Stepper (19 juin 2008)
Entrevue de Val + Cath avec Andy et Howie
Depuis leur arrivée définitive en sol montréalais, Andy McAdam et Howie Woiwod ont greffé plusieurs musiciens à leurs côtés pour former STEPPER. À peine dix-huit mois plus tard, on peut réellement apprécier le produit de ces mutations musicales de la part d'un groupe qui, à chaque prestation, nous impressionne un peu plus. Ceux qui ne sont pas encore familier avec le mélange de rock, reggae et ska du groupe sont définitivement dûs pour une initiation! STEPPER sont sur les planches du Petit Campus ce soir jeudi le 19 juin, en compagnie de STAYLEFISH et BLOOD AND FIRE. Voici un entretien inspirant réalisé la semaine dernière avec les deux pilliers du groupe.
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[CATH] Today is Sunday June the 8th, we're here with Andy and Howie of STEPPER. Please introduce yourselves, and tell us what you do in the band.
[HOWIE] My name is Howie and I play the guitar, the trumpet, and I sing.
[ANDY] I'm Andy, I play bass and sing in the band STEPPER.
[CATH] So speaking of that band name, why are you called 'stepper'?
[ANDY] It was really hard to think of a band name for this band. It's taken a long time. 'Stepper' is a kind of reggae, the one where the kick drum is boom – boom - boom - boom, you get it. It's a rythym in reggae, it's a stepper rythym. And I just loved the word, it's a nice word. To me it just signifies our growth and moving away from what we used to be in our old band, for me and Howie. We've been playing together since '94.
[CATH] That was my next question, where did you meet and how did it all start?
[HOWIE] Well we played in a band in Calgary called INTERSTELLAR ROOT CELLAR. Howie was 17 when we started playing. I think I was 18 or 19.
[ANDY] How old are you now?
[ANDY] Okay, I was nineteen. So yeah, we played in Calgary for a long time. We had one other band between STEPPER and INTERSTELLAR ROOT CELLAR, and when we decided we were going to move to Montreal, that band changed and became STEPPER.
[CATH] And you're not from here you just mentioned, both of you...
[CATH] Anyone else in the band from Calgary?
[ANDY] Yeah, our guitarist Dennys Lee - he's from Edmonton, Alberta.
[CATH] Why have you decided to move here?
[HOWIE] Well we've been out here before with INTERSTELLAR ROOT CELLAR...
[HOWIE] ...and we loved it. I'd been here before, we wanted to change from Calgary, you know we wanted to reach people who were... Out here it seems like people were keen of original music, more than in Calgary, you know? Calgary only has a couple of handful venues, and you're on this island and you can't go nowhere so if you want to play shows you got to get the hell out of there but the closest is like Saskatoon, Vancouver, Edmonton, so we thought if we'd come here and started playing shows here, it would be more central like Toronto. There is so much different places to play.
[ANDY] It's about industry too and population. Basically, the choice was between Toronto and Montreal but Toronto didn't have the vibe that we liked. We like the vibe of Montreal, it's just an easy place to live, it's a nice place to live, it just seems... I don't know! I don't know what it is about Montreal.. Toronto is like an overpopulated Calgary. It's business, go go go, what can you do for me, kind of thing.
[HOWIE] That was our perception of it.
[ANDY] That's my perception of it, every time I go that's my perception of it. Don't get me wrong, I love Toronto. I think it's a great city I have a great time when I go there. I don't feel like living there right now. Who knows what will happen.....
[CATH] It's very different.
[ANDY] It's very different. I like it but Montreal beat Toronto. We toured both cities in our old band, loved them both but I guess Montreal is beautiful, its got the old city feeling too, which I love, visually. It's beautiful, it's very inspiring, it's culturally diverse...
[HOWIE] Which is the opposite of Calgary - Calgary is culturally homogeneous. So I guess we wanted to go someplace where ...
[ANDY] Yeah but you know it wasn't such a hard decision it was really quick. We made our decision quick. And I think that decision was made probably around year 2000. We decided if we were going to move, we thought about it for thirty seconds: Montreal!
[CATH] How long have you been here?
[ANDY] Three years.
[HOWIE] Three years in September.
[CATH] How about the rest of the band are they from here?
