Interview: Stephen Steinbrink

One early july morning when driving around the country lanes listening to promo albums in the car, I loaded up Stephen Steinbrink’s forthcoming album via melodic. As with all of their promos, it arrived with few pre-conceptions in a simple brown card packet. It took less than ten seconds to pull the car over and listen to the entire first half of the album in a lay-by. It sounds a bit like all of the bands I love, so I wanted to tell him so and talk about how it came together...



If you don’t mind me asking, who is tattoo’d on your right forearm?
Hi! It’s just a little doodle I drew on a piece of paper while on tour years ago, I kept it in my wallet for ages and then kinda blithely got it tattoo’d on me one night in someone’s apartment in Glendale, AZ. It’s a datestamp for a weird time. The very kind person who gave it to me died recently, so lately I think about him when I remember it’s there.

As outsiders, Olympia WA’s musical reputation and musical legacy is huge, how does it feel to be part of that scene? Is it a supportive network? Which artists do you particular recommended that might not be on the wider radar yet?
I actually just moved away from Olympia several months ago. It’s a special place, it was educational to be around radical creative people in a community that prioritized living simply, though I was either in my own head or my studio too often to really integrate myself into the pace of the city fully, socially or otherwise. But there were some good times had in the 2.5 years I lived there -- collaborating with LAKE on Arranged Waves was a total dream, working on various recordings at the legendary Dub Narcotic Studio taught me a lot about musical freedom. Being able to interact with the ghosts in the recording equipment there was straight up devotional.

The press has made a lot of your transient touring. Do you feel nomadic? Where is home? Where have you particular enjoyed touring? Which record shops have you enjoyed along the way?
I don’t feel like a nomad, but my perspective is not very... objective. My life feels normal to me because my experience is all I’m working with, y’know? I’m trying this new thing, experimenting in socially acceptable transience. I’m digging into the idea of just existing in many different places without really actively identifying with being from a specific geographic location, as in: “this is where I live, it is a part of who I am”. I don’t want an identity (sometimes when I’m driving in my car I try to make myself forget that I am a musician or have a gender or a family). I have a difficult time with community. I think if I do have a community I belong to, it’s more conceptual. Like, lately I’ve been telling people that I live in Western North America. Borders are totally meaningless and arbitrary, so what’s the difference between saying you live in part of a city or a section of a continent? My conception of place and distance is kinda ruined from a decade of touring, though. Currently I’m in Phoenix, AZ, mixing my new record and working in a diner. I grew up here, it’s familiar and strange, beautifully ugly and hot (it’s 90 deg F inside as I type this) and lately I’ve been feeling like I’m always dreaming or something. On Tuesday I’m going to New York for a month and then back to Washington to finish the new album, then back to Arizona for the Holidays, then off to Europe for a month in 2015. I’m going to Mars in 2016. I like touring everywhere.

‘Arranged Waves’ feels nostalgic and pretty ghostly at times. Is it a record that looks backwards or are we just hearing things in the wires?
I guess thematically, or lyrically, the album is about memory and the idea of integrating past images into one’s sense of self in the present. In 2013, while I was recording and writing the album I was seeing a healer or specialist or whatever in Olympia who was helping me to recover repressed or lost memories, so a lot of those images worked themselves into these songs. It’s all in there. But I think you’re right, it is ghostly. Memories are ghosts.

I felt like I had heard it before, even during the first listen. Do you feel like you have captured an emotion? Does the album have an overall vibe? Well, the form I’m working in is really familiar. I’m using types of typical pop tropes that are familiar to people who grew up with a radio and a television in the 90’s. I like to think of it like this: I had all this media forced on me as a child without my consent just by merely existing in the world. And now I’m processing this overwhelming media assault on my senses by making more media, paradoxically. Maybe that’s why it sounds familiar?

(this is meant as high praise) I was reminded instantly of Big Star. Do you feel that the work you’ve recorded in ‘Arranged Waves’ is a contemporary album? Do you think it has to exist now or it can carry on finding audiences almost without you?
Thank you! High praise taken, I am a huge fan of Chris Bell! I strongly believe it’s a contemporary album in the sense that it is reflecting the experience of a songwriter who listened to a lot of western pop music, who is living in the dregs of late capitalism, 2014...

Now that it is released, does the album have a life of it’s own? Totally! The cool thing about art is that it’s not yours once you say it’s finished. It’s like a freakin’ bird, you know? Just flies away. I originally released 100 copies of the album through a wonderful small tape imprint called Holy Page, and had pretty modest expectations, but since then it was released in Europe and Japan. The album decided on all this without me! (with the help of some nice people at Melodic and P-Vine) I’m totally humbled by it.

You’re pretty prolific in the studio and touring live... are they different things for you? Do you prefer any one side of it?
I think they’re two different things. I am communicating two separate ideas in performance and recording. To me recording is more about craft and skill, while performing is such a pure expressive act that is an exercise in letting go of control. Recording is infinitely more fun in many ways, but playing live is like, good for the soul in the way that dong triplicate takes of a guitar solo is not.


* Arranged Waves is out No.6 'Record of the Year' for 2014. Read more here.
* Illustrated by Hannah Megee

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