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20 Questions With The Scooches

The N.Y.C. global-folk outfit on coffee beans, missing Foreigner, loving Bird & more.

The Scooches are a movement all on their own. And the sort of band the world needs more of, frankly. An oasis of hope and optimism in our vast contemporary desert of doom and despair, the N.Y.C. global-folk collective raise their voices and instruments to raise consciousness among listeners in the belief that we can all unite to make this a better world. Look no further than their latest single Stop This Climate Change — which premiered right HERE a few weeks back — and their upcoming album Lift Me Up to understand where they’re coming from. For some reason I’ll never understand, they took time out from doing good deeds to tag-team my dumb questions. If that doesn’t make them just a little more cynical, nothing will. Here’s how it went:


Introduce yourself: Name, age (feel free to lie), home base and any other details you’d care to share — height / weight / identifying marks / astrology sign / your choice.
The Scooches are an eclectic melting pot of original music inspired by world folk traditions, global Americana, New Orleans verve and the unfettered exuberance of the 1920s. They include:

Dr. David Pleasant: 62, Drumfolk Riddim Specialist — a student of eco-cultural love and polyrhythmic truth.
Nick Russo (Banjo Nickaru): Spiritual age 1000, Libra, gentle spirit, multi-instrumentalist.
Betina Hershey: Daughter of artists/musicians, Gemini, song catcher.
Angie Workman: My name is Angie Workman.
Harvey Wirht: Spiritual age 25, Aries, New York.
Ra$hCa$h (Rashaan I.A. Salaam): Trombonist/Rapper.
Hilliard (Hill) Greene: I currently reside in the Bronx but I grew up in Iowa.

What is your musical origin story?
Nick Russo: My dad Richard Russo led the 1960s heavy metal band Scarecrow. My dad started me on drums and guitar and then I was self-taught for many years, studying blues. Later I got deeper into jazz and world music. I have worked with Jon Batiste, Russell Hall and many others. The Scooches’ musical origin began when Betina and I were hired to play country music at The Brooklyn Strawberry Festival. I called my musician colleagues who specialize in that genre and revisited five-string banjo!
Betina Hershey: I was born to music, heard my mother play piano, my father play trumpet, and melodies in my head that needed to be sung. Piano, then guitar called me. As far as my origin story with The Scooches, it began with me meeting Nick Russo at his jazz jam, and then three years later on the street around the corner from my Astoria apartment. Three days later I slung my guitar over my shoulder, walked around the corner to his stoop, and our musical journey began to Scooch together.
Angie Workman: I met Nick over 18 years ago; he was performing in a ’20s-themed band (Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks). After that we worked together as a duo performing at Russian restaurants in Brooklyn.
Harvey Wirht: I met Nick at The C-Note, where they used to have jam sessions on a regular basis. It must have been around 2003, when I had just moved from Boston to N.Y.C. I gave him my business card and he kept calling me for different projects and here we are.
Bassist Hilliard (Hill) Greene: I’ve been playing bass for 53 years and started with I was 12 years old. I began my formal music studies on cello when I was eight. Soon after I started playing the bass I decided I was going to become a professional musician/bassist.

What’s your latest project?
Betina Hershey: Lift You Up is our upcoming album, and it’s been in the works since June 2022 or longer. I’ve enjoyed hearing my songs come to life with my fellow Scooches adding their melodic, soulful, rhythmic touches. With this album coming out July 14, I am ready to play shows with The Scooches and also start recording my next album of songs I’m catching now, as well as publish my recent children’s musical Switch It Off, and begin work on rewriting another original musical for May 2024.

What truly sets you apart from other artists?
Nick Russo: It’s been our very eclectic, varied backgrounds and the ability to play in so many different communities of musicians that I feel sets us apart from other bands.

How will my life improve by listening to your music?
Nick Russo: I feel our music is truly uplifting positive energy. Plus I feel we serve as a healthy model as a band of diversity and inclusiveness. Hopefully we are inspiring others from different communities to come together and unite. I also think all of our lives will improve by advocating for more ways we can minimize our carbon footprint, and be more aware of socially conscious issues, such as diminishing the amount of guns and supporting more research and understanding of mental health.

Tell us about the first song you wrote and / or the first gig you played.
Betina Hershey: My mom and dad were both musicians so I was surrounded by instruments, music paper and creativity. My mom called me her little songbird. When I was five, I remember writing down a melody on music paper, adding lyrics, and dedicating it to my mom. That was my first song I remember writing, and I was so proud to share it with my mom, who beamed from ear to ear.

What is the best / worst / strangest / most memorable performance you have given?
Ra$hCa$h: The strangest performance I’ve had was when I was 18, back home in south Florida, playing at a gala. While playing a fast tune, my trombone slide flies right off of the horn and falls right by the feet of one of the attendees. Very embarrassing, but I had to laugh it off.
Hilliard (Hill) Greene: I have had many musical performances that I would rather forget and many, many, many that I remember vividly until this day. One in particular was the first time I played with Charles Gayle. It was so cold inside the venue on the Lower East Side that I could see my breath, but as we played we warmed so much that I was perspiring.

