Full Interview with Caitlyn Nelson

Below is our full email exchange with Caitlyn Nelson of The Crete News on August 10.

Caitlyn Nelson: You both are from Crete, correct?

Howie Howard: Yes. I was born here and lived here until I graduated from Doane in ’04. Scott, if I remember right, was born in David City but his family moved here while he very young; not sure of his exact age but before kindergarten I’m pretty sure, maybe even as an infant. 

Scott Morris: I was two when we moved to Crete.

CN: When did you and Scott start playing together?

HH: We think it was the spring of ’99.  Scott played saxophone in the school band, and I had been playing guitar at home for a couple of years, teaching myself ’90s cover songs from the internet.  We both ran track, and one day that spring it rained and our track meet was cancelled.  We were hanging out in Scott’s basement with a few other friends.

I don’t know what happened exactly – maybe I was playing on my own and Scott joined in, or maybe someone asked me or us to play – but we ended up playing together.  We started playing at parties, and at one point we played at a talent show and I remember someone saying to us “Hey, you guys are alright, you should play coffee houses or something.”  That sounded fun, so we started doing that, and here we are. 

CN: What local places did you begin playing at?

HH: Almost all of the shows we’ve played are listed here. In Crete we’ve played places like Doane, 9th Street, the old Millroad coffee house (which was upstairs in the building across the street north from the movie theater), Blue River Days, First Congregational UCC, and the country club 4th of July (2002). Those places, plus coffee shops in Lincoln and Omaha, were our main spots in 2000 – 2004. 

CN: Where all have you two traveled and played at?

HH: We haven’t played anywhere particularly exotic as howie&scott; Nebraska and Kansas, almost exclusively.  With other projects we’ve toured in much wider circles, especially Scott, who has sung across Europe, played sax across South America, etc.  I’ve mostly been in other local bands that have played an enormous variety of bars across the midwest.

SM: Music has brought me to 27 different countries in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America. I have toured with college groups, directed school groups, served as staff for the Nebraska Ambassadors of Music, and worked as an orchestra musician on a cruise ship. While h&s has been centered in Nebraska and Kansas our range of performance venues is unique and across the spectrum, as you can see in the show archive. 

CN: How long have you two known each other?

HH: I don’t know exactly, but early childhood.  I have a clear memory of being pretty young, maybe 3rd or 4th grade, and asking my parents if I could invite Scott over to play with Lego after church.  We would have been in church choir and other school activities earlier than that.  So, more than 30 years, closing in on 40 and happy to say it!

SM: I have the exact same memory, so even though we are older and have been friends for this long, our memory is still intact!  

CN: What made you two want to start playing/traveling and playing?

HH: I hope Scott will give a good answer here.  For me it’s about musical and emotional exploration.  I’m curious and excited about what kind of song I can write with this chord, or that guitar effect pedal, or a strange melody I remembered from a dream, or a phrase somebody said that caught my ear.  I like to explore new territory and bring my findings back to share and see who connects with them.  So writing music is exploration, playing shows is sharing, and making recordings spans both modes.

For me, Scott is a great partner in that effort; a fellow explorer who will see different things than I do and want to follow different paths.

SM: In the 1996 Tom Hanks film “That Thing You Do” the legendary jazz musician Del Paxton shares that “There ain’t no way to keep a band together. You just gotta keep playin’, no matter with who.”  While this is a common reality for many musicians, is does matter with “who” in this group.

I am grateful for the memories, encouragement, spirit, joy, dialogue, pursuits, and sense of pursuance this friendship has brought into my life. I echo the comment above about musical and emotional exploration. That remains at the core of what we do. The substance of the music and songs have always presented musical challenges or an opportunity to experience. The songs also cover a range of styles. Whether it be fun, story, a jam session, or fun, the songs are a vessel for an emotional, spiritual, or joyful connection.  

CN: What happened to bring you both back together after moving apart from each other?

HH: Five years ago I emailed Scott (he found the email last weekend!) to ask if he might want to make another record.  We had continued talking and seeing each other since the last show in ’06, we just hadn’t been making music, and we’d both been through a lot of life transitions and different things that kept us pretty busy.

I’m constantly writing material for a variety of music projects, like my other band Mars Lights and electronic project Night Mode, and I think what happened was that I was going through my demo recordings and realized I might have enough songs that made sense for howie&scott for a new album.  Some of the new ones were pretty different from our old ones, but I could sort of imagine the shape of a new record and how the songs might work together.  So I emailed, he said he was cool with doing it, and we made a plan and started piecing it together.

SM: Friendship and music…. details in what I said above.

CN: Do you two have other jobs or do you do this full time?

HH: We have day jobs, for sure.  I’m a data analyst and quality improvement specialist for DCCCA of Lawrence, KS, a non-profit organization that provides substance use treatment, recruits and trains foster families, and conducts public safety and health efforts.

SM: I am entering my 12th year of teaching music. I have taught band and choirs in grades 5-12, and am starting a position teaching grades 5-8 instrumental music in Millard, NE. 

CN: How do you feel about this album coming out?

HH: Excited, for sure; it’s cool to share this project we’ve been working on for years with family and friends.  I also feel a period of transition; the record has been our thing for so long, but now we are handing it off to the people who will listen to it to react to it and make their own meaning with it.  We’ve put a ton of work into it and it’s a relief and a lifting of a weight, in a way, to literally (the album is available) and metaphorically (we’re finished working on it) release it.

SM: I am excited about the music for sure, and new exploration with it. I will always think about the important people that we made this record alongside, and for. 

CN: How do you two feel about coming back and playing in Crete?

HH: I’m really happy we’re able to play a home town show (and I’m grateful to Lacey and The Brew House for having a great space available).  It’s a joy to reconnect with people here, and most of all to share our music with our music teachers and teachers of all kinds.  I think last night I shouted out Mrs. Pecka between songs; she was teaching me music as far back as I can remember, probably back to preschool or earlier.  To be able to sing for her and echo back to her her own teaching, plus our own unique notes and ideas… I don’t even have words for it.  If there’s a meaning of life, that’s part of it, right?  Building on our elders’ shoulders, reflecting their best back to them with our own best mixed in.

SM: I could not point out a person in the room that I was not excited to see. It meant more than I can say to have all of those people be a part of the night. The Crete community and other communities represented have invested so much into to town and us. The show was a celebration of many things, but it really was a celebration of community as well. 

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