[ANDY] Just Nicky. Nicky Popovic.
[CATH] That guy ...
[ANDY & HOWIE] Yeah that guy!
[ANDY] Yeah he's from here. Our current drummer, Andrew, he's from Colberg, Ontario; And then there is Dennys, Howie and I, we're from Alberta. Interesting.
[CATH] Nice mix! You guys mentioned being in other bands before this one how does that experience brings something into the band that you are now?
[ANDY] It brings a lot. When you're in one band, well at least us, we were in one band for about ten years; That was our first band, so you know, that band really started about 1992, when me and the other originator, my friend Ryan, were in high school. And then as young teenagers in high school, we met Howie, and another horn player, a keyboardist, our drummer, and then we had INTERSTELLAR ROOT CELLAR for eight years. It's sometimes hard to know what's going on when you're in one band for so long, you just have one opinion, you're with the same guys. Especially in Calgary. It'a different story here, I see bands that have been together for a long time, and there is just more happening, so you get more experience faster. Calgary was great for us, we did really well there, but the experience was kinda all the same thing for eight years. It was hard to tour out of Calgary for us, it is so far from everywhere, and then when that band broke up that's when the real experience started. When we all started to play in other bands. I played in a reggae band, for about a year and an half, and toured with that band for a year and a half. Howie played in a funk/soul band.
[HOWIE] I played keyboard in that band.
[ANDY] And trumpet.
[ANDY] I played in a rock band, a couple of rock bands, for a year and a half as well, so I was playing in a rasta reggae band and a radio rock band for a couple of years and that when I really learned about music and what's going on sort of everywhere.
[HOWIE] When you're playing with the same group of guys for that long, you obviously get to know each other very well and how you're playing, you know, things are unspoken, the way you interpret sound and time. It's a great thing to do, you know, to play with new people; And at the same time it's always like it's not as tight as you would want it to be, because you're used to having that chemistry that you nurtured for such a long time. We've been playing together for so long that we can finish each other's musical sentence.
[ANDY] When I look back, I would love to be playing with the six guys I started playing with in 1994, but it just doesn't work that way. I would love for us to be still doing it that, but that's part of the beauty of experiences. The loss. The loss of bonds and friendships and stuff and then, through that, making new friendships and moving places and finding new people. So that's a big part of where were at right now. It's really interesting moving from a place you're known for twenty years and knowing nobody and just trying. When we just got out here, we were putting out hand drawned posters for finding a drummer. Which didn't get us anywhere.
[ANDY] No. Not even a single phone call. We had posters all over the city. You know we thought, "Geez, we're going to show up here and there is going to be so many people want to play that we're going to be able to tour", and you know... It was a big drop.
[HOWIE] It took us about a year...
[ANDY] ...before we even found a drummer! After eight months I thought I was going to go crazy because I've come from playing minimum fours shows a week to not even a rehearsal, for eight months! I was just at the end of my rope.
[HOWIE] And then we found our new drummer.
[CATH] How is it for you guys, you know, coming here, playing here... it is a totally different story than living here and having to go through all this, so how are you finding it in terms of venues, the crowds and all that. Because it's such a busy city, there is so much going on, every single day you're competing with fourteen other bands, so how is it working out for you?
[HOWIE] Well you know, at the same time, every time we play a show, there is people that come. There may not be a lot of people but some times in Calgary we'd play just in front of the bar staff. And I'm sure out there obviously a lot of bands have. But here is a different story, people do come out. Either a few or a lot. It does not really feel to me so much like we're competing with other venues and for me it does not feel like that maybe because there is just so many people.
[CATH] It's kind of a good time for ska music right now to begin with. It's more happening than any other genre right now.
[ANDY] yeah. There is a lot of young ska bands out here playing which is great. I'm really excited about that and that's where I group myself in with them. We may have a band of experienced guys who've been playing for ten years but that doesn't really count for anything. It counts for something in your band, but as a band we've still just been a band for over a year really. So we're one of those young bands. It's your name, it's not really the guys in the band that have ten years of experience, it's just this band. What is your band doing right now, you know? So we're learning and I don't sweat stuff like that too much. Because really, this band is just a baby.
[HOWIE] It's hard to expect people to know who we are at all.
