innocently. Had they known, they never would have done it that way, because the land meant everything to them.

But the people, corporations and industries that are destroying the land today are doing it with full knowledge of what they are doing. It’s short term greed, and they know that they’re causing environmental destruction. It’s right in your face and about as visible as you can get.

Salvation could be fading, Silent Spring draws near, 
Wild voices crying as they disappear.

We hope that we will do something to stop this silent spring.

EN: What is 50/50 about?

Scarlet: It really is about women, what I’d like to see: women across the board, around the world, at the table of power in every country. Not just little PTA meetings, and social clubs. I’d like to see more women presidents, and prime ministers, heads of state, congressmen, heads of corporations. The point of view of women in general, they are the nurturers. The Feminine Principle is one of life, not of grave death to the planet.

Also, to have an equal say about wars, or whether all weapons should be in the hands of anyone. These are areas where if women had 50 percent of the say, the world could change Tomorrow.

EN: My favorite song here in this set was Sacred Wheel… Can you talk about the backstory on that?

Scarlet: That’s one of the songs that led me to want to write lyrics more. And really step up, and step into and overcome any resistance I had to wanting to be the lead singer, or stepping into that zone of singer/songwriter as the lead, because I really didn’t have that much confidence in my voice. I was overruled by feeling that I had a story to tell, and something to say. And that particular story is about someone who passed away suddenly, so the opening line is “Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose; the change in life you do not choose.”

And all the heartache of losing something. It’s not just necessarily a person, but all the things we hoped for or worked for and that sometimes don’t work out, this is all--in the end--on the wheel of life….the sacred wheel going round and Joni’s Circle Game.

EN: You were at that Joni Mitchell 75th birthday. That must have been a special event.

Scarlet: It was spectacular. Probably one of the most spectacular concerts I’ve ever been a part of. It was so meaningful to me because it was in honor to collectively uplift Joni with some of the finest singer/songwriters of our day. The entire purpose was to honor how much Joni’s work and legacy influenced them and it meant to them, and they wanted her to know in her lifetime that she meant that much to them.

EN: She was pretty amazing. How is she doing?

Scarlet: She’s actually doing well. She’s worked extremely hard and she has wonderful caregivers, about the best anyone could hope to have. Wonderful nurses, wonderful therapists. And she’s diligently worked hard with them for several years now. She’s coming back to tremendous strength in every way. She’s a warrior.

EN: Did you get a chance to see any of Bob’s concerts in 2019.

Scarlet: In person? No, I wasn’t able to.

EN: He was incredible.

Scarlet: He always is. I mean, the people who underestimate Bob are like people who underestimate a wily fox. They’ll say with a poison pen, “Oh, this one’s not good,” or whatever. But they will eat their words shortly.

EN: So when I played All of Me, I was expecting some kind of throwback like Bob’s Fallen Angels. It isn’t. It’s one of your own songs. Can you talk about it?

Scarlet: That was the song that really led to this going into full motion. For becoming a real EP. It was the first one I wrote, that led the way to all the other ones after that. It’s kind of a self-declaration of being right here right now, talking about all the mistakes I made in my life, going down crooked highways here and there, but ultimately in the end I walked out of hell with a song to sing and a story to tell.

EN: We’re glad you’re still telling stories.

Scarlet: I actually said I drew my bow, which was, you know, the violin bow, an analogy to an archer drawing his bow and arrow, aiming at something that’s going out to the heart to you and other people, but is also the arrow inward as well.

EN: In the video for Lady Liberty there’s a brief image of a newspaper that has a headline Fallen Angels. A nod to Bob or did that just happen as a coincidence?

Scarlet: A nod. No coincidence.

EN: Any final thoughts?

Scarlet: Bob’s childhood friend. Larry Kegan, whom I remained good friends with till the day he died, always hoped and wanted to see me play with Bob one more time. Before the game is through, if I had a secret hope, it would be amazing if it did happen. It would be a beautiful bookend to my career.

I was not a shy flower on stage. The chemistry was blazing and amazing. You can’t pay somebody to make that happen. There was something profound and unique to our connection. It would be wonderful if fate should allow a reunion, whether for a concert or a song.

On another level I’m not happy with what’s happening on a global level with how we’re all having to be shut in, but I think it’s bringing a lot of inward reflection, on how something so microscopic could lead to such an epic shift. But that shift in the negative can be harnessed to the positive, to wanting a desire for humanity to want to live in peace and harmony with the natural world when we come out of this.

We cannot afford to have the whales and creatures in the ocean to die of plastic. We cannot allow the beautiful parrots and jaguars and all the creatures of the Amazon to be burned and disappear. So I’m hoping people will take a real strong stand for clean air, clean water, clean food and the protection of all the wild creatures.

EN: My biggest concern is the less privileged who will suffer as a result of this time.

Scarlet: I worry about that tremendously. The one percent or small percent have had it figured out that no matter what happens they would be fine. For those who only have a month or two savings, they’re being really hit hard. And I have been doing fundraisers for things like that. I’ve raised over a hundred thousand dollars going to caregivers here and L.A. hospitals, nurses, small business and families.

EN: Those are the kind of stories we need to hear more of. We hear panic in the news generating panic and we don’t hear enough of the other.

Scarlet: I always wish somebody like Oprah would have come out with a Good News channel, with nothing but 24/7 positive news. Because really there is positive news on a global level, always, that never gets covered. There are people inventing wonderful things, wonderful humanitarians, philanthropists. You hear about it one at a time, but it would be great if it were a constant stream. The ratings would be so tremendous the other ones would collapse.

EN: For what it’s worth, we’ve missed you up here in the Northland. We’ll look forward to when you come back.

Scarlet: Minnesota is like a second home to me. I’m so fond of coming there. Love the people, love the culture. I love how proactive people are for the environment and the passion for music and the arts. I can’t wait to come back.

* * * * 
Related Links
Hear samples snippets from All of Me here:
CD and other formats available here on Amazon.
Scarlet's Gallery:
Scarlet Rivera: Dream-Weaving Violinist (2012)
Scarlet Rivera Shares "Bob brought a higher part of myself that I didn't know existed."
FB Video clip--Scarlet invites you to hear her new release:
Hurricane, Live on TV 1975 
What's the difference between a Single, an EP and and Album?

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