by Len Lear
Scot Sax, a Grammy-winning songwriter (he wrote “Like We Never Loved at All” for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill) and performer who almost graduated from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in 1984 (he says he was a half-credit short), will premiere his first documentary film, “Platinum Rush,” on Tuesday, July 28, at the New Hope Film Festival.
After decades as a successful songwriter and musician fronting for RCA Records’ band, Wanderlust, Sax set out on a mission to uncover what drives artists to write songs and to keep writing while making the necessary sacrifices long after the glitter of pop music and youth fades. “Platinum Rush” is a documentary about the serious and at times hilarious high-octane world of songwriters — what they’ll do to make it and how people who actually made it feel now.
To answer his key questions, “What does it take to write a hit song?” and “What inspires a song?” Sax sat down with some of the industry’s most prominent songwriters to gain further insight on what drives the creative mind. “Platinum Rush” stars Lisa Loeb, Oliver Wood, Eric Bazilian of Philly’s The Hooters, Joan Osbourne (“One of Us”), Julie Gold (“From A Distance”), Ron Sexsmith, Steve Forbert and Louise Goffin (producer of Carole King’s “A Holiday Carole”), among others.
“Platinum Rush” is not American Idol or The Voice in documentary form. It’s not a snapshot of singers’ lives. It’s an in-depth look at the kind of heartache that propels someone to live and die for the sake of a three-minute song and an audience that will listen.
Sax, who would not reveal his age or the age of his wife, who performs with him, began writing songs at the age of 13. Instead of going to college, he started playing music at any place that would let him after leaving Plymouth Whitemarsh High School. “I jumped right into playing gigs, writing songs and dreaming of big things,” he said. “That was a full-time job. My parents I think wanted me to go to art school since I loved to draw and create things, but that looked boring to me.
“I played and played and played and played. And wrote songs endlessly until realizing it’d be fun being a part of a band opposed to a solo artist. In hindsight, that’s probably the first sign that being under a microscope was a little too intense for me. I formed Wanderlust in ’92 and after a couple years of gigging and recording, we signed with RCA Records in NY, and I signed a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell in LA.”
Scot’s father, who died three years ago, was a lover of music, especially jazz and big band but also Neil Young. He owned his own hair replacement business in Philadelphia for over 35 years. Scot’s mom is not a musician but is also a lover of music, mostly Paul Simon and ‘50s “bubble gum” songs.
Scot recently taught songwriting at the University of the Arts in center city. His songs have appeared on film and TV shows including “American Pie,” “Ghost Whisperer,” “NCIS,” “CSI: NY” and “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” In September of 2011, Scot married Dr. Suzie Brown, a fellow songwriter and a Vanderbilt University cardiologist. The couple tours as Scot Sax & Suzie Brown and will release their debut LP as a duo, “Our Album Doesn’t Like You Either,” in September of this year.
In addition to the New Hope Film Festival, “Platinum Rush,” which took three years to make, will be shown in Ocean City, Maryland this September. It has been screened it in Nashville, New York and Philadelphia via invitation only. It will be released on DVD soon after the New Hope Film Festival premier.
How does an unknown songwriter usually try to become known, by going to Nashville? “Well,” said Scot, “there certainly are a lot of kids with guitars invading Nashville, but guess what? They’re in for a rude awakening if they think being there is like a magic wand or something. It is what it has always been about: talent, hard work and some luck. I wrote my songs and formed my bands mostly in Philadelphia and Plymouth Meeting, so there goes the Nashville facade. Of course, when it’s time to talk business, Nashville, NY and LA are where those people are.”
What are the odds that an unknown songwriter will ever have a song published, much less have a commercial success? “I don’t know if there’s a numerical answer to that,” said Scot, “but I do know that there’d be no music on our iPhones or record collections if no one took a chance.”
Scot was asked if he could meet and talk to any musician/living or dead, who would it be? He chose Paul Pena, a blind musician who died in 2005 but wrote the hit song, “Jet Airliner,” for Steve Miller. “Who was this Paul Pena guy?” said Sax. “I find it fascinating that a song like ‘Jet Airliner’ is known well by millions but that the writer is completely unknown.”