[ANDY] We have so much work to do, when I look at it. Where I want to be and what kind of work I want to be doing. It's going to be another three years before I can sort of really sit back and judge how far we've come and how far are our accomplishments.
[ANDY] For sure. So we're just taking it easy.
[CATH] One day at the time.
[ANDY] Yeah one day at the time, for sure.
[CATH] We've been talking about your band all this time but for somebody who doesn't know who STEPPER is how would you describe your music?
[HOWIE] Well it's got a little bit of this, and a little bit of that....
[ANDY] It's kinda like ADD personified.
[HOWIE] It goes through phases like that. We love all different kind of music, and it all comes out in one song. We'll have funk, rock, we'll have like a ska chords or a reggae bridge... These are definitely the styles that we've been pushing with this band: reggae, ska and rock, you know. I think that's what STEPPER is.
[ANDY] Yeah, we're trying to satisfy our musical thirst and make it good for the listeners as well, but it's kind of hard because we want to play rock and we want to play ska and we want to play reggae and making it all come together is a real challenge. But at the same time we think, through doing that we're going, that we'll get people something new in a way, if we're lucky... Tthat's what we're trying to do. Out here, there is so many people that you get people that only want trad reggae or trad ska or straight punk, you know, and we're not satisfied playing that. I'm happy to play any trad style, but I still wanna kick in the distortion and blow some doors down at the same time.
[HOWIE] And do things unexpected. Throw some stuff out that people wouldn't expect.
[CATH] I think that does come through in your music. It's a nice blend of so many different things. If you could point out any kind of influences that you each have, what would you say?
[HOWIE] Yeah well those are changing too, now I have these favourite bands but obviously those changed over the years and the songs that we've been writing and that we play have been an influence too so... There is the classics, right now I'd say Steel Pulse is in my favourite bands right now and then bands like the Mad Caddies, you know, even bands like The Briggs, these are bands that I'm really digging right now. Different styles you know.
[ANDY] I definitely love... I've never known the MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES before I've moved here, I'd never listened to them. And now I'm wow, this is a band that I totally understand. I can never stop to listen to BOB MARLEY. I think I've been listening to him since I was eight or so. I've own like every record.
[HOWIE] A few times over...
[ANDY] Yeah, a few times over!
[HOWIE] Cause he lends them to me...
[ANDY] Yeah and then he loses some and I buy new ones or give them away as gifts when I meet friends who don't own a Marley album, just give away a piece of my collection. I love BUNNY WAILER. His discography is amazing. I listen to this stuff every day, for sure. That's for reggae, and then there is punk, I love the U.S. BOMBS, they're like one of my favourite punk bands for sure, BOUNCING SOULS - absolutely love them, STEEL PULSE is huge for sure, big influence.
[HOWIE] I think for me it's definitely the reggae. When I don't know where to go to or what to listen to, I go back to the reggae, it's always there. Always. Like a warm hug.
[ANDY] And I love the two tone era, it's funny because I meet people here who don't dig two tone, you know, they think it's silly and goofy. But I think that stuff is bad ass, and one band that we've idolized since we were a very young band in high school is FISHBONE. We've played shows with those guys and they've opened our eyes to a lot of ways you could approach music. Those guys are amazing.
[HOWIE] That's a band that takes you to the limit, to the extreme.
[ANDY] But there is experience too, as I mentioned before about losing your band mates or loosing your friends along the way. There is a band that has two original members. You know, they formed in 1978 when they were twelve years old and that was six guys and now there is only two of them left, but they are better than ever. They have a bunch of new guys in the band, they're like a seven or six piece band now, and they are just amazing. Amazing. Never fails. A FISHBONE show is always going to be one of the best show you've ever seen. I want to go on tour with those guys! Oh and VOODOO GLOW SKULLS too, I'll throw that in there too. I've discovered them since I've moved here and I absolutely love that band. They are a machine. Another band that has been together for like twenty years. I appreciate that too. I would like a band by default if they have been together for that long. But yeah, even if I'm not a big fan of the music, I'll love that band because it is so hard to do. So when a band does it, they have instant respect from me.
[CATH] Let's talk more about recording music. In terms of the writing process how does it work for you guys?
[HOWIE] Any which way but loose.
