If you were on one of the less-traveled highways of the U.S. this summer, you might have come upon a van parked on the shoulder and a group of people lying in the middle of the road. As you get closer, however, you can see that they are actually all balanced on their elbows and toes in a perfect plank position. Traffic permitting, they will be there for a full two minutes.
Innovative exercise routines are one key to survival on the road, and the members of UK indie band Scars on 45 have learned the ropes after four years touring in both the United States and England, sometimes supporting other artists like The Fray, Ingrid Michaelson, Matt Nathanson, and Marc Broussard, and more recently on a solo tour promoting their own music. Currently and through much of the summer, Scars on 45 is touring the U.S. and will perform at the 10th annual Pleasantville Music Festival on July 12. They played the festival before in 2011. A new record, Safety in Numbers, will be released October 7, 2014 on the Nettwerk label. A single is expected to drop any day.
With two EPs in 2011 and their first full-length self-titled studio album in 2012, the band’s music has already achieved enough visibility that it has been featured on CSI: New York, Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, The Cleaner, Pretty Little Liars, Warehouse 13, Lost Girl, and Supernatural.
The band — Danny Bemrose on lead vocals and acoustic guitar, Aimee Driver on vocals, Stuart Nichols on bass, David “Nova” Nowakowski on keyboard, piano, backing vocals, and Chris Durling on drums and percussion – are not just starting out and have already experienced the rollercoaster ride that is the music business. Their story is in some ways a familiar one, but with some interesting twists.
The story goes that Bemrose was headed for a career in professional soccer when he broke his foot and decided to learn to play his father’s guitar.
“I started to play guitar and sing when I was about 17,” he said. “Me and my friend Richard Jones. He loved to play guitar and he taught me how to play and then we kind of formed a bit of a duo.
“Richard Jones was just the keenest band member ever,” he said. “I remember we used to meet up every Sunday at my house and it was the highlight of his week and I really didn’t fancy doing it. And then one Sunday there was about 20 feet of snow and it was like an ice age so I thought of buzzing Richard to say won’t be coming round on Sunday. The phone lines were down and I was just watching TV when about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and there’s a knock on the door and there’s Richard Jones. He looked like he’d been on the North Pole, it had taken him about four hours to walk to my house just so he could play guitar with me for two hours.”
Richard Jones did not end up in Scars on 45. Instead Bemrose became friendly with another former soccer player, Stuart Nichols. Bemrose taught Nichols to play bass and they spent a few years honing their skills, before adding a keyboard player, David “Nova” Nowakowski.
“My mum always said you are going to play the piano, so at the age of four I got this catalog shop keyboard,” Nowakowski said. “You know, a small one, plastic keys and demo buttons and stuff like that. Then I got the piano lessons — oh my gosh, the worst thing ever. And my dad used to slap me if I’d play a wrong note. “At 15, I played the organ in church,” he said. “I did funerals at age 13, used to get tapped on the shoulder by funeral directors, ‘Is that the guy from school who does funerals?’ and all the boys in the first knew I was an organist. I used to do funerals during the week because the priest he [did] 50 quid a time. I would have four in one day.”
After adding Nowakowski, the band began playing the local music scene with a variety of other guitarists and drummers that came and went over time.
They began looking for a female singer after Bemrose wrote “Insecurity,” featured on the Heart on Fire EP, and wanted a complementing voice. They found it in a most unlikely place.
“Nova found me in his bedroom hiding under the piano,” Driver laughed.
The way the others tell it, Nowakowski was at home playing The Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love” when his schoolmate Driver, who was visiting, chimed in with the lyrics.
“I just started singing along when Nova rushed in seeming really shocked,” Driver said. “I thought his dad had a heart attack or something! He made me stand there in his living room and sing to him —which was the scariest thing ever at the time. At first I wouldn’t do it, but he wouldn’t shut up so I just put my tea down, shut my eyes and sang…just to stop him pestering me. Danny recorded me on ‘Insecurity.’ The next thing I knew I was in the band. When I told my family and friends they were saying, ‘But you can’t sing, can you?’” Driver admits that before joining the band, she had never performed in public.
Nichols then recruited drummer Chris Durling, who he met in a pub and gave a CD of the band’s music. Durling listened, enjoyed it and agreed to work on recordings. He joined the band a short time later.
“I used to play euphonium, which is like a small tuba,” Durling said. “And I played trumpet. Then I got braces so I quit. You just can’t do it when you got braces, you can’t get the mouthpiece on. So I quit and then the next day I started playing drums.”
