Matt Crowley/The AS Review
Nathan Cox, 26, and Rashawn Scott, 21, aren’t the first people to name-drop Bellingham in a song: indie bands Death Cab for Cutie and Bishop Allen, along with a handful of others, have done the same thing. But, we’re not sure if anyone has done it as much as the creators of “Bellingham State of Mind,” a four-minute and 42-second romp that goes everywhere from Railroad Avenue to Whatcom Falls Park. The Jay-Z-inspired song has gone viral since its Sept. 13 release on YouTube, and can now even be found on iTunes. We sat down with both Cox, a 2007 Western graduate who now performs at the Upfront Theatre and with the Backflip Wilson sketch comedy group, and Scott, an improv actor and theatre major in her fourth year at Western, to find out what went into the song.
The AS Review: What originally inspired you to write the song?
Nathan Cox: I was in New York City last November, and it was right after [“Empire State of Mind,” by Jay-Z] came out, and I just remember walking around Manhattan listening to the song and just thinking how much it made me feel a part of everything even though I wasn’t even from there. So, I just kind of imagined how much more of an effect that would have on people who actually do live there, and I came back and I’d seen online that people had done other versions of the song for their hometown, so I thought to myself, Bellingham’s got plenty of character, it definitely deserves its own version. So I just kind of decided on a whim one day to sit down and write it out, and I wrote the whole thing in about four hours. I was pretty happy with it and then just kind of started getting the ball slowly rolling on making it actually happen.
Review: How exactly did the writing process go, were there places and names you wanted to drop, or did you just go with it and see what you came up with?
Cox: There’s definitely a few places that I’m really familiar with and that I love in Bellingham…I’m not gonna lie, I made sure I wasn’t omitting things too enormous. I hopped on Wikipedia (laughs) … or some other websites that have landmarks and stuff. But, for the most part I’m very familiar with the town and I just kind of went through and went piece-by-piece with Jay-Z’s lyrics and saw where different things would fit in at different places … He has the line, “Everywhere I’ve been cities filled with them,” and so I thought to myself, what matches that? And, it’s like, well there are hipsters everywhere, so that works.
Review: How do you two know each other?
Rashawn Scott: It’s basically from Dead Parrots Society.
Scott: Nathan graduated as I was coming in and through the group…like, once a Parrot always a Parrot. So [Nathan] would come and play sometimes and in my very first show, the year I got called up, was in … a year and a half ago, we were gonna have a special guest, and, uh … Nathan… (laughs)
Cox: I ended up being the special guest, because the special guest dropped out, so an alumni got to come back, but…
Review: It’s still special.
Cox: Yeah. (laughs)
Scott: And then … we’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re Nathan, RA Nathan!”
Cox: “Oh yeah!”
Scott: “Oh my god we’re the same person!” (laughs) So we met through there and then mutual friends and-
Cox: Just kind of hung around each other over the next, like, year and we had mutual friends –
Scott: I’ve seen some [Backflip Wilson] stuff too.
Cox: Yeah, and I’d heard her sing before so once I wrote the song and was like, well, I’m not gonna do the chorus, I want this to go places. We need to find somebody else that’s got some pipes.
Review: What is your background in singing, have you been doing it for a long time?
Scott: Yeah, since I was little I’ve done lots of contests, I did Tacoma Idol, I did amateur night at the Apollo when they came to Seattle on the tour, I sang in assemblies in high school, I sang the national anthem, like, every time they needed it, I’ve done musicals and I was in jazz band as a vocalist in high school … I’ve never really had lessons or been in a choir. I’m totally influenced by my dad’s taste in music, like Prince and Michael Jackson and Aretha [Franklin] and Jill Scott and everybody in between.
Review: Is it something you still do now?
Scott: I was in “The Human Comedy” my freshman year, I was in a musical, then I did “Snoopy” … I was Peppermint Patty in that one, I was like, “Dream role!” because I did it in high school but I wasn’t Peppermint Patty … I still get recognized for Peppermint Patty, but since the video came out no one really remembers that. They’re like, “Oh yeah, you’re the B-Ham girl right?” … In the dorms I used to sing all the time in the bathrooms and some of the girls would be like, “Hey, can you shut up?” and other ones were like, “This is the greatest thing ever, Rashawn sings in the morning, we miss it!” We played with Yogoman Burning Band last night and that was so fun, I want my own band now.
Cox: It was ridiculous.
Review: As far as the recording process went, did you guys do this yourself or did you bring in someone else?
Cox: There’s a local musician named Taylor Holtzheimer, or T-Bone Taylor, which is the moniker he performs under, and I’ve known him since high school, we used to be in a band with my older brother. I knew he had his own home studio, a small bedroom recording studio, and he had kind of said to me before, like, if you ever need to use it for something, for no cost, just come in and we can put together whatever. So I just approached him with it and showed him the lyrics, and he knew the original song so I asked if he’d be willing to help us record it and he was 100 percent gung-ho about it.
Review: Did he produce the whole thing?
Cox: Well I used a karaoke-version backing track and then as far as levels and mixing and a couple layering effects and stuff like that, he did that all himself. It took us about, as far as our parts go, about an hour and a half, two hours.
Scott: He had recorded the verses by the time I got there.
Cox: That’s right, yeah.
Scott: So we just did the ad-libs and then the hook and bridge for me.
Review: Was it the same way with the video, did you bring somebody in?
