A Muse's Muse Interview with Simon Steadman of the UK Indie Band, STEADMAN.
conducted by: Jodi Krangle
There are bands doing quite well without record companies. There really are. It's not some myth that we hear about in whispered tones but never really *see*. Simon and his band are proving that and are slowly but surely building quite a name for themselves both in the local gig scene in the UK and online with the release of two of their songs in MP3 format for free download (check their site for more details). Not only is their new album "Loser Friendly" great music, it's music they produced the way THEY WANTED IT. That's key here. No one told them what to do. They are entirely happy with the end product. And that, to my way of thinking, makes them more successful than a lot of bands with a record contract under their belt. These guys have been there, done that. And talking with Simon was quite an eye-opener. I think you'll get a lot from reading this interview too.
Question: Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in music and specifically in writing songs? What got you started with it? And what made you think you wanted to make a living from it?
All my creative tendencies are my mother's influence. Dad just watches TV. She has sung as long as I can remember and I have always been part of the audience. I think my first stage appearance was at a small festival. My Mum (Maggie) was singing a song called "Black Crow" in front of a few hundred people and I was watching from the wings. I happened to spot a huge basket labelled "Props", inside wierdly enough was a crow costume. I slipped it on and ran on stage flapping about behind her. The audience were laughing, she couldn't figure out why and I made my debut aged 10.
Maggie also used to run various Folk Clubs around London and she would always hassle me to sing a song with her, I finally gave in, realised, "Hey this isn't so bad after all, in fact I kinda like it!" and the next week I was singing Prince songs and met a girl, "Wow the Music biz is great" I thought!
Aged 16 I moved to Hastings, a seaside town on the South of England, where my musical education really began. I didn't know anybody so I just sat in my room,played guitar, and wrote songs about how I'd just moved to this town and didn't know anybody. I then started college and came in contact with other musicians. My first band "Bluestone Mor" was a Pink Floydalike rock outfit formally known as "The Flaming Duvet's (In the States that would read "The Flaming Quilts") Don't ask! It was all part of my education. I shared the song-writing with the guitarist and soon realised I didn't want to share the song-writing with anyone. Selfish maybe but Steadman and Cutmore doesn't have quite the same ring as Lennon and Mcartney. besides I didn't need any help. After Various failed stabs at getting a band together ("Si and the Family Stoned, Henry and The Cereal Killers, The Sons of Scrimm" to name but a few). I finally settled with a bunch of musicians I could rely on and so began The Dharmas (details of which can be found at www.steadman.co.uk under History.) I really found my song-writing feet with this band. it was our life for 5 years and we lived with eachother and talked about little else. A major record label came along and made life difficult for a few years but that hasn't stopped me.
I never really thought about making money from it as it's not an issue when you're a songwriter, it's more of a plus. Songwriting is something I've always done and will always do. I don't do anything else other than watch the odd movie, take the odd walk, write the odd song, Love an odd girl and I swim on Saturday's. I'm hoping to live in the States one day When the States lets me.
Question: Can you tell me a little bit about Steadman? How did you guys end up getting together?
Steadman contain remaining members of The Dharmas (Check out History at Steadman site). The Dharmas were six happy, positive, determined musicians who came around at the time when happy and positive were words deemed uncool in the British music press. Fortunately for us thousand's of people didn't agree and came to see us at all the major festivals, Universities and Venues nationwide. We were doing very well for ourselves until we signed that fateful record deal. To cut a long story short, our record company was a lame duck.........(and we were baby ducks swimming behind the wrong Mother)
The four remaining members of The Dharmas (Russ, Ellie, Wal and me) carried on to fight another day under the name Steadman (Dom became a monk and Chris is now Mel Gibson's personal stunt double). we chose to use my surname as we felt that, after the multi personalities of The Dharmas, we should create more of a focal point for our audience.
Without the complacency and insecurity of a deal we decided we'd better take things into our own hands. We made friends with a Bay City Roller (Eric) and managed to sneak out his entire studio one night, when he wasn't looking to record our debut album. We rented a barn out in the backwoods of Hastings and began recording "Loser Friendly".
Every night was bean stew night, so after a month, the place stank. We eventually had to call it a day, blamed the smell on the cows and came away with 13 songs sounding exactly the way we wanted with no concern for "singles" and "shifting units". We'd got the job done.
Now we relax here in "the Beverley Hills of Britain's South Coast", Drinking fine wines, eating freshly caught oysters and making rubber band balls to pass the time. Life is sweet!
Could you pass me another chocolate covered supermodel?
Come join the Paradise!
Question: How has your songwriting changed from when you first started? Do different things inspire you now as apposed to then or do you see some similar themes?
One of the first songs I wrote went something like this:
It's the year 2001 ad
And everything you dreamed has happened to me
I've fallen in love again and again
and I've tried to make you part of me
but you won't let me coz you can't see
That I love you and nothing will change my mind
(Here comes the best bit!)
If you wanna ride a spaceship to another galaxy
Then hop on board of mine
I'll be glad to take you with me
Hold on tight, we'll be alright
There's no need to be alarmed
Coz in this future world of ours no-one can be harmed.
I was fourteen when I wrote that. Part of me wants to say (in a very deep and manly voice) that I've developed and matured lyrically, and another part want's to say that I'm still a big kid with my head in La La Land. The themes are the same, I can just word it all better now and I know what a metaphor is. I still haven't found a word that rhymes with orange though!
Question: How do you get inspired to write a song? Does it just come to you in a bright flash? Do particular incidents set you off?
My moods are heavily influenced by songwriting. If I haven't written a song for a while I get very irritable and even slightly depressed. It's as though my worth is justified to me by the next song I write. When I have completed a song, and so long as I'm happy with it, I couldn't possibly feel more alive and positive. I hope I don't sound too pretentious saying this. I really do live for the next song and it is my reason for getting up in the morning. and that's the truth, Ruth! Sorry, I mean Jodi!
I never sit down and say "I'm gonna write a song now and it's gonna be about...........". I don't work like that. I just have to make sure I'm playing my guitar or working on the computer as often as possible, so that I'm always there, armed and ready to catch it. I don't fully understand it myself. Sometimes I'll sit there and nothing happens, nada, zip zilch. I couldn't be less inspired. Then BANG! for some reason a chord and melody catch my ear and I'm away. There's no stopping me. I've noticed that the best songs are always the ones I write quickly, almost without thinking. That say's to me that I'm not really in command.
(These are trade secrets I'm telling you here. It's only because I trust you that I'm sharing them. Take it with as much of a pinch of salt as your mind will allow)
The lyrics are irrelevent at first. I always start with the chords and melody. Then when I have some direction, I record myself scat singing on to my dictaphone, making up words to fit the melody. Then when I listen back, I'll find that I said a word or phrase which feels naturally suited to the melody. The theme and words then fly out quite easily. Don't get me wrong though, I have written some shit in the past. I can usually tell if a song's going nowhere and I've got quite a large catalogue of half written musical explorations into hell.
A couple of the songs are set off by particular incidents. A song called Red, which may be on the next album is about a very close friend who is HIV positive and one the last songs I wrote is about the negative/unfriendly/too cool for you attitude of some musicians and was spurred by a recent experience I had.
I've always tried to be super honest in my songs as they are my only release and I'd only be lying to myself if I wasn't. I don't care if I give too much of a personal insight into my thoughts and feelings. songs should be about sharing and relating experiences. I want to hit a nerve. I want to see honest emotion, I want to make people cry. that's far more satisfying than a thousand good reviews.
Wow, I really can go on can't I? Got a bit heavy there didn't it? Oh well, you did ask.
Ed Note: Yes, I most certainly did ask, Simon. :-) Thanks for answering.
Question: You mentioned that you experienced some difficulties with the major label you were originally signed to. Without naming names, what happened? What made you decide the "partnership" wasn't working? (And indirectly, what do you think other individuals/bands in the business should watch out for?)
The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Try and picture the scene. Six friends get a band together. Why? because it's fun. The chemistry's right. The music is good. What next? We do some gigs. The buzz is amazing. The response is wild. We wanna do this forever! Ok then, we need a manager. Steve walks into our lives. He's as green as we are but boy is he determined. Just what we need. Musicians are notoriously lackadaisical. Steve works his butt off. We go in the studio. We get three thousand cassettes made, and hit the Glastonbury Festival. We smuggle in a sound system and generator, find an empty stage, run by the oldest hippy ever. He say's "Go for it!" We Do.
We christen it The Blaggers Stage and we do 7 shows in 4 days. We put stickers in every toilet (at eye level - if you know what I mean). Every tree has a poster and we perform daily session's on the festival radio station. We are a small unknown band making very big waves. We go from playing to a hundred people on the first night to around three thousand by the last show (no-one counted). We sell out of cassettes and the 500 T shirts we had made. What Next? an independent record company (Rhythm King - home to Echobelly, Betty Boo, S-Express - Britsh acts you've possibly never heard of) spend eighteen months thinking about whether to sign us or not. We don't care though. We're having too much fun. We're playing four or five times a week all over the country and meeting all the friendly wierdo's and eccentrics life on the road has to offer................
