Bro. Stephen – Just some songs, with a nice glass of Chablis (from the Seedy Seeds seed)

Bro. Stephen

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…

Let’s see here…My name is Scott. I just moved to Bloomington, IN this fall after living in Louisville, KY for over 6 years and I grew up in central Michigan. I like to think I am a worldly fella, but realistically I’m actually just an unhealthy vegetarian who indulges his whims too often. Also, I have Narcolepsy. And I like comic books.

How did you get started playing music?

I grew up in a pretty musical family. My dad was a Baptist preacher who played a mean trumpet, my mom played the pipe organ in our old church, and my four siblings and I would sing as a family with them quite often. I sang in a lot of choirs and stuff growing up and never really played an instrument until I picked up a Japanese mini-guitar when I was 17. I put out this terrible little EP in high school (which I’m hoping has long since been lost/desroyed) and played a couple of shows. As soon as I graduated high school I packed up my car and moved to Louisville, KY and eventually started writing songs and playing at open mics. I played a lot of open mics.

What was the first recording you ever purchased?

Remember when I said my dad was a preacher? Well, my first music purchase was pretty rebellious in that I purchased Jars of Clay’s self-titled record. My second was MxPx!

How would you describe the music you play now?

I should really have a good answer for this by now since people ask me all the time. I would describe it as just some songs I play on my guitar. They aren’t songs to change the world and probably won’t be on any Billboard lists anytime soon, but they are just the product of this problem I have where I can’t pick up a guitar without wanting to write another song. The songs are usually pretty small in scope because I’m really kind of obsessed with those kind of things we take along with us.

Bro. Stephen is a mostly solo project, but you have also played with your band, Chemic.  Do you prefer a band setup, or playing solo?  How does one influence the other?

It really depends on the songs I think. There is definitely opportunity cost involved in both because there is an intimacy that seems to present itself when you play solo, but there is also a sense of fun and camaraderie that is hard to achieve without a full band. Of course, playing by yourself is much less complicated!  I usually try to write for one or the other.

For instance, a large portion of the songs that will be on my full length Baptist Girls were written with the intention of performing them solo or with one other person, but I am getting ready to record an upcoming EP where all of the songs were written with the intention of them being a full band. Sometimes songs have a life and are malleable and therefore can excel in both realms and those are usually the good ones. I don’t know if I have any of those.

Is there something non-musical you use as a inspiration, or that your music reminds you of?  A painter, building, dish of cereal?

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.

Who would you consider your musical inspiration?
Oh gosh.  I’m not sure whether you mean “What inspires you to play music and write songs?” or “What are some bands that inspire you musically?” so I will answer both.

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.

If you could pick a perfect lineup (dead or alive) for a show where you were the headliner, who would it be?
I really feel like Conan O’Brien in that I overdo the self-deprecation most of the time so I’ll try to avoid that here even though it would be weird to headline a show like this. I would like to have a show that is really intimate at times and then at other times it’s just a balls out dance party.

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.

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take a listen to Bro. Stephen:

Bro. Stephen – The Front Room

Bro. Stephen – Patrons Of The Arts

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The Seedy SeedsBro. Stephen

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The Seedy Seeds – Piles of Instrument Fun Seed

Photo by Scott Beseler of www.taketheday.com

The Seedy Seeds don’t know you, but they already like you.

And you will like them too – I certainly did, after hearing their 2006 demo, and particularly “Earned Average Dance America,” (check out the track below, and see my essay for Song of the Day).  It is a captivating combination  of instrumental creativity and quirky lyrics.  Margaret was kind enough to shed some light on her inner workings, creative process, and crayons.

Tell us a little about yourself…

My name is Margaret. I’m a transplant to Cincinnati—I grew up in Virginia. I like to think a lot. I also really like to cook.

How did you get started playing music?

My parents put me in piano lessons when I was maybe 6 or so… it didn’t last particularly long. Then, about five or six years later, when my older brother got a guitar, I’d sneak into his room when he was away and try and figure things out anxiously before anyone could catch me doing it. I’d make what I thought were really “progressive” and “experimental” tape recordings using my dad’s voice recorder. I bought my own guitar when I was 13 and started writing a lot of terrible music privately in my room.

What was the first recording you ever purchased?