Cox: That was a friend of mine named Chris Patton, who does the local Trailer Wars competition. He pretty much runs that, does his own small films, things like that, and I’d gotten to know him through Trailer Wars because my sketch group submitted a few trailers. We started hanging out because we were huge fans of the show “Lost” so I was at his house every week watching “Lost.” I don’t think I showed him the lyrics but once the song was recorded in June, I sent him the MP3 and was like, “Would you be interested in doing a music video for this?” and once he heard the song he was just like, “yes, yes I am all for this, let’s take the time, let’s do it well, make it as professional-looking as possible.”
Review: Were you even planning on doing a music video or did it come just because you thought the song was so great?
Cox: I thought, like, especially because I knew some people, particularly Chris, who are really into video stuff, I thought to myself that it would be great to make a music video. If it’s just the song that’s fine, but it’s a lot harder to get things out and around with it just being a song.
Review: How long did the whole process take?
Cox: April…around the 22nd and it went on the Internet on Sept. 13 at like 11:30 p.m. A lot of it was just waiting until there was time that I could meet up with Taylor to put everything together, and then Chris is so busy with Trailer Wars and he had a busy summer.
Review: So … how did you get Ryan Stiles?
Cox: (laughs) Since I’m an Upfront member, he comes and does shows on Thursday nights occasionally, he’ll drop by and play with some of the other people. Since I became a member in June, I would see him fairly often and kind of had casual conversations with him, and I was sitting next to him on a couch in the back room and when there was a lull in conversation I said, “Hey, I’m filming this music video, do you know the song ‘Empire State of Mind’ by Jay-Z?” and he was just like, “I’m 50.” Like, “No, no I don’t.” I was like, “Alright, it’s a music video, I mention you in the name, it’s about Bellingham, and I was wondering if you would be in it?” He said, “Do I have to do anything?” and I said you just have to stand there. So after the show we just hopped up onstage, it took like five minutes, two takes and that was it. Pretty easy.
Scott: He wasn’t a diva at all.
Cox: Right, right. I guess he really likes the video, I saw him once since then…
Scott: Wasn’t the first thing he said to us…
Cox: He was just like, “How many views are you up to?” (laughs) That was the first thing he said so I knew he had seen it at least.
Review: Did you expect it to be such a smash hit?
Scott: I honestly thought it would be like, oh, a funny video that Nathan made, like a little ‘ha ha’ between a small group of friends, but it’s gone above and beyond. I had no idea. When it was at 100,000 – no, when it was at 10,000 it was pretty surreal…and then it exceeded the population of Bellingham.
Review: Do you know off the top of your head how many views it has?
Cox: Last I looked it was at 147 [thousand] … it’s definitely slowed down quite a bit, now it’s down to about 800 to 1,000 per day now, which I mean, I thought if I got that in a week I’d be all, “that’s great!” (laughs)
Scott: It’s being shown in English 101 classes.
Cox: Yeah, I’ve gotten messages from [Association of Universities of Asia and the Pacific] students who are back in Japan now, who are just like, “We miss Bellingham, this is awesome!” They were the ones who actually asked if I could put the lyrics in the information.
Review: Have you gotten any negative feedback from it?
Scott: A little bit.
Review: Just from YouTube comments or what?
Scott: YouTube haters.
Cox: I’ve yet to run into somebody in person.
Scott: Yeah nobody’s said anything in person.
Cox: So yeah, YouTube haters and strangely enough, Bellingham Herald comments haters (laughs) and there were a couple people who just went off.
Review: What did they say?
Cox: They accused me of being a trust-fund kid, which is not even close to true. (laughs)
Scott: Oh, I wish!
Cox: And stuff like “Go back to Seattle,” “You’re just here for college, you don’t understand what Bellingham is really like,” but those are people who are just taking their own negative experiences and projecting it on other people.
Review: Do you have any plans to write more songs, either together or apart?
Scott: I’m…willing to be a part of it.
Scott: Really this has opened the door for me because now people are seeing me for things I do besides theatre and comedy too so…I’m trying maybe to get into the Upfront and play some games there, and some more acting stuff.
Cox: I would like to, I would definitely like to. I’ve kind of written other small musical things before, most of them are more comedy-based or whatever but I’d like to continue with that … I don’t think it will be as big as [“Bellingham State of Mind”] because that was a local thing but I’d like to use the same audience to get songs out. And Taylor, the guy who recorded it for us is on board … He’s already made a beat for a song and recorded the chorus himself about me being Internet famous…
Cox: So I pretty much just have to write verses for that and go.
Review: One more question … you said you were a DJ, would you ever play your own song at a party?
Cox: I’ve actually already gotten hired for gigs where they’re like, can you play it at the gig, but if it means I get the gig, sure I’ll do it. I definitely would have a small feeling of “Uhh…this is me playing my own song,” because I mean, I’d like to think I’m a pretty humble dude, like, I don’t introduce myself like, “Oh, you know me from the Bellingham video.” But I’ll play it, I had the song recorded since June and I’m not gonna lie I would bump it in my car, I enjoy the song.
Scott: People have asked me to sing it out loud for them, and I’m in the store trying to buy cough medicine, like, “Now is not the time, maybe another time?”
Cox: We’ve been approached by a few different groups of people who are just like, “You should do another version, and put our business in it,” or “Do one about Ferndale,” and it’s like, “No, Ferndale gets a haiku, maybe, but not a song.”
In case you haven't seen the original "Bellingham State of Mind" video, follow the link below: