Music Rags: Welcome to the First Church of The Ultimate Fanaticism

> Blake Morneau

 

In March of 2012, I was scheduled to attend a concert where Scott H. Biram was to be the opening act. Due to harsh weather in the mountains of Oregon, he was unable to make it to Vancouver. No matter, for the seed had already been planted. Through my pre-concert research I had discovered his music, and it quickly implanted itself into my brain. With his perfect melding of blues, metal, bluegrass and punk music, Biram was my greatest musical discovery of 2012.

I managed to track Biram down on his way to a show in Phoenix, Arizona, to get some of the backstory behind this unfathomably unique musical force.

“When I was 13, I was in a band playing Misfits covers. And then [at] 16, I was in another punk/metal band — played a lot of shows. In my 20s, I was playing in bluegrass bands, touring all over the States,” Biram, now 38, says of his musical beginnings. “All along, I was doing little solo shows — singer-songwriter things — before I became a one-man band. It’s just grown from there.”

Dubbed “The Dirty Old One-Man Band,” Biram’s one-man sonic attack grew out of necessity and a desire to rock and kick ass. “My bands broke up; I kept playing, kept touring. I didn’t want to be a singer-songwriter, playing in coffee shops and shit like that, so I had to step it up and make it a little louder.”

Taking a cue from his punk and metal roots, Biram decided to go Newport-Dylan and electrify. “I started to build this wall of amplifiers behind me and making it to where I could do as much as I could to make it sound like a real band. I could play in rock clubs. That’s where I was raised, in rock clubs and stuff, so that’s what I wanted to stick with.”

An artist who jumps between genres so drastically can occasionally run into resistance from purists, and while people tend to accept the whole with Biram, he hasn’t been completely immune to said resistance. “There are people that heard of me when I was playing more folky music — [music by] Woody Guthrie and stuff. I still play Guthrie, Lead Belly and all that stuff throughout my whole set, but the thing is now I play rock, metal and punk, country and blues and everything in between. There are people who wish I would just be ‘folk’ again, but folk music doesn’t pay the bills [or] let me get this stuff off my chest.”

Those who come into the world of Biram with skepticism have little to no chance of holding on to their doubt. “Most of my shows, I have more people every time I play, and they’re all, like, really into it. And if they weren’t when they got there, they are when they leave. I’m great at winning them over, converting them to the First Church of The Ultimate Fanaticism.”

Dubbing his fan base the First Church is no random choice of words. A lot of Biram’s music is informed by the unlikely genre of religious music. “I really like old gospel music, like old, black Baptist church gospel music and old-time chain-gang prison songs, which have old gospel music in them.”

While he may love much of the music that spawns from it, organized religion isn’t really Biram’s bag. “I have my own religious beliefs, but they’re more personal, inside religious beliefs. I don’t go to church or anything like that. I don’t consider myself to be any certain denomination. With me, it’s more the Law of the Universe and all that stuff. I got an open mind, so I’ll listen to other people’s bullshit,” says Biram with a laugh.

Biram’s fascination with religious imagery and Baptist sermons has provided a stellar blueprint for building a devoted following that has grown steadily. “I like the idea of rejoicing, of being struck by some kind of power — not possessed, but overtaken by a power or a feeling. I try to do that with my music. I want people to be struck with it like lightning. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of it so far.”

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