SL): Thanks a ton for doing this interview with us
Stephen: No problem at all.
SL): The new CD is fucking Killing, I really believe it is some of the best stuff I have heard in a while to be honest with you. Do you mind bringing me through what the process was with writing and coming up with the different songs?
Stephen: at the time we started writing the record, Ben was still living in LA. Our means of communication about song ideas was mainly through texting each other little video clip of riffs. I like to write in the morning when my brain is fresh - I have this theory that all the riffs and musical ideas that are meant to be written are just lingering in the air, so the earlier the start you get in the day to grab them and then claim them as your own, the better. Anyway, yeah, lots of videos of me in my pyjamas or my underwear playing riffs. That was our way of being creative while spread apart. When Ben and his family moved back to the east coast last fall, we started playing together again almost right away. Knowing that we wanted our record to come out in 2015, we had to submit something early in the year for that to happen. A lot of the writing took place at Best Rehearsal, which is a spot in
that doubles as a gear rental company. One of our good friends Jeff works
there. He was really helpful and instrumental in making the writing process
easy for us - he also had a pro tools set up in there and he would record all
of our jams. During rehearsals, we would try and come up with at least a couple
solid ideas per day. Even after all of that, we went into Long Island City
feeling like there was a lot of room for spontaneity. God City
SL): There’s writing music and then there is writing lyrics. Are you someone that sits down to write or when it hits you, you sit down and go at it?
Stephen: If something hits me then I'll try and make a note of it, whenever that may be. For fine-tuning lyrics, it's helpful to allocate some time just to make sure everything feels clear - to get my words in a place where I've gone as far as possible with them on my own. It's helpful to have discussions about lyrics - I'll read them very plainly to people and ask "does this make sense?" or "how can I say that better?" or "is this cheesy?" There was a lot of that with this record. I know it's not very common for some bands, and it wasn’t always easy for me. These days it’s different, thankfully.
SL): Was there something lyrically that you made a decision where you could discuss lyrics and ask people for help. Did you feel as if you were confident enough or did it just happen because you truly wanted someone else’s input?
Stephen: I used to fear having discussions about lyrics. But at some point, I realized it can be highly productive. In many cases, I'll have what I consider a good start for a concept or a theme of a song, but maybe I only get as far as coming up with a single verse, with half a chorus or something. If I open a discussion to get people's input, it usually leads to creating more content and also defining a much clearer overall picture.
SL): Do you find that doing this helps everything sound way better than before? Also musicianship wise?
Stephen: I think so. Crappy lyrics can be a song ruiner. It's like stale icing on a cake. Sometimes it can be difficult to even understand what a vocalist is saying. But as long as you sense something positive, or that an effort was made, then I think it signifies some type of battle is being won.
SL): Arrangement wise and vocally, for me, it is your best work
Stephen: Aw, thanks man.
SL): You’re welcome! So are you a lover of the studio process or would you rather plug in and play live or is it all one big thing?
Stephen: I always underestimate the workload and the stress that come along with both. And it usually hits me only once I'm there. I find myself wishing I could have somehow better prepared in the studio - or if I'm out on the road, wishing I'd packed more socks. I've been in both scenarios many times in my life and even still, when I'm in the thick of it, there's always this feeling like I could've done better.
SL): Are you pretty easy on yourself or your worst critic?
Stephen: I am a pretty harsh critic on myself. Part of it is playing with such great players - I don’t wanna feel like I'm holding anyone back or doing anything that embarrasses anyone.
SL): So how long was the actual recording, mixing and mastering process.
Stephen: We had 9 days to record and mix. Somehow we pulled it off.
SL): You hear a lot more bands now finishing everything in 9 days, do you feel that the pressure of knowing how many days you have is better? The dendrites get popping a little more and some better stuff comes out?
Stephen: I really prefer to work that way. If you're with your band 24-7 during the recording process, usually the productivity is going to be heightened and you'll definitely hear it in the end result. The three of us left NY and hunkered down in
during the coldest part of winter this year, which only added to us having no
good reason to leave the studio. Each night everyone was sleeping in the
same quarters, listening to playbacks and discussing the day’s work. That’s how
we pulled it off. Salem, MA
SL): So in terms of the studio, are you a gear head? You have your Les Paul and your
stack, do you stick with that or do
you like to experiment? Marshall
Stephen: We went through a series of amps to experiment with getting a tone that worked best for basic tracking. After trying 6 or 7 amps, Kurt disappeared and came back into the room with this old Gibson amp that I'd never seen before. It looks like something the Animals or the Sonics would've played. We plugged it in and instantly everyone just kind of looked at each other and knew that was the one. With gadgets and pedals, I love tapping into that surprise element of when you plug in, spin a few knobs, and suddenly you're reconnected to a song like there's some urgent mission to elevate it through the stratosphere.
|(C) Ben Stas|
SL): What pedals do you prefer?
Stephen: My standard pedal board setup involves a lot of Boss pedals, as I've been playing them for years. So there’s some sentimental value when looking down at them. Kurt has a huge variety at the studio, equal parts old standards and modern boutique pedals. It's like a small music store in there.