[ANDY] Every which way but loose, I don't know, it's an old Clint Eastwood movie. There is no set way. I might have a bassline, or I might have two chords, Howie may have a vocal melody or a horn line or Howie may have a bassline, or he may have a whole song with everything written, drumbeat included. It doesn't matter.
[CATH] Everybody pitches in.
[ANDY] Anybody pitches in, you know, Andrew our new drummer, he'll come up with an idea ''let's stop the song here and...'' and we do it and it works.
[HOWIE] I think we're searching for new ways to write. For us, that's something interesting, and I think we'll build a skeleton and a big part of it is like arranging our songs. We'll take an idea and we'll go over it so many different ways, we'll try to give it style and we'll try to put parts and it kid of snowballs. If there is something missing and we'll just work on it.
[CATH] So how do you know when's the song done?
[HOWIE] That is a great question.
[ANDY] When everyone has a smile on their face!
[HOWIE] Yeah, that too.
[ANDY] When you look around the room and everyone has a smile on their face really that's how it works with us. We had a song from Howie which we are going to put on the new record, called Going Red. Howie has had this song for five years! Five years he's been dragging this song around. And I had to rel-earn this song from him like, twenty times in different styles, and then we brought it to the band and it sounded very good. But the style was so different that it actually didn't fit in the band at all. But the song was really good. So we played it in a ska style, we played it in a reggae style, in a punk style and it ended up being like a roots reggae song, a really slow roots reggae.
[HOWIE] I just didn't see that one coming.
[ANDY] I didn't see that one coming, although it kinda dawned on us one day. It's like I heard it in my head, and I heard the chorus and it was like that real sweet line, like roots style, and I called Howie and said “I swear it's going to work this way” and then he called me up a week later and he said "I recorded it in my bedroom you know, roots reggae," and he sent it to me and I listened to it and we brought it to the band and then they were mad at us, they liked it the way it was...
[CATH] So how did you sell it to the band?
[ANDY] We made them play it.
[HOWIE] Just play it! This is my song. This is how I want to play it.
[ANDY] No we're like, you know what, we've worked it with our drummer making Den and Nick show up and then it was tight with the three of us when we got to play it along and it's just, you couldn't argue anymore. Like this is the song.
[CATH] This is it.
[ANDY] Yeah this is it.
[HOWIE] But who knows in five years or more...
[CATH] Say you have a demo out, right?
[HOWIE] Well, I suppose. We're recorded so much stuff since we've moved here. We don't have anything out that we give like...
[ANDY] Yeah, exactly, nothing you can get at shows.
[CATH] You're going to be recording though.
[ANDY] Oh yeah.
[CATH] What's the deal? We heard about Tennessee....
[ANDY] Yeah we are going to Nashville!
[HOWIE] Nashville!! [laughs]
[ANDY] Which was a very difficult decision to make. But that's part of the things I like about being in a band, it's making decisions that make no sense and just for the sheer adventure of it. A lot of people kind of gave us a funny look, when we told them about our decision. Basically we were going to record the album with a couple people in town or maybe someone from Toronto, who are all really in the ska/reggae scene, who have done ska/reggae albums. And then we had to stop those ideas because we got an offer from a guy who's been producing albums since the sixtees!
[CATH] Who is it?
[ANDY] His name is George Massenburg. He invented digital recording. He invented the parametric eq,
[HOWIE] [laughs] As far as inventing digital recording, he's one of the pioneers.
[ANDY] He's definitely one of the pioneers of digital recording, he's won Grammys for albums that you know, no one of us own, but you can respect the music.
[HOWIE] That is the thing I guess about recording. I mean, we know what we 'd like to hear. But as far as creating these sounds on our own, we don't know where to begin. Our drummer, he just got his masters in sound engineering so he's got the best ears of all of us for sound quality and sound recording. I mean, we've done recordings that sound great, but what's missing - we don't know where to begin. So that was a big factor when choosing George Massenburg.
[CATH] So how dit you get the offer?
