The Waterboys’ Mike Scott is a man of action

Mike Scott of the Waterboys
Mike Scott of the Waterboys

Early into the Waterboys’ strong new album, “Where the Action Is,” the band kicks into the spirited rocker “London Mick,” an affectionate ode to the Clash’s guitarist, Mick Jones, in which singer-songwriter Mike Scott reminisces about his “guitar hero” buying him a “Coca-Cola at the band’s hotel.” It’s a revealing narrative about the late ’70s rock scene and camaraderie as well as a heady reminder about the Waterboys’ endurance after emerging from the post-punk era.

While many of the bands that came of age in the ’80s have either imploded or turned into touring, nonrecording nostalgia acts, Scott and his mates continue to make vital, relevant music. “Where the Action Is,” the band’s 13th studio effort, is the follow-up to 2017’s sprawling double-album “Out of All This Blue,” which expanded their sound by incorporating hip-hop inspired dance rhythms.


The new 10-song collection offers hints as to why the Waterboys, who play the Wilbur Theater on Wednesday, have continued to thrive. It deftly bridges all the phases of the band’s career, offering up driving rock, lyrical love ballads, soulful laments, a rock/hip-hop hybrid, and of course, their wonderful, wistful folk songs.

“I think the key is exploring different sounds,” says Scott, one of pop’s true poet laureates. “I don’t consider myself just a rock and roll musician. I play country, funk, soul, folk, and folk-rock. I’ll play any kind of music if it turns me on, including hip-hop.

“I would never do things because that’s the way to be successful or do something that I didn’t want to do musically. I let the music dictate the terms. The music has evolved, and I’ve been lucky to play with great musicians.”

There have been numerous iterations of the Scott-led band, which splintered in the 1990s but is now firmly anchored by keyboardist “Brother” Paul Brown and longtime member and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Steve Wickham.


The erudite, Scottish-born Scott is generous with his time and thoughts, so the conversation about the band’s history and new album includes nuanced musings on technology, politics, hip-hop, literature, and the Clash (“They were a wonderful musical and sartorial influence but sometimes they were their own best enemies”).

This eclecticism is reflected on “Where the Action Is,” which includes some of Scott’s best work of this millennium. The allusive centerpiece, “In My Time on Earth,” is a complex song with sociopolitical implications. The narrator sings, “I’m torn and I long to be healed/and the truth’s been too long out of style” while implying that the artist must “speak the secret” and “tell what is true.”

“That song is casting an eye on the current sociological landscape,” Scott says. “It’s what I think of as a double-
vision song. In the verses, the narrator is looking out and seeing a desolate topography, but in the chorus he is singing all is one and all is well. As a human being, I carry both those visions. I look around through both those lenses.”

Scott deftly moves from analyzing his technique to how the song applies to today’s turbulent times. “I’ve learned enough in my life to know that everything does work together. There is a pattern to the whole of human existence.

“My experience tells me so, but then I look and I see things like Donald Trump lying every day and white supremacists and Nazis getting away with things. There are so many things that are so obviously awry with our system of living. I see both of these perspectives at the same time, and I finally found a way to render them both in the same song.”


As with almost all of the Waterboys’ best records dating to their early triumphs, “This is the Sea” and “Fisherman’s Blues,” the new album overflows with literary references. It includes a lyric from Robert Burns (“Then She Made the Lasses O”) and an evocative, gorgeously arranged nine-minute spoken word/musical piece, “Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” that adapts a passage from Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows.”

For Scott, prose and poetry remain prevailing influences on his life and work. “I grew up in a house full of books. My mother’s house was and still is like a library,” he says. “I’ve never felt a boundary between music and literature. They are all part of the same creativity to me. I’ve always believed that literary books, passages, or references are fair game for setting to music, and I’ve been doing that for quite a while.”

He takes a moment to think of an example. “In the early ’80s, I was a huge fan of Patti Smith. I read all her poetry books like ‘Seventh Heaven’ and ‘Babel.’ I put her poems to music but we didn’t release any of them. Of course, I did later with [William Butler] Yeats, Robert Burns, and others. I enjoy doing it. The next Waterboys album [due next year] will have two or three like that.”


While Scott had lived in Manhattan for the first half of this decade and still draws inspiration from its energy (especially on the hip-hop-influenced “Take Me There I Will Follow”), he now lives in Dublin, where he has a studio. He says it’s the perfect refuge and a source of creativity for him during this tumultuous era in the United Kingdom and the United States.

“What is happening in the world definitely affects my work. I fear for the gains we made from the 1950s onward. They are under threat.

“I know everything is part of a bigger plan, but at the same time I hope that the center holds, and we don’t fall into a kind of fascism. That’s any sane person’s fear at the moment.”


At the Wilbur Theater, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. Tickets $40-$50, www.thewilbur.com

Ken Capobianco can be reached at franznine@live.com.