Taking time out at a local ice-creamery, master punk rocker Stephen Egerton spoke via telephone with Music Vice’s Perth, WA based contributor Steve Pass about his upcoming solo album, the Seven Degrees of Stephen Egerton, the benefits of famous friends, and the future of his band ALL.
Music Vice – So tell us a little about the concept behind your new album, The Seven Degrees of Stephen Egerton?
Stephen – What happened was, I moved to a different city, away from my band mates in ALL and Descendents about seven years ago and started a recording studio and during that time I’ve been writing a lot of songs and they’ve just sort of been stockpiling over the years. Eventually I was really feeling the itch to try and do something musical again and so my wife, Nat, suggested to me that maybe I should have other friends sing and write lyrics, which are absolutely not my strong suite. I play guitar, bass and drums all roughly equal I guess, but lyrics and singing don’t come too easy for me so Nat suggested that and that’s sort of how the idea came about. So what I did was I went ahead and just recorded all the music that I had, which at the time I think I had twenty-six songs that were done enough to bother recording so I went ahead and started going through the list, imagining different friends I had and listen to a song and think “well, who’d sound good on this?”. I already had vocal melodies written for most of it and so I would just pick one that I thought sounded good for a certain guy and email them and ask if they were interested and fortunately a lot of people were.
What’s your favourite track off the album?
Stephen – Wow, you know it’s funny because I really don’t have a favourite out of them. It really came together kind of better than I’d expected. When I first started into it I thought “well, I’ll just ask a bunch of people and we’ll do some songs and throw them up on iTunes or whatever and it’ll be fine, there it is”. As I started getting songs back, the first song I got back was from Jon Snodgrass from Drag the River, and I liked the song so much after it was done and very shortly after that another friend, John Speck sent his in and I loved that, and so it was just, every song that came in I just loved it. Really I view the thing more as a whole record. I’ve done what I could to try and make the record sound, sonically, very cohesive; since every song has a different singer I’ve done my best to make everything else consistent so it flows very much like a record, so I really hear it more as a record than as a specific song or group of songs.
Fair enough. You’ve got some pretty big names to participate, as well as some lesser known, though highly talented vocalists. By whom were you most surprised when getting the songs back?
Stephen – Well, um, I was most surprised about how they all came out, because it was so hard for me to imagine how they would come out. A lot of the singers who were more aggressive rock singers, like Chad Price (ALL/Drag the River) or Tim McIlrath (Rise Against) they have very aggressive voices that I’m used to from the bands I’ve been in, but Jon Snodgrass or Joey Cape (Lagwagon/Bad Astronaut), the music that I sent them was very different from some music that I do, and very different from what they normally do, so it was kind of “well, this’ll be interesting”. That was the big surprise, hearing how those came together because in the long run those are the most different from things that I would normally play.
Stephen then went on to talk about some of the artists he unfortunately couldn’t secure in time for this project.
One of the very early people that I tried to get was Ginger from the Wildhearts, the Wildhearts are one of my favourite bands, but the way that I had to do this was that I’ve already recorded all the songs and so I was like “hey, how about I send you this song and we’ll go for it”, and for him, he wasn’t really comfortable with the idea of doing it that way. He said “if I were over there and we could get in a room together with a couple of guitars I would love to write a song with you” but doing it through the internet was too awkward for him. So that wasn’t able to happen and Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio) wanted to do one as well but he was in the middle of a whole bunch of other stuff, they were finishing up their record, so he didn’t have time to do it, but we talked about possibly doing something in the future.
Slash from Guns’n’Roses has just released a similar type album with a slew of guest vocalists. Whose is better, yours or his?
Stephen – Haha, well I don’t know who’s on his record, but we’ll probably whoop his ass.
Over the last few years, you’ve been fairly active in some other projects. Tell us a little about the SLORDER EP that came out last year.
Stephen – The SLORDER EP was pretty much instrumental stuff that I had written by myself that I was demoing and that I thought my good friends Bryan (Gorder, bass) and Jay (Clements, drums) would be good on. Brian and Jay play with me regularly, we’ve done several shows together over the last few years. The few times I’ve played with anybody other than ALL, it’s been with those guys so we put this little band together just doing these instrumental songs that I’d written. That was the first thing I’d done musically in a very long time, but it of course didn’t get a whole lot of attention because it’s instrumental, but we definitely like it and I hope that we’ll be doing more with that before too long.
On the guitar font, you’ve done a few guest appearances and solos on MxPx’s new covers album. How did those come about?
Stephen – Well once in a while there are people out there that remember us. In the case of someone like MxPx who are just good friends, actually their singer Mike Hererra is on my record, and he has a country band called Tumbledown and I’m actually going to be playing something on the Tumbledown record too. Really I’d like to do more of that. Once in a while I get asked and if so I’m happy to. It looks like I’m going to do something with Perry Grip (Nerf Herder) very soon which I’m really exited about. I did something with band Gigantor a couple of years ago too who are a fantastic band from Germany. So yeah, here and there I get asked and I’m always willing to take a shot at it. I also played with the Masters of Punk Rock, you know?
The last few years have also seen some sporadic shows with ALL, the most recent of which had to be cancelled due to some concerns over your drummer Bill Stevenson’s health. Do you know if Bill’s doing better now, and are there future shows in the pipeline?
Stephen – Billy’s slowly getting better, he’s back to playing some now so he’s definitely working towards that and we do intend to still do those shows when we can. And for us I think we would like to keep doing shows in some way. The trick for us is just whether or not everybody’s schedules are free, plus whether we can afford to actually do the shows because for us to fly in and all of that is pretty expensive. Plus we’re taking time off work and it’s all about families and trying to keep that part of life together too. When it’s possible for us to do it though, we still love to do it. We’ve been having a really good time at the shows we have done and we were all really looking forward to these shows we were going to do on the east coast of the US, but sadly we had to postpone them but at some point we’ll get back and I’d like to think that we’ll keep doing it for a good few years just when the situation’s right for it.
When not playing guitar, you’re running your studio down in Tulsa. How’s that going?
Stephen – Good. Though in the last couple of years a lot of the work I’ve done has moved towards mixing and mastering records than it is producing bands. I enjoy producing bands very much but mixing is something that I’m really really fond of, and I’ve really been enjoying mastering too. Tulsa’s has a very good music scene, and Oklahoma City which is about an hour and a half away also has an excellent music scene and there are plenty of bands around, but you know there’s only so much you can do and there’s other studios out there so it’s a lot of work to try and stay busy all the time. Mixing allows me to do stuff from all over the world. I have a server where people upload their music and I mix it, send them references and when they like what they hear then we kind of move on. That’s great and I really enjoy that kind of work so that’s kind of been more the focus that the studio, unless I’m doing a full production. There’ll certainly be more of that, too. I’ve been working with a band called Red City Radio who’ve been getting a little bit of attention here and there and working with this guy John Moreland who’s a Tulsa musician who’s absolutely staggeringly great. He sang a song on my record – I played drums on his record – so I’m working with them too. I’ve been trying to focus on working with bands where we’re actually going to some kind of a full length thing as opposed to just doing demos or faster things, because there’s a lot of avenues for that and I’d rather just mix than do that.
You’ve got a few shows coming up in Tulsa and Oklahoma City to launch the album. Tell us about what can be expected at those, who’ve you got coming out to sing?
Stephen – Well Drag the River’s going to come play, so Jon Snodgrass and Chad Price will be here; Scott Reynolds (ALL/Steaming Beast) will be here. Chris Demakes who sings in Less Than Jake, he’s coming out, and a guy named Jesse Cole who’s in a band called Le Fang, that used to be called In Stereo, he’s excellent, he’s coming out. John Moreland will sing on one of the shows and I think that’ll be it.
Is the idea to have them just sing their song, or are they each going to tackle a few of the others off the album as well?
Stephen – I’ve asked each guy to tackle another song so we can get a full set out of it, which worked out cool. For instance the song that Milo Aukerman (Descendents) sings on my record is a song that Scott had already sang before, called “She’s Got Everything”, a song I wrote for my wife for Christmas a couple of years ago. He’s sung that live with me a handful of times anyway so he’s going to go ahead and take Milo’s song. I think Chad’s voice and Rise Against Tim’s voice have a similar grittiness to them so Chad’s going to do Tim’s song and Jon’s going to do Joey Cape’s song because Joey’s going to be out of the country. So that’s what I asked everybody to do and they’ve all been more than happy to do that.
Well it sounds like it’s going to be an interesting couple of shows!
Stephen – Yeah I wish you could make it, they’re really going to be a lot of fun. I’ve been practicing pretty hard already!
Lastly, this interview is for is for Music Vice, so there’s one more question you have to answer. Besides music, what’s your biggest vice to lean on?
Stephen – Well, I guess my wife, is she a vice? In a more traditional sense, coffee would be my last true vice. That’s the one where there’s no possible way I could function without. Other than that though, my wife. She’s awesome.
© Steve Pass, Music Vice
The Seven Degrees of Stephen Egerton is available from 11 May 2010 on Paper and Plastick Records.