[HOWIE] Well Andrew being a student at McGill meets Georges Massenburg, he comes up once a year and teaches the masters for a week. He heard our songs we had recorded with Andrew for a school project that he was doing for his master's program, so he had to play songs that he recorded for George and George comes out and says “Who is this band?” and Andrew is lke, "it's my band". So he goes, “Are you guys recording a record?” , “Yeah we're going to record a record.”, “Well why don't you should come to Nashville and record it with me”, “Well we got no money” , and he said “Well don't worry about money, , just come on down.” So we're like, "Okay!"
[ANDY] Can't say no.
[ANDY] I'm still, I don't know.... It's still a tough... It's weird, I don't know. It was a tough choice to make. We were working, we did a song with Alex from ONE NIGHT BAND which was an incredible experience. He is so talented and the song sounded amazing and he's so on point in the studio. He took a song that he never heard before and he really...
[HOWIE] He works magic on a tape.
[ANDY] Yeah, we works magic on the song, and we've also been talking to Mitch Girio from Toronto and listening to his work and it sounds great. And these guys, you know, we are going to work with those guys but when something comes at you like this... You can't forget that we're here to live and gain experience and do things that are unexpected. You just can't turn down opportunities like this.
[HOWIE] For me it feels like this is ground breaking for us as a band to actually record a record like this, that represents us now. But who knows? Who knows what is going to happen with the songs, maybe the record is going to suck and if it does - whatever!
[ANDY] Exactly, the world - our world doesn't depend on this record. It's pretty obvious that we are musicians and we're going to keep doing this.It's been a long time since we've been doing this, and this is what we do! We've been rejected and turned down by so many people and so many places I have a collection of rejection letters and they're fantastic. I love them. But at the same time for every ten times you get rejected and the door closes on your face, you get a phone call that changes your life and that's a tremendous feeling.
[CATH] So when are you going to go record this?
[HOWIE] Two weeks.
[ANDY] We'll be in Nashville, our first day of recording is two weeks from today.
[CATH] And you're staying there for what...?
[ANDY] A week.
[CATH] Only one week? that's intense!
[HOWIE] Very intense. We've been working so hard the last couple of months gettiing these songs are ready as possible so that the recording will be quick.
[CATH] You kinda know what you want to do, where you want to get.
[ANDY] Kinda is the key word.
[CATH] You don't know what's going to happen.
[ANDY] You never know what's going to happen.
[HOWIE] A couple of weeks ago we recorded fourteen songs in two days just to hear what they would sound like, and every one of these songs has been changed since then. So they're going to change more. It's like the preproduction of our album for us and it's the most important part to make the songs as strong as possible.
[ANDY] Yeah, and getting as tight as a band so that when we get in the studio and the producer says 'do this, do that' you have to be able to
[CATH] It's exciting!
[ANDY] Yeah it's exciting. It's all about experience.
[CATH] I think you're doing the right thing you know, why not?
[HOWIE] Yeah, why not? That is our attitude there is no reason why not.
[CATH] About your live shows. I remember seing you guys...a long time ago and it was only three of you.
[HOWIE] Oh you saw us as a three piece.
[HOWIE] Where was that can you remember?
[CATH] I can't remember... it was with one of my friend's band, somewhere on St-Laurent.
[ANDY] Was it Saphir?
[CATH] Yeah! I think it was that one.
[ANDY] That was our first show!
[CATH] Are you serious? That's hilarious.
[HOWIE] You saw our first show. It was with the GRAND NATIONAL band. That was our first show ever, with our first drummer and we only played one more show with him before we found our next drummer. The three piece... Well, our dream has always been to play in bands as like a six piece. In my old band Howie was just the trumpet player at first. So trumpet, sax, we add keys and guitar, bass, drums. Six piece band, that's always been our dream or what we'd love.
[ANDY] The ideal would be three piece female back up vocals, percussion section, two keyboardists, another guitarist. I love that sound. I love those huge bands sound.
[HOWIE] Especially live.
[ANDY] But yeah, we started a month before we left Calgary because we knew there would be only me an Howie moving here and that we'd had to find a drummer. So anyone who wasn't moving to Montreal got kicked out of the band. We recorded like a fourteen songs record, which doesn't represent us now, at all.
[CATH] What you do now is somehwat different than what you did two years ago...
[HOWIE] Right - and will be from what we'll do probably in two years. That record, is... We play those songs still but ...
[CATH] In a totally different way.
