Good ideas tend to strike at the calmest moments, when they're least expected. A new song came to local composer Scott Lamps during the most mundane activity: washing the dishes. Called "Simple Man," it's the title track on the new album he'll release at the High Noon Saloon Monday, Dec. 10.
With the clang of silverware and the swish of the faucet as a backing band, his mind began riffing.
"I was thinking about all of my friends who were constructing elaborate plans to get ahead in business and life, and how nobody really says what they mean and nobody asks for what they really want. They may not even know what they want," he explains.
That's when it occurred to him: He knows what he wants -- something sincere and practical, unpretentious and uncomplicated.
"I have no aspirations of fame and fortune, just a life that makes sense, where I can be proud of what I do and honest about it," he says.
In fact, a no-frills existence can be pretty radical, he adds.
"I think it's revolutionary to have small, clear goals," he explains. "It's too easy to get caught up in lofty ambitions and lose track of who you actually are."
The song's beginning is fittingly rustic. A harmonica flirts with a gently strummed guitar before Lamps' voice chimes in with a quiet declaration: "I'm a simple man with simple dreams, simple plans and simple schemes."
His voice grows stronger over the next minute, rising to a bold, stout high note during the chorus before hushing for the second verse. We soon learn that the character Lamps has created is an embodiment of the fabled Midwestern work ethic. He trusts hard work, his dog and his truck. Luck is fickle and fleeting.
Lamps builds many of his songs around characters. He sketches them out in his mind, then inhabits their personalities when he performs. It's a musical version of method acting.
"Songs are these little microcosms, so when you perform them so you have to inhabit the microcosm that is the song," he says. "You become the character that would say and think the things said [in the lyrics]. It's potentially really taxing to go back and forth between different characters and do take after take."
This approach has brought Lamps a considerable amount of success in recent years. Last week, he nabbed a Midwest Emmy for his contributions to Kindred, a documentary film by Michael Sternoff about a 29-year-old woman who finds out she has cancer. Lamps says its score is "driven by intimate piano and acoustic instruments," with "touches of electronic music."Simple Man, however, bears more resemblance to Lamps' first project with Sternoff: Under the Ice
"He was looking for a musician whose music was sort of representative of Wisconsin, and I had a handful of songs that fit the bill," Lamps says.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.