On its debut EP, the local quartet Sorry, Scout marries brash and spindly art-rock with clear dashes of political progressivism. The three songs on Never Asked for It are quick, brash and immediate, providing a platform for singer Randi Whitaker's powerful vocals and incisive lyrical commentary.
But the band's genesis lies in a quieter space and time, back when Whitaker met Nate Jones at an open-mic night at the now-shuttered Art Bar on Cherokee Street. Jones, who had played guitar in the much-loved Kentucky Knife Fight, was looking for a new gig after it split up; Whitaker, who'd been a fan of that band, had been writing songs for a few years and had played in a handful of groups.
"I was in a funk where I just didn't want to continue playing my own music or centering it around what I had to say," Jones says. "I just felt that Randi was the right person to go with."
Whitaker grew up in a musical family, with many members active in their church choir, but he let stage fright keep him from taking center stage. "I was always really shy and I always wanted to be like that, but I decided I wanted to do orchestra because I could perform without being embarrassed," Whitaker says.
After receiving a guitar and ingesting a healthy diet of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Tegan and Sara and No Doubt, Whitaker began writing and performing. He has shed those nerves, mostly, and his full-bodied performances on stage and on record don't betray that initial stage fright.
"I always look forward to performing and always feel great afterward, but I always warn my friends and co-workers who have never seen us before that I'm gonna be very weird and frantic for the next hour," Whitaker says. "So let me be weird and neurotic until the set's over. I still very much get nervous and squeamish."
Whitaker's confidence and assuredness is central to Sorry, Scout's impact, and the debut EP serves as a strong opening salvo. Taking Whitaker's songs — which were largely written on acoustic guitar and sounded, in demo form, closer to folk music — and turning them into hard-charging rock songs fell to the other members of the group. Zach Schultz serves as the band's drummer, while Whitaker notes that bassist David Anson, who also plays in Traveling Sound Machine and other acts around town, brought a "choir boy's" intuition to harmony and arrangement.
"On top of being good at his instrument, he was super good at vocal melodies," Whitaker says of Anson. "You can hear his obsession with music in his playing. He was able to seamlessly move through rock inspirations and soul and jazz as well. It just gave it such a full feeling and a full sound."
And while music is at the core of the band members' partnership, both Jones and Whitaker found that political activism was an important aspect to emphasize with Sorry, Scout's songs. The band's early show fliers made its stance plain, with a Wes Anderson-esque imp sporting a coonskin cap emblazoned with "Black Lives Matter" and "People Over Profits" pins. Before most local listeners knew what the band sounded like, they knew its politics.
"I can definitely say that in terms of politics, a lot of it was already in Randi's songs," Jones notes. "A lot of our stuff has a political undertone to it, and Randi has been active in the activist community the last few years. It makes sense to try to play it forward and use the music to speak on something that does affect people that we know and love."
Whitaker says that taking a stance, both musically and politically, feels very much of a piece with being a musician.
"For one, I think that all of us agree that we don't make music to please everybody," he says. "But when Nate and I met, it was right around the time of a lot of protests around St. Louis, and we would go to those together."
That time engaging in political demonstration helped give Jones and Whitaker a deeper bond and helped give Sorry, Scout's activist bent a personal direction.
"We all know and love someone that feels oppressed in some way," Whitaker says. "We aren't just making music for nothing — we make music about everything we hold dear."