So it seems like every time I get ready to write and tell you a new story here at OTBEOTB, we’re entering some new untold musical realm that seems to sync up perfectly with my mindset for the time of year.
Last time I spoke to you we were drifting through the mire of February and shaking up that grey Polaroid of activity with the music of David Rothschild & The Downtown Local. Now, we find ourselves in the very fingertips of a new March beginning, and with that comes the notion of a spring just waiting to be sprung. And while that blossoming of what’s to come seems to be stirring up the musical realm as well (with some great releases just starting to emerge), I find none to be quite so perfectly fitting for a summer in the making as the goes-down-smooth textures of Stephen Babcock’s just released LP Said & Done.
Babcock has an immediate flair for a good hook and a sweet melody, and when you put it all together his sound is the kind that makes “radio friendly” the term of endearment it used to be before largely tone-deaf Top 40 ruled today’s airwaves. Listening to Babcock’s songs recall that period when it was fun to find a song by an artist you didn’t know on your FM dial that just sounded great (and felt the same), and all it made you wanna do was roll down the car windows, blast the speakers, and hit the highway.
Thankfully, yours truly here at On The Back Edge of the Beat was able to catch up with Stephen Babcock just after the release of his album (and coinciding release show at NYC’s Rockwood Music Hall on the 27th), and ask him some questions. I hope you find it as interestingly illuminating as I did, and if your interest is piqued you can now pick up Said & Done on Stephen’s Bandcamp page, Amazon, iTunes, and you can stream it over on Spotify. There will be a review of it to come here on this very spot tomorrow, but without any further ado:
1. Congratulations on releasing your new album Said & Done! How has the reception to it been in the days since from both fans and newcomers alike?
(SB)-So far it’s been really overwhelming and exciting. A lot of people have shown their support and it’s been fantastic. New and old friends alike have reached out to me and have been really kind and supportive. Some blogs here and there have also given the record some really positive reviews, and we had a full room at the Rockwood Music Hall release show. It makes me happy to see that people have really been enjoying it.
2. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten to ask anyone this, but what are the mixtures of emotions like in the days leading up to and after the release of a new album? Are there a lot of nerves? Does this perfectionist side emerge where you wanna change a guitar part or lyric in hindsight?
(SB)-I definitely had some nerves right before releasing the new record and playing the release show. You never know how people will react and I really just wanted people to like the album. I had put a lot of time into perfecting everything I could and making sure I loved each and every song. So my hope was that people would fall in love with the songs like I did. So far the response has been nothing but positive and really exciting. I know that no matter what anyone says, I still love every single piece of music on Said & Done. It just makes it even sweeter to know other people love the songs as much as I do. It makes all the time, money, and effort worth it.
3. Now I know you played a release show for the album at the venerable Rockwood Music Hall this past weekend. What’s it like from your experience playing a venue like that, and where does it rank in terms of places you’ve gotten to play in during your music career?
(SB)-I’ll be honest, Rockwood Music Hall is easily one of the best venues in New York City, if not the US. When I first started out in New York as a songwriter, Rockwood, Stage 2 was where I wanted to be. All my favorite bands have played there, from Bahamas, to Dawes; to even just recently Johnnyswim came in and sold out the venue. So Rockwood always holds a special place in my heart. Playing Stage 2 at Rockwood for me meant that you “made it” as a New York songwriter. So I started out playing really early slots at Rockwood Stage 1 at like 6PM. After playing up through Stage 1 to Stage 2, I was finally able to pull off a Saturday night slot for my release. The folks at Rockwood couldn’t have been kinder and more supportive of the release too. When it came to the night of the show, I think everyone was surprised at how packed it was. I had basically sold out the venue and we were at capacity. It just blew my mind to see how supportive and wonderful my friends and fans are. Even people who didn’t know my music before came out to the show and were totally engaged. The release show is easily one of the highest points in my musical career. After the show my band and I just hugged each other because we knew how special that moment truly was.
4. So as I’m reading the summary of your new album and the personal journeys and stories involved in it, I have to ask (because it always fascinates me) what are your origins as a musician and songwriter and what led you to making music as a creative outlet?
(SB)-I grew up in a very musical family. My dad had my brothers and I taking piano lessons when we were about 3 years old and I tried numerous instruments as kid (the viola and saxophone in particular).Things changed a lot though when I was 10 years old and my older brother bought John Mayer’s Room for Squares. I just identified with the music and it led me to really loving the singer-songwriter genre. I picked up the drums at about 13 and started playing in bands with some school friends but it never allowed me to write songs like I wanted to. When I was 16 I gravitated toward the guitar as soon as I learned a few chords, I went home, wrote three songs, and recorded them the next week. That same year, I won the high school talent show, which triggered the light to go off in my head thinking “maybe I could always do this?”. To this day I still play both drums and guitar consistently as a musical outlet. They provide different things for me musically and I really enjoy that. The work I do with drums is more collaborative and includes writing with other people, but the guitar is all mine I would say. The guitar gives me a chance to say things to people I might not people to in real life, and I need that sometimes.
5. And to add on to that a little bit more (coming from this fellow Upstate New Yorker), how does a guy coming out of Utica and Syracuse find himself down in the big city doing the whole music thing? Do you still find time to come back to our neck of the woods, and does that play a role going from places that could arguably be considered quite rural compared to that big “City That Never Sleeps”?
