Like so many music-obsessed teenagers, Asheville’s Andrew Scotchie suffered no shortage of rock ‘n’ roll heroes growing up — he admits to having a near-fanatic appreciation for the Who at one point in his life, in addition to lesser infatuations with the first Rolling Stones album, the work of Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard, and also that of Americana singer-songwriter/ex-Drive-by Trucker Jason Isbell. Nonetheless, Scotchie’s musical life was influenced most by two events that had nothing to do with any artist or album.
The first was the death of his father, a prominent area businessman who was murdered when Scotchie was in his early teens. “Music is ultimately what saved me,” Scotchie says of the tragedy. “It got me to embrace other people again. I started telling my story in song, honoring my dad, encouraging other people to push forward in their own lives. I guess I had a lot to say.”
The second sea-change event came in the form of a decision — Scotchie’s choise, in 2011 at the age of 17, to take his musical endeavors to the streets, as a busker in downtown Asheville, a move that is reflected now in both Scotchie’s considerable performance chops, and in the polished, populist mix of blues, funk, classic rock and Americana that characterizes his set list today, with the five-piece Andrew Scotchie and the River Rats.
“Being on the streets, writing on the streets, engaging people on the streets — I learned a lot through all that,” Scotchie says. “It really made me work on my performance, and on my stage presence. When you’re on the streets, you have to hook people; you have about one second to get their attention, and then they’re gone.”
The result of it all is that the band has built a rep for epic live performances, such as the one preserved on last year’s full-length in-concert release “Live at Highland Brewing,” an album that showcases not only Scotchie’s smooth vocals and bluesy guitar chops, but also his very personal, and personable way with an audience.
“We’re really focused on the live shows,” Scotchie says. “I grew up loving bands that put on great shows, and it’s important for me that fans leave the shows feeling better than when they came in.
Which isn’t to say the River Rats aren’t an accomplished studio outfit; they have two fine full-lengths to their name in the debut “Soul and Sarcasm” and 2015’s “We All Stay Hungry.” Now Scotchie says the band is preparing for its third studio release “Family Dynamo,” which he characterizes as the band’s most diverse and colorful platter yet.
“It will definitely be our most eclectic,” he says. “We’ve added horns and keyboards, some backing vocals to the band over the years, and those things will all be displayed on this record. We’re taking more of a psychedelic blues approach on this record, but there’s also some rock ‘n’ roll and soul on there as well. It will show how much, as a band, we’ve been listening and learning.
“The record will be dedicated to my father. The whole album is focused on positive people, people who show their love for other people through music, or just through the way they live their lives. The record’s title, ‘Family Dynamo,’ is also a shout-out to our fans. Because we look at our fan base as part of our family.”
Andrew Scotchie and the River Rats will play Funny Ears Fringe Festival Thursday, March 22 at 11:50 p.m. at Preservation Pub.