From the newest seed (the Seedy Seeds) sprouts Bro. Stephen, a guitar-playing, singer-songwriting, tall drink of wine of a musician. His location in Bloomington IN appeals to the Hoosier in me (go IU!), but his attention to detail, both musical and in his answers to the Ear to Ear questionnaire have me even more entranced.
Tell us a little about yourself…
I would really love it if I could someday write a song that could capture the feeling of this three-part graphic novel called Essex County by this dude named Jeff Lemire. The three stories capture the feel of living in a small Northern town. They have this weight to them that doesn’t seem forced at all, and that weight is borne out of the profound experiences we all experience in our lives. I know that sounds pretty schmaltzy, and I guess it is, but I really think that book nails it.
I think the second thing I would say is that it would be great if it could carry the same characteristics as a Chardonnay from the South part of Chablis. A lot of that area has this soil that is just reeking of limestone and you can really taste it in their un-oaked Chardonnays. The reason I bring this up is that I can only hope that my foundations, rootings, past, and upbringing skip past my filters and make their way into everything I produce. I always think that wine is a beautiful thing because the more you know about where it came from, what kind of soil it was grown in, what the weather was like that year, what kind of plants or trees were also grown near it, or how the grape changes in storage and bottling, the more you can appreciate it for being exactly what it is: just an extension of where it came from. A Chablis Premier Cru doesn’t wear its heart on its sleeve, it wears its neighborhood, extended family, and thick accent on its sleeve. I like that.
My friend Dave just said that my music reminds him of puzzles of pictures of covered bridges, so that too.
The things that make me want to write songs are usually very small things. Sometimes it’s just a good night I had out with my friends. Sometimes its a memory that I can’t shake. Usually it has to do with me doing something stupid or stupidly not doing something. Typically the broader the subject, the less I feel connected to it and the less I want to write anything about it.
As far as the other way to take it, I actually have a large number of friends who are legitimately inspirational to my music which is a beautiful place to be in. There are bands who are dear friends of mine like husband&wife, Rodeo Ruby Love, The Seedy Seeds, Vandaveer, These United States, Prayer Breakfast (Bloomington), Metavari, and others that just really challenge me to not make music that is disposable. Then there are just a lot of other artists that I just really look up to in a major way (and for a lot of different reasons) like Elephant Micah, Will Oldham, Phil Elverum, Julie Doiron, Justin Vollmar, Apples In Stereo, Laura Veirs, Black Star, MF Doom (or Madvillain), Loney Dear, The Long Winters and a host of others.
So, here is my recounting of that show:
First up is Phil Elverum and Julie Doiron trading off songs and singing together while Phil does his slide projecting on the wall. All the lights are out and everyone is sitting pretzel style on the floor softly singing along. All of my friends are there. All of them. So are a bunch of other people who wandered in off the street when we told them there would be a dance party later. They don’t really “get” why Phil Elverum is wearing a weird Christmas sweater or why he’s shushing them, but that’s ok because I don’t either but the music is so good!
Next up is Black Star! Mos Def and Talib Kweli get up there and just get the room moving. We’re jumping up and down and I’m up front screaming along to every word to “RE:DEFinition” secretly hoping that they notice what a good rapper I must be since I’m doing such a good job sticking with them and then they invite me on stage, but I freeze! The crowd wants me to free-style, but instead I just do the wrap I made up and memorized in high school and the crowd boos me off the stage, but its ok because that means more Black Star!
The Black Star boys step off the stage to make way for two other people. Wait a minute, is that Harry Nilsson? And is that Emmylou Harris singing with him? YES. It is! Oh golly goodness, they sing some songs, but I go crazy during “The Point” and think its funny how Emmylou Harris is doing the recitation part. Oh dang, is that Roger McGuinn and Rick Danko tearing it up in the backup band? Nope, just some session dudes who look like them.
Next up on the bill for the night is…(checking my master clipboard)…Oh no it’s not. YES IT IS. It’s The Promise Ring on their Nothing Feels Good tour. Except it does feel good. It feels really good. Especially when they play Pink Chimneys. You got so excited that you threw up a little, but that’s ok because I brought napkins!
After Davey plays a couple songs off of their future Wood/Water record, he exits as Jeff Buckley comes on stage to do some songs with Will Oldham. Jeff Buckley is kind of getting annoyed because he thought he was going to be solo and a bunch of cookie crumbs from Will’s mustache keep getting on his shirt. We all think Will is funny and fun and then they sing Buckley’s “Forget Her” together and we all realize that its very serious in a very good way. Then Will sticks out his belly and sings a silly version of a sad song. Somehow that makes it sadder, but we all know what’s coming up next!
It’s my dad playing the trumpet with Os Mutantes! It’s a Tropicalia Family Party and everyone’s invited. We don’t even care that we can’t sing along because who ever knew the words to “I Want to Be Sedated” anyway? It’s a fu- time dance party and then Daniel Johnston jumps on stage and sings 3 songs in 2 minutes, but OM never even stopped playing.
Finally, I make my way to the stage and everyone is super tired from the massive party that has just taken place. I play couple songs and everybody thinks, that’s actually not terrible. I liked it when he did that cover song. But since everyone is getting sleepy from all the pizza that we ordered, we all pull out our sleeping bags and lay down on the floor while I put on a Stars of the Lid record and just like Purple Drank, it slows our rolls and we all take naps.
What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?
I have done a lot of thinking about this question and I think it all boils down to perspective. This might be a cop out answer, but I am really drawn to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons and it usually has to do with the way that they see things. I love that Julie Doiron can sing beautiful songs about watching her kids play in the snow; I love that David Berman (Silver Jews) can make a really blunt statement seem so profound; I am enamored by John Roderick (The Long Winters) in the way that he is playful yet insightful; I love the how rigidly loose Will Oldham’s approach to recording is; I love that Bon Iver’s lyrics are based in phonetics and not meaning; I love that Elephant Micah’s songs sometimes seem like a Camus novel; I love that Vollmar’s songs are so intimate that they feel like memories you already made; I am constantly floored when Kate Long (of Bloomington’s The Hollows) sings “Don’t call me home or leave the night light on” during “Unsafest Place” and it almost hurts to listen to. So, I guess if I had to boil it down, it would be interesting perspectives.
Who is one person I should be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?
I really have a million answers for this, but I think the one person you should totally just prepare yourself to fall for is Frank Schweikhardt. Frank and I toured together for 3 weeks in the fall and he recently put out a record called Life But No More and it is really powerful. The whole record is a singular work, and I mean that in the best way. The record has the feel that is hard to describe, but impossible to not get lost in. His unique guitar-playing style is a perfect foundation for the songs which are at times timid, and at other assured and powerful. His songs just lock into the groove and don’t let go for 4 minutes. It’s not an upbeat record by any stretch, listening to it gives me real joy, something that doesn’t come along too often.
take a listen to Bro. Stephen: