Where are you currently based?
Lethbridge, Alberta. Canada.
How did you first start playing music?
I’ve actually grown up playing music. My folks are musicians and helped start my home town music festival in the 80’s, my sister and I like to joke that it’s their oldest (and favorite) child. I started with playing mandolin when I was nine, then I moved on to guitar at 13 like we all do. I couldn’t ever feel satisfied with playing one thing though, I always wanted to play them all. I had lots of great role models around that played lots of things so I didn’t have to look too far for help or inspiration. It was really just a “put one foot in front of the other” sort of situation.
What’s been happening recently and how has your Covid experience been so far?
I’ve been really lucky through all this Covid business. So far all my immediate people are healthy and carrying on as best they can. I’m actually particularly lucky to be able to put a record out during this mess. When all this began I didn’t think I’d be in a position to put a record out, but Tonic and everyone working on the release have done an amazing job. It’s lent a degree of normalcy to this otherwise abnormal time. I’m super lucky to get to spend more time at home too. I haven’t spent this much uninterrupted time at home with my wife and cats in years, so that’s definitely been a source of joy for me.
It was hard when everything shut down though. I was on the road in the USA and made it across the border just as it closed, which was harrowing. We were making a record in Vancouver just as things were getting serious in Canada and by the time I returned home the country was in its first lockdown. I went through a bit of a spiral after that with my mental health and was diagnosed with clinical depression after a time. I have a really great support system with my wife and family though and they helped me get back on the up and up and I’m doing well now. I think I’m not very good with change at the best of times, so I kind of had a system overload. My wife is an elementary school teacher and she’s so incredibly strong. Whenever I feel like I’m having a hard day being an artist in lockdown, I talk to her about her day and put it all in perspective. Teachers and nurses man, they’re the serious heroes in this thing.
Your new single and video for ‘Where Are My Blue Eyes’ is out now, what influenced the sound and songwriting?
I really love old-timey bluegrass and have really been immersing myself in the lore and tradition. I was on tour in California last year with Leeroy Stagger and the Rebeltone Sound and found this old banjo from the 1890’s in a music store in San Rafael. It was tuned in double C tuning, which I’d never played but immediately recognised as the modal signature of all my favorite old recordings. I got back to the van and tuned my banjo to double C and ‘Blue Eyes’ was the first thing that came out of my fingers.
How did you go about writing the single?
The banjo part came first. After I’d figured out a few moves in my new tuning the form developed quite rapidly. Lyrically it came as a revelation as well. We’d been on tour for the better part of the year and I was starting to feel pretty homesick. I’d also been thinking a great deal about the atomic bomb and the new atomic age we’ve been living in since Aug 6, 1945 and how quickly the world can change. I wrote the first line “where is my blue eyed girl, where on earth is she?” and the rest just poured out of me. I think the whole thing took about ten minutes. That’s how it is though. Sometimes you have to work for it, and sometimes it walks right up to you.
Where and when did you record/produce and who with?
The record was recorded over about 18 months in 2018/2019 at the Rebeltone Ranch in Lethbridge, AB. The other band I play in (Leeroy Stagger and the Rebeltone Sound) was touring all the time, and I was finishing my undergraduate degree at the University of Lethbridge, so I chipped away at the record as I could. I’m a recording engineer and engineered most of it. Leeroy produced and did the lion’s share of mixing. The band were all my fellow Rebeltone Sound alumni.
How did you approach the recording process?
I wanted to do something that really fit the aesthetic of the songs. I write in kind of an anachronistic way and always want my songs to sound like they’ve come from 80 years earlier or something. I’ve always loved analog gear too, so with those things in mind we decided to approach making the record as old school and analog as we could. The console we used was a Trident 88 which was really neat. We recorded almost everything live off the floor and tried to keep things to one or two takes. Not everything on this record is perfect, but that’s totally where the beauty is for me. It feels authentic, if I do say so myself…
How did the concept for the video come about?
I was talking to my videographer friend Evan Uschenko, who shares my love for antiquated artistic methods and we got talking about how fun it would be to do something using 16mm. We had the idea to shoot a video on film and to hand paint the frames to create a multimedia piece of art.
Where and when did you film and how was the experience?
The process was hard but great. It was fun to struggle with film again, Evan loading the camera blind with his hands in a canvas bag so as to not expose the film, not being able to see what you’ve just shot, all the trials that the modern age has corrected were present and I think the final project was better as a result. The painting is what really took time. To paint 17 minutes of footage was approximately 24,000 frames and took 40 hours. When it was done I was glad it was over, but immediately was looking forward to the next time.
You have a new album coming out on the 15th of Jan, please tell us a little about what we can expect:
I’m so proud of this record. It’s a collection of twelve songs spanning old-timey bluegrass and Canadiana folk that focus on where we are, how and why we got here and where we might be going in the end. I really challenged myself on this record and I think that shows. I tried to make music that I liked personally, and that I hoped people would like to listen to, but most of all I tried to write songs about real, important things. I’m a big fan of the Clash and always idolized how their work had an important message, mostly about trying to be a better human being. That’s what this record is to me, and I think that comes across.
What did you find most challenging and rewarding during the creation of the album?
Getting out of my own head. Being an artist is a funny thing because we tie our personal self worth so tightly to our professional success. I had to practice getting out of my own way a lot on this record. I tried to be very vulnerable on this album too, and that opened me up to a level of risk that I’m not used to. It’s a good risky feeling though, I don’t think there’s any going back to the way it was before.
Who are you listening to at the moment?
My top five records right now are Noam Pikelny – Universal Favorite, Miles Davis – Miles Smiles, Chris Thile/Michael Daves – Sleep With One Eye Open, John K. Sampson – Winter Wheat, and the soundtrack to the movie Empire Records.
I’ve been listening to a lot of other things too. Gillian Welch put out a really cool record last year that is so hauntingly good. I’ve been listening to Tony Rice a lot too, he did so much for guitar players everywhere and it was a real tragedy when he passed. I’m also working through Bach’s cello sonatas on my banjo, so I’ve been listening to a lot of Yoyo Ma as a reference for those.
What do you like to do away from music?
I’m a private pilot so flying is a big thing for me. I have such a love for aviation. I’m a long distance runner, which is great because I can run at home or on tour or wherever. I like to ski and play chess. When I’m home I love to cook. I paint, mostly acrylic and watercolour portraits of historical figures (with varying degrees of success). I also love to read. I’m big on classic literature, Hemingway, Vonnegut, Thompson, Camus, Pasternak, etc. I also do digital audio research on analog and digital mixing practice and perception through the University of Lethbridge, which I’m not sure counts as something I like to do AWAY from music, but is definitely a thing I’ve been doing.
What’s planned for 2021?
You know what, it’s hard to say! The record comes out on Jan 15th and I have a few things coming down the pipe as far as touring and performance, but it really is too early to tell what is and isn’t going to be possible. All I definitely have planned for 2021 is to do my best to make it as safe and responsible as is in my power. I’m itching to get out and play, but only when it’s safe and responsible to do so.
So I think my plan is to stay home until directed otherwise.
Favourite food and place to hangout?
I like a really great slice of pizza. When it has that thin crust that’s charred but chewy and when the ingredients are fresh and properly prepared. New York, NY has the best pizza I’ve had so far. And I think Bø, Norway has the worst, (so far).
My Favorite place to hang out is a local place called The Owl in my home town of Lethbridge, AB. The place is a shining light in this city and we’re so lucky to have it. If you’re in the area, definitely stop in, and tell Steven I sent you.
Second place goes to the entire city of Berlin, Germany.
Third place goes to Sonny’s bar in Brooklyn, NY.