What living or dead artists would you like to collaborate with?
Hilliard (Hill) Greene: There are many but more importantly I would like to know what certain artists know that allow them to be special. But that might be useless because what you might revere about them is something that they are unaware of.

What artist or style of music do you love that would surprise people?
Harvey Wirht: Rihanna.

What words do you hope people use when they describe you?
Nick Russo: That I care about my family and friends!

What useful (or useless) skills do you have outside of music?
Ra$hCa$h: I can cook. I love to cook. I also have an impeccable sense of direction. I can be in a city for two days and will already know my way around without needing GPS.

If money was no object, where would you live?
Betina Hershey: I would want to live in a treehouse in the middle of nature, near a stream, a mountain, and a collection of artists, and I would want there to be treehouses for all of my friends and family to come and live near me, plus a futuristic transportation device that could allow me to reach cities for music, dance, art and community events (without polluting the Earth).

What would you like to be reincarnated as?
Betina Hershey: The wind.

Which historical event do you wish you had witnessed?
Hilliard (Hill) Greene: I wish I could have witnessed 52nd Street, Swing Street in the 1950s when Charlie Parker was the dominant figure. I would have asked him to tell me how he analyzed harmony.

What’s your idea of perfect happiness / total misery?
Ra$hCa$h: My idea of perfect happiness is total freedom. Misery for me would be being enslaved, whether mentally or physically — feeling like you have absolutely no say or control over your life is total misery to me.

What are your pet peeves?
Ra$hCa$h: Inconsideration and unawareness.
Hilliard (Hill) Greene: Times when I feel like I don’t practise enough — which happens often, btw.

What’s your greatest regret?
Angie Workman: Not singing at the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame with Foreigner. I had promised to do another gig before it was offered and wanted to be true to my word.

What’s always in your refrigerator?
Nick Russo: Organic non-fat yogurt! Of course, I always have plenty of organic espresso beans. My newest discovery is Kicking Horse Coffee, decaf, Swiss water process, dark roast whole bean, certified organic, fair trade.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Angie Workman: Not being an empath I feel everyone’s energy. It’s good, and at times, bad.
Ra$hCa$h: I just wish I was taller. I’d probably be in the NBA.
Betina Hershey: I would be able to remember everyone’s names the first time I heard them!

If you had one day to spend as you please without any consequences, what would you do?
Nick Russo: Sleeping in with NO schedule! Nowhere to be, no time constraints! I would practise classical guitar with a metronome focusing on polyrhythms, watch comedy bits throughout the day, eat yogurt in the morning with espresso, Indian food for lunch or dinner, and watch a movie at night with my wife and kids, with popcorn!

What’s the silliest thing you believed as a child?
Nick Russo: That I was an alien from another planet! Although I feel that I may still be, along with The Scooches and my musician friends! Being a musician does feel that we’re a different species sometimes!
Angie Workman: The world was unconditional love. Then hate was introduced in school through being bullied.

What was your favorite class in school and why?
Betina Hershey: My sixth grade teacher Mr. Perelmutter gave us a list of all the work we needed to do that day. There were assignments, book reports, month-long projects, and we could decide when and how we worked on them. We could walk around the room and chat or get the work done in class and have no homework. That year helped me develop my love of independent, creative work. I was able to manage my own time and projects, something that has allowed me to go on to write and direct my own musicals, put out albums, and always balance my creative time, grunt work and leisure time.

What world record would you like to break?
Nick Russo: None. I’ve never liked competition! I feel we’re all winners! Each of us is unique and creative in our own ways! Besides, if our world was more about averages and less of a race we would all have a more balanced environment and life.

What was the worst job you ever had?
Nick Russo: I’m so grateful I don’t think I can think of a worst job. With the exception of cutting lawns and a paper route as a kid, the only other job I had outside music was when I worked at The Children’s Outlet for several months when I was in high school. I actually didn’t mind the job and enjoyed the idea of a steady paycheck even though it wasn’t much money.

What’s the best and / or worst advice you were ever given?
Dr. David Pleasant: The best advice for me is inspired by the Gullah Geechee phrase, “ mo den somphin fun nyam”— a motto of life and love. Live and be for more than bread alone.
Ra$hCa$h: The worst advice I ever received was to have a plan B in life. Good thing I never followed that advice. Best advice would be to always do what you love.
Betina Hershey: My teacher told us that 99% of people aren’t passionate about their work. Be the 1%! Yes!
Angie Workman: Explain your comfort zones.
Nick Russo: Treat everyone you meet with kindness and compassion. Be grateful for the simplest things that we often take for granted. Sing everything you play on your instrument and play everything you sing! Strengthening the ear-voice-instrument connection leads to more honest, sincere, deeper and fulfilling musical experiences.
Harvey Wirht: Best advice given to me was to take drum lessons. I always wanted to join the marching band as a boy scout but somehow my “Akela” didn’t want me to make that transition. My uncle advised me to take drum lessons. “You’ll be able to play all the parts of a marching band by yourself,” he said (best uncle ever 😉 )

Watch some of their videos above, check out more from The Scooches below, and join the good fight at their website, Facebook and Instagram.