Steve Brown tries to make things not sound horrible. He certainly knows his way around a bass, and has had quite a career playing with several bands including Pinchpoint, Chigger, and The Arrogants. He currently owns and operates a small recording studio while playing bass for The Northern Labour Party. They have a sound that is familiar yet foreign, and have an EP coming out very soon. Steve has several things to say about touring, kids, and the great monetary rewards of being a recording engineer (and he’s only been thrown out of ONE band for being Mormon).
To find The Northern Labour Party on iTunes, click here.
So how long have you been a member of the Church?
A: I was born into the Church, and grew up in Downey, CA. I’m the youngest of 11 kids (how stereotypical). My parents were always active members, but most of my siblings weren’t. I guess I could say that in the past my body has always been active, but my head hasn’t. Probably like most have.
How has your family (your parents and your current family) supported your decision to make music?
A: When I was 18, I started playing music seriously. I’d say my parents were supportive. They knew I had an independent (stubborn) personality, so I think they probably knew I would do it anyway. Looking back, my mom must have had some trust in me. I mean, all the late nights, touring, and unfamiliar people around probably raised some questions. She let me have my space though.
With my own family, I couldn’t have asked for a better support system. My wife knew she was going to marry a musician; and with that comes some nonsense, and atypical situations. But she has always been supportive and encouraging towards my muse. When times have been slow musically, I think my wife has sensed the change in my disposition, and tried to entice me to get into more projects. Right now, the kids are still pretty young, so they think Dad is the coolest for playing in bands, and having a studio at the house; which, of course, I am. We’ll see how that plays out as they get older.
How do you know previous Linescratcher Cory Mathews?
A: I met Cory through a mutual friend about 10+ years ago. He then ended up marrying another good friend of mine, so we’ve been able to stay connected through the years. We have very similar views on musical philosophies, but could never agree on a project. I think we both think that each of us should be in charge. If we ever did, we probably wouldn’t get anything done. We’d end up sitting around for hours just talking about stuff.
What bands and albums have influenced you over the years?
A: Ok, this part could go on for weeks. But, here are 5 albums, throughout my life, that have changed the way I play/write/view music.
1. Adam & the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier
2. Jesus & Mary Chain – Psychocandy
3. Pixies – Doolittle
4. Slint – Spiderland
5. Neutral Milk Hotel – In the Aeroplane over the Sea
As far as individual bass playing goes its: Simon Gallup (The Cure), Eric Avery (Jane’s Addiction), and Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order).
Give us a quick overview of the bands you’ve been a part of.
A: I started out playing in bands with just friends. We really had no idea of what we were doing, but we wanted to write songs. The bass was sort of pawned off on me (thanks Aaron) because I was the only one that had a job, and could buy one. It ended up suiting me perfectly. After about a year I started playing in some L.A. bands, but things really picked up with a band called Garganta. We got signed to an Indie label called Satellite Records (www.satelliterecords.net) in Pasadena, and released and 7” (still a highlight) and a CD. That just fueled the itch. I then jumped into a touring band called Pinchpoint. They were also signed, and had some backing. So, we cruised around the country in a van. Touring can be trying, but there’s something about rolling up to town, rocking the house, then leaving. Chigger was next, and we also released an EP through Satellite. We did a few west cost tours, and also into Canada. During this time I was also playing bass with The Arrogants (www.arrogants.com). They were all good friends of mine through church. They ended up trusting me to record their last album, even though my studio skills were lacking. Overall, that was probably one of the best band experiences I’ve had.
What bands are you currently playing with?
A: The current project is Northern Labour Party (www.myspace.com/northernlabourparty). It’s a dark pop in the vein of Magazine, Gary Numan, and Joy Division. The analog synth player from the Arrogants had a new band that wanted to record an EP. We did it at my studio. Their bass player was not working out, so I jumped in. It all seemed like a good fit.
Is a touring lifestyle difficult to reconcile with your standards?
A: It can be. There’s a lot more crap coming at you from different angles when you are involved with this industry, than one that’s less appealing to artist types. Being trapped in a van with 9 guys for a month at a time can bring you to the edge. I think some of them saw me as a novelty; “You don’t do what?” A few of them would also try and protect me from things. I thought that was kind of funny.
All the bands I’ve been in have known that I’m a member. I’ve been lucky, though, to have just about all of them be accepting of it. I did get booted from a band once because of being a member. No harm done.
What do you see as the biggest problems with LDS people trying to be working original musicians, and how can they be resolved?
A: Probably not being grounded in your life. But that comes with time and experience. When you’re younger, it’s much easier to use the musician’s life as an excuse to get out of the Church. It’s just an excuse. If it wasn’t for that, I’m sure you could find another reason to do so. I was more drawn to the writing and performing side of music. The negative stuff that comes with it is more about living the life, and not being an artist. The two don’t have to go hand-in-hand.
What advice would you give young LDS songwriters who are trying to get into the music industry?
A: Don’t be a preachy person. Just be cool with people, and it’ll come back. I mean, you can hold onto your beliefs, and then be accepting of the others around you. It’s not always easy, but it’s also not always hard. Most people are good. They just don’t have our point of view, or understanding, of what this life is really about. If you respect the whole situation for what it is, then living this lifestyle, especially in this industry, is not too much of a problem.
Where do you see The Northern Labour Party going? Where can we hear their music? Will there be any tours in the future?
A: We just finished our first EP, and it’s being released at the beginning of May. The songs on our web site are the ones on the EP. We’re trying to stay focused, and write better and better songs. It always comes down to the songs. If they’re not strong, then none of the rest matters.
Touring options come on a case-by-case basis. You have to be a little more selective when you have a mortgage and kids. But, Germany is a stronger possibility. Our drummer came over from Holland, and used to play in some touring bands over in Europe. So, the contacts are there. We just have to make it happen. Closer to home, we’d like to try and do more shows around California, and over in Utah.
What do you do with your recording studio?
A: I try to make things not sound horrible. I started this studio out of frustration with going to other studios. I spent way too much time watching a clock tick by, and costing me more money. And in the end, not leaving with anything I was really excited about. If you wanted to experiment, it was going to cost you. Man, that stinks.
So, I pieced together this small studio that works fairly well. I usually record friends or referrals. I don’t advertise, so I can be selective about who I work with. I charge by the project, and not the time spent. My clients are happy with that. Some think I should charge more, but it doesn’t feel right. I really try to make it sound as good, and as interesting as I can. I probably spend more time on it then I should, but I usually get into the projects. When I’m done, I probably make about $4 an hour. The studio’s slogan is, “I make hundreds of dollars a year doing this crap.”
How can fans support you with your music if they like what they hear?
A: You can email us at email@example.com. We’re probably going to sell the EPs for $5 each, but even that might be negotiable. I’d rather just get the songs out there and see what sticks.a