NEW CANAAN — Joe Scarborough has read the reviews.
Since his debut EP, “Mystified,” came out June 23, the “Morning Joe” host has seen what critics have written.
Some have called Scarborough’s exploration into music a “vanity project.” Others interspersed compliments for the album — according to a Varietyreview, the album “sounds like the Beatles, Kinks, Springsteen, and Sonic Youth combined” — in one breath, while questioning the guitarist and singer for his liberal deployment of the word “babe” in “Let’s Fall in Love,” a ballad written for his fiancee and television co-host, Mika Brzezinski, to whom Scarborough became engaged in the spring.
But the 54-year-old New Canaan resident, isn’t concerned with the comments.
“It’s funny, it’s just like the early reviews of ‘Morning Joe.’ Nobody could admit that they loved the show. The New Yorker was so angst-ridden by the fact that they liked the show, their quote was that it was ‘appallingly entertaining,’” Scarborough said on Tuesday. “That’s basically what we’re getting from the early reviews, as well. But listen, I’ve been thrilled with the reviews and also very amused by them.”
The EP is the first of many that Scarborough plans to release on a monthly basis, unleashing some hundreds of songs written over the course of the politico’s long — and lesser-known — musical career.
Q: When did you start playing music?
A: I started when I was 13 or 14 playing in a band. My mom had dragged me into piano lessons when I was 5. She had a Master of Music from the University of Kentucky, so as soon as I was old enough to walk and talk, I was in front of a keyboard taking piano.
Q: Who were some of your early musical influences?
A: I really wasn’t a product of my time. I was listening to the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Elton John. They were all kind of before my time. All my friends were listening to AC/DC and Kiss. They would go to those concerts and I would be in my room listening to the “White Album.”
I also got into Elvis Costello, the Replacements — a lot of New Wave bands — (and) the Clash, the Sex Pistols. I loved that stripped-down sound — as opposed to “dinosaur rock” and some of the more prog-rock stuff, like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Yes, even Led Zeppelin at the time.
Q: The album has an
’80s vibe to it. Were you influenced by some of the New Wave bands you mentioned?
A: “Mystified” started out with just basic guitar. Then I went to Coachella with my son a couple years ago and saw MGMT. I thought, “Wait a second, you don’t have to just start with a guitar and vocal.” Why not get the Moog (synthesizer) out and play around with it. It was so much fun, and by the time I finished, there was definitely a Talking Heads, ’80s feel to it.
Q: Were the tracks written and recorded recently?
A: They were all recorded over the past year or so, but a lot of the songs had been written over decades. “Mystified” and “Girl Like That” and “Let’s Fall In Love” were just written over the past year. “Superbad” and “Time Rolls On” were written in the ‘90s, but the lyrics were updated to be more New York-centric, now that I’ve lived here 10 or 11 years.
Q: You’ve been writing songs for most of your life. Have the kinds of songs you write changed? Is there early-period Joe, Congress-era Joe, ‘Morning Joe’-Joe?
A: I think the biggest change has been lately I’ve added horns and background singers. I had always been a garage band set-up: two guitars, a bassist and a drummer. When I started to play live a year ago, I added a couple horns, background singers and a keyboardist. It’s a bigger sound, and it changed the production in the studio.
But for the most part it’s been a pretty steady evolution. I’ve had my own style at least from my late teens. Though I’m focused a little more now on melody and having fun with lyrics.
Q: The album’s lyrics aren’t overtly political, but your video for “Mystified” very clearly references current events. Do you consider the EP a political album?
A: Politics seeps into the songs. Certainly with “Mystified” I started out talking about myself. By the end, it became more of a look at the U.S. and what we’re going through right now and our culture. I try not to be overtly political, but these are such crazy times, I don’t think I can help being influenced by what’s going on around me. I think a lot of artists are feeling this way.
Q: Is making music a release for you or an escape from your day-to-day political discourse?
A: It always has been a release. I have always, my entire life, had a guitar or piano around me. It’s always a great way to relax.
Now I’m hoping it becomes a more central part of my life. It’s nice lying in bed at night, and instead of thinking about the latest stupid thing (President Donald) Trump has Tweeted, I’m thinking about the bridge of a song from an EP I’m putting out next month. It’s something I’m investing in a lot more. It’s a very welcome development for me to have these projects.
Q: Alternately, is it exhausting balancing politics with releasing an album, gigging, and then promoting that album?
A: Well, Mika and I have an exhausting life as it is. At the best of times we wake up at 4 a.m., and we’re often leaving events at 10 or 11 at night. You can only fit so much in a day.
But the music, interestingly enough, is not exhausting. It’s exciting and energizing.
Q: How long have you lived in New Canaan?
A: Moved there in March 2011, so over six years now. I think it’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere, and I absolutely love it. I’ve already told my kids that over the holidays they’ll have to come to New Canaan.
Q: Any upcoming concerts?
A: I’ll be on (“The Late Show with) Stephen Colbert” on July 11.
I’m playing a launch party for the August EP, sometime early that month.
I’m going up to Maine and playing Vinegar Hill. It’s a fundraiser for Seeds of Peace, a great charity that helps to get young kids from Palestine and Israel to spend summers together.
We played in Connecticut last year to benefit Horizons National, but we’ve got to play Connecticut again.