They sign us. We put out a single. it goes to number seven in the Indie charts. We put out another single it gets to number 13 (Unlucky?). Then we hear of THE MERGER. A major record company (Arista UK - home to Whitney Housten, Puff Daddy, TLC - American acts you possibly have heard of.) are buying Rhythm King and the head of Rhythm King (We'll call him Richie Rich) is hired to run Arista UK. Boy we're excited. With more money to spare we are put in the studio to record our debut album. We spend six weeks at two of the most expensive studio's in the country and come out with an album we're very proud of. Some record company representatives come and hear it and one cry's tears of Joy.
After delay upon delay, we begin to think something is up. A couple of bands who signed at the same time as us are dropped. So far we are safe. Through the grapevine we discover that the head of the company (Richie) is being accused of embezzling funds. He is sacked. Then we hear of THE CLEAR OUT. More bands are dropped, more staff are sacked and our contract is up for reappraisal. Uh Oh!
The inevitable happens. We lose our contract. Our album is put on the shelf and we go into a lengthy legal battle to get our songs back. Eighteen month's later we get our songs back. Two members are dissolusioned enough with the music industry to leave the band. The remainders carry on regardless and perform under the new name Steadman. Hard times = Great songs, and I write tons of them. Now free and easy we launch our album Loser Friendly to the world via the Internet. Wish us luck and please buy the album (http://www.steadman.co.uk/).
And the moral to this story:
Well it doesn't really matter does it. Bands will still sign deals. Labels will still screw them around, and if their "lucky" (1 in every 500 bands are "lucky") they'll get the success they desire. as for the other 499. Well, we for one are much happier now, thank you very much.
Question: Wow. Sounds like you guys have been through the ringer!
Jodi, That's not the half of it. Experiences like ours serve as the fuel for our fire. They remind us that nobody knows or cares as much about our music as we do.
It's no good thinking you're the greatest thing since sliced bread if no-one even knows you exist. A record deal is by no means a be all and end all. In fact in the present climate a deal may be the last thing your band needs. It's no good waiting for it to happen, as I have learnt. Be vigilant, positive, self-critical and forward-thinking and you'll see results. Be a lazy good for nothing wimp and you'll look back when you're 75 and say "You know, that funny English guy was right!". I have to keep check of myself everyday. It's so easy for me to creep into my cave and close myself off but I wouldn't be doing myself any favours.
Question:What do you see happening for you and the band from this point onward and what goals do you have for your music and your careers?
In an ideal world, I would like to be seen as the first British band to become independently successful on the Internet. This will take time as Britain has a lot of catching up to do Webwise and we don't have the financial resources to launch a mammoth advertising campaign with hot air balloons and a parade. A deal is not out of the question for Steadman, but it obviously has to be on our terms, which is highly unlikely, but we live in hope. Record companies have to realise that a lot of bands know more about their own direction than they do. It's just that they've felt threatened and belittled by the big corporations. Bands now have the opportunity to put all that whinging in the dressing room about how they could do it better themselves, in to practise.
We are also very keen to get over to the States and prove to you guys that's there is so much more to us Brits than Britpop and beefeaters.
I would also eventually like to see our label, Freeloader Recordings grow into an umbrella for other independent artists to trade and display under, but we have to sort ourselves out first.
Question:Why not mention some of your upcoming gigs?
Gig's are not a priority at the moment. It's a big wide world out there and the Internet is the only means for an independent band like us to spread the word fast. Obviously we would love to hit the road and play. As The Dharmas we played every venue in the country twice, we now feel the urge to play somewhere new. We are performing a number of acoustic gigs around our area, which has been an experience I would recommend to anyone. It is the most useful way of road testing songs. When a song is stripped of all it's fancy bits and brought down to it's bare bones, it can be quite revealing. Have you been polishing a turd all this time? Go acoustic and find out.
Question:Where can people hear you and pick up your music?
Our music is always available from our website 24 hours a day. Here you can buy the Album or download our free singles. We also have a cool Winamp skin and lots of funky reviews. All credit for this Website must go to our Master of the mouse Wal. Without him we're a few megabytes short of a gig. We are also in the process of plugging our next single "Life Of Leisure" to radio both in Britain and Abroad. If anyone has any contacts in radio please let us know.
There was a young man called simon steadman
He searched for goals to get ahead man
All of his life he felt the urge
To make good noise above the dirge
Living in London had ups and down
By sixteen he had left town
Moving to Hastings was all very nice
The sea, the sun, the sand, entice
All of the while he played his guitar
Found a band, felt like a star
They toured the country, living the life
Everyone saw them, that man, his wife
A deal came and went their way
Who gives a shit it was crap anyway
Simon now lives a virtual success
Making it up, he does confess
A friend to all losers, he does empathize
But that doesn't mean he don't feel wise
Indie and true
How do you do?
Please buy our album
You know you want to.
You can find out more information about Steadman web site HERE.