[HOWIE] Yeah, I mean I was proud of that record when we did it.
[ANDY] Like I said, we thought we would show up here and be playing shows and we would need cds to sell. We didn't know if we were going to tour our way out here. Our drummer from Calgary almost moved with us, he was really close so we were possibly going to book a tour, to play our way up to Montreal, so yeah, you need a cd if you're in a band.
[CATH] You need to have something. Especially if you're touring from far away.
[ANDY] Exactly, you need the merch.
[HOWIE] Theses days you may as well just call it gas money you know. There is no profit in merch anymore if there ever was any.
[ANDY] This is part of the new era of touring, high gas prizes I don't know, it's just ....
[HOWIE] It's going to kill a lot of bands.
[CATH] Are you planning on going to the States yet?
[ANDY] Have not been yet, definitely will. We got to get the record first. And it's baby steps like I said before. In three years you look back and you see what you have accomplished. You make your plans and you hope it goes well and things chance along the ways.
[CATH] You've had some pretty cool opportunities like playing with THE AGGROLITES and THE SAINT-ALVIA CARTEL and all that....
[ANDY] We've been lucky. And the MUSTARD PLUG show - that was fantastic.
[CATH] How do you feel about support in this town? From labels and promoters or ...?
[ANDY] I have no opinion on it at this point. No opinion, because like I said we're a new band and I can't expect anything from anyone untill we put some more work into it. But the future holds what it holds, and things go the way they are supposed to go then we should be able to garner up a following and packing our own shows and go on tour with bands that we like.
[CATH] Who would you bring on tour, from here?
[ANDY] That's a tough one because we don't really know anybody yet and that's part of what we're doing right now. I mean we know a few pepole but we have played more that two shows with and likeI said, we're still so young it's hard, it's hard to imagine I don't know. Who would we go on tour with ?
[HOWIE] I don't know. There is like, we made a list the other day like we'd go out with THE SLACKERS, we'd go out with THE AGGROLITES and MANU CHAO, oh yeah MANU CHAO!
[ANDY] For sure! But for locals it's hard. Like we want to tour thirty dates straight, anywhere and everywhere. We don't want to do like four days here and there, we want to tour for real you know?
[CATH] If you were to have a tour booked for you, next week would you be able just to go? Quit your jobs and leave?
[ANDY] I would, definitely. I don't know I can't speak for the rest of the band but I could speak for Nicky. Nicky would go, Dennys would probably go, Andrew too. At this point, I think we could probably get the whole band to do it. At this point I don't know a lot of bands that would say the same thing, in town. I've played with bands and I've looked at how they tour and I know them on a personal level and I know something about their lives so I can honestly say that I would, but I don't think they would. It wouldn't happen.
[CATH] It's difficult.
[ANDY] It's difficult. Guys like me and Howie who are still doing the band thing after that many years and they are not going to tour like that anymore but we're still up to it. We had a small taste of success with our old band, you know, we had so much fun doing it. It's the most natural thing to do for me and this whole moving out here has been building up to that. Now we need the record and then we push, hopefully get some kind of label support, wherever this may comes from.
[HOWIE] Build a family you know...
[ANDY] Yeah, build a family t hat's it. It's all about family and friends. We look for people we are comfortable with, people who appreciate what we do and understand us as well [interruption froma girl that wants to give us her sangria]
[ANDY] But that was was a long answer for a simple question!
[CATH] Ok so then what band from here do you totally dig?
[ANDY] That's hard because we've enjoyed each band we've played with. Like I said, TRIP THE OFF are cool, TAKE THE BOYS, HOODLUMS for sure, LES CONARDS À L'ORANGE were awesome - I was really surprised with those guys, ONE NIGHT BAND definitely, THE EXPOS were terrific, BLOOD AND FIRE...
[CATH] That's a good list... To finish things off, are you guys are doing any shows soon?
[ANDY & hOWIE] June 19th with STAYLEFISH and BLOOD AND FIRE at Petit Campus.
[CATH] Thank you so much for doing this interview!
[ANDY & hOWIE] Thank you!
Merci à Andy et Howie d'avoir pris le temps de discuter avec nous, ainsi qu'à Val pour avoir transcrit cet entretient de quarante-cinq minutes!