116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
It's not easy keeping a band that's a true alternative act together for almost 40 years. But somehow the quirky Southern Culture on the Skids has remained intact for more than a generation.
“We figured it out,” vocalist-guitarist Rick Miller said while calling from his Carrboro, N.C., home. “It's been a fascinating ride.”
Miller, bassist Mary Huff and drummer Dave Hartman have ridden the unpredictable waves that a working quirky surf guitar-driven band must navigate for 34 of the act's 38 years.
The band, which is coming to the Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon in Iowa City on May 19, 2022, has had plenty of highs. During the mid-90s, the band, known informally a SCOTS, hit with the idiosyncratic but catchy “Camel Walk,” which charted in 1995 and appeared prominently in the terrific cult classic film “Flirting with Disaster.”
The single was part of SCOTS’ classic album, “Dirt Track Date,” which was released by DGC, home to a number of integrity recording artists who also had commercial appeal, such as Nirvana, Sonic Youth and Beck.
“It was a great label to be on,” Miller said. “One of the guys at the label who worked with Sonic Youth really liked us. They were impressed enough to give us a $10,000 advance, which wasn't a lot, but it was enough for us to buy an 8-track deck and some microphones. We cut three demos with that equipment that they loved and we went from there.”
“Camel Walk” almost didn't make the album. “We were coming up with some filler and the engineer liked the song. We're lucky we added the song,” Miller said.
“Dirt Track Date,” which was released in 1995 and 1997’s “Plastic Seat Sweat” each made money for DGC.
“Each album recouped and did all right,” Miller said. “But we left DGC. They hoped that we could reach 18 to 24-year-olds and I remember saying, ‘That's not our audience and that's not our age.’ So we decided to move on.”
SCOTS moved on and has had a solid career.
“We realized that we didn't need a massive fan base to have what we have,” Miller said. “We're happy and we’ve remained together I think because we make our own decisions.
“I think that's huge since when other people make decisions for you and they end up as not your decisions — that's when you have problems. We've had our share of ups and downs. We try to look back and laugh at things.”
During the “Dirt Track Date” tour, SCOTS was slated to play Cape Canaveral, but the gig was nixed due to language.
“They moved us to Cocoa Beach where the kids going to see us were surrounded by strip clubs,” Miller said. “We were playing an outdoor show with homeless people dancing around. It was surreal.”
Miller and company are looking forward to returning to Iowa City for the shopping.
“We love going thrifting when we go back there,” Miller said. “It's one of the best cities in terms of thrift stores, just like most college towns. There are so many great record stores in Iowa City. I remember buying this cool amp there.
“The last time we were in Iowa City we bought so much stuff that we had to ship it back via Fed Ex because there wasn't enough room in the van.”
Who knows what Southern Culture on the Skids will play at the Wildwood.
“We have no idea, since we just come in and play,” Miller said. “We normally don’t have a set-list. It's more fun to just go out and do it. We’ve been recording some new stuff, like we always do. We have so much to draw from.”
Expect some tracks from the band's latest release, “At Home With Southern Culture on the Skids.” The latest tracks were recorded at Miller's house during the pandemic.
“What choice did we have,” Miller said. “We wanted to record. We couldn't get out but it worked out, since I really enjoyed singing and recording in my living room.”
The album features some cool covers and tracks that were supposed to be part of a project from 2007.
“But things were changing then,” Miller said. “It was a period of transition in terms of recording, but the bottom line is that we finally released those songs and we made the most of the pandemic. But now we're out there again and we're playing songs from that album and the older material. We just can't wait to get back to Iowa City to perform and shop.”