Joe Scarborough has spent three hours every weekday morning for a decade opining on some of the most pressing political issues of the moment.
But on days after the cameras had turned off and he would leave the MSNBC office, the “Morning Joe” host was still looking for a creative outlet for what he described as his true passion.
“The most important part of me, the thing that I’ve loved the most, that has moved me most my entire life, I haven’t even put down so my children can hear it when I’m gone,” Scarborough said in an interview.
“They’d always seen the studio, the equipment, the guitars all over the place, but they didn’t know how important it was to me.”
On Friday, Scarborough released his debut five-song EP, a cleanly produced collection of dad-rock tracks indebted to ’70s power pop, ’90s radio rock, and a little bit of his anger with President Donald Trump.
Over the years, the “Morning Joe” host has indulged in his musical proficiencies fairly publicly.
Throughout 2016, his band played regular gigs at the Upper West Side bar Prohibition, attended by the “Morning Joe” crew and the occasional media celebrity like Arianna Huffington.
He debuted a song criticizing baby boomers on “Morning Joe” in 2014 after losing a bet, played a generic blues riff with Elvis Costello after the 2010 midterm election results rolled in, and serenaded daytime television viewers with a pop-country ballad on “The View.”
But at 54, the former congressman isn’t satisfied confining his musical ambitions to his living room or home studio.
Scarborough raised eyebrows earlier this week after announcing that Friday’s EP, “Mystified,” would be the first of dozens that he planned to release over the next several years, having written more than 400 songs in his lifetime.
With 50 songs recorded over the past year already, he is dead serious about keeping his promise, which Scarborough said would slowly convince people that his music isn’t a celebrity vanity project.
“Did you ever see ‘Cast Away’ with Tom Hanks?” Scarborough said. “It’s like the wave just keeps coming and keeps coming.”
The initial offering is a collection of songs he wrote with musicians he met over the years in studios in New York and Connecticut. Producers who worked on Coldplay’s megahit “Viva La Vida” and with the arena-rock indie band The National also assisted.
The EP has a few musical modes: Songs like “Mystified” center on palm-muted guitar riffs and radio-rock synthesizer leads à la The Cars, while tracks like “Superbad” are wordy mid-tempo ’90s Beck soundalike tracks with Scarborough’s observations on how “the hipsters and the losers and the freaks shuffle around like shadows on Brooklyn streets.”
For television personality, his late-career musical awakening stirs more passion in him than some of the subjects that propelled him to political prominence in the first place.
In an interview with Vanity Fair last year, Scarborough contrasted his enthusiasm for playing music with his boredom sitting in a room while President Bill Clinton urged him and a small group of Republican senators to support going to war in Bosnia.
Despite decades in the public eye as a member of Congress and a political pundit, Scarborough said it had taken him a year to get comfortable enough performing his own music because he felt self-conscious about pursuing his passion.
“I remember being sworn in, I was 30, 31 years old,” Scarborough said. “And I’m looking to the left and right of me and everybody’s crying, tears streaming down, wiping their eyes. And I sat there saying, ‘Why are they crying?’ And I’ve felt the same with everything I’ve done except music. Music is the thing that has always meant the most to me, so it’s what has made me freeze up the most.”
And while he doesn’t usually write love songs – Scarborough said that while one of the EP’s tracks “Let’s Fall In Love” is about his “Morning Joe” cohost and fiancée, Mika Brzezinski, he hadn’t been interested in writing romantic songs – there are increasingly more instances in which his political opinions boil over into his now-public music.
The MSNBC anchor acknowledged that while his songs had rarely focused on political issues, “Trump has been very much an inspiration” for his recent songs.
Scarborough recalled that “Mystified,” the first track on his new EP, started out as a song “about what a loser I was.” But he realized that the lyrics reflected aspects of the American political landscape, and that inspired the group to shoot a music video about life in Trump’s America and the president’s actions toward Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Though the band has 50 songs in the can already, Scarborough’s musical take on political topics are likely to show up on one of the many EPs he plans to release throughout the first term of the Trump administration.
“I’ve got another song called ‘Stand,’ which is you might even call it a protest song,” he said. “For as long as this chaos goes on that we all cover – there’s probably going to be a topical song, and I think that will also be a more natural step forward. Joe on TV talking politics is kind of more of a natural transition to music.”
And while Scarborough’s music may be an easy target for music-blog snark, of the aging figures in politics and media who have occasionally demonstrated musical skill for political gain or personal pleasure, Scarborough has exhibited a bit more performative courage than his peers in politics and media.
Politicians like former Secretary of State John Kerry and Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who covered “Sweet Home Alabama” with Scarborough on the campaign trail in 2008, have confined themselves to the rhythm section of bands they’ve performed in. And though he has teased his musical chops, fellow NBC Universal personality Lester Holt has taken a backseat during rare performances, looking, for example, as if he were trying to blend with The Roots when he appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”
“Morning Joe” viewers accustomed to Scarborough’s heated televised exchanges or early-morning polemics would find musical Joe a more easygoing presence.
Scarborough spoke briefly at Thursday’s album-release concert, attended by NBC executives, “Morning Joe” cohosts, and Fox News personalities like Eric Bolling and Shepard Smith, cracking a dad joke about how long his band had been together, inviting Brzezinski onstage, and thanking his staff.
But mostly, he just played his music.
“What I really want is somebody who says, ‘You know, I really don’t like his politics, but he’s a good musician,'” Scarborough said. “And we got that pretty fast.”
He continued: “Nicole Wallace told me after I started playing there, she had talked to some friends who said: ‘Hey, we need to go see Joe Scarborough play – we hear he’s great.’ She goes, ‘Yeah, yeah you like the show?’ They said: ‘Oh no, we don’t watch the show. Everybody we’re talking to in the neighborhood up there says it’s great.’ I said, ‘Nicole, that’s the greatest thing I’ve heard in my life.'”