WILLIAMSBURG — It is hard to know where to start when describing musician and Williamsburg native Caroline Scruggs.
One could start with noting that the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist just released her single “Altitude Sickness” which was recorded using nothing but her voice and a theremin.
Hold on, we will get to that.
Let us start at the beginning. Caroline says that while she has been playing music since she was a small child, that it took her quite a awhile to grow to love it.
“I always say that I was put into an arranged marriage with music because it was just part of my education,” Caroline remembers. “It wasn’t something that was my choice. I was not doing it because I was passionate about it.”
Caroline was taught to play the violin at age five and from there moved to the piano. Then she decided to study vocal performance which caused her to fall in love with Broadway musicals. After graduating from Walsingham Academy, Caroline matriculated to Christopher Newport University (CNU) and studied music.
But, after graduating from CNU she thought she would give it a go on Broadway but came to the conclusion that she had an aversion to the sharp criticism that came with auditioning for productions in New York City.
So instead, she kicked around Europe and the United States for a little while. She came back home and started writing music while sitting in her childhood bedroom.
Eventually she moved to Richmond and got by working an assortment of odd jobs without much of a plan, that was, until she took a trip to New Orleans.
“That trip changed my life,” Caroline says. “I went out to Frenchman Street and saw heard this great jazz. I had no idea that kind of Jazz was still a thing. I learned to swing dance and sat in with some musicians. I fell in love with jazz and it completely changed the trajectory of my life.
So she went back to Richmond with a new purpose in life. She started singing in jazz bands in the area. In the process she met, fell in love with and married the leader and trumpeter of one those bands, Matt Fattal.
Around four years ago Caroline found herself at a museum in Phoenix, Ariz. that was dedicated to the history of musical instruments. One of the exhibits of the museum featured a theremin that was available to the public to play.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the instrument, the theremin consists of two metal antennas that sense the relative position of the thereminist’s hands and control oscillators for frequency with one hand, and volume with the other. The electric signals from the theremin are amplified and sent to a loudspeaker.
It was developed in the 1920s in Soviet Russia and patented in the United States in 1928. It is the very first electronic instrument.
“I went up to it and I played it and I was terrible,” she says of her first attempt at playing. “But something just clicked. Something about it just told me that this was my instrument. I’ve played music my whole life, but no instrument ever clicked with me, which is why I was primarily a singer. But to me the theremin is like a second voice.”
Using her new instrument, Caroline penned her latest single while hanging out in a remote Arizona desert at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were camping out a little south of the Grand Canyon and I had my theremin and a battery and some recording equipment,” she says of “Altitude Sickness”. “It all just came out in an hour. I quickly recorded and put it down.”
Thanks to a little networking help from family friend, Bruce Hornsby, Caroline was able to get the track recorded in the legendary Sound City Studio in Los Angeles and co-produced it with career musician and producer Tony Berg.
While she had intended to record an entire album of original songs, the pandemic proved to be hard to work around. While Caroline says she it still open to recording the rest of the album, she has an arm full of other projects to work on until then.
Caroline is very aware of all the different forms her career has taken over the last several years. Not only does she acknowledge it, but she embraces her winding path.
“There are so many squiggles and curves on my path over the last five years,” she says of her future recordings. “I think that comes from the fact that is not the only thing that I am doing. I love teaching, I love coaching, I love singing jazz, I love having a solo career. I think that is why I am taking so long. I am not putting all my eggs in one basket.