Scottish Thunder describe themselves as a “pop-rock-funk-Celtic quartet”. Based in Austin, Texas, their unique mix of pop & rock covers with Scottish and Irish influences – along with high-energy performances led by a “kilt-wearin’ daft bastard”, has caught the ears of fans and festivals alike. We spoke with lead vocalist/bassist (and aforementioned kilt-wearer) David Houston to find out more.
Entertwine: How did the members of the band meet and begin writing music and performing together? Has the lineup stayed consistent since the band’s inception? Could you tell us about each member’s musical background? What is the significance of the band’s name?
I was in a pretty successful and popular Austin band (Encore) for about three years. I left them in late 2013 and decided I wanted to start my own cover project. I knew Andie from some fill-in gigs I’d done with her, and Heath and I had mutual friends in music and acting circles in Austin. Rob was only the second drummer I auditioned, we became good friends almost immediately. The fact that he was a great rock drummer, and really versatile, helped too. So that came together pretty easily.
Yes, it’s been the same four of us since gig one, and I’m grateful for that. Rob Schumacher, our drummer, joined the band just after moving to Austin from Dallas, where he played with the band Ghoultown. Andie Nelson is our vocalist, and she performs with the Texas Renaissance Festival also. Heath Allyn is our guitarist, and he’s one of those ultra-talented guys who plays several instruments. Me, I started out as a guitarist in my teens, started playing bass in Jazz Band during college. I didn’t play bass again for a long time, until a few years ago when I picked it back up around the same time I joined Encore in 2011.
About the band name: when I was in the previous band, I wore my kilt and sporran for every show. It became an integral part of the band’s look. A sound engineer who worked with us a lot would label everyone’s monitor mix on his iPad. Instead of using my name on my mix, he labeled it “Scottish Thunder”, which I found hilarious. He was also of Scottish heritage like me. I knew I wanted to keep wearing the kilt in the new band, so it made Scottish Thunder an obvious choice. To me, anyway.
What is it like living in Austin, Texas? What can you tell us about the music scene of Austin? Are there advantages you experience being a Scottish cover band in Austin? Are there also disadvantages that come with the territory?
Austin is a great place to live, although everybody and their aunt seems to have figured that out and moved here –- it’s getting awfully crowded. The term “music scene” seems inadequate to describe the variety and diversity of music and art here. But I will say, it’s kind of funny –- “cover bands” were looked down on by a lot of musicians when I came to Austin in the early 90s. Original music was king. Nowadays, there are still some detractors, but people are realizing that being in a really good cover band can pay off. There isn’t a stigma anymore. Some really successful original artists have started their own cover bands. The trick is, you still have to bring your own personality and energy to it.
The thing about being a “Scottish” band is, that’s only a part of what we do. We don’t sing every song with heavy brogues, we don’t do songs only by Scottish or Celtic artists. There is some of that, but we’re basically a rock band. The band name, the kilts, the occasional bagpipe sounds, those are an advantage in that it sets us apart so we’re not like every other band. The disadvantage is that some people may look at the name and think we’re only doing obscure traditional Celtic music or something. But so far we haven’t really had that problem.
Could you tell us about some of the most exciting and interesting live performances the band has been a part of? What does a Scottish Thunder performance look and sound like?
We played a casino gig in south Texas recently, and we were worried because we felt like we were giving them a really good show, but no one was getting on the dance floor – which is unusual for us. They all stayed in their seats, but there was plenty of applause. And after our set, people came up to us telling us how awesome we were and asking us to pose for pictures. It was almost like they were being too respectful (laughs).
Our show tends to take people by surprise. We’ll shift from rock and pop songs to a full-on funk/R&B tune, and I’ll put down my bass and get out in the crowd to sing. Heath and Andie are terrific vocalists, they sing lead on lots of songs and give it variety. We put lots of little twists on popular songs to kind of make them our own, plus we throw in songs that most “cover bands” don’t do, and you can see the audience respond to that – we call it the “Wow factor”.
What activities and hobbies do the band members enjoy outside of music?
We all have things to keep us busy when we’re not performing. Andie is an Army Reservist and also does the Texas Renaissance Festival like I mentioned earlier. Rob is a family man who also teaches drum lessons, and is probably the biggest pro wrestling fan you’ll ever meet. Heath is an accomplished actor and does a lot of commercial and film work – in fact, he and I had a scene together in an indie film years ago, before we even really knew each other! Me, I have two young kids and their amazing Mom at home also. If I have any down time, I usually am at home with them, or watching football. And by “football” I mean either the American kind or soccer.
What does 2015 hold in store for Scottish Thunder? You all already have a number of performances scheduled for this spring and summer, correct?
We do, and we’re adding more shows all the time. Most will be in Texas but we’re working on adding some venues in Louisiana and Florida too. We’re really looking forward to the Texas Scottish Festival & Highland Games Festival in Arlington TX this May. It’s the largest festival of its kind in North America in terms of attendance, and we get to play alongside some really incredible bands from all over the world. It’s quite an honor, especially considering that the band isn’t even a year old yet!
We’re looking at bringing in some original music here and there. We’ll have a few shows where we bring in a guest bagpiper or fiddler. It adds some color to the rock and pop songs, and some authenticity to the traditional-sounding stuff. But at the end of the day, we’re still a rock band you can dance to. Just a wee bit more Scottish than most!