A Conversation with Musician Scarlet Rivera

Rock violinist Scarlet Rivera made her Jake’s Take debut to talk about her career and her upcoming EP: All of Me. (Photo courtesy of EMPKT Public Relations)

By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com

It is a pleasure to welcome music legend, Scarlet Rivera, to Jake’s Take. 

Scarlet Rivera began her career when she adapted her violin into several musical genres, such as Americana, Celtic, rock, and world music. Her artistry caught the attention of Bob Dylan, who invited Scarlet to perform on his classic 1976 album: Desire.  After appearing on all of the record, the “Blowin’ in the Wind” singer-songwriter invited Scarlet Rivera to accompany him on his legendary Rolling Thunder Revue tourShe was also featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2019 film: Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story that featured original footage from 1975. 

Scarlet also had the opportunity to collaborate with a plethora of musicians such as Tracy Chapman, the Indigo Girls, Keb’ Mo’, Eric Andersen, and the five-time Grammy winner Cindy Cashdollar. On April 17, 2020, she will release her latest EP: All of Me. This six-track EP showcases her vocal talent and is expected to include “Dust Bowl” and “Songbird,” a tribute to her contemporary and fellow Rolling Thunder Revue performer Joni Mitchell. 

In this edition of “A Conversation,” Scarlet Rivera talked about how the music industry evolved, the upcoming All of Me EP, and why she would like to work with Brandi Carlile and Lady Gaga. 

Music legend Bob Dylan played an instrumental role in starting Scarlet Rivera’s career. (Photo courtesy of EMPKT Public Relations)

Jacob Elyachar: 45 years ago, Bob Dylan invited you to accompany him on the Rolling Thunder Revue. In your humble opinion, how has the music industry evolved since that iconic musical tour? 

Scarlet Rivera: The changes I have witnessed in the music industry since those days have been dramatic and could not have been predicted. The Majors, as they were called, as in the Major Labels, were immensely powerful…to be selected and signed by a major label was sought after by every aspiring artist. The majors gave an upfront advance to cover the cost of recording and full tour support, including marketing and promotion. I was lucky enough to be signed to Warner Brothers, which was rare as an instrumentalist. Since then, the unthinkable happened–the collapse of the majors and nearly every significant label unless they were tied to the major film companies. That opened the door; however, for Indie labels and many other ways to market one’s music and widened the field for artists who formerly would not have been signed to a label deal.

Jacob Elyachar: You have had the pleasure of performing with a plethora of recording artists such as Bob Dylan, the Indigo Girls, Tracy Chapman, Keb’ Mo’, and Cindy Cashdollar. What were some of the lessons that you learned from them that helped you grow as a musician? 

Scarlet Rivera: The lessons I learned from the list of artists you named, was mainly that what it takes to succeed is plenty of dedication, perseverance, and continuously honing your craft through practice to maintain and improve technique, lessons, and woodshedding behind the scenes. Even with the perfect pitch, which I have, you still need to work at keeping your performance level high.

Jacob Elyachar: What were some of the challenges that you faced throughout your career? How did you overcome those obstacles?

Scarlet Rivera: Some challenges included how to persevere after setbacks…like losing a record deal. Another label I was signed to later on was Polygram International, with a launch at the Montreux Jazz Fest, in Switzerland. But the sub-label Theta was scrapped shortly after the start, and even though the contract was for a worldwide release, it was released only in Europe and would go no further. That was hard to take at the time, but it was one bump in the road in the long term, as my career went on, and I enjoyed many other accomplishments after that collapsed record deal.  

Jacob Elyachar: Let’s talk about All of Me. This is your twelfth solo body of work. Was the recording process similar or different from your previous EP or albums? 

Scarlet Rivera: Yes, the recording process for All of Me was different from all previous recordings. Mainly because it is my first vocal album with me taking the lead on vocals and writing lyrics, which I co/wrote with my producer Tim Goodman, Tim was responsible for making All of Me happen. It started with writing sessions we did together in Los Angeles and evolved into a bi-coastal effort. Tim created most of the essential tracks in his studio in Martha’s Vineyard, and l did my vocals there with him coaching me. The other great session players–including Mike Finnegan, on keys, Jimmy Haslip, on bass and Steve Ferrone on drums–were added in LA with the tracks bounced to several different studios there.  

Jacob Elyachar: One track that stood out to me is “Dust Bowl.” There are not a lot of songs that tackle this historical catastrophe. Why did you decide to record a song regarding the Dust Bowl? 

Scarlet Rivera: Several layers comprise why I did tackle this difficult period. Last April, while on tour with Eric Andersen, I visited the Guthrie Center, in Oklahoma. The man who inspired Bob Dylan and influenced his early songwriting…There was an exhibit there where you wore holographic goggles to feel as if you were there as the hundred-foot dust cloud of the 1930s1930’s was bearing down on humble homes and every living thing. I felt like I was standing somewhat in Woodie’s footsteps, having worked closely with Bob Dylan, and I wanted to pay homage to the man who raised awareness about it and many other social issues of his time. I also wanted the lyrics, however, to be relevant to today, so I tied in the current Climate Crisis and the global environmental destruction we are witnessing in the last verse. This year’s catastrophic fires in the Amazon and Australia, as well as the wildfires in Malibu that led me personally to have to escape an ongoing wildfire, brought it very close to home.  

Jacob Elyachar: “Songbird” is your poignant tribute to singer-songwriter and music icon Joni Mitchell. What would you want future generations of musicians to know about your contemporary?

Scarlet Rivera: Joni Mitchell and I traveled together on the Bob Dylan Rolling Thunder Review Tour. Even though I was a significant musician on the tour, Joni Mitchell stood head and shoulders above any other female artist I had encountered. She was miles ahead of her time.  She would move beyond external labels like a folk singer, which could not contain her; she defied being put in a box. She moved artfully into Jazz and took open tuning on guitar to a complex and sophisticated new level that foxed even excellent guitarists.  Her songs were fresh and exciting. She was brilliant and graceful on an off stage and still is.  Joni is a profound figure of the 20th century that has inspired the top artists of our time and continues to inspire musicians and songwriters around the world. 

Jacob Elyachar: If you had the opportunity to collaborate with fellow singer-songwriters, musicians, and producers, who would you like to record music with? How would they enhance your sound? 

Scarlet Rivera: I performed the birthday concert called JONI 75 with a host of top artists honoring Joni Mitchell, including Rufus Wainwright, Emmylou Harris, and Diana Krall, among others, but it was Brandi Carlile that I connected with and hoped to work with again. I was fortunate and was asked by Brandi to join her this year at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, performing “Blue” also in honor of Joni Mitchell. If I can dream aloud, I would love to play with Brandi’s band down the road. My range of interest is extensive, I can even imagine myself in collaboration with other young artists and would also consider working with Lady Gaga.

Jacob Elyachar: If you had the opportunity to meet with singer-songwriters and musicians who want to elevate their careers, what advice would you share with them? 

Scarlet Rivera: Believe that when one door closes, another will open. Being an artist is about evolving, changing, not staying the same. Not being in a box, even moving outside your comfort zone to explore other styles, sounds, rhythms without a label. Succeeding is a dance between preparedness and readiness without pushing. Bob Dylan says, “There’s no success like failure…” Know that success and failure are two sides of the same coin… success is a progression of many things that accumulate…and failure teaches valuable lessons that lead us right back to the footsteps toward success.

For more information about Scarlet Rivera, visit her website.

You can also connect with Scarlet on social media. Visit her Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, & YouTube channels.

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Copyright 2020 Jacob Elyachar