Interview: Dan from The Stepkids
We chat to the keyboardist before their Australian tour.
US band The Stepkids defies categorisation and has had people compare them to everyone from Rotary Connection to ELO to the Beatles. Whatever you call it (the word 'psychedelic' gets bandied around a lot), their music has been raved about all over the world. This is due in no small part to their captivating live shows where the entire stage, band included, gets turned into a canvas for visual artist (and friend of the band) Jesse Mann to project onto. The Stepkids are touring Australia this week for the first time, playing three shows in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. We caught up with keyboardist Dan Edinberg ahead of their visit.
Alanna Bromley: How are you?
Dan Edinberg: Very good. We just finished a long recording session and now I am on the long train ride back to my home in Brooklyn, New York.
So how did recording go today?
We've been working really hard on our second album actually for a couple of months now, so we were just finishing up a song. We have a couple of songs that are pretty much done already so we're pretty well on our way, for sure.
You must be looking forward to releasing the album...
Yeah, we're really excited about it actually. We feel that we took our sound from our first album and just expanded on it. A lot of things are going to sound a lot more, quote on quote, modern, but it's purely just that we've expanded our listening palette. We're listening to a lot of different stuff now and we're just really excited to get all of our new stuff out there. Hopefully we'll have a new track that's due to debut for y'all down in Australia next week.
So how does the recording process work for you guys? I know all three of you kind of have an equal role.
Right right, it's really cool that way. The reason that we were all excited to be in this band in the first place was because all three of us can do recording, you know, engineering music, as well as playing instruments and singing. So because we're able to pass those roles around we feel that it increases our productivity. Somebody can man the computer while someone can mute certain notes on the piano and somebody else can actually play the piano. Between the three of us we can fill a lot of different roles. We write lyrics equally too which is actually a very rare thing. The way that we write a lot of our material is that we sit in a room and we come up with a backing track first. We'll arrange it, get the chord progression of the song, get all the backing parts right. Then we'll write a vocal melody together and it's sort of one of those things where somebody starts singing something and someone else is like 'Oh try this' and the other guy's like 'Oh how about this?'. Then we'll write lyrics together and we'll do that by agreeing on a concept and then we sort of just build out the vocal melody with lyrics. Usually each of us will write a full song and we'll end up just taking the highlights of each person's lyrics.
That does sound cool; it's a very different sort of process for sure.
Right right, it definitely is. It only works because all three of us have written a lot of music by ourselves so we're confident enough that we can always bring ideas to the table. I feel like if we were only used to working this way it wouldn't really work in the long term. We're also hard at work on our own music, outside of the band's music, so it all adds to the big picture.
How do you know when a track is finished? How do you know when you've reached a point where you're all happy?
That's a really good question because one day you can think it's finished and the next day you're like 'Oh, I don't know if I like this, OK I want to change this to that'. It's really tough to say, it's honestly when it passes through the wringer of all three of us. But it is also one of those things that once you know, you know. Or maybe it's that moment when you are listening to it over and over again and think you wanna change something but you don't actually change anything. It's probably at that point.
So was your childhood very musical? Have you always wanted to do music for a living?
Yeah, I always wanted to be either an artist or a musician growing up because my dad is a really good piano player. And it's really interesting ? both Tim and Jeff and I ? all of our fathers are very good musicians. So I think growing up, and looking up to somebody like that, definitely influenced the way that we saw ourselves, the people that we wanted to be. I've always wanted to be a musician, it's really the only thing I could see myself devoting 20 hours a day to. For all of us we really live it.
What sort of music do your fathers play? Can you see an influence from your dads in the band's music?
My dad's a jazz musician so totally. It's funny, even the Beatles are a little too... you know, they're not what he's into. He's into Oscar Peterson, he's into people that do the Arcanum, all the greats like Hank Garland, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, all the great jazz musicians. So that's really what I was raised on and it's funny too because both Tim and Jeff were the same and it really influences our music now. I think a big element of jazz is that it's social music. It's music designed for every part, every player, to really have a voice to collectively pass around creativity. And I feel that because we have such a jazz background it's been very natural for us to have a collective cipher in the studio.
Yeah, that makes sense. So the other part of your music is that your music videos and live shows are really visually strong. Who is behind your live shows and the visuals ?
The live show is a collaboration between us and a really good friend, whose name is Jesse Mann. I've known him since high school and he's always been a ridiculously talented visual artist. He studied sculpture and we'd been talking about collaborating for so long that we knew we wanted to do something where the visuals would totally complement the music and make it like one big interactive show. So we'd been talking about that for a while and then once we started getting Stepkids together that inspired him to get back into making his artwork. We were in the studio when we came up with this idea where we knew we wanted to do something with projections but we knew also that we didn't want to do it like other bands do it. We knew that we wanted to put it on somehow, and we came up with this idea ? what if we turned the group itself into a canvas? So what we did was we all wore white and we put white sheets all over the stage and we painted our instruments white and he projects on us. He can make us look any colour he wants. It's pretty cool ? he designed a unique visual set for every song.
Yeah it's very cool, so what about your videos for your singles? Like 'Wonderfox' [above]?
Oh yeah, well, we've been really lucky. The video for 'Wonderfox' was by a guy who has done a lot of stuff for Stones Throw, his name's Henry DeMaio and it was really cool working with him.
For the 'Legend in my Own Mind' video [below] we were really lucky to get hooked up with the director Tom Scharpling. He's a fairly well known comedy writer in the US and abroad. We were really lucky also to get Wyatt Cenac, one of the stars of a really popular American show called The Daily Show.
We have a video coming out soon for 'Shadows on Behalf' that we're really excited about. We're just excited to keep things moving forward and to keep working hard on the second record and we really can't wait to get to Australia, we've only heard such amazing things about what it's like to be a band playing shows down there.
Are you going to do anything else while you're here ? anything touristy?
Oh man, I wish that we had time to spend at the beach but unfortunately we're just in Australia for five days. We're just doing Perth, then we fly to Sydney and we do Sydney and then Melbourne and then we fly back home. We're really, really, really excited though. I feel like the energy of being in a new place will more than make up for the horrible jetlag.
Stepkids will play the following shows on their Australian tour:
January 25, 2012 ? Perth at the Bakery.
January 27, 2012 ? Sydney at the Keystone Festival Bar as part of the Sydney Festival.
January 28, 2012 ? Melbourne at the East Brunswick Club.
Words: Alanna Bromley