The band had difficulty deciding on a name. The name Scars on 45 comes from an Emmylou Harris interview Bemrose heard in which she talks about scratching up her dad’s records and being scolded by him for getting “Scars on his 45’s.” It was the only suggestion they all liked.
The first taste of success came when their song “Beauty’s Running Wild” was chosen to play during the extended closing scene of a CSI: New York episode. In addition to a small financial windfall (which they spent on recording equipment), the band was signed to Atlantic Records’ Chop Shop Records label and also got the attention of Alex Patsavas, a TV music supervisor.
The band’s first EP, Give Me Something, was released in early 2011. The title track became a hit and was called one of the “Top 3 Singles of the Year” by Amazon.com, while Scars on 45 were added to Entertainment Weekly’s “Must List.” The single, “Heart on Fire,” was chosen as the lead song for the eighth season soundtrack for Grey’s Anatomy. The song was also used heavily in ABC’s TV promotion of the new season. The band’s second EP, “Heart on Fire,” debuted in October 2011.
During 2011, Scars on 45 hit the road, touring the United States, both alone and with London band One Eskimo.
“We go everywhere,” Bemrose said. “We’ve been to every nook and cranny I reckon in this country. I can’t think of anywhere we haven’t been to.”
Luckily, the traveling does not interfere with the band’s songwriting.
“Our songs have been written everywhere — in hotel rooms, studios, Nova’s dad’s kitchen, even in toilets,” Bemrose said.
They were recorded in many places too: from Los Angeles to Leeds in England, in Driver’s spare bedroom, above a church, but mainly in Minnesota, which has become something of a home base when they are in the United States.
“We met a guy in Minnesota, Eric Olson, who is now a good close friend of ours,” Bemrose said. “He recorded and produced most of these new songs and he played a big part in enabling us to finish this record. He has a business called Noware Media.”
Scars On 45 released their self-titled debut full-length studio album in 2012 and headlined their first North American tour that winter. The CD streaked to #4 on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart, and Apple’s iTunes featured the track “Breakdown,” as the free “single of the week.” The band also came to the attention of VH1 who chose them as a You Oughta Know Artist. They have been in the lineup on the Rock Boat cruises from Miami to Cozumel on several occasions and will be on board again when the ship sails on January 24, 2015. They made their national TV debut on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on March 2, 2012.
The members of Scars on 45 are quite savvy about social media and use Facebook and Twitter to promote their activities, but they also have other ways of staying in touch with their fans. The band does a radio show on a community broadcast station, BCB Radio in Bradford, at midnight on Tuesday nights. Nowakowski describes it as “a general roundup of chit chat with a lot of new/old fantastic music.” U. S. fans can listen to the show through the band’s Twitter feed. The band also documents their road life in their video tour diaries, produced as often as once a week when they are inspired. Among other activities, tour diary viewers can see the band members doing a two-minute plank on various roads and runways and playing soccer whenever the opportunity arises. They are also fond of a 25-minute exercise video called T-25.
“I’ve always liked documenting things ever since I’ve been touring,” Nowakowski said. And we’ve just kept making them like each week. Every tour’s been different.”
“The tour diaries are basically us, while we’re in America on tour acting like absolute idiots,” said Driver. “It’s to show people what we’re getting up to and what our real personalities are.”
“There are tour diaries from our very first tour, which is kind of cool,” Durling said. “We did it from absolutely day one. A lot of bands are a little bit, you know, quieter. We don’t care, we have fun.
“We always try and stay healthy on the road by eating right (apart from the odd treat!), exercising and we also make our own fresh juice every morning,” he said. “We want to stay in good shape to do our job but also we do like to enjoy the post-show festivities (like a few beverages) so doing all this helps to balance it out.”
Missing out on the current round of touring, Nichols, the father of two small children, is at home in England. The band is joined on this tour by American guitarist Austin Hartley-Leonard who also performs as Broken Anchor.
In October, Scars on 45 is poised to release Safety in Numbers, financed in large part by a PledgeMusic campaign, which provides crowd sourcing similar to Kickstarter in the U.S.
“We did a lot of it ourselves before we set up a Pledge campaign, so I would say it was 50 percent finished by us and then Pledge enabled us to finish it and get it mixed and mastered,” Bemrose said. “So without Pledge it would have been difficult to finish.”
In the U.S., the band is based in Los Angeles, where their manager lives, and Minneapolis, where Durling and Nowakowski have girlfriends. They will spend much of the summer headlining their shows, then go out in September on a tour with Better than Ezra. In addition to their appearance at the Pleasantville Festival, they will perform July 30 at NYC’s Mercury Lounge and August 5 at St. George’s Winery in Mohegan Lake, NY.
For more information on the band’s records and tour dates, visit: