Tuesday 26 August 2014

Stereo Off, 'New York' E.P. & Interview

Stereo Off, 'Bullet Time'

Info: Stereo Off are a New York based 5-piece with a sound that spans a wide spectrum of both musical influences and decades. The band are also a creative hive, with lead singer Sebastian Marciano doubling up as an actor in the above video for their new single 'Bullet Time', which is also filmed by bass-player and rhythm guitarist Niall Madden, and it works a charm. The slow build up and dark bass of the track, which maps the pursuit of Sebastian through a psychotic and disorientating underground of New York at night, leads to a funky disco chorus that's very catchy.

One of Stereo Off's strongest attributes is their versatility with regard to their sound. One minute you're listening to David Byrne or Television with the legendary Pavement (Brighten The Corners-era) on the opening track of their New York E.P., 'Photographs', and the next you've been shuffled off to a seedy 80's disco with the previously mentioned electro-beat 'Bullet Time', even without the video. The third track, 'Effectual' has a very Daft Punk feel with almost soulful vocals by Marciano, before we get to the stripped-down indie track 'The Thrill', a lovely emotional ballad that's got The Cure written all over it. The final track 'MI6' whisks us back to a definitively contemporary sound with a guitar-driven punk vibe that suddenly veers off to Deep Purple or The Doors (you decide) psychedelic keyboards before bring the E.P. to a grinding halt. The New York E.P. by Stereo Off has to be one of the most diverse sounding releases I've heard in a long, long time, and it keeps you hooked in from start to finish as a result. 

Stereo Off, 'Photographs'

I had the opportunity to fire some questions to the band about their work and for once got to shoot the breeze about a bit of film also:

Remy: I’ve been known to dabble in a bit of short film myself, but from the other side of the camera, a hell of a lot of work goes into short film and music videos, especially when you’re filming at multiple locations (and in b&w), how long did it take to shoot ‘Bullet Time’?

Niall: It's hard to say because the bad weather gave us a bit of a delay to starting off. Justin (from Dead Red Eyes) and I got working on the story line and schedules though, and once we got started, I think two full weekends were dedicated to sorting out shots and clips for editing. Looking back, the hardest part was coordinating schedules with everyone to use their places!

Remy: Some scenes in the music video reminded me of the chaotic night experienced by the main character in fellow New Yorker Martin Scorsese’s 1985 film After Hours, intentional or coincidence, and if the latter, what was the main concept behind the storyline you made?

Niall: Well spotted. The video is built around a chaotic chase, filled with late night paranoia and is full of reference to many a 70's and 80's film that showed NYC in its grittier days, mixed with low budget classics like Carnival of Souls. One scene is shot in the same location as a Serpico scene for instance.

Remy: ‘Bullet Time’ is described as a ‘mafio-esque cat and mouse chase’, when it comes to gangster films, no city comes near New York in terms of the genre, what is your favourite New York-based gangster film (or tv series) and why?

Niall: I guess I am a fan of old school NYC gangster flicks, from the likes of Goodfellas to Donnie Brasco and Mean Streets. Perhaps being raised on films like that has an influence after all.

Remy: As both a filmmaker and musician, can you pick a person in each field who you’d love to spend a day in their shoes?

Niall: Well, I'd love to create that own niche of audio and video, to a point when a person sees it, and they know it. The RZA definitely did a great job of crossing genres into styles. And well, Nick Cave is an artist I’ll admit I didn't get into until recent years, but have really been listening to a lot of recently, and he's also been involved in screen-writing too, which perhaps is something I would like to get back in to a bit more.

Remy: From my own memories in Dublin, Ireland in the late 80’s and early 90’s the cool kids were all listening to a variety of genres of music, for example, Beastie Boys, Nirvana, Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam and pretty much anything MTV had on during their golden age, which artists would have been your favourites and have any of them had any direct influence on the music Stereo Off is making right now?

Sebastian: In the late 80s it was Michael Jackson and Guns n' Roses, and in the early nineties I became a huge hiphop fan. Producers like Doctor Dre and DJ Premier who were helping shape the landscape of music in that era have definitely influenced me, as have groups from AC-DC to A Tribe Called Quest.

Bridget was into a lot of drum & bass and experimental electronica in the early 90s, and cites Roni Size and Datach'i as favorites.

Steve: Blur - Graham Coxon is one of the most underrated and inventive guitar players I've ever heard. Plus Nirvana / Kurt Cobain; he could harness feedback like no other.

Darren: Rush and Soundgarden were big influences.

Niall: Back then I was very into 90's indie rock with the DIY sound, such as Archers of Loaf & Pavement, along with a lot of 80’s post punk band influences.  But it was also an era where styles were mixing and matching a lot, and so, a fair bit of hip hop and electronica from those years sneaked in at times too.

Remy: I’ve watched the live video of the opening track on your E.P., ‘Photographs’ and Sebastian reminds me a lot of Ian Curtis or Joe Strummer and the music has a distinctly punk feel, am I reading too much into that?

Sebastian: Niall wrote the guitar riffs on "Photographs" so I'll let him expand on that. Sometimes I go to certain inflections or iconic sounds as a starting point, but those would be the people and genres that Curtis influenced, so the answer is yes, though indirectly.

Niall: I've been told that some of the riffs and songs have an early 80s' post punk style influence on riffs. And well, Joe Strummer.... The Clash were one of my favourite bands growing up, so it must have influenced in some way.   

Remy: In terms of the electro aspect of your music, is that side of the music the sole domain of one member which you all work around (or vice-versa) or is it more of a collaborative effort when writing songs, i.e. everything happens as a unit from start to finish rather than in bits and pieces which are brought together?

Sebastian: We all like electronic music and instruments in some form or another, but most especially myself. I love synthpop, dance music, electroclash and anything with oscillators in it. As a producer this is also how a lot of the songs start, sometimes staying mostly a produced piece with overdubs, or live instrument tracks mangled into seemingly completely electronic sounds. Other times being completely altered and replaced by more traditional instruments played by the band, and most usually a combination of the two. 

Niall: I perhaps add more of the latter. I have more of a background in which things do not necessarily need to be a perfect fit, and over-produced is the enemy in some ways. It's been amazing working on a sound that is a great medium between the two though.  It’s got its quirks and I like that part.

Sebastian: Often Niall or myself will have a song structure and progressions done in full, and then we go in on it together in the studio. Once I write lyrics and lay at least a presentable demo, we'll all get together to learn it, tweak it, re-voice things and add changes and solos, which are often done by Steve and Bridget, while Darren and all of us in rehearsals work on the arrangements together. Then we'll take those elements and work them back into the produced version as well. Sometimes we start very minimal and all throw a piece in, while other tracks are very straight-forward and get tweaked and arranged a bit as we go. So it's done in pieces and then becomes a virtuous cycle. 

Remy: It’s a horribly clich├ęd question but people always love the answer to it, so here goes! Can each of you tell us which of your contemporaries you really enjoy listening to? 

Sebastian likes Miami Horror, The Strokes, Washed Out, and Van She. Darren is into Damien Dempsey and Savoir Adore while Steve likes Watermelon Sugar, The Sword and Ty Segall. Niall's recent rotations include Cloud Nothing, The Faint, recent Arctic Monkeys and loads of local bands that he's barely heard of yet.

Remy: Finally, you are due to release your second E.P. soon, when can we expect a full album, and, while taking account of the fact that your journey has only just begun, do you have any plans to tour in Europe, or better yet, Ireland in the near future?! 

Sebastian: We have a third EP planned with some of the winners for the one being recorded currently, as well as some new ones. When it's done we'll take some that we love the most so far, along with a bunch of new material and that will be the first full length Stereo Off album. We don't want to make a heavy concept album by design for the first LP, so while it will have a theme and style, it will be mostly sonically cohesive, not necessarily conceptually though. That said, the style continues to evolve - and plans may change a lot between now and then - blending genres and shaping our sound as we move forward. 

Niall: And we're planning on putting together another video for each EP.

Sebastian: And hell yes, we'd love to tour Ireland and various parts of Europe. We haven't played much together outside of NYC but there are plans in the works to get on some touring bills in the US, as well as take the Stereo Off flag to other shores. And of course, anyone reading this who wants to fly five grateful humans out to rock a party, you know where to find us. We eat and pack light and are very clean, but we will need all of your beer.

Remy: Thanks a million for your time guys, and everyone, you heard Sebastian, let's get Stereo Off to Dublin and get them drunk!

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