(SB)-I grew up right outside of Utica in New Hartford, NY, and Upstate is really dear to me. I personally think my time in New Hartford, Syracuse, and Albany really helped shape me as a person. I just really love coming from a very suburban place that allowed me to figure out what I wanted to be. I still visit all the time because I think going Upstate allows me to connect to a part of me that the city could never get to. Being from outside the city helps keep me grounded and makes me appreciate the littler things in life. It keeps me from being so “go, go, go” all the time (though I know I’m still a very anxious guy). I’ve been a suburbs guy I guess. It is a big part of me.
6. In listening to your stuff, I can definitely sense an acoustic-pop flair that has the warmth and invite of a Jason Mraz or early John Mayer. Now was that just a type/style of music you fell into naturally, or as you grew into it did that require experimentation? Did you secretly start as a psychedelic punk rocker and just scale back?
(SB)-I think I definitely fell into it naturally. I believe that every songwriter just naturally writes and sings in a certain way, and mine just happened to be that singer-songwriter style. I have played drums in punk rock bands and hard rock bands and I definitely love that style of music, but I have always been in that songwriting vein musically. A lot of people use the Jason Mraz/John Mayer comparison too, but for me, I have slowly drifted away from that. Nowadays I feel the music I love (and play) has a more Americana and “southern-pop” feel. To me, the new record, Said & Done, is a more pop inflected take on bands like Dawes, Bahamas, Rayland Baxter, or Ryan Adams. Still songwriter-y, but tracks like “Tightrope”, “Worth”, or even “Someday” come from an Americana beginning stylistically.
7. Now in that music/lyrical creation realm, what comes first for you? Is it a process where the words of the song shape themselves out of a place or idea and just need to have the chords built around them? Or does the music come out in chords or particular riffs and the words come after?
(SB)-I have always been a “music first” guy. It allows me to find the meter and flow of the song while giving me a chance to decide what I want to say. Usually, if not always, the lyrics come from personal experience. You could point at any song and I could tell you “oh that’s about so and so” or “yep that’s about such and such”. Said and Done is basically about one person in particular, but the songs also come from numerous experiences with different women in my life. Each song is like a melting pot of real events, but some songs are more about one person and others are about a culmination of people. I take a lot of pride in lyrics because the music I gravitate to is all about that. Lyrics can usually take the longest time to gather together, but I always find it is absolutely worth it. The best thing to hear from any listener is that they loved the lyrics or that they identified with them. To me that sends me over the moon with joy.
8. Going back to the description of the album again for a moment, is there anymore you’d like to add about that journey you took in the creation of making this record? I’m always so intrigued by such vulnerably human journeys of discovery, and I think what most catches my attention is how you were influenced by the Southern United States. How did that come about exactly, and what did that part of the country infuse into this record?
(SB)-The trips and tours came about after my desire to play some shows down South. I have some family from the area and I knew my music would fit well there. Lo and behold, it totally worked out better than I ever could have expected I met so many people and learned so much that it really inspired me. The Southeast helped me really discover who I was and what I wanted to say musically. You can hear it in the songs; the love for Southern music and particularly a girl named Georgia. Every state from Alabama to North Carolina can be heard in this record. Each one has a special story and imparted a certain wisdom on my music that I still feel is very crucial to who I am. I just think the south made me look at myself in a certain way and the Americana music I heard really inspired me. I traveled the South both alone and with my good friends Luca DiFabio and Brad Goodall. Both trips just made me feel at home. The music, the food, the people; everything was welcoming me with open arms. It allowed me to grow in a brand new way. It’s a second home and a personal proving ground.
9. In this grand realm of music and album creation, when you boil it down to the real nuts and bolts of what goes into it all…. what does music represent to you? Is it a great burst of catharsis and really being able to unload that emotional weight out into the world, or is it just that storytelling aspect and wanting to share it with others? I guess to really sum it up, what drives you and inspires you not to just play music, but to create things like Said & Done?
(SB)-I think it’s a little bit of both things you mentioned. I love having music as a release in my daily life, but I also use music to tell stories and say things to or about people I might not normally say. For me, music is a way to collect my thoughts and be creative in a way that I think people can identify with. Most importantly, I use music to connect with people. I long for that connection with others and it’s really vital to me. So music gives me a way to look people in the eye and share experiences.
10. And finally, now that Said & Done is just starting to spread it’s wings and make it’s way out into the world, what are you looking at as far as future musical plans go? What dates will you be playing that you can tell us about, and what are the prospects of making some new stuff further down the line?
(SB)-Well now that Said & Done is literally “said & done” (sorry had to use the pun), the plan is to work to tour a lot. There is an upcoming show on March 24th at Pianos at 8PM with my friends Luca DiFabio and Brad Goodall. We then will be playing in Washington D.C. on March 30th Gypsy Sally’s and Richmond, VA at Reclaimed RVA on March 31st (the Richmond show also includes my friends “The Tide Rose”). There is more shows booked for April and into the summer, so the hope is just to get the record in front of people at shows. I’m also planning on doing some work with some labels and management companies which should be really exciting too. As far as the next record, I started writing it while finishing this one, so things are definitely on their way. I personally can’t wait to get back in the studio and make something brand new to show everyone. Writing has been really fluid so I’m excited to see what happens in the future. Be on the look out though for more Said & Done shows and content in the near future.
Thanks so much to Stephen Babcock for taking the time to sit down with me! Like I said in the beginning, if you want to buy his new record you can check him out on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon, or if you’d prefer to stream it beforehand you can go over to Spotify as well.
As I also mentioned before, look for a review on Said & Done to be here front and center tomorrow!
All photos courtesy of Stephen Babcock’s artist Facebook page.