Self-described as an “indie rock power trio” with “monster riffs, pop vocal hooks, deep grooves, and an explosive live show,” the Seattle band Stereo Sons recently recorded its upcoming album at Push/Pull Studio in the Central District.
I caught up with band member Chris Klepac to talk about the new album and life in the Central District.
CD News: Tell me about your new album. When is it coming out and what can listeners expect?
Stereo Sons: We’re All Friends Here is the second Stereo Sons album, and it will be released online on Jan. 7th 2014. It’s very different from the first album, Our Own Devices. That record was recorded and mixed in three days. We were a very different band, we had a different bass player (Marty Lund) and we were sort of hard-rock oriented, with a lot of very stripped-down arrangements of electric guitar, bass and drums. By contrast, We’re All Friends Here was recorded over a much longer time span. It’s the first full set of songs we’ve written with our new bass player, Carlos Tulloss, and he’s had a lot of influence on our style. In fact, I can’t really just call him our bass player. He plays bass, and keyboards, and samples, while Mike O’Doherty (the drummer) also has a sampler, and I play both guitar and keyboards. We’ve become less of a straightforward rock band and more a band that makes songs out of a lot of layers of different sounds and styles, from dirty 1970s prog-synth sounds to things you might hear on a more “modern” record like electronic beats and loops. But while we’re changing in this way, there’s still this impulse to keep the level of intensity right where it was when we were rocking out at the beginning of the band. So I think this record is partly about that process, how do we become this entirely new thing while still maintaining that energy and focus.
Content-wise, I always sort of think of every album as a concept album. The idea for this one came out of an experience I had going to a wedding about two years ago and seeing a bunch of childhood friends. It brought up a whole bunch of ideas and emotions about how relationships change over time and what friendship really means when you’re an adult, and how we deal with all these changes. Some of it is kind of dark but overall I think it’s hopeful.
CDN: You recorded it in the Central District?
SS: Yeah, at Frank Mazzeo’s Push/Pull studios, which has recently moved, but when we were there it was based out of an artist space called the Hiawatha Lofts, his studio overlooked that Shell station on Rainier next to the weed dispensary that used to be Stan’s Fish and Chips. We actually recorded all the drums in this big open area with a piano on the ground floor of the Hiawatha building, which is mainly used for community events (I’ll send some pictures). Frank ran cables down the stairwell from the fourth floor where his mixing gear was, and was talking to us on headphones, and constantly running downstairs to adjust microphones. It was kind of an awesome nightmare technically, but he got some really great sounds out of that space.
When we were doing overdubs there we’d always run down the hill to this Peruvian place called San Fernando Roasted Chicken, and I still go there a bunch, I think we all got addicted to the green sauce.
CDN: What aspect of the new album are you most proud of?
SS: Well the obvious answer to me is just the raw sonic quality, the audio production values. Frank worked with us on these songs for a long time, and he really knocked it out of the park. We’ve all talked about how this is the best-sounding thing any of us have ever made.
Less obviously I can say the songwriting means a lot to me. Writing songs in a band means making a collaborative art project, and the quality of the finished product is totally dependent on how well the band works together. Everyone takes a turn steering the boat, everyone fights for their ideas sometimes, everyone compromises sometimes too. I think the best bands have members who can work together well, but also have slightly varied tastes and strong opinions about those tastes, so there’s always this friction that keeps everyone pushing each other a little bit. When you respect the musicians you work with, you want to bring your A-game all the time, and I think we did that here.
CDN: What about life in Seattle or the CD has influenced your music?
SS: The CD is a great microcosm to walk around in and understand the city. I was talking about the Hiawatha, that’s this really modern-looking artist loft complex, overlooking Rainier Ave, which hasn’t changed much in twenty years. Up the hill behind Hiawatha you have both old family homes from the 50s and modernist cube houses that are less than five years old, plus institutions like the Franz bakery. The CD is like Seattle in that it’s a patchwork quilt of different eras of development, and it all has to do with where money is flowing at any particular time.
Our music isn’t really political in the traditional punk sense, but a lot of our songs are about how big systems interact with ordinary people’s lives, and how that can be randomly positive and terrible. There’s a song on Our Own Devices called “One Block” that was written specifically about Ballard but could apply to Seattle in general. It tells the story of a group of millionaires who are charmed by the neighborhood so much that they decide to move in, knocking down all those musty old brick buildings in order to put up anonymous condo towers. We saw the same thing in Capitol Hill a few years ago, when developers were so enraptured by the Pike/Pine corridor that they obliterated it.
Of course, that reaction provokes the opposite reaction: should everything just be kept in a bubble and not get the economic benefits of new development? And obviously that’s not right either. So you have this patchwork of compromises in which some good things happen to a neighborhood but some of the essential character is lost, and maybe that’s just the same story as the corporatization and blandification of America and the world in general.
As for Seattle’s influence, I should note that the house on 16th Street where Stereo Sons first practiced is the house that I still live in, and has supposedly been a notorious musician hangout for decades. There’s a Spin magazine photo somewhere that features our old practice space, many years before we moved in. Anyone in a band here who rents space or plays shows or hangs flyers is constantly brushing up against grunge-era ghosts in all kinds of ways. It’s a mixed thing, you’re inspired by that legacy and you want to make something as real and direct and visceral as the music that made Seattle famous, but at the same time that’s a vanished age, and surviving as a band is a very different proposition now.
CDN: Any favorite CD hangouts or businesses?
SS: I’m not far from a few landmarks that are pretty influential on me. A few blocks away you have Washington Hall, which is a fantastic building that was a Danish social hall and an important venue for the classic jazz scene that happened here, also near there is Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center, this huge old stately dome from the era of real solid civic investment in the arts.
I also admitted I’m fascinated by “Pill Hill”, from the old brick chimney of Cherry Hill Swedish to the kind of seedy sprawling mass of Harborview, it’s this whole culture and environment that I’m kind of immersed in daily when I pass through on the bus, there are a thousand stories I catch little glimpses of, people passing through this massive multi-hospital system. Again it’s this constant interplay between giant impersonal systems and real people, sometimes it works and sometimes not so much.
As for hangouts: I’m sad to admit I still haven’t found a neighborhood bar to call my own. I usually end up on 12th to quench my thirst, but really you’re most of the way to Capitol Hill by the time you get there, so why not just keep walking? We need a pub up between 16th and 20th. .I can’t complain too much though, because I’m only a stone’s throw from both Ezell’s (best fried chicken in town) and The Barbeque Pit on Cherry (best ribs in town) so I should count my blessings. Broadcast Coffee across from the park is another reliable weekend destination, and I’ve heard good things about both Moonlight Cafe and Cheeky Cafe. There’s lots to explore in the CD!
Listen to the title track off the new album: