THE KING OF ROCK AND ROLL IS CANADIAN
On an evening several years ago I wandered into the Chelsea Hotel and sat in a room being interviewed and filmed by a younger person with movie star good looks, someone I determined was on a fast track to stardom. This was filming of artist and magazine publisher Noah Becker’s film, New York is Now. Steven Lane was the one filming me. He currently has channeled his many distinct talents into writing and singing songs. His EP, Love On Every Page was recently released. The recording is a collection of songs that carry on brilliance of songwriters come before and have left a mark on the musical world.
Kofi Forson: Thanks for this opportunity, Steven. When I first met you during filming of Noah Becker’s New York is Now, I sensed there was an element of pop stardom in you. I never thought you would only be known as a videographer. I felt there was more to you than filmmaker. Although I couldn’t have imagined you would become a singer/songwriter.
What steps did you take to make this dream come true, to the point now where you have released your first EP, Love On Every Page?
Steven Lane: Great to be reacquainted with you, Kofi. It was a bit of a journey, and there’s always a long story involved, but for me, the past year has really been about re-evaluating and committing myself to taking on music in a more formalized way. I quit my job in Vancouver in the wine business. I sold my apartment. And I moved out east to Ottawa and started doing it full time. I’ve been out here for just over 6 months, and it’s been nothing but writing, recording, and performing. It’s a different world for me, coming from a corporate background. It’s always been a goal to just have an album out there with my music on it, since I was a kid. The EP is out, and I couldn’t be happier.
Forson: I can’t help but mention we very recently lost two giants in music, David Cassidy and Jon Hendricks. Cassidy for me was reason why any boy from my generation would want to become a pop idol. Hendricks on the other hand reinvented the musical style Vocalese which is the writing of lyrics to jazz melodies.
Have you always been fascinated by the pop element, be it music or film? We live in a world now where becoming famous is “a thing”. What was it early on in your youth that made you want to get noticed? Was it more than that? Certainly I see you as someone who values the work, the process it takes to meet a goal. What in this case is the writing and singing of songs.
Lane: It’s been a brutal couple of years for losing some real icons of music. In Canada recently it was Gord Downie, who was really the focal point of Canadian music. It’s funny you mentioned David Cassidy. Ladies of a certain demographic would sometimes come in and sit at the bar where I worked, I’d be serving them wine, and I’d be all clean shaven, which is really my only option, and they’d tell me how much I looked like David Cassidy or a young Elvis Costello. But I can’t say the so-called pop element or the desire to get noticed or become famous is a driver for me. I have certain images of iconic individuals in my mind all the time that can guide or influence my work or my tastes, but it’s not about the fame for me. Everyone is famous now, if they want to be. I value the work. I do enjoy being the showman, which lends itself to the prospect of fame or recognition, but my showmanship is more something I enjoy as an element of service, not as a means to so-called fame. My work, essentially, is the culmination of my collective likes and dislikes. If the things I like personally happen to carry some of that pop element or that iconic element of fame, so be it, but I’m still at the stage where I’m relatively unknown and focused on the work.
Forson: How do the songs come about? I think of Tom Waits who has tape recorders placed in different areas round his house. Or the hip hop artist with a notebook.
Do you always have lyrics lying about? I can imagine you playing the guitar for hours working out melodies and riffs. Talk to me about the ideas that go into writing each song.
Lane: I definitely have my methods. Instead of the tape recorder, it’s voice memos on your mobile device. And I have thousands of them. I do keep notebooks all over the place, and I fill them up, but I can’t say I revisit lyrics too often. It’s more that I revisit titles. I often start with the title. I like to have the song come out in that Nashville style, where the music, melody, and lyrics are formed together, rather than a more bottom-line/beatmaker + top-liner/melodist approach, though sometimes in collaboration that’s the case. My education was in the Arts & Humanities, so it was all about essay writing. Topic, thesis, title first. Everything else flows from a central idea. Call me cold or formulaic, but for me, that’s the only way I can make sure the piece is self-contained and cohesive. When you’re writing pop songs, that’s important. I like to write like an athlete. It’s not about inspiration all the time. It’s about discipline. If I understand music, formula, possess a solid vocabulary, and have an ounce of creativity, I should be able to write at will. You never heard Arnold Schwarzenegger saying that he just worked out when he was inspired to do so.
Forson: How does the work you do alone translate into work you do at the recording studio? What is the mood like in the studio?
Lane: For Love on Every Page, it was a truly solitary vanity project. I was very insular with it. But even so, the writing of the songs has to be done and set before I start recording. In that sense, I’m a believer in having the plan and the vision in place, although I do allow for improvisation and intuition as well, because those things can add so much character and texture. The writing is the discovery process. I never cuss at myself when I’m writing, because it’s more like massaging your creative innards, coaxing them out. You want to foster some self-respect in that process. But recording is about execution. I have to become my own boss, which means having one part of my brain deciding what it wants to hear, and having that part tell the body what to do to make it happen. And that’s when it gets fun and intense. Because I work alone a lot while recording, you almost create a division within yourself. Like there’s two people there, the engineer and the artist, of which I am both. And they talk to each other (laughs). So I’m sure it would be highly entertaining to be a fly on the wall and watch it unfold.
Forson: Love On Every Page for me has an honest, sincere, pop sensibility, with so much charm.
Lane: Kind words, Kofi. Thank you. I mean, that’s what I was going for. It was challenging for me to find my own sound, because there are so many genres and styles that I touch. I think the music travels well, it’s multidisciplinary, like me, and it fits the kind of situations that I like to be in. I like a quiet record; I like music that you can listen to in the morning and deep into the night. For the coffeehouse or the dinner party. Something that can be in the background, but that has some palpable lyrics, rhymes, and ideas, as well as an overarching story or concept as an album for those who want to listen closely. I know it sounds like I wanted it to be everything to everyone, but I still think it’s quite focused. It’s my first recorded effort, and, dammit, I’m proud of it.
Forson: Without giving too much away I loved the bleeding guitar riff and bass line for the song, You Don’t Need A Reason. You channel some serious soulfulness in your singing. (Laughter) And Let’s Find A Way has that powerful strumming of the guitar. There’s such a strong musicianship. Each song is held together by the cohesion of the playing of the instruments.
Please if you can talk about the production and collaborative process, any, all and everything that made Love On Every Page the credible recording that it is.
Lane: (Laughs) I really appreciate that. The melody for You Don’t Need a Reason definitely has some soulfulness to it that I have to attribute to my co-writer, Tiffany Schilkie. She’s got a very sweeping, free-flowing voice with a lot of depth, and some of those moments in the song really came from her ability as a top-liner, which is admirable. I did a lot of the vocals on the album sitting down, to create a more conversational, intimate feeling. But I stood up for You Don’t Need a Reason. This album was a true vanity project. Just me, in my apartment-turned-studio. I played all the guitars, bass, most of the keys, some organic percussion, I programmed the drums. I sang the backing vocals. For me it really came down to experimenting and realizing that I could turn out music that I felt was a good listen. I’m quite stubborn and particular, so the lone-wolf route works well for my creative process. In the end, despite all of the flaws and imperfections, something produced by the artist is bound to possess, and it’s got me in it. It’s much more painterly in that sense- it has that personal stamp, that mark of authenticity. I do have to credit my great friend J. Baketel for his counsel throughout the process. He was the person I bounced everything off of. And he has a few lyrics that made it onto The Book of Broken Hearts. Adrian Hogan, a producer in Toronto, laid that great organ down on You Don’t Need a Reason. He’s a friend, and it was a spur of the moment thing. But I was glad to know him at that moment (laughs).
Forson: What artists if any inspired this EP? I sense your influences but I loved that each song is wrapped in the Steven Lane mystique.
Lane: This is always a fun question to answer. At the same time, I love hearing what people say it sounds like. And that’s part of what’s interesting, because if you ask me who I think I sound like and who my influences were, I’d have very different answers for you. I was listening to and had recently seen Bonnie Raitt in concert when we wrote and recorded You Don’t Need a Reason. Seeing her live, especially, just really put me in the mood to create something that had a direct quality to it, that could really be indulged upon once it was taken on stage. Let’s Find a Way and The Book of Broken Hearts really came out of my fascination with some of the jazz standards, old and new. I spent a lot of the last two years listening to the album that Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass did together, just guitar and voice. The Book of Broken Hearts I think really was a nod to that record, which I just love. I started writing Let’s Find a Way during a visit to Montreal earlier this year, which was my first time there. And being completely enamoured by that town and just basking in all of its nostalgia, I really thought about Leonard Cohen a lot, and I think you can hear that. Under the Covers and Alone on Sunday Morning share a similar sensibility in their production, and I think they’re the ones that really have my own general mark, or “mystique” (laughs) as you say, on them, because in writing them I can’t really think of specific influences in the same way. There are elements of other artists there, for sure, I mean it was definitely listening to the Bee Gees and learning their music that taught me about major 7th chords, which both songs rely heavily on. It was also just about writing for mood. I heard John Mayer say in an interview recently, and I’m paraphrasing, that he might not be your Friday night party guy anymore, but that he could definitely be your Sunday morning breakfast guy. I kind of liked that, and I think it sums up in many ways what I was going for in the production of those two tracks. I think of pop music with those two songs. I think of jazz with The Book of Broken Hearts and Let’s Find a Way, and I think of rock ’n’ roll with You Don’t Need a Reason.
Forson: As I mentioned previously I met you during the filming for New York is Now. What plans did you have leaving Canada, coming to New York to work on the film? Capture if you can your hopes, desires and aspirations arriving in The Big Apple to make a film.
Lane: Meeting Noah Becker in Victoria, BC was obviously the event that triggered the subsequent chain of events, which led to us coming to New York during Armory Week in 2011 to make a documentary. I had no idea what to expect, I just wanted to get there and work on getting the best material I could. All I was trying to do was make the most of the opportunity I had to meet, film, and interact with these icons of the art and music world. And New York is Now was screened by Noah at a whole bunch of Art Fairs, galleries and theatres, and has been seen about 200,000 times on YouTube. It’s pretty neat when I look back on it. It was a time in my life. And I’ll never forget it.
Forson: You studied Film Theory and were inspired mostly by the French New Wave and its filmmakers like Godard and Truffaut. You draw from the art house genius of other filmmakers, Tarkovsky, Rohmer and Bergman, among them.
What is it about these filmmakers? Is it the aesthetic? Style and cinematic language are all dynamics that go into the interpreting and translating of what can be perceived as neuroticism and pretension within films made by these eccentric filmmakers. How do you manage the many steps needed to formulate a concept then articulate by different means essences of the original idea? Does filming a busy sidewalk with people and pigeons define itself? Can and should shooting on a sunny day at an empty beach present you with problems?
Lane: For me, these filmmakers, in their own various capacities and combinations, just presented an ideal combination of beauty, intellect, style, personal nostalgia, spirituality, and humanness which to me had so much more character than what was available to me growing up. Nothing ever hit you over the head with these films, in a good way. You have to watch the films like you’d read a book. They demand your engagement, but they give so much back. Then there’s definitely the cool factor which I’m enamoured by. The distinct, subtle, European sensibility, style, and humour that I just really can’t get enough of. The films have a lot of polish, but they also have a ton of character. They feel like independent films made by thinkers, which is exactly what they are. And in a way, that’s the kind of work I’m trying to create.
Forson: You currently manage a media project called The Old Apartment. From my understanding you apply your skills in photography, videography, music production and design to provide affordable solutions to artists who need help in creating sharp, professional, promotional materials for themselves.
Tell me about that, how it encourages productivity and basically helps you manage consistency in working with other artists.
Lane: I wanted to create something that would give me an avenue to stay connected to filmmaking and photography, but would also function as a certain currency for me to utilize in the music community. Even though I work alone a lot of the time, you can’t deny that the music business is one that demands collaboration. At a certain point, you have to come together with your community, whether that is in the production stage or at the marketing level, or touring, whatever, it’s a necessity, and I’m learning to recognize that and embrace it. Somebody once told me that as an independent musician; you really start winning once you can start trading in services instead of cash. The Old Apartment is definitely a platform for that, and it’s allowed me to reach out to artists whom I want to get involved with and create mutually beneficial partnerships with. And for that, it’s been a great experience so far.
Forson: You are also credited as co-writer in your songwriting with Canadian country singer, Jenni Doyle. How is this challenging, whether working on different musical elements or genre to the availability of another writer? What are your thoughts on the art of collaborating?
Lane: Collaborating is something that took me a while to come around to. I mentioned earlier that I’m a bit of a loner, and this recent EP reflects that part of me. But Jenni & I had instant chemistry when she told me she wanted to work on original material. We had lunch one day, and I had written something I thought she might want to try as an original song, and before I could open my mouth to tell her, she started telling me how she wanted to get together to start writing an album. We’ve spent a lot of 2017 writing music for her debut album, which will be released in 2018. I think we’ll have done 8 or 9 tracks together out of 11 she’s recording. Writing for an artist who works in a different genre, in a different style, and who is of the opposite sex, somehow really fuels my creativity. I’m fascinated by the formula of pop music, and that naturally extends to country. Jenni is a pro, she’s starting to write more on her own, and when we get together, it’s all business, which is the way I like to write. We have a high conversion rate of songs that we start and songs that we finish and record, which I also like. I think we just both want to make music that we know we can have a blast playing on stage, and when that’s your approach, it doesn’t always have to be this heavy handed, emotionally tumultuous process that people think it is sometimes.
Forson: You talked earlier about your work as a sommelier. Explain if you can use of inspiration and discipline in determining a bottle of wine to that of writing a song.
Lane: Wine to me is a part of my songwriting, which is a part of film theory, which is a part of videography. I incorporate elements of each of them into each of the others. I think the sommelier’s job is a little more like the production phase of music. The songwriter to me can be equated to the winemaker. The work is done, the material is there. The producer and artist get to decide what that song will sound like, how it will be applied. The sommelier gets to decide how the wine will be applied: what it will be served with, in what glassware, etc. What will the sommelier tell the guest about the wine before she or he serves it? Acoustic guitar? Banjo? The Tele? The Les Paul? Which amp? Does it need decanting? Should we add a little Rhodes? You see what I’m saying. And I think of the record as a bottle of wine in many ways. So many hands touch what goes into a bottle of wine. Just like a record. They both reflect the people, place, and time that they came from, or at least they should.
Forson: Where can people purchase the Love On Every Page EP? What are your plans for a tour?
Lane: Love on Every Page is currently available on iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Bandcamp, GooglePlay, Soundcloud, Deezer, Tidal, and a few more streaming platforms. It’s on YouTube, for those who like to listen that way. I’ll have CDs & vinyl records ready to ship in the New Year. For now, I’ll be doing some release activity with select audiences and media in Ottawa & Vancouver early in 2018, along with a few shows in Toronto, Montreal, and some other markets in Ontario. I’m planning on touring through BC, Ontario, and Quebec in the summer of 2018, which will be my first tour. Thank you for the interview, Kofi. It’s such a pleasure chatting with you. All the best.
Read more at www.stevenlanemusic.com