|ISSUE 11.1||Spring 2001|
On the eve of the release of their second CD, The Stepford Five and The Art Of Self-Defense (the follow-up to their 2000 debut, Mesh), Cringe.com contributing writer Ryan Smith sat down with the band to discuss their recent studio adventures, Spinal Tap-ish behavior and why Columbus musicians don't get along.
Cringe: Why did you guys seem to butt heads with the music scene when you first came to town? How has it changed?
Keith: I don't know that things have changed much around the Columbus Scene since we arrived two years ago. I think we butt heads because we challenge people to do things differently. People automatically assume we do it for our own good, but we try to do it for the benefit of the whole music community. I think Columbus has a lot to offer as far as bands and venues. That's why we're here and that's why we'll stay here but it doesn't mean we won't try to keep rocking the boat to keep things exciting.
Jason: Unfortunately, I think our intentions are completely misunderstood. We believe that building a strong music scene will be beneficial to everyone, it's as simple as that. I want the best bands in this town to be heard, not my fucking friends bands. When people outside the scene are exposed to a Columbus band (through an opening gig, festival, etc.) for the first time I want them to see a real promising, talented, hard working Columbus band with a recording available ... not the promoters'/bookers' friends band! That's how you build a scene, showcase your best and most promising talent to new audiences. That just doesn't happen here enough.
Cringe: So what is this new record about? Dare I say concept album?
The Stepford Five and The Art Of Self-Defense
Tim: Self-defense can mean a lot of things, not just karate and such, so people will instantly try to make a connection with that. The idea is to get people thinking in a broader context, that putting on your seat belt is a form of self defense, and so on.
Cringe: Sonically, where does this disc take the band to? Is there a new sound? Was there an attempt to escape from any "old" sounds?
Mark: I don't believe there was any conscious attempt to escape from any old sounds. I think we maybe evolved as a band and are more comfortable with the part we each play in the band. Our influences are not as visible on this album as they were on Mesh.
Keith: I don't think we ever consciously set out to sound a certain way. I can say that we are sounding like a "real" Stepford Five. Most of the first record was written by Jason and myself before Mark and Tim had assumed their current rolls in TS5, so they more or less had to interpret what Jay and I had already laid out for them. This time around it was a total band effort from the ground up on all of these songs. So in that sense it's more of who The Stepford Five really is.
Tim: I think on the studio we went for an improved sound. Bigger, fatter drums, more balls in guitars, that sort of thing. Somehow, all of our material ends up with that Stepford sound, but it's not something we strive for or try to get. This gets us closer to where we want to be, both in terms of the quality of the recording and the maturity of the songwriting.
Jason: Sonically, it's a big giant middle finger to anyone who wrote us off on the first record as just pop rock, or alt-rock, alt-country or whatever label they could come up with. We've progressed naturally which I'm really proud of. There was no conscience decision to sound a certain way or not sound a certain way.
Cringe: Was there a different mind set during the making of this album? How did it compare to Mesh?
Keith: The mind set was to basically make the best record we could to showcase the songs we've been working on for the last year. We thought it would be easier being that we had been there before but it turned out to be much harder.
Tim: Yeah, we didn't expect to be in the studio for over nine months though. By the end it was becoming a bit Spinal Tap-ish.
Mark: As we were writing the songs for the album we all had these ideas for what we could do in the studio that were not possible to do live. That somewhat gets into the production aspect of the album, which took a long time in comparison to Mesh.
Jason: We were a lot more open to pushing the songs in the studio this time. Mesh was pretty straight forward in terms of what we put on tape, fairly close to the way we did the songs live. This time we took a hard look at everything and weren't afraid to rip it apart and put it back together.
Cringe: Since much of this project was developed in a very "studio" sort of way was there ever a worry that it wouldn't translate live? Do you think it will?
Keith: Being that we're a primarily a live band I don't think we were ever too worried about that. These songs were all written and played out before we recorded them. Some parts transformed in the studio and there are some production bits here and there that we probably can't replicate live but the major dynamics of the songs will all be there.
Tim: The basic elements of the song, like structure, dynamics, etc., have to be there before we start recording. "Distraction," however, had a big reconstruction. The vocals pretty much completely changed from when we brought it in to when we actually recorded it. We also never had a set ending, and that had to be determined. We do a lot of tinkering, it's a big difference to hear a song when you're playing it as a band and when you're listening back on tape.
Mark: These songs were live songs first. Some of the instruments on tape won't be performed live, but I don't feel it subtracts from the song. I think some of the songs we recorded are more powerful live than on the album.
Jason: We walk a fine line, which I hope we continue to do in the studio, where we push the songs a little further but not beyond the possibility of playing them live.
Cringe: How were relations between Neal (Schmitt of Workbook Studio) and the band during the recording process? How big of an impact did he have on this record as a producer?
Mark: Neal is the controller of the "suck button."
Keith: Neal sort of became a fifth member. Gives his likes, dislikes, and additional ideas. He definitely pushes us a lot harder.
Jason: Neal was probably much more involved with this record than Mesh, and I think we were much more trusting of him this time too. I know I was more comfortable with handing him the reigns on a lot of issues and ideas.
Cringe: The whole recording process of this new record was documented on your Web site? Do you think that's being a little self-spoken for a local band? What was the idea behind that?
Keith: The bottom line is we always try to provide new and interesting content on our Web site for people who enjoy music in general. The idea was to provide people a first hand look at what it's like to be in the studio. Lots of bands have done this before. It's not like we're the first. Of course we are being written off as self absorbed for doing it, but you don't even really have to like our band or music to get something from our Web site. There are links to other band sites and well as music links. I know for a fact other bands use our Web site for a reference guide. That's what it's there for. So if that's being self-spoken then so be it.
Jason: The basic principle behind our Web site is to simply do all the things we wished the bands we enjoy would do on their site. I don't want it to simply be a promotional vehicle that gets updated once a year when we have an album to promote. It's like bands can't be bothered with you unless they have something to sell you ... fuck that.
Cringe: What is the current direction of the band career-wise? Goals?
Keith: I think we'd all just like to be doing this and making a living at it somehow. There are so many great bands out there that never get heard. We'd just like to break through far enough to be able to continue doing this.
Tim: Tour extensive for the new record. Play new cities, and more often. Make a significant impact in getting our music out to people who aren't necessarily musicians or music nuts. The kids are the future of Rock, and sometimes trying to get the music to them is difficult when all you play is 18 and over campus bars.
Mark: I really enjoy listening to music. The people that create the music I listen to have always meant a lot to me, so if I am able to be a part of something that people really enjoy then you really can't ask for more.
Visit The Stepford Five on the Web at www.stepfordfive.com