New London native Scott Sherratt wins Best Spoken Word Grammy
After 13 previous nominations, New London native and audio books producer/director Scott Sherratt won his first Grammy Sunday night. He was up in the Best Spoken Word Album category for his work on Rachel Maddow's bestselling book "Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry On Earth."
Though the ceremony was held virtually, Sherratt was watching from his home in Scarsdale with his wife, Sarah Maine, and their toddler, Maceo Sherratt, and he says he and Maddow were in touch shortly after the announcement. "We were laughing about it, but Rachel is a very humble person and I think the whole thing was shocking to her," Sherratt says by phone Monday afternoon.
Having been nominated so many times before the pandemic, Sherratt adds that he was sad not to be on-site for the awards show "because it's just a lot of fun when you're actually there." He adds that while Maceo is only 2½, he has in fact made cross-country trips twice with his parents when dad was attending previous Grammy ceremonies as a nominee.
Sherratt sounds happy on the phone and is as humble as he describes Maddow. At this point, he says, he never expects anything at an awards show — he's won many of the industry's Audie Awards trophies, by the way — and acknowledges the competition is always high caliber. At Sunday's Grammy show, for example, other Best Spoken Word nominees were a memoir by Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, Ken Jennings's "Alex Trebek — the Answer Is ...," "Catch and Kill" by Ronan Farrow, and Meryl Streep starring in a full cast recording of E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web."
At the same time, though, Sherratt says he wasn't surprised by the win because "Maddow has a way of conveying an aspect of personality (reading in the recording studio) that's not the same as you see on TV. As an author, her books are meticulously researched and beautifully written, but she also doesn't know how truly wonderful she is, and that authenticity comes through, as well."
With the popularity of audio books at an all-time high — and, yes, the pandemic has had an across-the-board silver-lining effect on the publishing industry — Sherratt and his Scott Sherratt Productions are busier than ever. And that's saying a lot. A very small sampling of his clients over the years include books by: Nelson Mandela, Denis Johnson, Bob Dylan, Malala Yousafzai, Elizabeth Warren, Rob Lowe, Colin Powell, Suzanne Collins, Debbie Harry, John Green, Billy Crystal, Neil Degrasse Tyson, Bernie Sanders, Jennifer Lopez, Madeleine Albright, Harper Lee, Armistad Maupin, and hundreds more.
Often, he says, the authors themselves read the books — although some might be non-professionals with no voice-over or performance experience. He says the results are consistently excellent.
"I have unflagging optimism, and I believe anyone can read their work well," Sherratt says. "Once they get in the studio and it's just me with an engineer, I want them to relax and just be themselves. It's brave and powerful, and I've learned that most people, when they're comfortable, can make it work with a little help. The only tricky part is when they don't know why they're there, but you help them realize that this is THEIR story and they know the experiences beyond anything even the best actor can emulate. It can be an incredible and moving experience when people relive their stories out loud. And one of my biggest roles is simply to be supportive."
New London roots
Scott Sherratt Productions is behind hundreds of audio books by an elite roster of clients/authors from the fertile fields of literature, sports, entertainment and politics, but is it the career Sherratt envisioned when he graduated New London High School in 1985? Not exactly.
As a fledgling bass player/guitarist, Sherratt was obsessed by music and calls New London a "special place to have grown up. I was influenced by bands like the Reducers and that whole scene. I remember New London as being a great launching pad and jumping off point. You could go to Hartford and Providence, Boston and New York or New Haven and see all kinds of music."
Sherratt started playing in punk and metal bands and eventually relocated to New York City. From there, he traveled globally as an actor and musician with the New York City Players, a touring theater company behind the plays of experimental theater director/playwright Richard Maxwell.
"I needed a day job that would allow me to keep traveling," Sherratt says. With plenty of practical sound experience onstage, in studios and using recording software like Pro Tools, Sherratt approached a friend, Kamal Ahmed of The Jerky Boys, with connections at the esteemed Merlin Studios in Time Square, and soon began engineering sessions there. More and more, Sherratt found himself handling voice-over work, and eventually, he branched out and started his production company.
"What's magical about this for me is that I'm not doing it INSTEAD of all the artistic things I did in the past. It's cumulative," Sherratt says. "I love the recording studi, artists, language, music, and people, and this is a way to work with all of those elements at once. My whole life informed what I became."
One of Sherratt's New London High School pals and musical colleagues, Tim Heap, who went on to success with the New York band Heap, is extremely happy for his old buddy.
"I've had a little window into Scott's audio production work in adult life," Heap says. "I can see why he's so successful in his field. He has a calm way of offering encouragement, coaxing the best performance out of talent while keeping the atmosphere relaxed. He's the consummate professional, sought after in the audio book world. I am immensely proud that he won this Grammy.
"He's been kind to introduce me to a couple of his more well-known musician clients, and it was so great to see him have such a familiar rapport with Elvis Costello and John Doe. Scott's cool, and those two cool guys seemed to know that. Mostly, though, my impression of Scott through the years has been that he's immensely generous — sharing his gifts through his work."
A Beastie effort
While the bulk of audio book projects are simply a voice reading the work, there are projects that involve more than one voice, music and sound effects, and other production embellishments. Probably the biggest project of Sherratt's career was recording of "Beastie Boys Book," which was nominated for a Grammy last year.
"Beastie Boys Book" showcases the possibilities, Sherratt says. They used 45 readers in five different countries. "The cast was bonkers," he says. Not only were the two surviving Beastie Boys, Adam "Ad-Rock" Horovitz and Michael "Mike D" Diamond (Adam "MCA" Yauch died of cancer in 2012), but just an incredibly diverse group of people who are fans and friends were involved.
Snoop Dogg, Kim Gordon, Steve Buscemi, Chuck D, Chloë Sevigny, Will Ferrell, Elvis Costello, Wanda Sykes, Jon Stewart, Ben Stiller and even Maddow read for the project. For the intro and outro of the book, Sherratt says they went to Reverend Run's house and had him read this incredible roster of names and credits.
Though nominated for a Grammy, the book didn't win. "Well, we were up against Michelle Obama," Sherratt laughs. "That's some tough competition."
And there's Will
As far as actors hired to read a project when the author isn't available or doesn't want to, Sherratt frequently works with actor Will Patton — who might be thought of as the Beatles of audio books.
"There's Will, and there's everyone else," Sherratt says. "He's a wonderful actor, and he doesn't need to do audio books — he just loves the format. He does everything, and some of the best moments of my career may have been watching Will turn water into wine."
By this point in his career, it's easy to believe Sherratt isn't star-struck by the people he works with. "The funny thing is, I don't know that I ever really was," he says, "and maybe that's part of what makes the whole experience for the clients be natural and easy. Fourteen-year-old me might have been in shock at a lot of these people, but most of the folks I've worked with who WOULD have been heroes to me when I was younger have been wonderful people — and that helps, too."
While the pandemic has dictated that Sherratt has learned over the past year how to do his job from a home studio, and that capability will now become part of the structure after the post-plague normal, he's looking forward to traveling to various locales again and helping folks tell their stories.
"My job is a continuing education," Sherratt says. "I'm sitting there listening to people read fabulous books. I feel fortunate that the publishers trust and hire me." He laughs. "And I'm reading a thousand books I might not have chosen on my own."
To hear a clip of Rachel Maddow reading her Grammy Award-winning audio book, go to www.theday.com.
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