SL): The editor wanted to know how did you get the tone on ‘Bridgeburner’?
Stephen: That song had several different effects that we sort of mixed together to dress up each part, but then there’s this synth pedal - I don’t even know who makes it, as I’ve got tape all over the thing. I also like to hide stuff on my board just to pretend there's some big mystery going on.
SL): Pedals are definitely a nice dressing, did you experiment with many guitars or just your Gibson?
Stephen: My Les Paul is nice to play for long studio sessions because its light and won’t kill your back. It's also a family heirloom - my dad bought it in the early 90s, it was sort of like his last hurrah for wanting to buy an instrument to keep him strumming, and it happens to be a much nicer guitar than the one he learned with as a kid. So yeah, the Les Paul is all over the basic tracking and then we used a bunch of Kurt's guitars for overdubs. His green Jazzmaster is on "Reptilian Soul" and a few of his GCI guitars are all over the place.
SL): What are you tuning to?
Stephen: We drop everything down a half step - it's a cheap trick to make it sound like I'm singing higher than I actually can. We write almost everything in drop b, aka ‘Rusty Cage’ tuning - actually I learned it from the song "Prison Sex" by Tool. When that came out in 1993, it was the first time I'd ever really noticed anyone playing in drop b.
SL): How’s the experience of working with Kurt? Everyone I speak with says it is probably the best experience that have had. Would you say he makes you a better musician in the studio?
Stephen: Definitely. When we went in, there was a lot of unfinished business with our songs. It left a lot of room for Kurt to be involved, and I think he likes that. Ben and Kurt have a long history, Kurt and I have a long history, so it was very comfortable right off the bat to work that closely together. Yeah, I don’t think this record would have been as good without his involvement, given the time constraint alone. Kurt is also very uninhibited about sharing his opinions. If you have a guy behind the board who is quiet and has something on his mind but he won’t say it, chances are it’s not gonna work out as well as someone who chooses to be more outspoken.
SL): So what is the next step?
Stephen: Summer tour in the
, then possibly more touring in
the fall. US
SL): Are there bands out the where you guys dig playing with, or is it just whatever?
Stephen: I think we fit in several different scenarios. Last winter we did a week of shows with Russian Circles - fast forward to spring this year and we just played some with Dillinger Escape Plan. We'll hold our own as long as the spirit of rock n roll is in the atmosphere.
SL): For me when listening to the new album, you guys have a nice underlying groove, which goes over so well, that lets you bob and weave many different styles. Is that something that was meant to happen, letting the groove bob and weave the heads?
Stephen: For me, it just comes out that way - I'm a 70's child, you know.
SL): Who is putting out the album and how’s the experience been?
Stephen: Sargent House will be releasing it. Things have been great. Cathy is really attentive and enthusiastic, she has a great team where everyone is onboard pretty much all the time, and we feel very cared for. We're also in good company with a lot of awesome bands, especially this year, there is an awful a lot of excitement in their camp and we are just stoked to be a part of it. And it's nice to have a woman’s touch on things.
|(C) Yvonne Jukes|
SL): Like I said, this album, you dig it, then you put on your headphones, then by the third time there is all this weaving of intricacies and tonality is what makes it pop, it has so many directions, which you guys truly should be commended for, it is top 3 for me now. It a nice ride of an album. Vocally it is the strongest thing you have done, do you work with anyone vocally?
Stephen: I know some tricks. Years ago I saw a vocal coach, he worked with
everyone: Chris Cornell, Axl Rose, Scott Weiland... aside from technique, getting good sleep the night before, eating a meal with high protein content at least an hour prior to doing a set, and drinking room temp water is very helpful. On tour, I try not to drink much alcohol, and definitely no smoking. When I see photos of a young Robert Plant and like every other one is of him holding a cigarette, I gotta wonder how that guy got onstage and just sang like a bird. Just different times, I guess. Plus he's almost 7 feet tall and probably part Viking.
SL): Overseas, is that something you are planning?
Stephen: It's in our periphery. Sargent House has a European set-up, so we'd have support over there, plus they work with some cool European bands that we could potentially tour with.
SL): Are you someone that likes playing the states or overseas, or do you love just playing in general?
Stephen: I've had both great and terrible times in both places. There is something exciting about bringing a new band somewhere we've never been, whether in the states or overseas. And right now there seems to be a growing interest in Mutoid Man in
, which could be a
successful venture for us. England
SL): Great, I think sky is the limit for you all right now and thanks again for putting out such a great album.
Stephen: Thank you so much.
During the chat I laughed a shit ton, which is the key folks. You can sense from the first words that these guys love playing and playing together. The first spin of the album conveys that in the utmost form. Also, the fact that these guys have been in bands that are so revered and are loving something newish, is a treat to hear and chat about. These 3 could ride on the heels of what they have done, however, they are hitting the note fresh and hitting it like John Henry up in the MF.
The pleasure was truly all mine during this chat and the listening has been a complete win for myself. Get this album, put it on, slip on your best jumpsuit and just strut the streets like Tony Manero did after a night out in
Brooklyn catching Night
Thanks again Dr. Brodsky and truly the best to you are your two mates.
Words and interview: Gaff