Not sure I can remember… with my own money? Probably “The Sign” by Ace of Base. It’s the album that had all the jams… I wouldn’t share it with my little sister so she bought her own copy. Our home was rich with Ace of Base.

What do you think “indie” really means in terms of music? Is it an aesthetic, a culture, a state of being without cash?
When I first started going to shows, I had the impression that “indie” was a movement like any other, something that had come necessarily out of and in reaction to another movement. To me, “Indie” was an alternative to “alternative” rock radio. It definitely encompassed a particular sound, perhaps a sound mood, too. I remember when bands previously unknown to most of the people I knew suddenly became more accessible, and these sounds and sound moods excited a broader audience with their seeming newness, “indie” kind of expanded to encompass a lot more. Because it really stands to identify music produced by unsigned bands or bands who are not signed to major labels, “indie” now describes more sounds and styles of music than I’d previously given credit to. And to limit the term only to aesthetics would, I think, be unfair. It is most certainly a culture also.

By not elaborating on this last point I hope it doesn’t seem hastily or lazily tacked on… just seemed like this answer was already starting to resemble the introduction to a boring book by me that will be read by only me.

Of all the instruments you play, which is your favorite?  Do any of them have names?

Autoharp. Definitely autoharp. I so far haven’t named any of my instruments, but I have named my utility knife. I call it Peggy Sue.

When you’re writing a song, which comes first – the music of the lyrics?

I’ve written both ways. Sometimes lyrics and music come simultaneously. I write when I’m feeling inspired and so I can’t rely upon a formula—I’m not talented enough… when I’m itching to create something I just kind of explore… it’s organic I suppose. So sometimes I’ve got an idea I want to write into words and sometimes I just want to pick something up and hum to it and see if anything of interest comes out.

Who would you consider your musical inspiration?

Musical inspiration? It’s kind of complicated. Music inspires me to do things other than write, record and perform music, while things that are not musical inspire me to write, record and perform music. So, now I need to figure out whether you want most to know what music inspires me to do things non-musical or what non-musical thing inspires me to be musical… To keep it limited, I’d say my biggest musical inspiration on non-musical activities is Four Tet. And I’m most inspired by my friends and family to create music.

Is there a comparison you would make between your music and something non-musical?  A painter, building, dish of cereal?

Never really considered that before… perhaps one of those crayons that are like 4 colors in one and make a rainbowesque streak when you draw with the broad side, and a mess of mixed colors when you scribble.

If you could pick a perfect lineup of bands (dead or alive) for a show where The Seedy Seeds was the headliner, who would it be?

Oh my, oh my. There are so many ridiculously amazing bands that I would consider doing desperate things to share the stage with… but I have to say, if you didn’t know already, Cincinnati is brimming with some serious musical talent right now… and there’s nothing at all quite like playing a show with amazing bands that are also amazing friends. Right now I’d say the perfect bill for a show we’d be headlining would be: The Seedy Seeds / You, You’re Awesome / The Sheds.

What attracts you to a particular song? An artist?

It usually depends on the genre… I’m for sure captivated by melody and harmonies. I’m also very serious about lyrics—words I don’t like can ruin a song for me, and there are definitely entire catalogs by bands that I won’t touch on account of my lyrics pickiness. When I’m listening to electronic music or more minimalist music, I really like dynamism and balance. And more and more lately I’ve been really obsessed with production quality. To add to the list, I’m also kind of obsessed with mood in music. I love song elements that give me an overwhelming sense of a place, idea, feeling, or other noun, adjective or verb.

Which one person/band should I be listening to right this very moment? Why does their work get you excited?

You should be listening to Bro. Stephen. It’s the project of my friend Scott Kirkpatrick and it’s amazing. His delivery is beautiful. His lyrics are provocative and clever, and the way he chooses to word things makes me feel richer for knowing someone who interprets things so differently from me, but shares these thoughts in an easy to understand manner. Scott has a great sense of dynamic in his presentation and his songs are performed with this intense conviction that always manages to elicit real loyal devotion from my ears. To top it all off, Bro. Stephen practically sets the example for music that evokes mood. His songs really sound like sitting in a cozy, dark room at night lit only with colored lights in the middle of December when it’s still and quiet. Amazing!

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Listen to some of The Seedy Seeds!

The Seedy Seeds – Change States – “Earned Average Dance America”

The Seedy Seeds – Count the Days – “Dandelion”

and buy a disc, while you’re at it!